Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Ray Berard on unexpected inspiration and the scene he wouldn't want his mother to read

The author of Inside the Black Horse answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Ray Berard is the author of Inside the Black Horse. (Monique Berard)

Canadian-born New Zealand writer Ray Berard marks his literary debut, Inside the Black Horse, with a big nomination. One of 17 Canadians named to the longlist of the International DUBLIN Literary Award, Berard based his thriller on the diaries he kept while working at the New Zealand Racing Board.

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

1. C.C. Humphreys asks, "What is your favourite part of the process? First draft, final edit, something in between?"

My favourite time comes when my characters become real — when I can see how they think and how they interact with their world. It's like the difference between looking at a skeleton and a whole person. At first I only see the obvious but as I play with the words and especially the characters' conversations. I start to get a real feel for them and then my writing takes off.

2. Bill Richardson asks, "If you were to see someone reading your book in a public place — a plane, a café — would you introduce yourself?"

Good question. I guess it would depend on who they were, and in most cases I probably wouldn't.

3. Lorna Crozier asks, "A question I've never been asked, and fear being asked: What makes you dare to be a writer, to think you have something to say to me?"

I feel blessed that my mind has a way of weaving stories that others enjoy. It took me a long time to understand that it's actually a gift. It feels like an honour that others would take time out of their lives to read a story of mine and get something out of it.

4. Eric McCormack asks, "Honestly, what does your writing tell you — both the good and the bad — about yourself?"

My first book is as much real as it is fiction. I wrote about a world I knew well and one I thought had a story worth sharing. I'm no different than anyone. If born in the wrong circumstance, all of us can be bad. I like to think Ray the author is only an observer for the reader to travel to a place.

5. Jen Sookfong Lee asks, "What's one thing you've written — scene, story or poem — that you hope your mother never reads?"

My first attempt at a sex scene, my mentor at the time only said NO... NO. Men are from Mars...

6. Lawrence Hill asks, "What is the worst job you ever had, and what kind of good material did it give you?"

I grew up on a meat farm. I worked throughout my childhood and early years at university. The worst jobs were castrating, de-horning and slaughtering animals. I had way too much empathy to be in the meat business. Digging ditches, hauling rocks and driving fence posts with a sledgehammer weren't much better. There was an emotional desperation to that life that stayed with me. I always judge what I've written by how it makes me feel.

7. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What do you do when the writing is going badly... or not going at all?"

I play sport. The worse the writing, the harder I play. For me sport and exercise purge me and clear my head. It's a drug that is actually good for me.

8. Eden Robinson asks, "What was the most unexpected inspiration you've ever had?"

I took an English course at CEGEP as an elective. The professor and I were different and we had harsh words a couple of times. I was an aggressive young man and from a different background than most of the other students. One day I got a note that I had to see the professor in his office immediately. All the way there I'm trying to figure out what I'd done, trying to keep my anger down, trying not do something stupid. I was stupid. He sat me down and said, "This short story you handed in is brilliant, Ray. It's the best thing I've read in a long time. You need to keep at it." It changed the way I saw myself and taught me not to assume anything in life. Not to prejudge everyone. It's not easy for any of us to do that, but I keep trying every day, in life and with my writing.


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