Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Steve Burrows on how exotic birding trips inspired his mystery series

The author of A Shimmer of Hummingbirds answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Steve Burrows is the author of the novel A Shimmer of Hummingbirds. (

Steve Burrows has travelled the world on birdwatching adventures. He's turned his passion into an award-winning crime series. His latest, A Shimmer of Hummingbirds, takes police inspector Domenic Jejeune on a birding trip to the rainforest, where he hopes to uncover clues about his fugitive brother's manslaughter case.

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

1. Heather O'Neill asks, "What's the strangest thing you've done while researching a book?"

Part of my research for this book involved taking a birding trip to Colombia. One night, I went off into the forest on my own and stood in the middle of a suspension bridge over a deep ravine — in pitch darkness. I eventually found another predicament for my protagonist, but I did use some of the sensations I experienced in a different scene in the book.

2. Shilpi Somaya Gowda asks, "Do you ever get stuck creatively? If so, what do you do to get your creative juices flowing again?"

Because my books have intertwining story lines, I sometimes get entangled in the plotting, and find myself unable to write my way out. When that happens, I jump to a chapter elsewhere in the book that might need a descriptive passage or dialogue that is not necessarily plot-focused.

3. 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?"

On my annual pilgrimage to Rondeau Provincial Park for the spring bird migration, I'm always drawn to one particular stretch of shoreline. It's remote, quiet and breathtakingly beautiful. A late afternoon stroll offers the time, space and solitude to let the ideas just flow in.

4. Erin Bow asks, "Do you love your villains?"

I try to have my villains act out of human failings, rather than any inborn compulsion towards evil, so in that regard, there is a certain empathy for their motivations. That said, the rest of us manage to deal with life's challenges without resorting to murder, so it's hard to have any real sympathy for the villains themselves.

5. Linwood Barclay asks, "Does writing get easier the more you do it, or more difficult because you don't want to repeat yourself?"

The act of sitting down to begin writing a novel is becoming less intimidating because I now have the confidence that I will, eventually, produce something. However, although all my books are stand-alone mysteries, there are unresolved back stories that continue from one book to the next. I'm finding it more of a challenge to manage all these background threads as the series progresses.

6. Ian Hamilton asks, "What was the worst review you ever received and how do you cope with it?"

It's easy to laugh off reviews such as the one by the reader who said she didn't care for my book, but then added she had no interest in birds and didn't like murder mysteries. The ones that strike home are those that pinpoint shortcomings I agree with. Overall, though, I look at negative reviews as the price I have to pay in order to enjoy the positive ones, so I don't take them personally.

7. Peggy Blair asks, "If your book became a movie, which actor would play your lead and why?"

I'm going to cop out here and say I'd like unknowns in the roles of both the lead character and that of his sergeant. The interaction between these two is almost certainly what would make or break the series and it might be more difficult for established "stars" to be accepted as part of an equal partnership.

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

I was about to do some in-depth research on attitudes towards doves through the ages, so imagine my surprise when I discovered the Umberto Eco novel I was reading for pleasure contained what amounted to a scholarly treatise on that very subject.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.