The most important lesson filmmaker and author Robyn Harding learned from writing her last novel
In Robyn Harding's latest book, a low-key sweet 16 party goes catastrophically wrong and causes the unravelling of a wealthy San Francisco family. Aptly titled The Party, the domestic thiller examines how one event can drastically change the course of your life. The Party was a finalist for the 2018 Arthur Ellis Awards, which recognizes the best Canadian crime writing, for best novel.
We asked the Vancouver author and screenwriter to take the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answer eight questions from eight of her fellow writers.
1. Gary Barwin asks, "Do you feel that you guide the writing or do you feel the writing guides you?"
I attempt to guide the writing. I write a rough outline and character profiles, but there is always a point where the story takes over. In the end, the manuscript always veers from the outline and goes where it needs to go.
2. Jo Walton asks, "What's the thing you've written that has most affected other people? And how do you feel about that?"
Surprisingly, my first novel, The Journal of Mortifying Moments, had a big impact on readers. Though it is a light, funny, chicklit book, I received many emails from women going through relationship breakups, suffering with an illness or experiencing family difficulties. They were moved by the plight of my protagonist who endures so many humiliating (but hilarious) moments and yet stays optimistic about her future. I guess laughter really is the best medicine. I'm thankful I could provide that.
3. Ausma Zehanat Khan asks, "If you write a particularly desirable character in your books, is that character based on a personal attraction you once had? Do you have a type that you think is most attractive to yourself or to readers?"
I once wrote a character who was inspired by my crush on Javier Bardem (so cliché, I know), but generally, no.
4. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Which comes first, the title or the book?!"
The book! Sometimes the title comes easily from the concept (The Party was a pretty obvious choice). Other times, I need to write the entire novel and then make long lists of title possibilities.
5. Shauna Singh Baldwin asks, "What did you learn from writing one book that you have used/can use/will use when writing the next?"
I'm currently writing my next novel and I'm recalling the editorial notes I got on my last novel. A note I am currently focusing on is: Develop every character or get rid of them. I'm also learning how to properly format ellipses (finally).
6. Marc Raboy asks, "What would you rather enjoy, immediate fame and notoriety or the knowledge that your book will still be read long after you've checked out?"
Immediate fame and notoriety sound awful to me! Poor J.K. Rowling. (I'd love her money but all that attention... Yuck!) It would be amazing to know that you'd left some sort of legacy behind with your writing. Margaret Atwood must feel incredibly satisfied.
7. Phil Hall asks, "Do certain words give you the pip? Why can't you stand them? If it isn't about what they mean, what's it about?"
I'm not terribly fond of the word supper. I'm not sure why... just the sound of it, I guess. In answering this question, I researched its origins. It is derived from farming traditions when families would cook a pot of soup throughout the day, and in the evening, they would "sup" on the soup. I like the word even less now.
8. Jen Sookfong Lee asks, "What's one thing you've written — scene, story or poem — that you hope your mother never reads?"
My mother is very modern and cool and she reads everything I write. My grandmother, on the other hand, nearly disowned me over a chapter in Chronicles of a Midlife Crisis. It was a comedic scene where a couple attempt to consummate their long-simmering affair and it goes terribly wrong. My grandma did not see the humour. She thought it was vulgar and distasteful. Thankfully, she forgave me before she passed away.