Magic 8 Q&A

Emma Richler on writing to music and naming characters

The author of Be My Wolff answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Emma Richler is the author of Be My Wolff. (Marzena Pogorzaly)

Emma Richler grew up on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, spending time in London, where she was born, and Montreal. Originally an actress, Richler turned to writing in 2001. She has since published a short story collection and two novels. Her latest novel, Be My Wolff, follows a young woman and her adopted brother, as she attempts to re-write their family history in order to make better sense of their unbreakable connection. 

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

1. Karen Solie asks, "Do you listen to music when you write, or do you require or prefer silence? Can you work in cafes? Do you have a choice?"

I absolutely never ever work to music. Music is so emotionally manipulative. And no, the idea of writing in a cafe fills me with horror. I can sit and dream in a cafe, typically with my greyhound at my side, but I would never physically write there. I prefer my own home and quiet. I can also write in my mother's house, wherever she might be.

2. Patrick deWitt asks, "What is the least useful writing advice you ever received?"

I have never sought any advice and don't really remember hearing any, except from my parents. Oh and maybe some life management type advice from my agent. And all of the above has been kindly, serious and helpful. I am sure I have ignored anything else I've heard.

3. Kelley Armstrong asks, "Which has been harder for you: becoming an author or staying one?" 

Writing is a hard, but blessed occupation. I consider myself driven and fortunate. The difficulty is a daily burden I live with. When I began writing my first novel, it felt like the most natural thing I ever did. I had no conception of where it might lead. It truly did not concern me. Writing concerned me. It is possible that the difficulty accrues with time as one's aspirations, and ambitions for the next novel grow more complex and mature. I don't know.

4. Kim Thùy asks, "If you had to choose, would you prefer one extremely successful book or many much more smaller successes?" 

I do hope I shall not have to choose such a thing. I write the book I need to write. Then hope it is published, read, understood and appreciated. Then I hope I earn enough money to write my next book. None of those hopes occupy my mind in the course of writing.

5. Shauna Singh Baldwin asks, "What did you learn from writing one book that you have used/can use/will use when writing the next?" 

Photocopy your handwritten manuscript and notes as you go along.

6. Will Ferguson asks, "How much thought/meaning do you put into the naming of your characters?" 

Names are fun. You know when they are right. I don't like tricksy names. I find I often don't realize the happy significance or resonance a name might have until I am finished. Largely, names have to sound and feel right. It's important, yes.

7. Shyam Selvadurai asks, "Do you think the portrayal of certain character types are beyond you? Can you name a character in a novel, whose personality/point of view/character traits etc. you know you could never write?" 

I don't have the first idea how to think about that. It has never occurred to me that there is something I cannot write, which is not at all the same as saying, I can write anything. Of course not. I just don't censor myself in that way. I write the characters that come into my head and live with me. And I don't know how to read books and think "Oh, I could never have created such a character." It just does not come to mind. I appreciate hugely the fine creations of others, but entirely without that kind of self-reference.

8. Alissa York asks, "Do you have a system whereby you convince yourself that you've accomplished enough in a given day?" 

I never accomplish enough in a given day. That's quite a good spur for the following day.


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