Books·Magic 8 Q&A

What inspires Arthur Ellis Award-nominated writer Rio Youers's best work

The author of the thriller The Forgotten Girl answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
Rio Youers is the author of The Forgotten Girl. ( Dunne Books)

Rio Youers is a British Canadian writer whose latest thriller, The Forgotten Girl, is a finalist for the 2018 Arthur Ellis Award for best novel. The Forgotten Girl tells the story of 26-year-old street performer Harvey Anderson, who gets abducted by an evil group on the hunt for Harvey's girlfriend. But Harvey's got a bigger problem: Harvey doesn't remember his girlfriend at all.

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

1. Melanie Mah asks, "Who are some of your favourite writers?"

The simple answer: they're the authors of my favourite novels. Graham Greene (Brighton Rock), George Orwell (1984), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), Stephen King (The Stand), J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), Cormac McCarthy (The Road), Richard Adams (Watership Down). I'll also add Emma Cline to the list (The Girls is one of the finest novels I've read in the past five years), and Canada's own Craig Davidson (The Fighter blew me away).

One more: Marcel Montecino, who had a terrific impact on my early writing. Mr. Montecino was a struggling, disillusioned pianist who turned to writing crime novels, and produced three gritty, powerful masterpieces (The Crosskiller, Big Time and Sacred Heart) before his death at the age of 53. It's tragic on so many levels. Selfishly, I think of all the books he never got to write and that I never got to read.

2. Djamila Ibrahim asks, "What dream job or jobs did you have growing up? Has it or have they appeared in your writing?"

Dream job? Honestly, the thought of a job terrified me at an early age. I've never been one for giving orders or following them. I was always determined to carve my own path, I think, and what better way to do that than to be a novelist?

I was 16 years old when this dawned on me. Duly inspired, I wrote a short story called The Dog and submitted it to a sci-fi magazine. It was justly rejected — the first of many rejections I would receive in the years to come (did someone say dream job?). I kept plugging away, though, and the successes gradually came.

3. Stephen Bown asks, "When do you do your best work?"

I'm a morning person. I like to get up early, somewhere around 6 a.m., pour myself a cup of joe and go to work. This morning time is critical because my brain starts to wind down by mid-afternoon, and is offline completely by 8 p.m.

That being said, I've been living in Vienna for the past year (a temporary move; I return to Canada in July), and find I do my best work at the 1516 Brewing Company in the 1st District. You can find me there most days between 12 and 2 p.m., beavering away at the bar. The ambience suits me. I think it appeals to the tragic but ultimately romantic European poet that resides in the souls of most writers.

4. Sharon Bala asks, "Is there anything you wouldn't write about?"

I've given this question considerable thought. There are certainly subjects I'd be uncomfortable writing about, but it comes down to this: there is good and bad in the world, and I believe, as writers, we have a responsibility to honestly reflect the time we're living in. We can, and should, do so with delicacy and diligence, but without sacrificing impact or resonance.

5. Ahmad Danny Ramadan asks, "How do you build your characters? Do they come to you before you write your first draft or are they formed as you write them?"

A little of both. I usually have the main characters' skeletons when I begin a novel (or of their skeletons — they may be missing a metacarpal bone or two), and they develop musculature and movement as the story rumbles onward. I imagine this is the same with most writers, because really, the best way — the only way — to get to know your characters is to write them.

6. Cherie Dimaline asks, "What is your biggest fear when your books are finally released out into the world?"

Do I only get to list one? Well… I'd have to say the fear that no one will read them — that I may, perchance, have written something quite special, something , and no one will ever know.

7. Kevin Chong asks, "How have big life changes (marriage, divorce, kids, family deaths) changed your writing?"

Honestly, they haven't really changed my writing at all — except that, having children (they're young; Lily is six and Charlie is three), I'm aware that they will likely read my work one day. So I try, more than ever, to do my best, and offer a good account of myself.

8. Esi Edugyan asks, "Some years ago I read a piece about discussions going in the world of chess as to whether chess playing  could be called a sport, given the enormous physical stamina required to sit for so many hours in silent thought. Writing asks a similar physical discipline. What exercise (or otherwise) do you do to counteract the hours of stillness? Do you write standing up, or use a treadmill desk? What physical activity do you do?"

I just Googled "treadmill desk." It's a real thing. I had no idea. Anyway, yes, I (try to) exercise most days. I have an old-fashioned treadmill (the kind you run on, as opposed to the kind you do your accounts on), but prefer to run outside. I usually manage somewhere between six and 10 kilometres. I tell myself it's so that I can live longer, but mostly it's because I do some of my best thinking — stitching up plot holes, and such — when running through the beautiful countryside around my house.


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