How are you managing? I hope you’re keeping safe and healthy!
Today I’m pleased to share with you my Q&A with local Ottawa writer and friend, Frances Boyle. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Frances over the past few years and have found her work truly inspiring and her friendship a delight as well. I hope you enjoy getting to know more about Frances and her work as much as I have!
Thanks so much for dropping in, Frances, and congratulations on your upcoming release! What a gorgeous cover!
AK: Tell us a little about yourself.
FB: I was born and raised on the Canadian prairies, mostly in Regina. I came to Ottawa in the 1990s after having lived in Montreal and Vancouver. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember but, between my work (as a business lawyer) and raising my two young daughters, writing took a back seat for a very long time. I was only able to get serious about it after moving to this city, and easing my way into a wonderful writing community here. In the last fifteen years or so, I gained traction as a writer, with more and more stories and poems in literary magazines, then my first poetry collection Light-carved Passages in 2014, followed in 2018 by a Rapunzel-inspired novella called Tower and my second poetry book, This White Nest, last year. One of my daughters still lives in Ottawa, and the other is in BC. My partner and I are both retired from our day jobs (me in 2016 and him this January), and we are now two writers, one literary, one academic, sharing our home with a large standard poodle who is determined to be a lap dog.
AK: What’s the premise of your [latest] book?
FB: Well, it is a collection of short stories, so the book doesn’t have a single premise. The settings range from early 20th century Toronto and Montreal, to present-day cities throughout Canada, to an imagined near-future. If there are overarching themes, one would be the influence that works of art – be it storytelling, film, dance, theatre – can have over a life, or a person’s perception of their life. My characters include a woman haunted by possibly-spectral twins as she attempts to come to grips with a medical diagnosis, a mother and her daughter in flight from a controlling relationship, an elderly man looking back on his time as a youth in a TB sanitorium, a girl coming of age during the years leading up to WW2, a student from northern Ontario struggling for stability as he adjusts to his new life in the big city, several people in tangled or ill-advised love affairs, among a number of others.
AK: What inspired you to write it?
FB: As collections do, this one accreted over time. At one point, I felt I had a near-complete manuscript that I was calling Tower and Other Stories, consisting of a novella and seven stories. Since Tower was in fairly good shape, and the stories still needed some revision, I took a chance and sent off a submission to Fish Gotta Swim Editions, a brand new, novella-only press I’d heard about. Much to my surprise – and delight! – they accepted Tower for publication.
I was and am thrilled with that book and the process of working with Theresa Kishkan and Anik See, the wonderful women who run the press. But I was left with somewhat of a problem – a novella-sized hole in my manuscript! I had to take a hard look at some other stories that didn’t make the initial cut, either because they were still early drafts back then, or because I thought my weirder (spooky and/or speculative) stories might not fit. As is so often the case, the problem became an opportunity. It took me a little longer to whip the manuscript into shape: writing a couple of new stories, revising and polishing others, and ramping up the ghostly underpinnings in a couple more, but I am pleased with the diversity of styles, settings and points of view contained in the final version of Seeking Shade. And I am heartened by seeing that well-received books, like K.D. Miller’s Late Breaking and Deborah Willis’s The Dark and Other Love Stories, include elements of the futuristic and eerie alongside more naturalistic stories, similar to what I’ve done.
AK: What authors do you admire and/or have influenced your development as a writer? Please feel free to add specific books, we love recommendations!
FB: Oh, there are so very many! Influences dating back to childhood include C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, all the Andrew Lang colour Fairy Books, E. Nesbit and Edgar Eager – lots of magic! For longer fiction, writers whose work sticks with me include Ursula K. LeGuin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Ondaatje, Anne Tyler, Helen Oyeyemi, Ruth Ozeki, Russell Hoban, Ian MacEwen, Tim Winton and Doris Lessing. For short stories, Amy Hempel, Lorrie Moore, Alistair (and Alexander) MacLeod, Steven Heighton, Neil Gaiman and, more recently, Elise Levine, Erin Frances Fisher and Andrew Forbes.
And, of course, if there is one single writer who influences my work as a short story writer, it is Alice Munro. She is a master of many things, but I’ve always particularly marveled at the way she moves back and forth in time in her stories, and at how she subtly unveils motivations underlying her characters’ actions.
AK: What are you working on now?
FB: I have a third poetry manuscript roughly in shape, after having had the privilege of working on it with the wonderful Sandra Ridley at Sage Hill last summer. Making my way through the final edits on Seeking Shade with Stephanie Small, my editor at The Porcupine’s Quill, along with other literary and non-literary activities largely took me away from the poetry for a few months, but I’m keen to continue editing and shaping that collection with a view to shopping it around fairly soon. I’m also writing my way into several new short stories – Seeking Shade pretty well depleted my ‘inventory’ of short fiction, so I need to replenish that well.
AK: What question do you wish I had asked, and answer it!
FB: This is a thoughtful and comprehensive set of questions, but I’ll add one: what’s the difference for me in writing poetry versus writing fiction?
Answer: The two definitely overlap, but poetry starts as a much more intuitive process than fiction. Most of the poems I’ve written began in timed sessions, based either on a specific prompt/challenge or on free associating around a poem or a few lines of poetry. Freewriting lets me trick my conscious mind (and that nasty internal critic voice) into delving deeper into an image or a real or imagined experience. The results frequently surprise me and, luckily, I am often able to take these imagistic ramblings and shape them into something that coheres as a poem. Fiction, on the other hand, usually starts with a character or a situation. I often know where I want the story to end though I may not know the path that the journey will take. Sometimes I’ll use a situation either from my own life or that I’ve heard about and work it up into story, speculating how the character I’ve created would handle it. So, situation drives character, and character drives situation. I have on occasion, and generally in revision, borrowed from my poetry practice, and used free-writing to work my way through a sticky scene or patch of dialogue.
Thank you so much, Anita, for inviting me to take part! Your last book, Side by Side, was deeply moving and beautifully written, and I am truly looking forward to reading Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters.
Release date: Available for pre-order; release date April 30, 2020
In Frances Boyle’s short story collection Seeking Shade, nuanced characters endure trauma, evolution and epiphany as they face challenges, make decisions, and suffer the inevitable consequences.
In Seeking Shade, ordinary situations are imbued with extraordinary emotion as women and men explore identity and independence, navigate complicated relationships and confront the fallibility of mind and body.
A reckless young woman dances through the Second World War—and through the lives of many a man in uniform. A graduate student considers a popular film and revisits a past tragedy as she watches flames devour her apartment building. A hardworking man struggles to come to grips with his own helplessness at three stages of enforced quietude. A wife and mother questions her health—and her sanity—when she is plagued by phantom pains and visions of ghostly twins.
Through these and other stories, Frances Boyle leaves readers with a retinal impression, ‘a shadow left by a flash’, reminding us that the ways we communicate—through art, through literature, through dance, through performances theatrical and otherwise—shape our lives and the stories that we tell.
Where To Get Your Copy:
- Buy Local if you can! Your friendly neighbourhood bookseller will be glad to pre-order a copy of Seeking Shade for you if they don’t yet have it in stock. Here in Ottawa, check out Books on Beechwood, Perfect Books and Octopus Books.
Let’s Get Social:
Twitter & Instagram: @francesboyle19
Author website: www.francesboyle.com
Publisher’s website: https://porcupinesquill.ca/bookinfo6.php?index=355