Monday, March 20, 2017

Literary Lineage

My first literary influence was Margaret Laurence. 

Laurence was born & went to school 50 miles from where I grew up in Manitoba. She wrote about places I knew and people exactly like the people I was related to, including an old woman with dementia lost in an abandoned BC cannery. I was about 14 when I read The Stone Angel. When I read The Diviners I felt that there was absolutely nothing left to say. But I recovered somewhat after a few years. I went to university 50 years ago in the age of raging Canadian nationalism, after the Centennial. For many years I read only Canadian writers. Then my influences in order of importance were Leonard Cohen, Dorothy Livesay, Carol Shields, and Alice Munro. I took a course from Dorothy and I met Carol through the writers' guild. Before I was bitten by the Canada bug, I was into D.H. Lawrence and John Fowles. A gaggle of romantics, for sure. I have always been more interested in content than in style. I guess I like male writers who talk about sex and relationships and nature and addiction, and female writers who highlight the importance of the lives of girls and women. In my novel Embers, my first goal was to write a story with an older female protagonist. I am so tired of coming-of-age stories of teens inventing sex.

I know Cohen was influenced by Layton (very lusty) and in The Diviners Laurence returns to Old Country roots and to the ancestral writers who celebrated the Celtic heritage buried beneath Britain. This may also explain my passion for Irish literature (anything by John O'Donohue or Roddy Doyle). Coming to terms with "being on the wrong side of history," with being descended from oppressor colonials (how I hate the term "settler"), learning to meet and know Others, being able to empathize with and identify with victims and victim groups, giving voice to the voiceless are other running themes for me. And the importance of place. Our rootedness in place. Our place in the world.

For relaxation reading, I like detective stories where the protagonists always succeed in restoring order out of chaos. Lately, my two faves are Louise Penny (Quebec, Montreal & the Eastern Townships) and Ian Rankin (Edinburgh). Face it, I love Rebus, a man who loves his city and whose work is his life. And my guilty pleasure is Lee Child's Jack Reacher thrillers. So sorry to admit that. Although I always refuse to acknowledge the body count, these novels are page-turners, but well-written page turners, I like to think. Child has a lot to teach us about character development, hooks, scenes, pacing, and about hiding personal story within the larger political plots. Never thought of it quite this way until I took Nicole's CNF course. Thanks again. 

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