A few words with Caroline Adderson

Word count: 741 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Welcome to another in my series of interviews with successful writers….

Caroline Adderson is the author of three fascinating novels, The Sky is Falling, A History of Forgetting and Sitting Practice as well as several short story collections and children’s books. She’s also the winner of a plethora of writing awards including the 2006 (Canadian) Marian Engel Award for mid-career achievement.

I had the chance to interview Caroline last fall, for the Vancouver Writer’s festival and was impressed not only by her dedication to writing but by her commitment to walking. (Actually, I’m convinced the two tasks go hand in hand!) Be sure to check out her website, as well. Here is the interview:

Can you briefly describe your writing day (how much time do you spend at it; where do you do it?)

I have a school-aged child so my schedule corresponds to his, and the dog’s. After my son leaves in the morning, I walk the dog for an hour then get to work. I have an office upstairs. I’m generally still there when my son gets home at 3 p.m., though I usually stop writing around 2 p.m. and deal with correspondence and other miscellaneous writing-related work. On an average, I write for three or four hours a day.

You’ve said you’re grumpy when you don’t write. Which part of the writing process do you like best -– the thinking about it, the actual writing or the self-editing? And why?

The most sublime moment is when I get the actual idea. That “aha!” is so exquisite, the whole story shimmering before me. Then I have to write the thing and, finished, it is usually nothing like that original flash of brilliance. Nowhere near as brilliant, in fact. However, I will have spent my time completely intrigued by the narrative’s segues and unexpected shifts and vow freshly to do better next time. I also love the polish stage where I poke away at the actual words and their rhythms. The way something sounds, the flow of the prose, is as important to me as the story. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so this stage is pure pleasure. It’s like sewing on the sequins.

Roughly how many words is your book, The Sky is Falling, and how long did it take you to write it? Same questions for Sitting Practice and A History of Forgetting.

The Sky is Falling: 78,000 words, four years.
Sitting Practice: 80,000 words, four years.
A History of Forgetting: 90,000 words, six years.

Which of your three adult novels was easiest to write and what made it that way?

I wouldn’t describe any of them as being “easy” to write! Every book presents new challenges. With each one, I raise the bar higher and try to push myself a little more. So, technically, they are all difficult, but the anxiety level has gone down with each book. With my first novel, A History of Forgetting, I had no idea if I could even complete it, and if I did, if it would be publishable. For years I felt sentenced to interminable self-doubt and anguished hand wringing. Now I’m fairly confident that I can write a decent book. All the hand wringing is about matters beyond my control, such as if anyone will like it or even read it.

You’ve also written four books for young people and have said that writing for children is your “present to yourself.” Why do you feel that way?

Because children’s literature moves toward joy, whereas adult literary fiction frequently moves in the opposite direction! Also, I like the way child readers stick their faces nose-to-nose to me and, in a peanut butter-tinged shriek, tell me, “I loved your book!”

What do you do to motivate yourself when you really, really, don’t feel like writing?

I go upstairs and sit at my desk, like every other day. In fact, it rarely happens. I do, however, get stuck, not because I don’t want to write, but because I just don’t know how to get out of the jam I’ve written myself into. In those cases, I go for walk. The solution usually comes within 20 paces.

Can you name one other author you really like to read? What do you particularly like about his/her work?

Alice Munro. Every story of hers has the density and complexity of a novel. Technically, she is brilliant. I’ve been teaching her book Runaway for five years at Simon Fraser University and am still discovering new things in it.


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