The advice Scotiabank Giller Prize-longlisted author Andrée Michaud would give to aspiring writers
Quebec author Andrée Michaud has made the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist for her novel Boundary. Translated by Donald Winkler, Boundary follows the grisly murders of two teenage girls living in a cottage community. The novel won the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction in 2014.
We asked Michaud to take the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answer eight random questions from eight writers.
1. Cea Sunrise Person asks, "What do you think the biggest misconception about writers is?"
That they're rich. But people are absolutely wrong: writers are not rich! My neighbor is rich, my tailor is rich, Stephen King is rich, but not me nor are a lot of my colleagues rich. And no, we don't live on love alone.
2. Matti Friedman asks, "What book made the greatest impact on you?"
I can say To the Lighthouse or The Waves by Virginia Woolf, The Sound and the Fury or The Wild Palms by William Faulkner, Monsieur Songe or L'inquisitoire by Robert Pinget. I could go on for a whole page because a lot of books had an impact on me and on my writing. So I'll say my first novel, La femme de Sath, because it's where it all started for me.
3. Jen Sookfong Lee asks, "What's one thing you've written — scene, story or poem — that you hope your mother never reads?"
There was a time, when I was younger, I was afraid of my mother reading what I was writing. But I came to understand, as I aged, that my mother was a woman, like me. She was a very intelligent, sensitive and loving woman and could read everything I wrote without judging me. My greatest regret is that, at the end of her life, she wasn't able to read my books because she was practically blind. She died at the beginning of the summer and my regret will last for all the books I will write knowing she will never read them.
4. Ami McKay asks, "How do your dreams influence your writing?"
God! They don't and I hope they never will. You can't imagine what kind of crazy novels would emerge from the damp tunnels, the creaking houses or the moving lands I visit in my dreams. But… thinking of it, maybe it would make me rich.
5. Vivek Shraya asks, "What has been the most surprising question you have been asked at a Q&A/writer event/panel?"
"Miss Michaud, are you really crazy?" How can you answer a such question without creating a paradox — like the liar paradox, for example — because the madman doesn't know he's mad? If he answers "yes," he's lying, because he can't know he's crazy, but if he answers "no," he's lying too. I thought about it a few moments and answered: "I'm the Schrödinger's cat."
6. Trevor Cole asks, "What emotion do you find best fuels your writing — happiness, sadness, anger or something else?"
It depends on what you want to write. If you want to write about politicians, anger is a good fuel. But I don't write about politicians: to my eyes, they're absolutely not interesting. Usually, it's not an emotion that fuels me because I have to be calm to write, to be neutral, entirely open to the emotions of my characters. The light on a landscape feeds me, a thunderstorm, a coyote crossing the road and then the peace I feel in front of the landscape, the excitement where I fall when there is a rumble of thunder or when I see a coyote running toward the woods, yes, those emotions feed and fuel me.
7. Jowita Bydlowska asks, "Do you have any writing rituals and if yes, what are they?"
I don't have any rituals. I just have some habits, some needs: the presence of my cats (if they're not chasing mice), the silence, only disrupted by the sound of the rain, the wind or the song of the birds, my coffee and my piece of chocolate, the perfect equilibrium between tranquillizing and stimulating. I start from there. I look at my cats, I look out the window, I take a sip of coffee, a bite of my chocolate bar, a deep breath and I'm ready to write.
8. Bill Waiser asks, "What one piece of advice would you give to a novice writer?"
Stop trying, hoping, wanting to be a writer. Just relax and be one: look at the world around you, smell it, touch it, hear it, walk it, run it, feel it, love it and if nothing really moving, nothing that urgently has to be told, to be described, to be painted on a sheet of paper comes of your observation, don't force it. Your hope will weigh you down like a lead balloon.