20 writerly questions for Tanis Rideout

Tanis Rideout received her MFA from the University of Guelph-Humber, and she has been a finalist for the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and the CBC Literary Awards. In 2006, she was named Poet Laureate for Lake Ontario by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and joined Gord Downie on a tour to promote environmental justice on the lake. Sometimes referred to as the Poet Laureate of CanRock, Tanis joined Sarah Harmer’s I Love the Escarpment Tour to read a commissioned poem. She was born in Belgium, grew up in Bermuda and in Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Toronto. Her debut novel is Above All Things.

1. How would you summarize your book in one sentence?

Above All Things is about the 1924 expedition to Mount Everest and the effects it had on those involved and waiting at home.

2. How long did it take you to write this book?

I’ve worked on the book on and off for years! I finished the first draft about six years ago.

3. Where is your favourite place to write?

Somewhere else. I really enjoy being able to rent a cottage somewhere far away from Toronto. Changing your routine is good for creativity, so I enjoy writing on self-created ‘retreats’ whenever I can.

4. How do you choose your characters’ names?

Most of the characters in Above All Things are at least based on actual people so I didn’t have the pressure of making up names. For those I have to make up I scan book spines, particularly for last names.

5. How many drafts do you go through?

This is a hard one — sometimes I’m not sure how to count a draft. How much do you have to change for it to be a new draft? I’d say Above All Things went through about six drafts — six versions that were quite different from each other.

6. If there was one book you wish you had written what would it be?

I’m tempted to say none of them, because then I couldn’t have read them, but that’s coy. 1984 maybe? Something that meaningful, but that well written. Something that has weight and meaning and plot. Something that has an impact on our very language.

7. If your book were to become a movie, who would you like to see star in it?

I totally admit I’ve probably spent far too much time thinking about this. I think Michael Fassbender is probably currently in the running for George. Armie Hammer for Sandy. Ruth seems a little more difficult though, I’ve yet to think of my perfect Ruth.

8. What’s your favourite city in the world?

I love Paris. I got married and honeymooned in Paris. But there are so many great cities I haven’t even been to you yet. London is pretty spectacular too!

9. If you could talk to any writer living or dead who would it be, and what would you ask?

Right now I’m reading a lot of and a lot about Bryon for a new project — so I’d love to sit down with him over a glass of wine or something stronger and talk about him — get some answers about what really went on behind closed doors.


10. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what kind?

It depends. Often early on in the project I will. I’ll listen to music that sets the mood — if the work is set in a particular time then I’ll try and listen to stuff from the correct era, or at least reminiscent of it. Once I get into working, though, I tend to turn everything off. I used to write while I watched hockey, but I haven’t done that in some time.

11. Who is the first person who gets to you read your manuscript?

My husband.

12. Do you have a guilty pleasure read?

I love fashion magazines. They’re perfect for the bath, or lounging in the sun.

13. What’s on your nightstand right now?

New books by several of my friends — Aga Maksimowska’s Giant; Grace O’Connell’s Magnified World; and a stack of research books for a new project.

14. What is the first book you remember reading?

I have a very concrete memory of reading Black Beauty in the hatchback trunk of the family car as we drove to New Brunswick to visit my grandparents. I doubt it was my first book, but it’s one I viscerally remember.

15. Did you always want to be a writer?

No. Mostly because I don’t think I realized it was a legitimate job until quite late. I always loved books, and I certainly wrote terrible angst-y poetry in high school, like everyone else. But I didn’t begin to write seriously until I was close to the end of my undergrad.

16. What do you drink or eat while you write?

I like to snack. It’s a terrible habit. Popcorn. Or sunflower seeds. I mostly drink water and coffee. In the evenings — I’ll have a beer or a glass of wine while I work.

17. Typewriter, laptop, or pen & paper?

Laptop predominantly. With poetry I always write first drafts with pen and paper. And I go back to pen and paper if I’m really stuck on something. But it has to go into the computer before I can edit.

18. What do you wear when you write?

Generally something comfy. Jeans and a sweater in the cooler weather. Dresses in the summer.

19. How do you decide which narrative point of view to write from?

I think for me it’s a question of trying point of view on — it’s not until I’m in them that I can see what the limits or advantages are to one pov or another.

20. What is the best gift someone could give a writer?

Time. I think that’s what we’re always needing more of. More time to write.

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