"I published my first short story collection in 2006, and my first novel in 2007. Without that near-death accident, I don’t know if I ever would have found the time and energy for writing."

About Angie Abdou – author

Angie Abdou Arsenal 2Angie is an award-winning Canadian author whose impressive publication record includes the novels The Bone Cage (a CBC Canada Reads finalist in 2011 defended by NHL star Georges Laraque) and, most recently, Between (2014, Arsenal Press). The latter, released in the fall, has been reviewed extremely favourably by critics in The Globe and Mail, National Post, Winnipeg Review, and Vancouver Sun, as well as by the book industry’s publication The Quill and Quire. It launched in the US this April, and New York’s Library Journal listed it as a Top 13 Indie Pick for Spring 2015. Angie won the 2012 MacEwan Book of the Year, and in doing so joined a prestigious group of authors, including Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel, as recipients of this prize.

The Interview

1. What is the force that drives you forward? What fuels your ambition?

I think about this question often, and I have to remind myself of my answer just as often.

I write for two reasons:

1) I enjoy the process of writing, of accessing that creative part of my mind that I’m not aware of unless I’m deep in the writing process.

2) I enjoy being part of the writing community – of being invited to literary festivals and spending time with creative, brilliant and unique people who I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to befriend.

Those are my rewards, and those are the things that fuel me and keep me writing. If I start focusing, instead, on things like external affirmation of my work (fleeting) or financial rewards (inadequate), the writing life becomes a very disappointing one.

2. Can you talk about your greatest “failure”? (something that led to your most significant shift in consciousness, and made you who you are today).

Not my greatest failure but my greatest misfortune. The worst thing that has ever happened me is also the best.

On April 9, 1999, I was on my way to Fernie to run in an annual spring race. At that time, I was working as a technical writer for a high-tech company in Calgary. I spent a lot of time driving back and forth to Fernie to ski. I also spent a lot of time running, and I was registered to run the Boston Angie AUMarathon on April 19th.

I’d long given up pursuing my dream of being a “real” writer. Even though I’d wanted to write a novel since I first discovered them as a reader, I’d put no energy or time at all towards this goal. 

On that drive to Fernie, a snowstorm blew up. A driver coming the other direction in a hurry veered into my lane, and we collided, head-on. I came in and out of consciousness on the side of the highway, continually telling whoever happened to be at my side: “I have to go. I’m running the marathon in Boston next week. I can walk right?”

I woke in the Foothills Hospital Trauma Ward, not knowing if I’d ever walk again. I’d broken my L4 and sustained soft tissue damage all along my spine.

My recovery was slow, and I dealt with chronic pain for years. But that is a time I wouldn’t undo.

As soon as I was the slightest bit mobile, I made my way to my local independent bookstore and ordered a stack of how-to-write books. I read them all, did exercises, started submitting my work. That was 1999. I published my first short story collection in 2006, and my first novel in 2007. Without that near-death accident, I don’t know if I ever would have found the time and energy for writing.

3. Are you happy? What does happiness mean to you?

That is a hard question. I’m happy some of the time? Keeping busy and productive helps me stay happy. If I can keep focused on goals (whether it’s finishing a novel or developing a writers’ series in my home town or getting book reviews written), I can hold existential angst at bay. I get a sense of satisfaction from creative production and from being involved in creative communities. That is a kind of happiness.

4. What do you think is your greatest strength?

From my athletic years, I learned self-discipline and hard work. Finishing a writing project depends a lot less on inspiration than most people think. Hard work and self-discipline are the qualities that get a writer from the great idea to the finished product. I’m grateful to my swimming years for teaching me how to work.

5. When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist? Can you talk about that moment or time in your life?

I first knew I wanted to be a writer – really, really wanted to be a writer – the first time I fell in love with a book. The book was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I was four years old. I wanted to do for other people what that book did for me. I lost track of that dream somewhere in the self-consciousness of the teenage years, but I found it again after my near-death experience in 1999 (one month before my thirtieth birthday).

6. Habits, routine, morning rituals — What are the positive things you do daily that have had the most significant impact on your life and work?

Between CoverThe most important thing for my writing is momentum. If I want to get anything done, I have to write every day.

I think it’s Michael Ondaatje who said he only gets good writing days occasionally but to earn those days he has to show up at his desk every day. Finding that time is tricky since I’m a mother and I have a full-time job. But when I do find a way to fit writing in regularly, every day, good things happen.

7. How do you deal with doubt? Where do you go for support?

I have a one-man writing group, Andy Sinclair. I find regular writing groups too labour intensive – I don’t have the time and energy to devote to extensive critiques of other people’s work. But one person is perfect.

Andy and I aim to submit something to each other one week and then critique via Skype the next week – and we keep that going so that we’re submitting something every second week. Really the arrangement is about momentum and cheer-leading more than feedback at that early stage. We understand each other’s work and goals and when one of us is feeling down, the other can always be relied on for a rousing pep talk.

8. What, in your opinion, are the qualities of someone who is a “great” artist (in whatever discipline)?

Great is subjective. Someone I think is a great writer might not even be an interesting writer at all in someone else’s estimation. Our award based book culture causes us to lose sight of this subjectivity, I think. The writers (and artists) I most admire are challenging, in a wide variety of ways. When I pick up a book, I want to be challenged.

9. Any advice for artists on a similar path? (Perhaps advice you wish you’d been given when you were first starting out).

Don’t give up your day job. I’m not being facetious.

10. Could you talk a little bit about your relationship to money? This is a less specific question, but I’m just curious about your thoughts on the topic. Has your relationship to money changed over the years?

I often wish I had a simple life and lived modestly so I could devote more time to writing and reading and less time to working, but I don’t have a simple lifestyle. My husband and I are quite good at spending money, I’m afraid. I don’t make that much money at writing books. That means I often have to justify the time and energy I put into writing and have to try to articulate the rewards of that work, since the financial rewards don’t justify the effort expended.

Our society is so money-obsessed (money as status, money as reward) that thinking outside of that system requires a constant effort, but it’s necessary in order to live a life in which artistic creation is a priority.

11. Ever experience flow/being in the zone? What does it feel like for you, and can you tell us about a time when you experienced it?

Again, my first experiences of being in the zone were in sport (swimming) rather than in writing, but I can approximate (or sometimes even achieve) that zone state when immersed in the creative process. The flow state involves being so absorbed in the task at hand that I lose track of time and place. I’m not performing for an audience or even aware of performing at all – I’m fully in the moment. In writing, it’s an almost dreamlike state. I find it harder to get there through creative work than I do through athletic work, but when I do, it’s glorious. Turning off the internet is a good first step.

12. Who are your favourite authors?

I read mainly Canadian writers – I like to keep up with the work of those who I’ll spend time with at events and festivals. I have a lot of favourites: Miriam Toews, Alison Wearing, Michael Helm, Steven Heighton, Alison Pick, D.W. Wilson, Bill Gaston are some recent ones I’ve been enjoying lately. Some of my out-of-country favourites are Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, J.M. Coetzee. I could go on and on, but that’s a lot of favourites, isn’t it? I love reading.

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Website: www.abdou.ca

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“Finishing a writing project depends a lot less on inspiration than most people think” – an interview with Angie Abdou
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'Torture' 'unattainable' 'magic.' What's actually involved in living a 'creative life?' Is the 'magic' of creativity available to all of us? By digging deep into people's stories, that's what I wanted to find out. All interviews are conducted by Christine Bissonnette