Books·How I Wrote It

Craig Davidson's Canada Reads follow-up is a 1980s-infused novel about the horrors of the past

The award-winning author discusses how he wrote his latest, The Saturday Night Ghost Club.
Craig Davidson is the author of several books, his most recent being the novel The Saturday Night Ghost Club. (Knopf Canada/Craig Davidson)

After writing a popular memoir, Precious Cargo, which was defended on Canada Reads 2018 by storm chaser Greg JohnsonCraig Davidson decided to write a coming-of-age novel that felt both real and haunting. The result is The Saturday Night Ghost Club, the story of Jake Baker, a 30-something neurosurgeon as he recalls being a young 12-year-old invited to join a "ghost club" one fateful summer with his eccentric Uncle Calvin, who runs an occult shop in Niagara Falls.

Below, Davidson, who was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for the novel Cataract City and writes horror under the pseudonym Nick Cutter, discusses how he wrote The Saturday Night Ghost Club, which is on the shortlist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

Ph.D. in creativity

"This book, at least part of it, ended up being my PhD thesis. I did a PhD at the University of Birmingham. With a creative PhD, you need the actual creative work and you need some informing critical framework that speaks to your creative element. I focused on neurology and the work of brain surgeons and brain mappers and how our memories work in a biological way and a neurological way.

"Initially, Jake was just a guy looking back over his summer. It seemed more reasonable to make him a surgeon because I'm fascinated with doctors and surgeons. He seemed to be a more sensible narrator in that he was looking back from the perspective of being a surgeon — and looking back now as an adult, understanding his uncle's condition and trying to grapple with it."

Thanks for the memories

"I've been fascinated with memory as a process and also how memories can be manipulated. We manipulate them to put ourselves in the light that we find preferable, or to rehabilitate our own actions or other people's actions. Those tricks that we can play on ourselves are fairly harmless but some can be more profound and covering even deeper wounds."

Broken people

"I write about broken characters but I consider myself broken in some ways as well. I don't know how you can ever make it to adulthood without being in some way broken. Some of us are majorly broken, and some of us are fortunate to only have minor scratches, but they're all there.

"This is a coming-of-age story in that you start from this sense of innocence. But then you have to reckon with what the world can be about and it can be bittersweet coping with that."

Garish and gaudy

"I write in stages: you get the main tentpoles down and then, through the editing process, you start braiding in more details. Toward one of the final edits I really started thinking about 1980s Niagara Falls as a setting. It's a place that's always stuck in my head. In my mind, Niagara Falls, maybe other than the casino, is really unchanged from 1980s. Maybe a little more gaudy, some of the shop fronts would have changed for something new, but ultimately things are the same."

1980s nostalgia

"I love the show Stranger Things and I loved Ernest Cline's book Ready Player One. But those works traffic more specifically in that 1980s time period and mine the nostalgia value of it. The Saturday Night Ghost Club is more based on my own recollections of that time period. The Saturday Night Ghost Club was written about three or four years ago, before Stranger Things. But obviously it doesn't predate '80s works from Stephen King, John Bellairs, Robert R. McCammon or all the other people who I see as influences. Readers might be able to see those influences in this book."

Craig Davidson's comments have been edited and condensed.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.