She came to our attention with the bestselling novel Annabel. This fall Kathleen Winter published two new books: The Freedom in American Songs, a short story collection, and Boundless, an account of her voyage through the Northwest Passage, which was recently longlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize.
Why did you write your new book?
I served as a short story prize juror and the entries inspired me to write four new stories in one summer. Then my editor John Metcalf asked if I happened to have any new work. He read the new stories and heartily encouraged me to get a collection together. I welcomed the chance to work with him again as he is exacting and caring and very challenging, and working with him uses all my revising muscles. I don't think he kept the original four stories in the collection. He likes to mercilessly and, I suspect, gleefully, turf half of what I write into the compost.
Whose sentences are your favourite, and why?
My husband Jean's. He says things like, "I'm fiberglassed." He says, "All towns are Clansville." He says, after I try to pick an argument with him, "I rest your case."
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Author Joan Clark told me to smash a manuscript against the wall like breaking a vase, and start again. She advised me to find work I admire and read it once for enjoyment then study it until I can see how the author did it.
Which historical period do you wish you'd lived through, and why?
I'm intrigued by times when people made everything by hand, and of course there are many places in the world where that happens today. I'm planning a tour of places where people still make yarn and then turn it into garments. But I'd better do it soon. It saddened me to visit a Scottish knitter recently who has to order her wool from outside Scotland because, she told me, local shepherds have started breeding sheep that shed gradually so farmers don't have to shear them.
Would you rather be successful during your lifetime and then forgotten, or legendary after death?
Oblivion is inevitable in either case, and it is eternal. I'm glad about that. I'm glad about the great, cool, weighted fabric of the eternal oblivion-quilt.
What agreed-upon classic do you despise?
I can't be in the same room with the song O Danny Boy. My daughter just read this so has begun belting it out in the shower. It's her birthday so I can't retaliate. I've moved out onto the veranda. My neighbour's dog Gracie is running up the purple spiral staircase to welcome me. Gracie just ate a wasp and her dove-grey face is swollen but her tail wags on. The staircases of Montreal are an agreed-upon classic that I adore.
Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?
The only thing I get jealous of is people's adventures. I just made a new friend who told me this morning she is about to travel the canyons around Santa Fe on horseback with a woman who knows the terrain. My sister outlaw has lately been on a few spellbinding travels. If I wasn't about to head off for the Torngats I might feel a little envious of those two.
Which fictional character do you wish you were?
I can't even get envious of a fictional character. I love being me. Doesn't everyone love being them? That same Danny-boy daughter just gave me her old derby skates and is teaching me to dart and swerve and duck bugs along the St. Lawrence bike path. That is pretty darn exciting. But I do wish I could fly, of course. Everyone wishes that, right?
What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?
I've tried to get people to ask about the importance of editors, the transformative power a superb editor can have; the satisfying work of sculpting away at draft after draft under the guidance of a magic person who knows when you're not done yet and calls out the shortcomings but doesn't presume to interfere or invade. It's an important collaboration that can make all the difference to a work, and yet the editor seldom gets any credit. True, a good editor will never impose on the writing, and the work is, in the end, the author's solitary responsibility, but working with the right editor is an alchemical, fascinating task, a doomed and soaring temporary marriage.
This interview have been condensed and edited.