WIR Endicott Feb 6, 2014 Atrium


Monika Croydon: My name is Monika Croydon
and I’m one of the librarians at the Languages and Literature Department here at Toronto
Reference Library. I would like to thank you all for coming out this evening to help us
welcome our new writer in residence, Marina Endicott. Before I begin my introductions,
I would like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts for their support of our Writer in
Residence Program. The Toronto Public Library’s Writer in Residence Program offers aspiring
writers an opportunity to gain valuable feedback and expert advice on their work from a leading
writer. This evening, we are very pleased to introduce Marina Endicott, our spring Writer
in Residence at the TRL. MC: Marina Endicott was born in Golden, BC,
and grew up with three sisters and a brother mostly in Nova Scotia and Toronto. She worked
as an actor and director before going to England where she [loss of sound]. After London, she
went west to Saskatoon where she was dramaturge at the Saskatchewan Playwright Centre for
many years before going farther west to Meyer, North Alberta, and she now lives in Edmonton.
She came a long way to see us. MC: Her first novel, “Open Arms”, was shortlisted
for the Amazon and Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2002. Her second novel, “Good to
a Fault”, was a finalist for the 2008 Giller Prize and won the 2009 Commonwealth Writer’s
Prize for Best Book, Canada-Caribbean Region. The “Little Shadows”, her latest book, recreates
the little known world of polite vaudeville in Western Canada during 1912 to 1917. It
was long listed for the 2011 Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Governor General’s
Award. Marina has extensive experience teaching creative writing at the University of Alberta,
Bath Centre for the Arts, and other writing programs. During her residency, she will research
her next work of historical fiction entitled The Difference, and share what she has learned
about the process through workshops and one-on-one meetings with aspiring writers. MC: I would also like to introduce our second
guest for the evening. Katherine Ashenberg is the prize winning author of three non-fiction
books and hundreds of articles on subjects that range from travel to mourning customs,
that’s M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G, to architecture. She has had successive careers at the CBC as a
radio producer at the Globe and Mail as the Arts and Books editor, and most recently as
a freelance writer, lecturer and teacher. Catherine was a regular contributor to the
Sunday travel section of the New York Times, and she wrote a column on design and architecture
for Toronto Life Magazine. Her first book, “Going To Town: Architectural Walking Tours
in Southern Ontario”, won the Ontario Historical Society’s award for best regional history.
Her second book, “The Mourner’s Dance: What We Do When People Die”, was a finalist for
two important prizes. Her latest book, “The Dirt on Clean and Unsanitized History”, is
a spirited chronicle of the West’s ambivalent relationship with the washed and unwashed
body. She is currently writing her first novel set in 19th and early 20th century Sweden. MC: Tonight’s program is entitled “Beginning
the Journey: The Charms and Challenges of Historical Fiction”. Why is historical fiction
so popular, and what are the key elements of success? In what promises to be a fascinating
discussion, Catherine and Marina will discuss the research and craft required to imagine
a past world. Please join me in welcoming Marina Endicott and Katherine Ashenberg. [applause]
Katherine Ashenberg: Thank you, Monika. I first became aware of Marina and her work
in 2008 when Good to a Fault was a finalist at the Giller and I was going to be… I was
on a television panel in which each of us were assigned a book that we had to spend
most of our time talking about. But when I read Good to a Fault, I think I spent most
of my time talking about Good to a Fault, and I nominated a character in that book as
absolutely the best baby in Canadian literature, which I still stand by. I haven’t read anything
that would will top that baby. And I think I had been retired from teaching, but I came
out of teaching to give a lecture on Good to a Fault and it seemed that everybody I
spoke to last weekend, I talked to a daughter in Vancouver and I said, “Oh, I’m interviewing
this writer, Marina Endicott.” And then she said, “Mom, you gave me the book.” And then
I was talking to friends in Rochester and I did the same thing and she said, “You gave
me the book.” So I would like you to know that I was responsible for a certain amount
of royalties that she’s received from “Good to a Fault”. Marina Endicott: The baby thanks you too. [chuckle] KA: The baby? Good. And when the “Little Shadows”
came out in 2011, I importuned the book’s editor of the Globe to let me review it, and
I gave it more… Marina remembers the one, the one or two, one of maybe two things that
I didn’t love about the book, but it was more or less a rave review. So I’m really, really
happy to be here, talking with Marina about a subject that’s very close to both of our
hearts. KA: I’m gonna start with a couple of general
questions about historical fiction and then move to Marina’s work and actually, how she
does it and I’m going to stop in time for some questions and comments. So the first
question… Actually Monika read the first question. Why do readers like historical fiction
so much? What do you think is it appeal? ME: I never know. It’s a bit like… When
I used to work in theatre, I really had no idea why anybody would ever come to the theatre.
Because it’s only fun to do it. And thank goodness that they do like it because otherwise,
you wouldn’t get to write it. I don’t read a whole lot of historical fiction myself;
I don’t seek it out because it’s historical fiction. But I think that perhaps the fascination
is when it’s possible for the writer to pull off that magic trick of making you believe
that they really know what it’s like to live in that time. The person who always leaps
to my mind when I think about that is Penelope Fitzgerald who, more than anybody just…
For example, in “The Blue Flower” is so entirely convincing about what it was like to live
in 18th century Germany, and do the laundry. And what it was like to be horse in that time
and lean down to take a drink in the stream, to just be able to really, completely, believably
inhabit a time that’s different from our own. And find what is not just different from our
own, but also what is exactly the same in our human experience and how that filter of
the past allows us to look at our lives today more clearly, in a way. KA: So you… I know that you’re editing another
contemporary novel and then you’re about to start the new historical novel, which we’ll
talk about in a minute. But in other words, you will have done two contemporary and two
historical. So the subject presents itself to you in a particular time. Is that what
happens? ME: Yes. I guess that’s true. I don’t know
if… I don’t know very many people at least who set out to think about what they will
write and then write it, it seems as if our material does well up from our own understanding
and experience, and more mysterious subconscious springs that we were given stuff that we seem
to be plagued by until we have to write about it. KA: Right, right. ME: Yeah. KA: I wanna talk… I’m a little bit confused
about the sort of place in the hierarchy of novels that historical fiction has. In some
ways, it seems as if we’re in a golden age of historical fiction with Hilary Mantel’s
“Wolf Hall”, and Lawrence Hill’s “The Book of Negroes”, and Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries”,
etcetera, etcetera. But… And maybe I’m being over sensitive and maybe I’m imagining this,
but I also have the feeling that when some people say historical fiction, they’re putting
it in a very particular and not terribly notable box. And maybe this is my… Maybe I’m projecting,
as I say, but sometimes when people say to me, “Oh, 19th century Sweden? So you’re writing
a historical novel.” I hear myself say, “I’m writing a novel that takes place in the past.”
I somehow shrink from that title, and I think what I’m hearing them say is it’s a very commercial
book that’s going to fit into what people in my book club who absolutely read them call
bumpy cover books. That is a very commercial thing. So I’d love to hear you talk about
the difference between the so-called commercial historical fiction and literary fiction like
the “Little Shadows” that happens to be set in the past. ME: I sure wish it was commercial fiction. KA: Yes. I don’t like these titles because
I think all literary fiction should be commercial. [laughter] ME: Yeah, exactly. The more commercial the
better. KA: Yeah. ME: I resist those genre distinctions, too,
mostly because I’m a big reader of genre. I love all kinds of books that might be categorized
as being genre, too, and I think the thing is that good writing is in, covers all the
genres, and that the reason people read genre… I think sometimes it’s because they read one
book that they really like that was identifiable as being one of those bumpy covers, and so
they keep reading the bumpy covers in order to find that good writing again and maybe
aren’t always successful depending on… But you wouldn’t be always successful in literary
fiction either, I suppose. ME: The historical fiction, real fiction,
historical romance, though, that sort of gradation of what is real literature and what is genre
fiction I think is a conversation that’s been going on for so long, even in my own mind
and with my friends and… What is it that makes that distinction, why do we call something
literary and something else genre? I’m not sure of how else to distinguish between them
except purpose. That we know when a book is porn because it was written titillate and
we are aware of the effect. And we know when a book is genre, in a way, because it’s made
to entertain us, but there’s something… Mostly it wants to entertain us. And literature
that is trying to mostly provoke us or make us question things is harder to read sometimes,
sometimes not as entertaining. Ideally more… It’s worthwhile because it makes you question,
and maybe definitely you… Easily satisfied but maybe leaves you more enlightened or enlarged
somehow. You’ve had an experience that you wouldn’t have without it. Is that… KA: Yeah, it’s… The closest I can come to
it is, to give an example of a book written by a friend, which has been tremendously successful,
Roberta Rich’s “The Midwife of Venice”, and I don’t think Roberta would… I think I would
say this if Roberta were here in the audience, but for me, the writing… I thought the writing
was terrific. There was no sentence that was not well-built. The research was fabulous,
and she really incorporated it very well into the story. I learned tons about midwifery
and regulations for Jews in Venice in the Renaissance. But what made that what her publishers
call commercial was that for me, the plot trumped the psychology, so that every chapter
ended on a cliffhanger. The heroine, Hannah, was a wonderful person who was a terrific
midwife and loved her husband, and was extremely resourceful of getting out of all the types
of trouble that she’d constantly got herself into. So for me, that’s one way to distinguish
maybe more commercial things from more literary things, whereas the sisters in “Little Shadows”
are much more empty. They’re not black or white. They’re very grey. And… [laughter] ME: Tattletale grey. KA: Yes. ME: And things may not work out for them. KA: Yes. ME: You don’t know necessarily and you’re
fairly sure that they won’t work out for a couple of them. KA: Yes, yeah. What about people, and these
tend to be a little bit young, but maybe young-ish middle-aged men who do not like any fiction
that is set in the past? They think that the only fiction that can be taken seriously is
contemporary. What do you make of that? ME: Well, I’d have to know exactly, specifically
who you’re talking about. But I think in general, it’s probably that they haven’t read enough
good historical fiction. They probably don’t like Jane Eyre. They probably categorize it
as being women’s fiction, or that they want to think about the way we live now and don’t…
Just aren’t arranged in their in their minds to think about how we live now by looking
at how we used to live. KA: I have wondered if it isn’t some kind
of statement about… These are guys, male critics that I’m thinking about, and I’ve
wondered if it isn’t a way of sort of categorizing what they think of as the woman reader. For
instance, if Philip Roth writes a novel about Newark, New Jersey in the 1940s, I don’t think
they would be calling it historical fiction. ME: Yeah, or domestic. KA: Yeah, so that may be a thing. But anyway,
let’s talk about your work. ME: It’s domestic. [laughter] KA: Well, it’s on a ship. I guess it’s kind
of domesticity. You’re beginning research on a novel set in 1910 on a clipper ship in
the South Pacific, and it’s called The Difference. So talk about that, where did it begin for
you? ME: I’m not very good at talking about work
that I haven’t really done yet because I haven’t even figured it out yet, but I will sort of
stumble along trying to talk about it. We talk about how a story rises up from sources
you don’t really know and sometimes can’t identify. I can identify this one, though.
My piano teacher, when I was a child in Nova Scotia, was a terrible old dragon, a harridan.
She once raggled my nose and called me a ragamuffin, and my nose bled all over the piano keys and
she had to put me in bed in her own bed, which was very strange. And she had Fisherman’s
Friends lozenges on the bedside table, and I was… For years, I couldn’t even look at
those or smell them without getting all frightened. But she was also amazing and wonderful. She
was a spinster in her 60s in the ’60s, and she had been brought up on a clipper ship
until she was 17. Her father was the captain. ME: So she, in her crabbiness and her hauteur,
she used to tell stories of her shipboard life. Her house was crammed with the most
beautiful and amazing artifacts: A narwhal’s tusk, and scrimshaw, and beautiful, beautiful
porcelain and ostrich eggs. Amazing stuff and then terrible, awful old stuff. She used
to tell all these stories, but she didn’t ever tell me the one that I heard on the Internet.
When Google first started, I Googled her name, Ms. Ladd, because she had been such a huge
figure in my early life. Sure enough, there she was. Not just on the Internet, but a tape
of her horrible, old voice. She’s honestly so snooty, such a snob, you’d never believe
it, but obviously, a huge influence on me, too, and a brilliant piano teacher. ME: So there she is on the Internet describing,
telling one of her stories and of course, I listened. And it was one I’ve never heard
before about her mother on her honeymoon voyage. When she first married the captain, they went
down around the Horn, and up in the South Seas and the Pacific islands. They stopped
at an island that I’m gonna use as Tonga, and the captain decreed that it was too…
The natives were restless; they mustn’t go ashore. But a couple of men rode out on a
canoe to trade with them and they had a five-year-old boy with them. And Ms. Ladd’s mother took
a shine to this little boy, and she bought him for four pounds of tobacco and took him
away. MC: So Ms. Ladd was telling this story, which
I’m listening to it gradually and with increasing shock, and went on to tell the story of the
little boy and what happened to him as if she was telling the story of their pet monkey
that they had with a certain kind of really appalling disdain that I remembered really
freshly from my childhood in Nova Scotia and from that whole white class-riddled society,
but also that casual and all-embracing racism that she had grown up with. And that I lived
in when I was a child as well, that luckily and thank goodness, has changed I think enormously.
We forget how much it’s changed. But listening to that story and her voice started me thinking
about that story. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it, but I was pretty persuaded that
it was too hard for me to write. I couldn’t dare to write about a question of race. I
was made to write little domestic novels about peoples’ kitchens and their diapers and how
the children are. ME: But then, I was lucky enough to go to
Tonga when I was with the Commonwealth Foundation in 2009, and I got to go to Tonga for 10 days
to do a whole bunch of workshops in the schools there. It’s a country that has religious schools.
Religions of every faith have come to Tonga and established schools. So we went to 14
or 15 different schools and met all these children who were five, six, seven and up,
of course, but who were like this boy that Ms. Ladd’s mother would have just taken from
the boat and gone off with. And then I began to think about it more practically and about
whether not writing about that was, in fact, an abdication in some way of a possibility
for understanding that I might be able to work on. So that’s where the story came from. [chuckle] KA: Wow. That is quite… And you’re about
to or you’ve just been on a clipper ship? ME: I went on a clipper ship last year, yeah.
I don’t know how other people work, and I think many people don’t feel the need to go
and feel the grain of the wood or anything, but for me, I think probably because of I
trained as an actor early on and a lot of the exercises that I did are ingrained in
how I work now. And since memory and since understanding is really important to me. So
I went on a clipper ship for a week, which was pretty lovely. I’m happy I’m doing the
book just to have had that week on a clipper ship. KA: Really? Well, apropos of other kinds of
research, you have a lovely thing in the acknowledgements to “Little Shadows” in which you write, “Everything
in it, in the book, is stolen, juggled, stitched together backwards and upside down, shined
up and sent back out to see how it will play.” And that’s a great description of how the
novelist uses whatever she can get of history to tell the story that she wanted to tell.
So what do you steal from? What did you in “Little Shadows” or what are you planning
to steal from in this one? ME: In “Little Shadows”, I stole from everybody
I know and many of them are in the audience tonight. [chuckle] I stole just bald-facedly,
vaudeville routines, comedy routines, which of course the people who wrote them had stolen.
The stealing in comedy goes back an awfully long way. And I was able to trace some back,
in fact, and be quite surprised at who had stolen stuff; Bob Hope, for example. I stole
costumes and I stole images and I stole… And put together all of the historical, actual
research on vaudeville. I was so lucky with that book because that period of early vaudeville
coincided with the beginning of photography, and so there were vast numbers of photographs,
and all the thousands and thousands of vaudeville performers, every one of them had a set of
photographs and pictures of them in their act, and pictures of their… All their public
material is still around in archives. And I went all over North and South in the United
States and to all the old vaudeville theatres that I could find and had some great luck
in finding great things. But I also, of course as you know, we do… Stole my sisters’ early
lives and my mother’s childhood… And Capelle is where she grew up, so I stole her farmhouse.
We don’t always call it stealing, but I paid homage to an awful lot of people. Shined it
up. KA: The acknowledgements are a very complicated
web of “thank you”s, and “I took this from there,” and “I adjusted this,” or “I did that.” ME: Yeah. That adjusting thing is interesting.
We were talking about it before. What you honour, whether you are going to decide to
be entirely absolutely accurate in every moment or whether you’re going to write a good book. KA: And do you set any rules for yourself
about juggling dates or facts or do you… Are there things beyond which you will not
go? ME: Yeah. I think there are, but if I needed
to go beyond them for the sake of the book, I probably would break the rule. My rule is,
that I have to be comfortable with it and mostly to be comfortable with it, it has to
be accurate or else I’m uncomfortable. I feel bad. And so when you caught me in her review
in the Globe and Mail, she caught my… [laughter] KA: I’m sure it was the only anachronism in
520 pages, but… ME: It was. Because I really don’t like anachronisms.
But she noticed that I had… A vaudeville act puts on the melodrama which is called
“The Casting Couch”. And as Catherine pointed out, ‘casting couch’, that phrase wasn’t really
in common use until the ’30s. In my mind, of course, that was the original use of the
casting couch because it was the title of this little vaudeville melodrama. But I didn’t
explain that well enough in the book, so I failed in that instance. I would probably
be willing to fail if I felt it was necessary enough. KA: Right. Would you… I’m thinking of something
that got a little bit of attention when a novel I like very much by Kate Taylor called
“Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen” came out, she had Proust’s mother, and Proust himself,
and a raft of historical characters and then made-up characters. And her copy editor was
appalled that she would send her characters to the premiere of an opera which really didn’t
premiere until two years after that. And I think Kate wrote something for the papers
saying, “I wouldn’t change the date at which Queen Victoria died because a lot of people
know that.” But she was willing to change the date of the premiere of, I think it was
Pelléas et Mélisande, but, there’s going to be an opera lover who’s going to know that,
and would that bug you? ME: Will it bug me? Yes, it would bug me.
But I would still… If it was necessary to do it, I would probably do it. Although, I
did shift the time… I intended “Little Shadows” to be from 1908 to 1913, because I didn’t
want to get into the First World War. I knew already. But when I was doing the research,
it turned out that so many of the things I wanted to talk about and so many of the theatres
that I wanted to look at were built in 1912 that I had to shove it to 1912. I couldn’t
have lived with that much of a displacement. And then, of course, I end up being propelled
into World War I, which let me tell you, do not ever write a book about World War I, because
you’ll spend all summer crying. That’s all that happens as you read all that… The more
research on World War I you do, the worst you feel about everything. KA: Exactly, I agree. Yeah. ME: Yep. KA: Do you have any ethical rules for… Because
you have some real figures, one or two, in “Little Shadows” and you may have more. Do
you have any ethical rules about the real people whom you mix in? ME: Oh, yes. KA: Like what? ME: All kinds of them. Well, one is that you
can’t… But I have this rule about every character, really. You can’t pull a person
into a book and then make them behave in a way they wouldn’t behave. So I wouldn’t probably
write one of those sort of rewritings of history where Sherlock Holmes is gay actually. I can
see why people do it, and I am not saying it’s not doable or even worth doing, I just
wouldn’t be able to do it myself. It would be too far of a push of a character for me.
I like to be imagining how it really would’ve been. And if I’ve made Winston Churchill not
be a cigar lover, it’s not how it would’ve been, and so I’m failing myself. But I don’t
make it a law that nobody else can do it. Because sometimes, it’s lovely when people
do do it. There’s a wonderful genre series by Laurie King where she gives Sherlock Holmes,
in his retirement, a young female apprentice… “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” is the first
one. And they’re charming and really well done. And in fact, she doesn’t do anything
in those books that Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t do other than make him capable of eventually
having a romance with this young woman when he’s in his late 70s. But aside from that,
she’s a… I’ve enjoyed what she has done. KA: I guess we all make up our own rules and
just hope that it’s… But you have to do what you’re comfortable with, I suppose? ME: Yeah. It’s harder, I think, really to
do… To make up those rules for real people, for people that you know. Not historical figures,
but for when you’re writing a drawing on your own experience, necessarily, you’re probably
involving somebody else’s experience and that rule seems to me has to be revisited every
time, every page. KA: Yeah. That’s the hardest. That’s what
I call a memoir-skilled. Because you really are using real people and often people you
know really, really well. ME: Who know you really well too, and will
read your book and never speak to you again. KA: Yes, that’s right. Yes. You have a beautiful
thing, which I don’t quite understand where you talk… I think it’s in the proposal for
writing the difference where you say that a novelist writes out of memory, and the job
of her search is to give the novelist the memory from which they can write. Say more. ME: I think that’s true. I think that’s one
of the reasons why it’s important to me to go, to be on a clipper ship for a while just
so that I have a memory of how the doors don’t quite fit because they warped from wet, and
how the rope lies and the way that it lies when you trip over it. And of course, not
just physical memory, but also that you need to create the emotional memory to work from,
too. So you are translating of course, your own experience and your own understanding
of the world into another time, and you can’t do that without obeying the way that they
would’ve been able to think then. So you can’t have… And here’s what I actually take issue
with some big writers like Hilary Mantel, where there’s an anachronistic thought where
Cromwell is able to think about the things that I don’t really believe that he could’ve
thought in those times. Or quite often, you’ll find people having, women having very advanced
feminist views at a time when they did not even have the capacity to think the words
to think those things in. They were not… They were so buried in a completely patriarchal
world that they were not able even to formulate the phrases to climb out of it. And that’s
why it takes so long. It’s because we are gradually and slowly finding a way to think
the things that will take us to the next thing. KA: Yeah. Which brings up the question of
how do you research the mentality of those different people? ME: And I think that’s an easy question to
answer. You go and read the books of the time. And you look at the photographs of the time
or the portraits, if you’re writing far in the past. But you try to immerse yourself
in the whole world view that was prevalent. And then, of course, your character may be
able to spike out of that, but you have to make sure that you are honouring or paying
attention to what was possible to think back then, don’t you think? KA: Yes. Yeah. And that’s very closely connected
to the language that your characters produce. ME: Absolutely. And reading books of the time
is a wonderful source. And even more than maybe books is letters of the time, which
I don’t know if you’ve got letters from your sweetie researched. For me, they’re always
the richest material just… Because people are so revealed in their letters so often
and so heartbreakingly honest quite often. KA: Yeah. And I find really good novelists
can just have the biggest clunkers in their dialogue, a word or an expression that they
would never use or… This is a movie, not a book, but I saw on the weekend, the movie
about Dickens’ mistress called “The Invisible Woman”. ME: Oh, I’m looking forward to that. KA: And I was… Well, I was so… I know
far too much. I didn’t wanna go but, because I knew I was gonna be very irritated by…
But something that really stood out for me in the movie is that the young girl, Ellen
Ternan, going to be the mistress of Dickens called Mrs. Dickens, Catherine. ME: Oh, dear. KA: Everything in me was screaming you would
not call an acquaintance, and the wife of a famous man and somebody old enough to be
your mother, ever. She would be Ms. Dickens. But just a little thing like that could just… ME: And then it’s really important. KA: But that’s so easy to know, to think about,
well, what would they have done in the 19th centuries? They wouldn’t have done that, but
anyway. My favourite steal that I have done so far in this Swedish novel is… A Swedish
writer wrote a history of, I think, his Jewish family. One of the two heroines is from a
Jewish family in Stockholm. And this guy, whose name is Vosburgh, wrote a history using
largely the wills, and these European wills from the 19th century were fabulously detailed.
I mean 17 cummerbunds, 32 salt cellars, one bottle of something. And he went through…
Showing how his great grandfather, grandfather, and father rose to prominence by these wills.
And I just took those pages. ME: That’s great. KA: We’ll have give him a very big acknowledgement. ME: Have you seen the beautiful illustration
that somebody did of Proust’s will and all of the things that are mentioned in his will? KA: Oh, no. ME: It’s a beautiful poster. I’ve seen it
as a poster. These tiny, little pill boxes, 17 of them are in a row. And then another
row of some shaving brushes. KA: Yeah, they detailed every single pin that
they owned. It was amazing. ME: Those sort of things are also really useful
research, those just lists and shopping lists and what they needed for the winter in Saskatchewan,
and what they took on the wagon, all those sort of lists. KA: And salaries for domestic servants and
things like that. ME: Yeah. Well, and particularly in the clipper
ship world, the salaries were all very complicated and based on shares quite often. And so that’s
really interesting whole leg of research which I will do, and then it will maybe end up as
two sentences in the book. But if I don’t do it, I don’t understand how the politics
of the ship worked, and how the crew related to each other, and what the relations between
the wife, the wife and her family and the sailors would be. I needed to know all that
background. KA: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And then it can
be half a sentence or something, but… ME: Back to that copy editor thing about the
opera. I think that really that’s… That’s a lovely thing about copy editing, is that’s
their job, and they can do it really, really well and then you can just ignore it. KA: Yeah, that’s right. [laughter] Or you
can say, “Thank you. I never thought of that before.” But, of course, yeah, that doesn’t
happen very often. ME: And if they do catch something, wouldn’t
you be glad? KA: Yes. Well, in my books, they frequently
catch many things and I’m very, very glad. Very, grateful. ME: Not in mine. Never. KA: No, never. [chuckle] Do you think with
the “ease of researching”… I’m gonna put that in quotations because it isn’t always
what our teachers taught us research was. But, do you think the ease of researching
on the Internet is good or bad for the novelists who’s writing history? ME: Oh, I think it’s wonderful for the novelists.
I wouldn’t have been able to write the vaudeville book without it. I bought a bunch of vaudeville
books. One of them a $600 encyclopedia in two volumes I didn’t buy until I had already
used… I used it on Google Docs so much that I felt I really owed the writers; that I better
buy it. And also all those pesky pages that they don’t include and so often it was something
I had to go get. So I actually bought that book and at that point, I thought I better
write this novel because otherwise, I can’t really afford this book. [chuckle] ME: So, I do think it’s fantastic for… The
only drawback with it is you do have to remain kind of savvy on what to trust. You still
have to have a pretty good weather eye on what is really reliable data and what’s not.
And also, you can get lost in research and spend as you know… KA: Yeah. That’s the siren call of research.
Which is so much… ME: It’s so much fun. It’s so much more fun
than writing. KA: It’s so much easier than writing. Yeah.
I wasn’t even looking for this, and I can’t remember how I fell upon it, but I know that
I was… I love names, proper names, and I love naming characters. But I’m still a little
bit frightened of giving a Swedish character’s anachronistic names for people who were born
in the 1860s to say, 1890s or so. And when I would go to Sweden on trips and go into
the cemeteries and write down lists of names of people who were born or who lived in my
period. But still, I had a very small stock of names. And then one day, looking for something
else on the web, I found the list of name day saints from Sweden from 1905, which is
just a teeny bit later than my period, but I don’t think that… I was terrified of giving
my characters the Swedish equivalent of Tiffany or Jason; really anachronistic names for the
19th century. So now I have this exquisite list of 365 men’s names and women’s names
that I can resort to whenever I have a new character. So that is so… That is a thing
that never would have happened. It is my most favourite possession in the world. KA: On the other hand, yesterday, I was writing
what I told Marina in an email as a scene of a very boring scene of a dinner party.
My writing was very boring. And I had a waiter passing around a tray of, and I wrote “champagne
flutes.” I love the word flute for champagne glasses. And then I thought, “I wonder, 1905.”
So I went into Google, “champagne glasses history of,” and I spent a good 45 minutes
because I wondered if they were those coupe-kind. ME: The saucery ones. KA: The saucery ones, or if they really would
have had flutes in 1905. And after 45 minutes or 30 minutes of fairly delightful… There
were like 12 things under “champagne glasses history of,” but I was so confused because
half of the entries said no, coupe glass has really started in the middle classes in the
1930s. So I think I ended up saying that the waiter passed a tray of champagne glasses,
because I… ME: Flute or coupe. [laughter] KA: That’s right. ME: Pick them for yourself! KA: I have not. I have not. [laughter] ME: That’s why we’re luckier than people who
are doing movies and television because they have to get the actual thing and a real picture
of it, while we can just say champagne glasses and you can fill your own. KA: Yes, exactly. Exactly. The 19th century
had this great expression for writing when the research was too obvious and distracted
you from the real story. They would say, “It smelled of the lamp,” which I’ve always thought
was an oil lamp, but maybe it was a gas lamp. That is the light, the lamp by which you read,
researched homes far, far, far into the night. Do you feel that danger of getting so distracted
by the beautiful props? ME: Oh yes. I hate that. In theatre, they
call that “we can see the work.” KA: Oh yeah. ME: So, you don’t want to be able to see the
work. And no, yeah. I have cut scenes and details just because they were… I liked
it, but it was not advancing the story in any way, or I got fascinated with the champagne
flutes and the etching and exactly how the colour of the light refracting. Yeah, it’s
a temptation because you’re so proud of your research and you’ve worked so hard for it,
I think sometimes. And you know how important it is to your understanding of the characters
and the story. But I think that’s where your second draft harshness comes in and you take
out that, the lamp, the smell of the lamp. KA: Yeah, those little details that you love. ME: You can send them to your friends in letters. KA: That’s right. Or you could make a whole
blog out of them or something like that. [laughter] ME: That’s a good idea. In fact, many writers
would probably contribute to that blog. “Lovely things I had to cut.” KA: Or I Like the “Smell of the Lamp” as a
name for a blog. ME: Yes, “Smell of the Lamp”. We’ll have to
start it. KA: That’s good. You say something really
interesting about the difference between doing academic research and research for the novel.
That research for a novel is so much more intimate but also so much more demanding about
the emotional tone of things and the sensual look of things. ME: I think that, it sort of goes into what
you were talking about earlier about the psychology of things. That the historian has to be much
more accurate about exactly what happened when. But they don’t have to delve so intimately
into why, into the envy, and the hatred, and the passion that people were feeling when
they did these things. I’m not saying they don’t have understand the motivations for
history, but that they can think of it on an intellectual plane more than the novelist
who, we can’t do that or else it will be dry, it will be unreadable really. All we really
have is what people wanted and why they wanted it so badly and why they couldn’t get it,
and then they got it. KA: That’s a good summation of the plot. [laughter] ME: With the luck of every novel. [laughter] KA: That is very, very good. I’m sort of haunted
by this idea that we’re doomed to fail; that we’re not gonna get everything right. And
in some ways, it’s not fair because if… I remember there’s an American novelist named
Howard Norman. ME: I love Howard Norman. KA: Well, he wrote a book called “The Bird
Artist” that’s set in Newfoundland. And I had read it, and I liked it because it was
about people who wanna get things and who have trouble getting things and who finally
get things or don’t finally get things. I can’t even remember about the ending, and
I liked it. One is dead now, unfortunately, but I had two friends, Sandra Gwyn and Jane
who both knew Newfoundland much, much, much better than I did. And they were outraged
on about page 17, let’s say, where Norman kept talking about the Newfoundlanders drinking
coffee. And Sandra and Jane said, “They’re not drinking coffee; they’re drinking tea.”
And this just ruined the novel for them, and they were nothing but scornful of it because
they knew that one thing. Whereas I who didn’t know that or didn’t notice that, loved the
novel, as a matter of fact. KA: I reviewed a couple of years ago, a novel
by a British writer about… I seem to be obsessed with this Ellen Dickens mistress,
but really, I’m not. But, in a very early… Maybe in the first scene of the novel or the
second scene, a widow is going to a funeral. And her outfit is described, and it says that
her jet jewelry, which was mourning jewelry, glittered or was shiny or something. And I
felt really sorry that this writer… That I, one of the 20 people in the mentally okay
people in the world who happen to know the entire schedule of Victorian mourning from
this book I wrote about mourning, that all of a sudden, there it was. No. That would
be totally mad, and she wouldn’t go into any shiny jet jewelry until the second year etcetera,
etcetera. So I thought, “Oh, it’s really a mugs game here.” ME: And also how do you house clean your mind
after all that research? How do you get rid of that Victorian mourning schedule which
you probably will never need to know again. KA: That right. Never. Absolutely never. ME: I’ve actually done pretty well on forgetting
about vaudeville. At first, I thought, “How am I never gonna write a book about anything
but vaudeville from now on? I know so much.” And now I’ve forgotten most of it. It’s sort
of good. KA: How did that one start? I never asked
you that. ME: I don’t… Geez, I don’t know. I know
how it ended. I finished the book, and I thought, “Oh my God. I’ve rewritten ‘Ballet Shoes’.” [laughter] KA: Well, it was a lot happier. ME: Yeah. Well, those poor girls in ballet
shoes, yeah. I think it started because… Oh, I know why it started. I went to teach
at the University of Alberta in the Augustana Campus, and they have a vaudeville theatre
there that was being torn apart and renovated. And I happened to start teaching the term
that they were taking all the old 1960 stuff off of it. And the guy who was doing in charge
of the renovation said, “Do you wanna come and see it?” And I went, did a tour of this
theatre which had just had all of its tat pulled off, and all that was left was the
actual going down the stairs into the dressing room with all the names written on the wall,
and the things carved in the table, and the actual dirt wall with a kind of a tattered
canvas with a chair stuck in it that was their dressing room. And that tour gave me that
thing that you’re looking for, that emotional memory of what it would’ve been like to be
those artists. And it matched with my memories of touring as a young actor in various tatty
places. KA: Right. Right. Well, I think I’m gonna
turn it over to comments and questions from you people. ME: And you’re supposed to go to the microphone. KA: Oh, and you’re supposed to go to the microphone.
Thank you. [pause] S?: Hi. You mentioned Laurie King before,
illustrates the question that I wanted to ask. In one of her books, A Letter of Mary,
a very little bit she goes back and forth in time and she characterizes the writer of
this letter that the novel’s based around two or three times throughout the book. Some
authors do it more and they go back and forth and time is a way of, I guess, relating the
historical settings to the present. What are your thoughts about that as a method? Is it
an element of commercialism just to try and be simple and reach people who aren’t prepared
to think about placing themselves in the historical context? Or, is it actually a good and a useful
tool in writing? ME: Yes. Yes. I remember that book, and I
remember not liking that book of the series. And it’s funny, I don’t remember very much
about it, so I’m not exactly sure about how she handled that. But it’s an interesting
problem when you’ve written… You’re back in time, so she’s writing in 1920 about them,
and then she’s writing about those people investigating the Aramaic past. It’s a letter
of Mary Magdalene, isn’t it? S?: Yes. ME: Yeah. I don’t like the jumping into Mary
Magdalene’s person. And I think it’s because I don’t believe it in her instance. But sometimes
when I do believe it, I’m fine with it. Penelope Fitzgerald, as I was saying before, does it
all the time. She just writes whatever the heck she feels like. And because she’s so
skillful, she makes me believe it. I do, I really do like Laurie King. I think she’s
done a very good job in jumping around and having some fun with historical writing in
a way that I really admire, but that one book is the one I didn’t really like very much.
But you, you didn’t like it yourself, I gather? S?: Oh. I thought that it didn’t… It wasn’t…
It either wasn’t enough or it shouldn’t have been there at all. Because she did it so little,
little snippets, and she didn’t get into the character of Mary Magdalene, who’s writing
about her child or whatever the… ME: Yeah. S?: Had she gone into it a little bit more
or had she just not used it all, I think it would’ve been… The book would’ve been better. ME: I think you’re right. I think that she
didn’t earn it, that she wrote… She sort of did a sentimental thing where she was writing
to tug at your heartstrings, but she wasn’t giving it enough life that you really felt
that you need them; I agree. S?: Thank you. ME: Do you know this writer at all? KA: No, but I… Sounds interesting, yeah. S?: Hi. ME: Hello. S?: Can you hear me? ME: Yeah. S?: Okay, good. I’m writing a historical fiction.
That’s why I’m here today. So, I’m happy to have the opportunity to hear you. You touched
on one of my problems and I have a question. I’m happy to hear that you’re talking about
emotional memory. The book that I’m writing on is based on my mother’s struggles through
the starvation of the Ukraine in 1931 to ’33. I’m writing it from a child’s point of view. ME: Your mother as a child? Are you thinking
of her? S?: Yeah, because of the stories that I heard
all my life. So, you talked about emotional memory. And between her stories and eyewitness
accounts that I read and researched on the Internet, by the way, there’s a lot available
about that. I found that the emotional memory was too strong. At first, I was gonna write
it as a biography and I couldn’t do that because the emotions were overwhelming and I found
that I had to step back. And I’m wondering how you can find… How you found the balance
because I had to walk… There’re still times when I have to walk away from it because it’s
overwhelming. It could be because of the nature of the material, but I think emotional memory
is what makes the difference between historical fiction and just plain old history, and I
think a lot of people knock historical fiction because they don’t like studying history,
but that’s just a personal point of view. S?: So I’d like to hear what you have to say
about that, but I’m gonna ask you my question and I’ll sit down. The question that I have
that relates to this book, and I’m not sure. Maybe Catherine can help because you’re…
I think you’re the one that’s using the Swedish names. The names in my book are all Ukrainian,
and they involve patronymics. And some of the people in the writing group that I bring
the book to get confused by the names. And I’m wondering how, what you think about that?
Because we read Tolstoy and Chekhov and they have then crazy names, and nobody seems to
bother. So it’s a bit of conundrum and it’s the same with Ukrainian-ized words. Because
a person who’s telling the story is the woman who lived the story in the book, right? So
she’s looking back and telling her life story. KA: So, she knows them all. ME: I think that writing groups are so fantastic
until they’re not. And they’re really excellent for encouraging you to keep writing, but sometimes,
they have a problem with something because they’re not your readers. They’re the people
you write with and that’s great. And if they can encourage you to keep going, and even
if they can say, “I don’t understand this,” that’s a valuable comment to know that somebody
doesn’t understand it, but they may not be the people would seek out a book about Ukrainian
devastation with lots of names in it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use them as, of
course, Tolstoy did in Russian and… But I, but to look at your other question, I think
that the emotional memory when you’re writing from your parents’ experience can be so complicated
and so difficult… Especially, with a mother, I believe. Because you’re not just writing
from what your mother has said and the stories she’s told. You’re writing from how her emotional
life affected you when you were a child. And so you have to… Not only do you have to
try and really truly understand your mother’s emotional life as a child, you also have to
deal with your own emotional life as a child, as you are going through your mother’s struggles,
as a child. ME: So I think it is a very difficult task
and one that many people just give up on and try to write about something else because
it’s so painful. If you feel really driven to write about it then, I guess, you just
have to accept that that’s gonna be a very hard job that you’ll have to build in some
breaths and read some other things from time to time as you’re working so that you don’t
get, you fall into despair. S?: Well, actually, I’m almost finished. I’m
on the second last chapter, pretty well. ME: Fantastic. S?: And so, it’s just… Just to comment on
what you said. What it’s done for me is in writing this book, I never intended… I didn’t
know what the outcome for me, personally, was gonna be, but I have a totally different
image of my mother. It’s like knowing a completely different person. So it was a very good thing
to do. ME: That’s wonderful. S?: Thank you. [pause] KA: Any other questions or comments? ME: Somebody’s coming here. KA: Oh, good. S?: This is not about “Little Shadows”, but
it’s probably the book that brought us all to you. Could you talk a little bit about
how “Good to a Fault” came to be? ME: Certainly. I didn’t want to write “Good
to a Fault either”. I… [laughter] ME: I felt that it was an asinine thing to
write a book about an Anglican priest, and a spinster, and a woman dying of cancer. That
was stupid, who would read that? But I… My sister had just died of cancer and I was…
I was looking for a way to write about that experience and to write about her life and…
I don’t think that I really succeeded in doing that, but I do think that it was necessary
in order to know what I thought, to see what I wrote… To find a way to write through
that experience. I was writing from my understanding of Saskatoon, which is a beautiful city that
I came to very late and I came to really love, and also my experience of people that I had
never met in my Ontario and Nova Scotia life. The people who really do live next door to
people and bring them things to eat because they see that they’re in trouble. ME: I’d never experienced that in a very roaming
kind of life and my father’s… My mother-in-law is Mrs. Zenko. There’s nothing that Mrs. Zenko
doesn’t have both that my mother-in-law doesn’t do on a regular basis all the time, we’ve
got validation from the audience. She’s a… So I wanted to write about those people who
don’t really get written about very much because it’s not very glamorous that they live next
door to somebody and bring them some toast. ME: And then when I was in the middle of writing
it, I got cancer myself and so that changed what I was writing. I had intended Lorraine
to die naturally, but then when I discovered that I had cancer, I thought, “Well, I don’t
really wanna kill her now and she’s got two children she has to live for,” so I had to
keep on going, and I couldn’t seem to kill her off even though I felt I should. And then
I phoned a writing friend of mine and said, “I’m having a really hard time with this.
I can’t seem to kill this woman,” and she said, “Won’t that be difficult for everybody
if she lives?” [laughter] ME: And I thought, “Oh, yes, won’t that be
harder?” So then I kept going, and then it got rejected 100 times and then I kept rewriting
it. And then it finally got published and did okay. It just was a bunch of stuff that
I felt we weren’t really hearing about much in writing. It was not very glamorous and
quite quiet, but the things that were going on within the people were as important to
them as a war is to the people in the war. And also, it was really fun to write from
the child’s perspective in that book, and to… And Dolly’s story also is my own story
when I was a little kid. My mother got cancer when I was a six and she was in the hospital;
we thought she was dying and I would’ve had to look after my brothers and sisters. So
it was nice to be able to bring together a bunch of stuff that was, that I had experience,
and then put it together in what I really considered to be an extremely boring story,
so I’m very grateful that you enjoyed it. MC: But there’s something else that you didn’t
mention in the book which is so unusual is, that doesn’t get written about, is that everybody
just, or most of the… Many characters have a religion, which is so taken for granted,
and so every day, and so normal. And Canadian readers never get to read about religion taken
from that point of view. ME: That’s very true. And I had a model for
that. I should say that the woman who gave me the good advice about, “It will be so hard
if they die”… Is sitting over there Connie Gault, who’s a fantastic novelist, too. And
I also had a model for writing about religion. A friend of mine had written a play about
a United Church minister called Speak that I… It was Speak, right? And I thought if
he can do that, I can write about my dad and my understanding of the church, so it’s good
if you have models who go before you and say, “Yeah, it can be done.” MC: I’m very sorry. I’m gonna have to close
now and just say a couple of more things before we say goodnight. I would like to thank very,
very much Marina Endicott and Katherine Ashenburg for their wonderful presentation. I really
enjoyed it, thank you. [applause] MC: Now I think you’ve all picked up the flyers
that I’ve left, and as you probably know, Marina will be doing four workshops through
these next couple of months, March and April. And the dates and just a brief outline of
the topics are on the flyer here. And of course, for any aspiring writers who haven’t done
so yet, please do submit a manuscript. The information for the format and how to submit
it is on the Toronto Public Library website, and we have a Writer In Residence page that
gives you all the information about submitting manuscripts. And Marina will be meeting with
you through her residency and discussing your writing, and I think this is a golden opportunity
for everybody who’s interested in writing. The deadline… We did say that the deadline
for submission was February 15th, but we’ve decided to extend it to the end of the month. MC: We’ve also decided, I think this is okay
with Marina, not to limit it to historical fiction. If you’re writing something else
and you’d like some help, then Marina would be happy to meet with you. Please do try and
come to the workshops. There’s no fee, of course. You don’t have to register. You can
just come, and I think they’re all gonna be fascinating. She will have some special guests
presenting the workshops with her, so it’s gonna be very interesting. MC: And before you go, we have the University
of Toronto bookstore here with us today, and if you haven’t read Marina’s books yet, “Good
to a Fault” and the “Little Shadows”, they have copies here. And I highly recommend you
getting a copy and having Marina sign it. We have a little bit of time before the library
closes. MC: So again, thank you all very much for
coming. And thank you, Marina and Katherine. ME: Thank you. [applause] KA: Thank you so much.

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