Lisa Moore, who needs no introduction to those who listened to her Canada Reads victory earlier this year, follows up her heartbreaking novel February with Caught, a taut pot yarn about a deal gone bad. Here, she reflects on the writers and books that have shaped her.
When you started to write, which writers did you revere?
Louise Fitzhugh, who wrote Harriet the Spy. I probably read that when I was 11. One of the things I loved about Harriet was that people lived in apartments. Being in Newfoundland, I’d never heard about a kid living in an apartment. The way she moved through the city and spied on the Italian family who had the grocery store – that she wrote the truth, which were nasty things about people, and then learned to temper that. She learned to be more compassionate. She learned how to write.
Did you imitate any of them?
When I began to write, Michael Ondaatje was a big influence. In the Skin of a Lion, Running in the Family. That book is so elegant and beautiful and magical and joyous. Mavis Gallant has always been a huge influence, because she’s so arch and dry. And, something I aspire to, the political sweep in her stories that she somehow makes personal. And when I was 19, I went to a creative writing class with Larry Mathews. He was a huge influence on me and many writers who came out of Newfoundland.
How did you forge a distinct voice?
This is a criticism of creative writing programs: that everybody has the same voice. I’ve taught in those programs. I think there are tools every writer needs, like if you’re a carpenter you have to know how things fit together. And that’s what I got out of that class – encouragement, and a belief in literature. And if you sit down long enough, something that’s you is going to come out.
Which living writer makes your favourite sentences?
I really love Anne Enright. I think there’s a real rhythm in her sentences, but she captures something of the Irish voice. There’s an irreverence in it, and it has a beat, but it sounds completely natural. It has musicality, but it sounds like the spoken word.
Which perhaps unexpected books share a commonality your new one?
About five years ago I read Charles Portis for the first time. There is such an understated humour in his writing. The characters who are on the side, the incidental characters, are so rich and developed, and they’re wildly idiosyncratic and humourous. And Flannery O’Connor, for the same reason. Her characters are on the page in a very physical way – the way they move. Cormac McCarthy, and, I think, Faulkner, too – the easier-to-read Faulkners.
Place, location, plays a big part in your work. How does geography influence you?
If you’re talking about the physical land – I know this sounds ridiculous – but I really think that I am influenced in the way I write sentences by the rhythm of the ocean. It’s a kind of thumping that feels to me like a cadence that can be imitated in language.
This interview has been condensed and edited.