“When I say ‘work’ I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.”
- Margaret Laurence
There is a small table next to my reading chair upon which sits a stack of books, maybe eight or nine of them. It’s a perilous looking arrangement, and any minute now, I’m sure the dog will send it crashing to the floor. Of the eight or nine books waiting to be read, seven or eight of them are written by Canadian authors. I adore Canadian fiction, and it’s all Margaret Laurence’s fault.
Margaret Laurence has been an enormous influence on my writing, and she is largely responsible for my thirty-five year love affair with Canadian literature. I first read The Diviners at the age of twelve. From page one, Laurence’s realism and flawed characters grabbed my interest. I read The Diviners four more times at five-year intervals, and with each reading the story brought me new insights on human nature. I read all her novels, and with the guidance of some astute high-school English teachers I broadened my scope with the work of Robertson Davies, WO Mitchell, Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findlay. I was hooked.
The birth of my children meant fatigue and distraction from novel reading, so I started in on the short stories of Carol Shields and Alice Munro, and on to Mavis Gallant, learning how to read short stories by savouring them one at a time.
Alistair McLeod, MG Vassanji, Wayson Choy, Anne-Marie MacDonald, Joseph Boyden, Lawrence Hill and Mary Swan are among the many Canadian authors whose powerful storytelling I deeply admire. But as far as my current writing project is concerned, both The Diviners and The Stone Angel (cornerstone of English literature, which helped shape my high regard and enjoyment of older people) are among my greatest influences.
It’s been rewriting madness around here, as I’ve been revising and polishing some of my stories in preparation for a literary competition. At last I’ve got them printed and stuffed into an envelope, with the submission fee paper-clipped to the humble, meek and obedient query letter (see Tuesday’s blog), ready for the post office. Now it’s time to sit in my reading chair and read someone else’s fiction. Canadian, preferably, and before the dog sends it flying.