Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Raising author Eric McCormack's "Scottish hackles"

The author of Cloud answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Eric McCormack is the author of the novel Cloud. (The Cooke Agency)

Acclaimed Canadian author Eric McCormack's novel Cloud is a work of literary Gothicism about a travelling businessman who makes a chance discovery that prompts him to seek out the ghosts of his past.

Below, Eric McCormack answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

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

Favourite is when I'm finding it revealing and surprising — almost as though it's being written by someone else. Least favourite is when that isn't happening at all.

2. William Deverell asks, "Is there a surfeit of published books in Canada? Are too many authors competing for diminishing returns?"

Certainly, it's hard to keep up with all the books recommended, especially if you have classics you like to go back to, or things that were too sophisticated when you were young (Henry James' The Ambassadors, for example). Poetry has it over fiction any day of the week in this regard.

3. Timothy Taylor asks, "How important have your other work choices — i.e. the things you've done to make money — been to your literary writing?" 

Working-class students in Scotland had to take whatever summer jobs were available. After graduating, I eventually stumbled into academia, with lots of time to read and write. But those summer jobs were a major part of my education. 

4. Pasha Malla asks, "Flannery O'Connor: 'All novelists are fundamentally seekers and describers of the real, but the realism of each novelist will depend on his view of the ultimate reaches of reality.' Where do your 'reaches of reality' extend to?"

This is a tricky one — words like "reality" and "ultimate" are loaded. Anyway, a statement that begins with "All novelists are..." immediately raises the Scottish hackles.

5. Helen Humphreys asks, "If you weren't a writer, what would you be, and why?"

I'd still have headed towards academia. For readers, it's the ideal place — books, above all, are still honoured there, and the centrality of reading taken for granted. Without book lovers of that sort, where would writers be?

6. Shani Mootoo asks, "How do your closest family members treat you, you the published — hopefully famous — author?"

Fame is in the eye of the beholder, and a very relative thing — especially for relatives.

7. Frances Itani asks, "Describe a walk that would and could feed your imagination and your writing. In what part of the world would this walk take place?"

The Gallowgate (so named because public hangings took place there) is an infamous street on the East Side of Glasgow, with violent drunks and knife-wielding gangs on every corner. Or so it seemed to me in the 1950s, as a boy. If I could time travel I'd be curious, as an adult, to see if it really was that awful.

8. JJ Lee asks, "Superman or Batman?"

Two sides of the same coin — an angel on one side, a saint on the other. Neither would be very good company.