Monday, December 10, 2012

Occupy Prose: Will Johnson in conversation with Linda Svendsen

Linda Svendsen's story, "Restoration," was published in The Fiddlehead's Essential West Coast Poetry and Fiction issue, #253. One of her UBC Master's in Creative Writing students, Will Johnson, interviewed her for our blog.

Linda Svendsen
"Restoration" is the story of a refugee from Burundi who is struggling to adjust to Canadian culture after surviving some horrific experiences in her home country. What inspired you to tackle this subject, and what sort of research did you have to do?

A decade ago, my husband and I co-produced and co-wrote a 6-hour miniseries for CBC called Human Cargo. It’s a drama, not a documentary. We’d spent a few years researching the Immigration and Refugee Board in Canada, attending hearings, and had also traveled to Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. We’d also done a fair amount of reading/interviewing of people who have survived torture, extreme loss, and exile.

You've developed a very distinctive voice for your main character. Did you find it hard, as a Canadian, to imagine an inner life for this character? Did you find it challenging to see things from her perspective?

I’m sure the character of Philomena deserves more time than this story and I’m also keenly aware that I’m not the woman to inhabit her in that detail. The story tries to do a lot in a short amount of time. I didn’t find it a stretch: I just worry that I haven’t done her justice.

This story has a fair amount of humour, which is jarring and unexpected given the subject matter. This reminds me of some of George Saunders' work, and Mary Poppins' line about a "spoon full of sugar." How did you balance the comedy and the horror within such a small space?

I didn’t do it consciously. People have commented that my fiction and television tend to work that way—tragedy is lived up against the laughter.

This story was published in the Essential West Coast Poetry & Fiction issue of The Fiddlehead. Do you consider yourself a West Coast writer, and if so, how does your geography play into your fiction?

When I lived in New York and wrote my first collection, Marine Life, I was a West Coast writer because I was writing about Vancouver, growing up there, etc. I’m a West Coast writer, now, I suppose, because I live and teach here, but I’m probably more Left Coast than anything. Occupy Prose.

You recently published your satirical novel Sussex Drive. You also work as an instructor in UBC's Creative Writing program. I imagine it's hard to find time for your various writing endeavours on top of your busy schedule. Do you normally work on one project at a time, or do you have multiple things you're working on at once?

First things first. One thing at a time.

What are your plans for "Restoration". Do you have more short fiction like it? Or maybe a collection planned?

Will Johnson
Restoration was slotted for a new collection but I’ve been diverted by novel-writing.

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