Crime writer Anthony Bidulka on the perfect stepping-stone: accounting
A one-time chartered accountant, Anthony Bildulka has applied the organizational skills of his former profession to the creation of ten Canadian mysteries, including his book The Women of Skawa Island.
Below, Anthony Bildulka answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Cathy Marie Buchanan asks, "What is your writing routine?"
I worked as a chartered accountant for a decade before becoming a full-time writer, so the CPA side of my brain enjoys structure. As a result, my workdays and writing routine tend to revolve around a standard — but creatively adjusted — work week. When I'm in pure writing mode I write Monday to Friday (rarely on weekends, unless a deadline looms), beginning after the gym and breakfast (usually around 8:30 am) until the creative juices run dry (typically early to mid-afternoon). I am an outline writer. So the beginning of a project always involves the creation of three separate outlines: the whodunnit and how-solved-it outline, the character arc outline, and the third mixes the two together. This starts me off with a stable structure (the accountant in me again) upon which to build my story. All the rest is where I leave room for off-the-cuff creativity, flexibility, red-herring-ness and the unknown.
2. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"
My latest published book is the second in a new series, written following years of rollicking enjoyment of all the magnificent things that go along with having a long-running, established series (The Russell Quant mysteries) for which readers have shown abundant love and dedication. It was a risk trying my hand at a different character, different genre, and over the months before the release of the first Adam Saint book last year I'd heard a great deal from my Quant readers…some not very happy about what I was attempting. So one of the best surprises in the process of writing The Women of Skawa Island did not come from within the process itself, but from without, from an long-time Quant reader who'd overcome his initial resistance, read the first Saint novel, then wrote me a long, wonderful email telling me how much he enjoyed it and thought it was my best work to date. I had my first convert!
3. Lorna Crozier asks, "If you could write in any room anywhere in the world, besides your own writing room, where would that be? Please describe it."
Oh gosh, this is a tricky one, because I've tried it. I have this lovely office at home which overlooks my beloved backyard. If I need a quick mind-cleansing, I exit through two large sliding glass doors for a quick walk around the grounds (in summer) or sit and gaze at snow-heavy branches and vivid red cranberries (in winter). Early in my career I thought: Why just look at it? Go write outside! Didn't work. Various distractions and discomforts were always getting in the way. I needed the cozy, organized, temperature-controlled, mosquito-free, Internet-accessible nook of my office.
Some years later, having fallen in love with a little hill-top village in the south of France we'd visited several times, I decided to try something similar. It sounded perfect: latch back the shutters, throw open the windows to let in the warm, baguette-flavoured, Provencal air, set out a half-carafe of the local rosé and plate of cheeses, and set to work. Several weeks later when I was preparing to edit the book, I got to the part I'd written while in France — "some of my best work!" I'd declared to whoever would listen — and was horrified to realize I must have spent considerably more time imbibing in the wine and ambiance than actually writing anything usable.
But, if forced to answer the question, I think I'll try that room in France again, or maybe a balcony overlooking a secluded beach…I'd spend the morning walking the shoreline and collecting my thoughts, write throughout the day, then hit the beach in time for the late afternoon sun. Yeah, that's it! Gotta go pack now…
4. Gail Bowen asks, "You are hosting a dinner party. Choose seven characters that you've created to join you at table. Feel free to bring people back from the dead. Why did you choose these particular guests?"
This thing is catered, right? I don't want to be thinking about what to serve and whether the rice is overcooking. Most definitely two of the spots would be taken by my two protagonists, detective Russell Quant and disaster recovery agent Adam Saint. Almost as soon as I created Adam, readers were asking if I'd ever do a crossover book where the two could meet. Although Russell and Adam are very different people, I believe they'd get along famously, because at their core they both have good hearts and a desire to help people. While those two are getting to know one another, I'd seat myself between the two characters I've written about who seem to have garnered the most love (Russell's mother) and "not-love" (Russell's neighbour, the ever mysterious and glamourous Sereena Orion Smith). I'd want them along because every good dinner party needs a caregiver (who else is going to check on that rice and make sure everyone's wineglass is full?) and a divisive, potentially controversial character who will keep the conversation hopping. The final spots will go to three of the characters from a book called Tapas on the Ramblas, which, in short, revolved around the exploits of a very dysfunctional family, headed by matriarch Charity Wiser. With them around, you just know that at some point in the evening, the lights will go out, and when they come back on, someone's going to be missing! Great dinner party discussions ensue! Cue creepy music.
5. Heather O'Neill asks, "If there were to be a biopic made about your life, which actor would you want to play you? Which director would you choose to direct?"
Assuming Kermit the Frog is busy, I suppose Nathan Fillion (from TV's Castle) might be okay. It would be directed by my mom, because she'd never make me look bad.
6. Linda Spalding asks, "What moves you to tears?"
I'm not a big crier, but whenever I read about or see someone doing something selfless for someone else, that gets me. Otherwise, many years ago, a very good dog I had, a cockapoo named Mocha, had a serious back injury. We decided on surgical intervention. It worked but it was a long recovery and we had to restrict her to a small kennel in order to curtail her movement. The first night I lugged the kennel downstairs to where we were watching TV, and set it up with the door open so she could see us. Even though she was in pain, and heavily bandaged, she dragged her little body out of the kennel to where I was sitting on the floor, laid her head on my thigh, and lay there for about twenty minutes, then dragged herself back to where she needed to be. She just wanted to be close for a while and be with her family. Darn it, I'm tearing up now just thinking about it! Next question!
7. George Bowering asks, "Do you choose what to read (other than research) while you are writing a book, or do you just keep on reading what you read?"
For many years my answer would have been the latter. Now, I try to read books by authors who elevate me, and press me into upping my own game. There's nothing like reading superbly written material to encourage and motivate.
8. 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?"
Never. I think today's written word has the same import as symbols and drawings found on the walls of prehistoric caves. At the time, I'm sure those authors had doubts about the importance and validity and longevity of their creations. I don't care what it is, a poem, a newspaper headline, a haiku, a bodice ripper, or literary masterpiece, each has something to say about who we are as a people today, what our beliefs and worries are, what makes us laugh and cry, what entertains us, what drives us, what repels us, what attracts us, and that is history in the making.