Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Charlotte Gray on the worst interview she's ever done

The author, a juror for the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize, answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Charlotte Gray is the author of The Promise of Canada: 150 Years — People and Ideas That Have Shaped Our Country. (Valberg Imaging)

Charlotte Gray has written nearly a dozen books on Canadian history. She's covered everything from the Massey Murder to the Klondike Gold Rush. Her most recent book, The Promise of Canada, weaves together nine portraits of Canadians who have influenced the course of the country.

Below, Charlotte Gray answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

Gray is a juror for the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize

1. Kate Pullinger asks, "Do you pay attention to the opinions of your family — parents, spouse, siblings, children, etc. — when it comes to your writing, both in terms of what you write about, but also how you write?"

I pay close attention to my husband's comments because he comes at issues from a different angle. When one of my subjects buys a house, I want to know what it looks like but he immediately asks, "What did it cost?"

2. Lorna Crozier asks, "If you weren't sitting at your desk writing, what would you be doing instead?"

Trying to suppress a guilty feeling that I should be sitting at my desk.

3. William Deverell asks, "Ever wanted to throttle an interviewer? Tell me about it."

I was once doing a radio interview with a journalism student who had carefully prepared a list of questions. He would read out one, then ignore me as I spoke: his eyes would wander around the studio until he realised that I'd finished speaking. Then he would read out the next one, ignore me again, and his eyes.... pause... next question... eye wander... pause... next question... This was an interview about my first book and I was too eager to please to lean over and strangle him. But I will if I ever meet him in a studio again.

4. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Other than writing, what other art form (i.e. plays, movies, music, visual art) do you wish you possessed or had a better grasp of?"

Ballet. Love those pliés.

5. Pasha Malla asks, "Which would be preferable: a life of relative contentment and comfort, and having your books die alongside you, or being miserable and destitute, and having your books read long after you are dead?"

I live in the moment. What's the future ever done for me?

6. Peter Robinson asks, "What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the writing process?"

My most favourite part is creation of the first draft, when the shimmering dream of the extraordinary book that you are writing hovers over your head. My least favourite part is creation of the first draft, when the shimmering dream looks more and more like a mirage.

7. Andrew Pyper asks, "Do you ever worry that the whole practice of writing and reading, while enjoyable and perhaps gratifying, simply doesn't matter very much?"

If I could solve climate change, Mideast conflict, the decline of western economies, human rights abuses or any other items in my existential angst catalogue, I would. But I can't. So I sign petitions, give money and keep writing.

8. Sharon Butala asks, "What is the main question that you wish somebody would ask you, although nobody ever has?"

"Was it a good idea to move to Canada?"


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