Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why book reviews are important to Trevor Cole

The author of The Whisky King answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Trevor Cole is the author of The Whisky King: The Remarkable True Story of Canada’s Most Infamous Bootlegger and the Undercover Mountie on His Trail. (Fehn Foss)

It has been nearly two decades since Trevor Cole quit his career as a journalist to write novels. Since then, he's written four novels. He's returned to his journalistic roots with his latest, The Whisky King, which tells the remarkable true story one of Canada's most notorious organized crime figures, Rocco Perri. It is currently a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award, which recognizes the best Canadian crime writing, for best nonfiction book.

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

1. Lorna Crozier asks, "If you could write in any room anywhere in the world, besides your own writing room, where would that be? Please describe it."

It would be a shack (a nice, weather-proofed shack, with great wifi and broadband Internet), situated securely on an outcropping of rock in a sheltered cove somewhere along the Northumberland shore of Nova Scotia, where the waves crash and the seagulls cry, where the air is scented with a hint of wood smoke from the fireplace and where there is, inexplicably, no access to CNN.

2. Greg Hollingshead asks, "Name three Canadian writers you believe should be more widely read than they are. Why?"

This is an awful question to be asked. I know so many terrific, deserving Canadian writers personally, it's like being made to choose three shipwreck survivors to be pulled into the lifeboat. But all right, here are three names: Zsuzsi Gartner, because I want to see great writers who take risks and who aren't afraid to be funny, succeed; Colin McAdam, because his surprising, vibrant prose gets inside the character and the moment and makes the reader really see; and Steven Heighton, because he has a huge canvas as a writer and he seems willing to go anywhere and tackle big, meaty stories that take time to appreciate.

3. Jane Urquhart asks, "How interested are you in fashion?"

Generally, only to the degree that it allows me to avoid standing out at an event for the wrong reasons. But when I was researching and writing The Whisky King, I found myself endlessly fascinated by the clothes people wore in the 1920s and 1930s. Picturing the dresses and suits, discovering details about their colours and fabrics, helped bring the people and events I was writing about closer to me.

4. Drew Hayden Taylor asks, "Other than writing novels, what other art form (i.e. plays, movies, music, visual art) do you wish you possessed or had a better grasp of?"

I'd love to be able to play an instrument fluently. Piano, guitar, flugelhorn, whatever. Over the decades I've taken lessons in various instruments (the count stands currently at four). In each case I've gotten to the stage of basic competence, only to have some life event come along to push me off course. I think I've got one more attempt in me. Whaddayasay, ukulele?

5. Kenneth Oppel asks, "Do you resist all distractions during the working day, or welcome (and even invent) them?"

I try to resist, and increasingly I fail. What I've decided is that some distractions are inevitable, so I try to corral them into time periods. Early in the morning I give in to even the slightest diversion, but as the morning wears on I start to bear down and push all but the greatest of them aside, so that by 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m. I've become impervious to potential interruptions. Then around 4:30 p.m. I start to allow my resolve to weaken again.  This holds true unless I have a deadline bearing down on me, in which case the Period of Imperviousness expands. Somehow the pressure of a deadline gives me strength.

6. Nazneen Sheikh asks, "How important are reviews for you?"

More important than I suppose they should be. I want to hear from a thoughtful, well-read, unbiased reader whether or not I have managed to connect with her, whether I have pleased her mind or entertained him beyond his expectations. I want to have provided a deeply satisfying, enjoyable reading experience for someone with high standards. And then, if I have managed to do that, I want others to find out about it so that they'll seek out that experience. I'd never want to pander to reviews, but I do write with the reader in mind and I think it's natural to care what they think. When my father sent me out as a boy to shovel the driveway, I wanted to come in later and hear him say, "Good job, son." Part of me is still that little boy.

7. Anita Rau Badami asks, "What is more difficult, and which is more satisfying: starting a novel or finishing it?"

For me, starting is infinitely more difficult than finishing, and finishing is greatly satisfying. This has to be true for everyone, no? Starting a novel is like trying to decide exactly where to begin digging an immense hole in the hopes of finding a nugget of gold. It's going to take you two, or even ten years to dig the hole, all by yourself, working hours and hours each day, and if you don't find the nugget of gold at the bottom, you're going to have wasted all those years of backbreaking effort. And no one but you will know or care. Everyone else will just think you've been frittering away your time, and you will have to swallow and admit to the utter futility of your recent existence. So, for me, it isn't just the blank white page that intimidates at the start of a novel, it's the potential of wasted years behind it.

8. Alissa York asks, "Have you ever incurred the wrath of a loved one through something you've written?"

Sadly, yes. Someone I love very much was terribly upset by my last novel, Hope Makes Love. To protect that person's privacy, I won't give any details, but the reaction came as a surprise to me and it still troubles me greatly. I think of it as a tragic event in my life, and I'm just hoping that one day we'll be able to get beyond it. By contrast, I wrote my first novel, Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life, with the assumption that it would upset my father. But he ended up feeling rather pleased at being the subject of a book, even an unflattering one. Such is the gift of narcissism.


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