Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Ann Ireland

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Ann Ireland's desk

For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.

The Blue Guitar (Dundurn) is the first novel from Governor General's Literary Award winner Ann Ireland in ten years. The book follows a classic guitar competition and has been called both "a page-turner" and an evocative examination of the "emotional roller coaster of competition life."

Ann's enviable workspace in Oaxana City, Mexico makes for a unique, vibrant writing environment. Today she talks with Open Book about the balance involved with both patio tables and writing, fetish objects and the fight to let everything in.

For more about The Blue Guitar, you can also see our gallery of photos from Ann's book launch by clicking here.

In Oaxaca City, Mexico. Winter, 2013.

It’s a simple setup, which is the way I like it. I can carry everything under one arm, if I need to. This table is nestled in a corner of an open courtyard that is surrounded by apartments. It can get pretty noisy, what with people coming and going, slamming metal doors, echoes of voices calling out in Spanish and English. Then there are the diesel- fueled buses churning past on the street just beyond. Someone in a neighboring apartment is Skyping home, complaining about her upset stomach. She should try one of those little white pills.

Writing happens anywhere, not in a special compartment. At least that is my experience.

Behind this table is the rickety metal stairway that leads to a ladder that, in turn, leads to the roof. Sometimes I take my stuff up there and work, but it’s scary trying to hold onto everything and grip the railing at the same time.

Everywhere I travel, I buy local notebooks. This fierce leopard on the cover of the cuaderno wakes me up in the morning. When the sun rises high, I clamp the straw hat on my head and adjust the brim as the angle of light changes. You’ll note that the bistro table is small. This cuts down on potential clutter. It’s also tipsy in a way that can’t be remedied. If I bring another element to the setup, then I have to subtract something — to make room. For instance, should I desire a shot of mezcal, then I better remove the laptop — or court disaster. Remember what I said about the tippy table.

All of this sounds like the way I write. I start with something basic and simple. A situation, a character or two. I try them out in one corner, then another, even take them up to the roof for an airing out. After a time I notice there is too much clutter and I’ve lost themes and characters under layers of more themes and characters. Start again. See what is necessary and what can be dumped. Don’t be afraid to throw the thing off-balance. The table is never stable, no matter how many matchbook covers I tuck under the legs.

Sometimes one of the other tourists in this complex has taken my place in the corner. I have to fight using the word ‘my’, and remind myself that I have no special claim to this corner, this table, this anything. It’s a sort of liberation not to have to fight for turf.

I edit my face off, and then I start again. The dream is always to return to the still life, the perfect essential image that needs no decoration. Sometimes I try to run away from manuscripts and I call it traveling. Inevitably, I find a spot to work in the new place, the strange place, surrounded by things that don’t belong to me.

I own no fetish objects, no special pencil sharpener or clay figurine that must be attended to before the writing day begins. Sometimes I like to fool myself, say that I’m just sitting down for a moment and maybe something will happen, maybe not. Just don’t call it an office. The light is shifting and the evening chill rolls in. Church bells ring and someone is setting off fireworks. Dinner might be enchiladas, might be soup, might be a rare dash to the Italian place. It’s a fight to keep the writing porous, to let everything in.

— Ann Ireland

Ann Ireland is the author of A Certain Mr. Takahashi (winner of the Seal First Novel Award), The Instructor (shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award), and Exile (shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize). She lives in Toronto.

For more information about The Blue Guitar please visit the Dundurn website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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