I came across Kathleen Winter’s “Annabel” during a low point in my life. I had entered the field of media believing that it was a way of documenting the human condition but most of the jobs I held in that field were nothing more than glorified advertising positions. Winter’s “Annabel” documented an important discussion of human desires trapped inside all of us. And opened up a conversation on several fronts that I was party too. It was an honor to have Kathleen Winter partake in a Q&A for my blog.
1) I am curious about the reaction to Annabel has been in general. I have attended a few discussions about the book in different cities and there always seems to be some unease by a few people on the general discussion of gender roles and sexuality. Have you encountered anything like that?
A: I like the fact that the book causes people to think about many aspects of life, including gender and sexuality, in a way that sometimes feels difficult. The story deals often with loneliness and isolation, and it’s also about what happens when courageous people can accept ambiguity and unease. I’ve had many reactions to the book and its subject matter, from people whose experience of gender and sexuality covers a large spectrum. Some feel unease, others feel release and joy.
2) Did you base any elements of Annabel on any anecdotes from family or friends? Or is it a work based on research?
A: This book is, like other work of mine, a combination of material I have experienced, overheard, researched or imagined. What I am aiming for is emotional truth told through realistic detail, with fantastical elements that allow the story to open up and glitter.
3) How was the Canada Reads experience for you?
A: It feels unnatural for me to take part in competition, especially in the arts, and while I appreciate that the book reaches new readers through the CBC program, I’m probably like many artists when I question the extreme conflict mentality behind the process. I love all the writers and all the books and do not like to see one book rise above the others at the expense or insult of authors and their hard work and imagination. But I think the CBC and listeners understand this on some level, and that everyone is trying to honour all the work.
4) Are you working on anything new right now? (I think I know the answer but I like to hear it in your own words.)
A: I’m in the copy-editing stages with a non fiction northern journey memoir called Boundless, to be published by (House of) Anansi in Canada and Jonathan Cape in the UK/Australia/NZ – German rights have also been sold. I’ve been working with editor John Metcalf at Biblioasis on a new story collection titled The Freedom in American Songs. Both books are to come out in September 2014.
5) Who are some of your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: I love the American writer Gretel Ehrlich and her crystalline writing about her northern circumpolar travels. I’m reading Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard right now, and Diana Athill’s memoir Towards the End. I love the letters of Katherine Mansfield and I read a lot of non fiction and poetry about how the natural world intersects with human imagination and spirit. Current fiction writers I love include my brother Michael Winter and my friend Alice Zorn.
6) Your brother Michael Winter is a talented writer as well. Was reading and writing encouraged in your household growing up? Is there any sibling rivalry between the two of you in terms of your writing?
A: My father taught us to read before we went to school, and there was poetry in the house from that time on. We were taken to the library as soon as we could string the word c-a-t together and I remember sitting all summer long on the front step reading library books. I still love the crinkle of plastic library book covers and the “thunk!” of the rubber ink pad stamping the return date. Michael and I have always egged each other on and I think he is one of the most vivid and experimental and exciting writers on the go right now.
7) How do you like living in Montreal? Does its vibrant cultural scene help you with your artistic endeavors?
A: I adore Montreal. I love the river, the balconies, the shops full of persimmons and almonds and unidentifiable delicacies, and the neighbourhoods where you can hear French from pockets of its own variance originating all over the globe.
8) You seem to have a presence on some of the social media platforms like Facebook. Does being on those platforms help you with your writing?
A: I get bits of news and friendly exchanges with other writers that would be hard to come by if I were squirreled away without the web, but of course one has to nip certain things in the bud.
9) You seem to do a bit of traveling. Does that help you with your writing at all?
A: Yes, it always helps to gain perspective through a change of scene, and I always observe and make sketches and take notes wherever I go,for future stories.
10) There are a lot of people who seem to be writing fiction right now just for their own personal enjoyment. Do you have any advice for people who are doing that task right now?
A: I have no idea what that means. The first draft is a kind of personal enjoyment, but all the drafts after it are torture.