Tuesday, January 26, 2010

20 Writerly Questions for Beth Powning

The Sea Captain's Wife is a book I've been talking about to anyone and everyone for the last nine months or so since I've read it. It's wonderfully written, and utterly engaging. I could go on and on, but you'd do better to take a peek at the more eloquently written reviews in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Winnipeg Free Press, or Quill & Quire.

But before you go too far, take a peek at this fun Q&A with the author:

Beth Powning is the author of several books, including The Hatbox Letters, Edge Seasons, Shadow Child, and The Sea Captain’s Wife. She lives in an 1870s farmhouse with extensive gardens in Sussex, New Brunswick, with her husband, artist Peter Powning. For more information about Beth and her books, please visit her website TheSeaCaptainsWife.ca.

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence? The Sea Captain's Wife takes the reader around the world on a square-rigged sailing ship in the 1860s with a young woman and her captain husband; beneath the dramatic and fast-paced events of the adventure are the small, painful, and subtle moments that constitute a marriage.

2. How long did it take you to write this book? Three years.

3. Where is your favourite place to write? In my studio, which is a big room over the kitchen in our 1870s farmhouse. The room has tiny, low doors that even I have to duck to go through. There’s a skylight and narrow east-facing windows overlooking my vegetable gardens, forests and pastures.

4. How do you choose your characters’ names? In various ways: "Azuba" came from a caption under a photograph in a history book. Some of the last names came from looking through a phone book. "Carrie" came from studying names of 19th century children. "Mr. Dennis" came from a friend who is a sailor. I make lists of names and reject ones that don't work.

5. How many drafts do you go through? With this novel, there was a major first draft. Then about 8 more drafts. Each draft is closer and closer to the final book. At the end, there is one draft that gets repeatedly “tweaked.” Sometimes there are many, many drafts of a particular part, usually the beginning.

6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be? Tolkien’s trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings,” a series that I first read in 1965, and have read countless times. It is less a book, to me, than a place to go. What a gift to have given the world!

7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it? I definitely see The Sea Captain’s Wife as a film, and did so even as I was writing it. I don’t remember names, but there are some wonderful young British actors and actresses. Viggo Mortensen is too old for Nathaniel, but he would have to be in it. I was an acting student. I want a bit part as Azuba’s mother.

8. What’s your favourite city in the world? Toronto.

9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask? I would like to talk about historical fiction with Rose Tremaine. I would ask her about how her books start, what ignites her creative impulse.

10. When do you write best, morning or night? Morning.

11. Who is the first person who gets to read your manuscript? My agent, Jackie Kaiser.

12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read? Children’s books at bedtime – like Swallows and Amazons. These books don’t get my mind spinning.

13. What’s on your nightstand right now? Let’s not talk about my nightstand! I always have at least 2 books going, and seldom read the “serious” book before trying to get to sleep. On my coffee table is The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre.

14. What is the first book you remember reading? I learned to read at such an early age that I can’t remember. I had an older brother who was an avid reader and I adored him, and copied him – therefore, I could read fluently before I started school.

15. Did you always want to be a writer? I decided to be a writer when I was 8.

16. What do you drink or eat while you write? Coffee. I never eat while writing.

17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper? I write my notes with pen and paper. I keep them in a journal. I compose on a laptop, but if I have a complex idea while actually writing, I scribble it with pencil on a scrap of paper next to the computer. I save these scraps in a folder dedicated to each chapter.

18. What do you wear when you write? Jeans, turtleneck sweater, heavy socks and crocs. I take off my rings and bracelets.

19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from? I “live” my writing, so I close my eyes and enter the scene. Originally, I saw some of The Sea Captain’s Wife from Carrie’s point of view, but in the end my editor and I decided to keep it all in Azuba’s point of view. This is probably because the 1st draft of the novel was in the 1st person.

20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer? A beautiful fountain pen with a good supply of cartridges. Writers (me at least) adore the physical act of writing, the feeling of ink flowing into paper, the artistic act of forming letters. It’s as good as eating chocolate cheesecake.


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