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The Globe and Mail

Carrie Snyder on why she wrote Girl Runner, the best advice she’s ever gotten and more

Tonia Cowan/The Globe and Mail

Carrie Snyder's book The Juliet Stories was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award in 2012. Her new novel Girl Runner, about a (fictional) woman who represented Canada in the 1928 Olympics, has been something of a runaway success. It is a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize.

Why did you write your new book?

I wrote Girl Runner because I wanted to weave my passion for running into a story, and this particular story, of a talented determined female athlete, was one I really wanted to tell. That's the simple answer. The fraught answer is that I wrote the book in an almost desperate state in the months immediately before I planned to change careers entirely; I'd applied for and was accepted into midwifery school. For practical, financial reasons, I didn't think I could afford to continue being a writer, despite the success of The Juliet Stories. Girl Runner was the last book I thought I would write for the next number of years and I sent it out into the universe like a quarterback throws a Hail Mary pass down the field. And the universe told me to keep being a writer. At least for now.

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Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?

I go instantly to Mavis Gallant, though it's hard to take her sentences out of context as they're woven with complexity into the whole. And of course Alice Munro, who can pack even a single sentence with drama, so subtly that you hardly realize she's creating tension and pull at a structural level.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

The best advice I've ever received was from my high school English teacher, Ms. Schellenberg, who told me, though not in so many words, to stop feeling sorry for myself. She didn't tell me what to think; she offered a different perspective and let me work it out for myself. I never forgot it, and over time, it slowly changed my ability to accept and incorporate experiences, both wanted and unwanted, into my present self; I'm still learning. So much of how we experience life – our contentment, our openness, our empathy for others – is bound up in interpretation of the past. This turns out to be a recurring theme in my writing too.

Which historical period do you wish you'd lived through and why?

I wouldn't go back in time, I'd be dead several times over. Keep me in an era with antibiotics, immunizations, and surgical care. I'd also note that as a woman, most historical periods wouldn't have been particularly interested in my talents or gifts outside of domestic concerns. I come from peasant stock. I, as myself during any period prior to the previous century, would be leading a life of hard labour, limited education, and little creative outlet – and that's assuming I'd survived giving birth to all these children! I like now.

Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten, or legendary after death?

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Success while living, please. (Does anyone answer otherwise, I wonder?) We'll all be forgotten, sooner or later, and there's only been one Shakespeare. But really it's a matter of financial practicality: success in the present is the only option if I want to make a living at this. I've got four children and I don't want them to suffer for my art.

What agreed-upon classic do you despise?

Pass. If I don't like a book, I stop reading it, and therefore do not despise it. For example, I could never get into Jane Eyre despite having made repeated attempts. Please don't hold this against me.

What fictional character do you wish you'd created?

I love the characters in Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. They're so lively and spirited and somehow free, in their glamorous, motherless poverty. I admire any author who can write dark and light at the same time. All of Miriam Toews's characters are like this, too. And Miss Jean Brodie. Who wouldn't wish to have created a character like that – eternally complex, appealing and appalling all at once.

What fictional character do you wish you were?

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I used to want to be Emily of New Moon. I think I've outgrown that. Ditto Laura from the Little House series, and Del from Lives of Girls and Women, and the boy from The Black Stallion. Those wishes seem connected to childhood/young adulthood. Maybe I'm content just being myself, now.

Or maybe I read too much literary fiction now, and those characters don't tend to be ones that create an envy in the reader: we read to get the experiences without the suffering.

What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?

"So … what are you working on now?" (That's a joke. All the writers will get it.) Um. Yeah. I've got nothing.

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