Archive | September, 2009

Writing About Writing About Where Writers Write

27 Sep

Lisa's writing view: Brightsand Lake

Fellow Saskatchewanian Lisa, over at Building a Novel, just posted a rundown of her writing spaces. I really admire the fact that she actually gets anything done overlooking a lake. Whenever I tell myself that I can be productive outside, I just end up watching someone’s dog chase a tennis ball for two hours.

A quick search confirms that the writer set goes bananas for writing about their writing spots:

distraction no. 99 Nova’s “writer glam” locales, including a swanky-sounding members-only writing club in NYC. No photo – it’s probably a secret club!, a site dedicated to the creative spaces of fantasy and science fiction writers (bonus points for featuring actual writer’s pets):

Ellen Datlow

Luke Burrage’s extremely suave den, along with an explanation of how he avoids the clutter so common in the rooms:

Luke Burrage

Tara Bradford at Paris Parfait prefers French starving-artist chic. Those mercantile cabinet drawers look perfect for storing tiny scraps of poetry:

Tara Bradford, Paris Parfait

Warrent St. John’s “Cloffice” (a repurposed walk-in closet), via The New Yorker’s The Book Bench. The colour-coordinated oranges might just be for show, but I find the fresh stack of notepaper and identical pens very appealing. In a brand-new back-to-school supplies kind of way:


After coveting dozens of workspaces , I still haven’t decided which I love more: knick-knacky coziness or a nice clean surface. Either way, most people seem to believe that finding the perfect set-up is the key to their creative success. Is it superstitious to attribute magic writing powers to certain locations and furniture arrangements, or just practical?

We know that some of the best writing ever was likely penned in some poorly lit dungeon with nary a macbook pro or venti latte in sight, but we still can’t help but think that our creative juices require a beautiful view, an ergonomic chair, and a couple good luck charms thrown in for good measure. And lots of snacks.

What do you need around you to produce your best work, be it writing, arting, or just brainstorming?

PS. I’d feel left out if I didn’t share my current writing tools: messy bed, glass of Sainsbury’s finest red wine (and a bit of a buzz-on), four-year-old iBook, and my sexy librarian specs (they’re a souvenir from the healthcare coverage I got with my old job).

Catch Up in the Rye

25 Sep

Life of Pi

During the tail-end of university,  I was confined to course reading, which really wasn’t so bad – I knocked off a bunch of classics (Middlemarch!), and discovered some enduring favourites (Robertson Davies!). Then, during the beginning of my fledgling magazine career, I’d be so brain-dead after work that I stuck to comfort reading – old stand-bys that I would read and re-read.

This is all leading up to a confession. I missed out on some of the big award-winners and best-sellers of the past four (ack, maybe five) years. A Thousand Splendid Suns? Not a page. Life of Pi? Sorry, Yann. Middlesex? Even the mighty Ope’s endorsement wasn’t enough to whip me into shape. And I just read Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness two weeks ago.


Now that I’ve said sayonara to the magazine gig and have packed up and moved to London, it’s time to make amends to the book gods (and Oprah) and make up for some lost ground. I’d love suggestions on which books are absolute can’t-misses from the last few years. And, to show that I’m serious, if anyone recommends a (fiction) book here, I will read it within the month.

A Girl Who Read Madeleine L’Engle When She Was Small

17 Sep

dark and stormy l'engle

I got an inkling that I might want to write this blog when I read this New Yorker profile of the late great Madeleine L’Engle, written by Cynthia Zarin.

The article keeps coming back to the point that L’Engle’s personal life influenced her writing and vice versa (and a little too much, in both cases). The friends and family that Zarin interviews make the claim that L’Engle had a hopeless habit of confusing truth and fiction – that her autobiographical work is full of misleading half-truths, but that her sci-fi YA books actually hit closer to home.

I’d never even stopped to consider that a book like A Wrinkle in Time, complete with a fifth dimension called a tesseract and a character named Mrs. Whatsit, would be based on real people and places (to be fair, I was probably in grade 2 and instead busy considering whether I could con my friend into sharing her fruit roll-up). In this instance, the fuzzy line between life and art was very hard on L’Engle’s family, but I can’t help but love the idea of the everyday making its way into the fantastic. It makes me wonder about the real-life stories and quirks behind my other favourite reads. Does Nick Hornby have to write his drafts in 14-point Comic Sans? Does Margaret Atwood ever use to find a cracker-jack synonym? What’s Goodnight Moon really about?

As a side note, Zarin writes that she remembers an old college friend saying:

“There are really two kinds of girls. Those who read Madeleine L’Engle when they were small, and those who didn’t.”

This little edict really appeals to my inner snob. And yeah, if someone also grew up reading A Ring of Endless Light and Camilla, we probably share a few other similarities. Although, the main one would probably be: nerdy liberal teacher parents who bought you stacks of books, told you that you were a very smart little girl, and eventually encouraged you to major in English Lit.


[artwork by Taeeun Yoo for the Wrinkle in Time quintet boxed set.]