Why novelist Dania Tomlinson thinks writers make the best and worst readers
Characters in Dania Tomlinson's debut, Our Animal Hearts, have an intimate knowledge of stories and storytelling. The historical novel accompanies Iris Sparks and her brother as they listen to their Welsh mother's fantastic stories, only to witness these tales and local Indigenous legends come to life in the form of a creature living in a nearby lake. Our Animal Hearts pairs these stories with the tragedy the children face at home as their mother's health deteriorates.
Prior to her debut, Tomlinson's short fiction was longlisted for the 2017 CBC Short Story Prize.
Below, Tomlinson takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
1. Kate Pullinger asks, "What relationship does your writing have to your own childhood, both in terms of where you grew up as well as whether or not you were a happy child?"
I grew up around lakes and forests and I find that my writing often draws from that landscape and the creatures that inhabit those places. Immersion vs. emergence, surface vs. bottomlessness, are often themes in my work. Our Animal Hearts is set in a very particular location from my childhood. I think there will always be certain places that fill us with wonder and nostalgia no matter our age, and for me the setting in my novel is one of them. Although a little quiet and a little dreamy, I was a very happy child. The children in my writing are rarely as happy, though equally as dreamy.
2. Frances Itani asks, "If you were to have a silent conversation with a now dead writer, which writer would you choose, and from which period? Or perhaps you already converse with dead writers?"
Our Animal Hearts intersects with a collection of translated Welsh tales called the Mabinogion. I would have loved to sit with some of the bards who practiced telling these oral stories before they were recorded in the Red Book of Hergest in the 1300s.
3. Kim Thùy asks, "Doctors are often the worst patients. Are writers better readers, or worse?"
Reading fills so many needs in me as a writer and as a human. I read for research, for inspiration, for joy, for food. I can't go a day without picking up a book. I think writers make the best readers because we appreciate the time and hard work that goes into crafting a good story or poem. That said, perhaps we are the least forgiving when writing doesn't live up to our subjective standards and preferences, so perhaps that makes us worse.
4. Jalal Barzanji asks, "Why do you write?"
I write fiction because I need to. Story is how I process the world. It's how I work through my curiosities and my questions. It's how I try to understand myself and other people. Reading and writing helps me love and understand others.
5. Linwood Barclay asks, "Does writing get easier the more you do it, or more difficult because you don't want to repeat yourself?"
I'm early in my writing career, having only just published my debut, but I certainly hope my next book doesn't take 10 years to write. I think the first time you do a thing you have to teach yourself how to do that thing, which takes time.
6. Hiro Kanagawa asks, "Which career trajectory would you prefer: a) you have a spectacular early success giving you the time and freedom to live and write comfortably for the rest of your life, but you never again come close to matching your magnificent debut, or b) you toil without financial or worldly recognition for decades, but achieve spectacular success in the twilight of your days?"
Well the first option certainly sounds a lot more luxurious. Even if you aren't matching your debut, you'd at least have a roof over your head, plenty of wine and chocolate, and you would get to do what you loved the most, so I pick option A.
7. Ausma Zehanat Khan asks, "What role does your mother play in shaping your female characters?"
My parents divorced when I was very young and I think growing up as an only child and with a single mother certainly influences my female characters and my interests as a writer. I often write about female interiority, motherhood, and mother-daughter relationships. That said, although rather eccentric and quirky, my mother is much more kind and supportive than most of the women I depict in my writing.
8. Durga Chew-Bose asks, "What fictional depiction of friendship have you felt nearest to?"
Iris and Azami's childhood relationship in Our Animal Hearts is very much how I remember friendship in elementary school — rife with betrayal and jealousy and also full of intense love and wonder and imagination. For girls at that age, everything that happens between you and your friends feels so monumental and cataclysmic. And these childhood friendships exist in a realm that adults can't touch.