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An Interview with Andrew Davidson

Tuesday, Aug 05, 2008 at 2:26pm

With total advances (not including film rights) approaching the two million-dollar mark, Andrew Davidson has rocked the publishing world with his debut novel The Gargoyle.

Growing up in Pinawa, home of Atomic Energy of Canada's former Whiteshell Laboratories, he traveled the world before moving back to Winnipeg in 2008 to finish what Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants) describes as "a hypnotic, horrifying, astonishing novel."

Andrew kindly took the time to answer some questions for our website readers. The full interview follows.

MR: The Gargoyle is your first novel. Had you written anything prior to this? What led you to start writing in the first place? Was it something you'd always aspired to?

AD: In the early 1990s, I published three poems in obscure literary journals--so obscure, in fact, that even I can't remember their names, and I don't have copies. As this was pre-internet, I have no doubt that these poems are lost forever. Which is, I might add, not altogether a bad thing.

Though my publication history is thin, I've written almost every day since I was sixteen. So to answer the question about whether I aspired to be a writer, the answer is "no"--but only because I find the phrase "aspiring writer" to be strange and problematic. You either write, or you don't write. That's it. You can aspire to being a published writer, I suppose, but I never had any doubt that I was a writer.

Why do I write? Because I'm grouchy when I don't. Because I want to discover what I'm actually thinking. Because I enjoy it. Because I want to get better at it. Because I need to. Because I have voices in my head.

MR: Your publishing deal has been getting a lot of attention since it was first announced. How have you been dealing with all the attention you and your book have been getting? Has your approach to interviews changed since the first one?

AD: It's true that there has been some attention in regards to The Gargoyle, but everyday life is (mostly) the same. I have some new activities related to publicity, I travel more, and I get notes from people telling me that they enjoy my writing--but my laundry still doesn't wash itself, and I still eat too many peanut butter and honey sandwiches to be healthy.

Regarding interviews, one nice change has been that they now concentrate more on the book itself, and not as much on the story behind the book or the publishing deal. This is fantastic: I'd much rather talk about my work than my life.

MR: Your book features stories set in a number of places and time periods. Somehow you've managed to make each of those places and times feel authentic for the reader. Have you been to these places before, or did you visit them during the writing of the novel?

AD: I have not had a chance to visit many of the places--Germany, Italy, or Iceland--that I've written about. In a way, I believe that not having visited these locations has been an advantage, because I'm not burdened with the need to remain completely faithful to them. By this, I mean they exist perfectly in my imagination, but that they might not be exactly as they are/were in real life--and that's fine, because The Gargoyle isn't a history book or a travel guide.

To tell the truth, I have a slight fear of traveling to some of these places. I can imagine looking around and saying to my guide, "But this isn't what Engelthal monastery looks like. You Germans have got it all wrong!"

MR: How did you begin writing the novel? Did you start with an outline? Research? As the writing of the novel progressed, were you ever surprised by the direction it was taking, or was the narrative trajectory something you'd mapped out from the beginning?

AD: I don't use outlines for anything that I write, because when I do I end up trying to direct the story instead of allowing it to become what it is meant to be. For this reason, I can't say that I was ever "surprised" by the direction that the novel was taking, because I never had a direction in mind.

Basically I start with characters, as opposed to a story. There is a great quote (so old that is attributed to any number of sources) that states: "Character is fate." I believe this to be true both in stories and in life.

I work on the characters for a long time, writing a great deal of material about their lives that I know will never be used; often I can't know what is true about a character until I write out dozens of things that are not. During the construction of this life history, I start to play with the voice, writing as the character. Sometimes I write personal letters or diary entries, knowing full well that they'll never find their way into the work. But--and here's the thing--all this work does find its way into the novel, in a way. It informs the character even if it's not expressed in words, because there are no shortcuts in making a fully rounded person. You can't just say: "Well, I'm writing a Japanese woman so I'll go with eighty percent stereotype but, to make her interesting, give her an Alanis Morissette tattoo and an intense dislike of sushi."

MR: Which authors do you admire most? Do you feel that any of them have had an influence on your own writing?

AD: There are certainly many writers whose work I admire a great deal. To name but a few:

Novelists: Thomas Hardy, Vladimir Nabokov, Tom Robbins, Kari Hulme, Patrick Süskind. Poets: Leonard Cohen, John Milton, e.e. cummings, Dante, William Blake. Playwrights: Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Sophocles. Songwriters: Leonard Cohen, Rebecka Törnqvist, Fiona Apple, Cole Porter, Beethoven.

To talk about admiring a writer, as opposed to his work, is slightly more complicated. Perhaps I could add Philip Roth, for the fact that he's producing some of his best work at an age when most writers go into decline. Or, I could state that I admire Anthony Trollope for the discipline with which he worked, and for his resulting output. Or I could say that I admire Franz Kafka or Emily Dickinson, for writing all their lives with little in the way of validation from the outside world.

As far as influence, every book I have ever read has influenced me, as has every film I've ever seen and every song to which I've listened. I've also been influenced by newspapers, science manuals, dogs walking down the street, and overheard conversations on the bus. I am who I am because of a lifetime of experience; I write like I write because I am who I am. (Apparently I've also been heavily influenced by Popeye.)

MR: What's next? Are you working on another novel? If so, what can you tell us about it at this point?

AD: I am in the research stages of my next book. So far I've taken about three hundred pages of notes; therefore, I don't have the slightest clue what the story will be about.

Andrew will be at our Polo Park store on August 18 for the launch of The Gargoyle.

Categories: Interview, buzz, Authors, Winnipeg, New Releases, Publishing News

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