Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why Barbara Gowdy went to the morgue

The author of Little Sister answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Barbara Gowdy is the author of the novel Little Sister. (Ruth Kaplan)

Renowned author Barbara Gowdy makes a grand return to writing with her first book in a decade, Little Sister. The novel tells the story of Rose, a 34-year-old woman who has been experiencing lucid dreams about entering another woman's body. But it turns out that these dreams are more real than she thought.

Below, Barbara Gowdy answers eight questions submitted by eight of her 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?"

For my story "We So Seldom Look on Love", I went to the morgue to find out how a body is autopsied. I was with the writer Susan Swan, who was doing her own research. We were both nauseated by the smell. Our guide was jaunty.

2. Shani Mootoo asks, "What was the best surprise you had in the process of writing your latest published book?"

I don't think had any good surprises, maybe because the writing took 10 years, so revelations of any kind were gradual. In the end, I was somewhat taken aback by how short the manuscript was.

3. Alison Pick asks, "What is your middle name?"

Louise, after my paternal grandmother, who was Lu Lu.

4. Emily Schultz asks, "Which do you prefer to write: characters that are more like you, or less like you?"

I write about characters who aren't like me at all, but this isn't a conscious choice. It's just where I go. I use some of the plain facts of my life — certain settings, furnishings, snippets of dialogue — to help me enter the mind of fabricated people. Maybe one day I'll write a memoir, and then I'll be stuck with myself.

5. Matti Friedman asks, "If you could go somewhere on earth right now, where would it be?"

Grand Bend, Lake Huron, the summer of 1959.

6. Meg Rosoff asks, "What book would you like every person on the planet to read?"

It would be Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders' sublimely innovative, heart-wrenching novel about love and death, good and evil, faith and fear.

7. Douglas Coupland asks, "Do you ever say to yourself, 'I'm just tired of doing this. I'm going to stop'? If so, what do you then say to get yourself back?"

Every time I finish a book, I think I'm washed up. I can't believe I'll ever have another good idea — about anything! — and there's nothing I can tell myself that will make an idea come. It comes on its own, months later, when I've almost given up on myself.

8. Michael Christie asks, "Is there some thematic or structural characteristic of your work that you feel is representative of what we call CanLit? Do you see yourself as a CanLit writer? Why or why not?"

I'm guess consider myself a CanLit writer in much the same way that I consider myself Canadian. Here I am, a writer in Canada, the country where I've lived all my life and where all except one of my books is set. I'm happy to call myself a CanLit writer, not because I feel any thematic or structural connection to the term, but because CanLit is celebrated and respected around the world.


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