Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In Conversation: Craig Davidson

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
Reviewed by Ariel Gordon

Craig Davidson is a Toronto-based writer.

On the one hand, he’s a successful literary novelist with his third novel, Cataract City, shortlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Trillium Book Prize.

On the other, he also writes suspense and horror novels under the pseudonyms Nick Cutter and Patrick Lestewka, which are regularly blurbed by Stephen King and Clive Barker.

Davidson was in Winnipeg this week, launching a memoir entitled Precious Cargo as a part of the Winnipeg International Writers Festival.

Winnipeg Free Press: By the time you sat down to write Precious Cargo — about being a single, unsuccessful writer taking a job as driver of the special-needs bus — you’d married, had a child, and published three more novels as Craig Davidson and several more as horror writers Nick Cutter and Patrick Lestewka. Why did you want to tell this story now? And how did having a child of your own deepen your thinking and feeling on the events you’re recounting?

Craig Davidson: I think it was just a matter of the book coming out of me at this time. I had a vacancy in terms of the next book I wanted to write, and Precious Cargo — or the idea that would become the book — was tugging most insistently. So that was what I wrote. I think for sure having a child sharpens the sense of what the book is about. I was always appreciative and respectful of the parents of the children I drove, but having had a son of my own I can see things a little more clearly through their eyes now.

WFP: What was the most difficult part about writing about children with disabilities?

CD: Oh, there are lots. Primarily, maybe, this sense that I’m an imposter. A lot of books about disabilities are written from first-hand experience: either the author themselves explains what it’s like to live with a specific disability, or the author details what it’s like to be, say, the parent of a child with special needs. Obviously, I didn’t have the same intimacy. So I settled on my perspective as the 98 per cent: that is, the percentage of people in our society who has likely had only token interactions with children (or adults) with special needs. My perspective was, "Hey, I’m reasonably compassionate, I’m willing to learn, I will make mistakes, but I want to be a part of this." And from there, to comment as honestly but also as compassionately and gently and carefully on whatever about those interactions made me happy, worried, elated, what made me laugh and what caused my heart to hurt. All of that. But it was an enormous worry that I’d get it wrong somehow. And I’m sure by some readers’ estimation I did get it wrong. Such is the life of a writer.

WFP: In terms of craft, how was writing a memoir unlike writing literary fiction or horror? Or is all writing, writing?
CD: I think the main thing is the most obvious: one is fiction, the other not. I think there’s a heightened level of responsibility and care in writing non-fiction (although, depending on your fictional universe, if it reflects real life, a writer might feel very responsible in that instance, too), but anyway, the "characters" in Precious Cargo are not. They’re real people. They have a life off the pages of the book I’ve written. They will live on well past the life of the book. So it’s important that everything in the book reflects that.

WFP: Speaking of the life of the writer, how did your son and your pseudonym happen to have the same first name? (And is your son’s middle name Cutter?)

CD: It’s a bit of an honorific to the boy. We’ll see if he feels that way when he’s 13. But by then he’ll likely think everything his old man does or has ever done is lame.

WFP: Tell me about the hubbub after your novel Cataract City (2013) was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Trillium.

CD: Oh, it was nice. It made me wonder how a really big-time writer must feel — y’know, I’m sure all the nominees felt a little tired after all the foofaraw, but it was only a few months. Imagine (J.K.) Rowling or King or whoever. It’s never-ending, and it’s so much bigger! Lines of people down the block, endless meetings, press obligations. When do they ever find a moment to take a pee, let alone write?

WFP: As a writer (in other words, as someone whose artistic practice is predicated on time spent alone) how do you approach readings? What do you get out of them?

CD: I’m happy enough to do readings. I am not necessarily the greatest reader — I’ve done readings with writers who are really adept readers (Irish writers are the best; pro tip: never follow an Irish writer at a reading, unless you want to let everyone down), so I know that’s not really my forte. But I get up there, sure. I tend to enjoy the Q&A portion more. Answering questions, rambling on at great length like a doddery old uncle. Surely that’s fun for the audience…

WFP: What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?

CD: Reading The Count of Monte Christo and The 48 Laws of Power. Research.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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