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Interview With National Radio Some Years Ago (But Most Answers Remain The Same)

symbole-of-trust

 

I came across a transcript of this at the end of last year. It’s not that I forgot it, but it took me some time to remember it.

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1. What unique challenges do you face when writing about serious
non-fiction issues such as religion?

I WRITE about spiritual matters and leave religion to others. The spirit and its quests drive religion – religion just interprets. The biggest challenge I faced in THE ELEPHANT TALKS TO GOD is that the Elephant started asking questions I could not answer. Thus endeth the book.

2. You wrote The Elephant Talks to God in 1989. Why did you decide to
re-release it with the added stories rather than write a sequel?

THIS WAS the decision of the publisher, Goose Lane. When they approached me for a re-issue they were unaware of the additional stories. It was decided the marketplace would prefer one longer book over two shorter ones. Having just one book also reduced production costs, which in turn reduced consumer cost.

3. Why did you decide to become a writer?

“I WAS born like this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” This quote from Leonard Cohen sums it up. Not “born” this way exactly, but within one month in grade eleven I went from ‘no writing’ to ‘continually writing’. I have no explanation. I had no previous interest nor inclination toward the arts, or writing. I was not a reader, and only after university deliberately read such children’s classics as Black Beauty and Alice in Wonderland.

4. What books or authors have most influenced your life?

POSSIBLY P.G. WODEHOUSE was the most influential author in my formative period. I even sent him a fan letter and received a response. In university I experienced Franz Kafka, and I believe I have read everything of his in print. Much later I visited Prague to research a novel I have since written about him. There are reports of ‘missing’ stories and diaries of Kafka still in Berlin, which I would dearly love to find.

5. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good
writing?

SURPRIZE, HUMOUR and reality. ‘In context’ (it doesn’t matter what the genre) I want to be surprized by what is happening, yet fully believe in the reality created in the book. And somewhere, at least once, every character in every novel should make me laugh at least once.

6. What are you reading right now?

“WICKED” BY Gregory Maguire. His abilities as a writer astound me. I am a slow reader, and seemingly getting slower. Soon (?) to be read will be Alice Munro’s “The View from Castle Rock ” and John LeCarre’s “The Mission Song”, both requested Christmas presents. I also do a lot of research for my novels, and will embark upon histories of China in the near future.

7. What advice would you give to writers starting out?

I HAVE two steadfast rules, one put into rhyme. “When in doubt/take it out.” Regardless of the wonder of the poetic line, or the awe of the slice of dialogue, if you have any questions about its effectiveness, that is reason enough to remove it.
The other concerns the physical writing itself. At the end of your writing day, and you know what the next line of dialogue is, or the description you are going to write, or the next line of the poem – DON”T write them down. Start with them the next day, and you will quickly get back into the writing. I find this works 90% of the time.

8. Describe your writing process.

I’M A morning writer, roughly from 9:00 until 15:00. There’s a meal in there, and research and email and such, but I will generally complete two pages a day. I generally write seven or eight days straight and then take one off. At the start of a novel I have a well developed outline and characters, though I rarely write such things down. I find that at the end of a novel I spend an additional third of the writing time editing what is done. I usually complete a novel in two years.

9. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome
it?

THREE MONTHS of writer’s block during my second novel has (so far) been my experience with this curse (knock knock knock on wood). I sat at the desk literally for hours per day attempting to continue. I think I wrote five paragraphs in that time. I know of no way to overcome it other than attempting to write each day. My number two tip in question #7 will help in avoiding writer’s block.

10. Naturally, most writer want as many people as possible to read
their work. Who did you have in mind when you were writing this book,
the “believers” or the “non-believers”?

BRITISH PUBLISHER Joseph Dent introduced “Everyman’s Library” in the early 1900’s (which is now published by Penguin Random House UK). As my mother was from England and my father was a proud UEL, there were many of these books when I was growing up. Everyman’s Library had a motto at the beginning of each book:        “Everyman, I will go with thee/and be thy guide,/ in thy most need/ to go by thy side.”     This is what came to mind when thinking of who I write for. I did not write for either believers or non-believers. I wrote for everyone, and my job is to make them accept that the The Elephant believes. 

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Creating Dialogue For A Novel

Each character should have aspects of dialogue which are theirs alone among the other characters. This can be as obvious as using a personal ‘catch phrase’ to the use of double negatives. They can constantly use humour, or inappropriate humour, or be self-important. They can use too many pauses (…). The author is careful not to overuse these devices – perhaps only once in a chapter. Dialogue, in addition to relaying plot information, is also a character-developing trait.

Dialogue in a novel is not “real” dialogue. What I mean by “real” dialogue is dialogue spoken by people in conversations, using air and voice. We do not just put down verbatim (real) conversations. They do not work on the page. Written dialogue is *concentrated* (much like juice) dialogue, doing much more than just responding to sentences. Each line does much heavy lifting in the progress of the novel.

Perhaps my creative stream is bubbling away

I did not plan a New Year resolution. What I had planned was to write something on my current novel the first day of the new year.

This is also not planned, but – so far – I have written every day of the year except two – one a travel day, and one a deliberate ‘take-a-day-off-day’. I am two or three chapters from the end of thisThriller. I have not written fiction so steadily for months. I hope it keeps on.

This is the part which I do nor know is related to my writing situation.

I have never dreamt about any of my writing – never. I know many artists dream about their work, get ideas about their work in dreams and such, but not me. So, I did not have a dream about my writing. However, I recently awoke from a dream where I was talking to my publisher. She said I should do another book of short stories about the Elephant. Is that close?

And, finally, the incident below. On Twitter, I came across an announcement of a restaurant/bakery in Calgary. The Corbeaux. This means The Ravens. They have a store sign which has noted similarities to one which I have described in a manuscript. And you can see their sign in this photo.

https://fbexternal-a.akamaihd.net/safe_image.php?d=AQCKukhRj63heHlL&w=470&h=246&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftoquesandtruffles.files.wordpress.com%2F2014%2F12%2Fimg_8531.jpg%3Fw%3D1200&cfs=1&upscale=1

And then you can read what appears in my unpublished second Satan novel, where ravens play an important part.

Perhaps my creative stream is bubbling away.

From Places Of Evil

Mr. S. does rehearse what he plans to say to Breeze, both while he waits for the taxi, and then in the twenty minute ride to her restaurant. He is surprised Dorkas and Caleb made as such little protest. He suspects they agree with his concerns about the twins, even if not enthusiastic with his solution.

Mr. S. has the taxi stop a couple of blocks from the restaurant. Breeze has installed a new sign, and she wants his opinion of how effective it will be attracting customers. Although he helped – at her insistence – to choose the design, he has yet to see the finished object.


He walks along the street, pretending to be someone looking in shop windows for a gift. He actually wants to purchase Breeze a celebratory present, but that is for later. He tricks himself enough, that when he finally does look up at the sign, it is with a degree of surprise.

Breeze has not purchased a painted sign, as he had supposed. The design is similar to the ones they discussed, but she has not chosen an image imposed upon a wooden background. Instead, there are carved and painted shapes jutting from the front of the building, parallel to the wall.

A thick piece of wood, chiseled into the shape of a tree top, is attached over the lintel. Two branches sprout from the trunk of the tree, which tapers to an uneven and jagged tip. At the very top, a life-sized carved raven sits, its head tilted up. On each of the protruding branches sits another raven, their bills open as they look at each other.

Nailed to the bottom of the tree, a metal chain hangs to the door, holding a wooden sign printed in Old German script. It announces the name of the restaurant: The Hungry Ravens.

“As black as black can be.”

Mr. S. hums as he walks across the narrow street. He has reservations about her sense of humour, with this reference to the ravens. Their unfathomable connection to the work of the Organization, and their role of `familiar’ to Satan’s intentions, are beyond – in his opinion – the wryest of humours.


As he steps toward the front door, he notices a more subtle change. Breeze has sand-blasted the brickwork facing the street. The dark red hue enhances the outline of the tree and its occupants. They look as if they are silhouetted against a sunset.

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