Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Thea Lim thinks talent is overrated

The author of An Ocean of Minutes answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Thea Lim is a Toronto-based writer and teacher. (Elisha Lim/ Viking Canada)

Thea Lim is a Singapore-raised and Toronto-based novelist whose novel An Ocean of Minutes is on the shortlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize. In a story where a woman travels through time to save the man she loves, Lim weaves in themes of social class, immigration and poverty.

An Ocean of Minutes is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist. The final five books and the panellists defending them will be revealed on Jan. 31, 2019. The 2019 debates are happening on March 25-28, 2019 and will be hosted by Ali Hassan.

Below, Lim takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors. 

1. Kevin Hardcastle asks, "What would you say to a younger version of yourself, or another emerging writer, who doesn't know what you know now about writing and publishing, or how long that road can be?"

Talent is nothing; tenacity is everything. Stay in your desk chair, and you'll get there. And if you decide that's not for you, that's all right too.

2. Caroline Adderson asks, "Do you write for your characters or your readers?"

Hmm, neither! I follow the story. Who the characters are, where the plot goes, what themes emerge: all of these materialize according to what the story needs to get where it's going.

3. Janet Rogers asks, "How much personal information comes out as confession in your writing?"

My intention is to reveal nothing, but of course everything is revealing. Just as the people who love us know our faces in a much more profound way than we ourselves do, I think our readers see a part of ourselves that we may not even realize we've exposed.

4. Sheena Kamal asks, "Is there a piece of art — be it a book, poem, painting, song, sculpture or what have you— that you come back to again and again as a source of inspiration?"

When I was 19, I travelled to Ireland on my own, and while I was walking through a library in Dublin I saw this poem by Samuel Beckett displayed in a case:

my way is in the sand flowing
between the shingle and the dune
the summer rain rains on my life
on me my life harrying fleeing
to its beginning to its end

my peace is there in the receding mist
when I may cease from treading these long shifting thresholds
and live the space of a door
that opens and shuts

I was taken aback (almost scared!) by how much the poem seemed to be about me. I have it framed next to my desk now, and even on days when it doesn't speak to me as much as it did then, it reminds me of what writing is for: to take away the most indelible kinds of isolation. This is especially fantastical to me because there is no way on any earth that Samuel Beckett could have been imagining someone like me when he wrote it (a rootless Irish-Singaporean teen girl in the 21st century). The magic works anyway.

5. Eden Robinson asks, "How long is your mull time before you write?"

I wish it was longer, but I've found that no matter how intricate a plan I make, nothing will tell me whether or not it will work, other than actually trying to execute it — i.e. writing the story. This means I have to fail many times and come up with a new plan, again and again. I am a really slow writer. I'm vastly envious of those people who can conceive of an entire novel in their heads, write it out, and be done.

6. Anne Michaels asks, "What do you hope to achieve in the span of your writing life?"


7. S.K. Ali asks, "Where was the weirdest/most interesting place you wrote in?"  

Oh dear. I'm not very interesting. I can only do serious writing at home, at my desk. Moving to the living room would be really getting wild.

8. Hartley Lin asks, "What activity that has nothing to do with writing do you highly recommend to other writers?"

I think the argument could be made that everything is to do with writing! How about: riding the bus in a neighbourhood you've never known.


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