Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Edward O. Phillips

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Edward O. Phillips' 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.

A Month of Sundays (Cormorant Books) is the latest title in Edward O. Phillips's popular Sunday series featuring retired lawyer Geoffrey Chadwick.

Edward's kinetic (longhand!) approach to the writing process works very well for him — he's the author of nine books of fiction and has been awarded the Arthur Ellis Award. Today he talks with Open Book about his personal process, genre labels and class issues with characters.

As I address myself to the task of describing my work habits, I am struck with the realization that in today’s tech-sophisticated climate these same habits will seem hopelessly quaint and old fashioned. But: Different strokes, etc.; De gustibus non disputandum est; Do your own thing; and the rest of those whatever-works-for-you clichés.

In short, I write with a ball point pen in a coil exercise book, on the right hand page, leaving the left clear for revisions. Once I am more or less satisfied with the holograph version, I move to my IBM Selectric and type, double spaced, a working draft. After revisions, I prepare a final draft which is then photocopied and coil bound for submission to my agent. The original writing, words on the blank page, happens first thing in the morning at the dining room table over coffee. I will by then have had 24 hours to consider where the story will move next. Often ideas come as I write, although the main thread of the narrative has been worked out. I carry a small notepad at all times so I can jot down ideas for bits of dialogue, or a detail in a room, or an item of clothing that can help to define character.

It has been suggested that writers should write about what they know. If one were to limit oneself to the merely known or familiar, many splendid books would remain unwritten. To write about murder does not presuppose one has committed the act. Science or speculative fiction has been written by those unfamiliar with spaceships or life in future centuries. In my case, however, I find the community in which I was raised, an English-speaking enclave in a large French city, offered me ample scope for the tales I want to tell. A writer once suggested to me that we write the kind of novel we like to read. I have always had a fondness for the social novel and the milieu where manners are used for concealment as much as social graphite. A tart critic once called one of my books “a novel of manners, and very bad manners at that.” Be that as it may, the effort to maintain a veneer of decorum when cross-currents seethe below the surface has provided me with plenty of material.

The novel due out this fall, A Month of Sundays, deals with an aging Westmount lawyer, Geoffry Chadwick, coming to terms with being a widower and facing old age. He has appeared in four prior novels, all with Sunday in the title. Not wanting to get stuck in a series of sequels, I wrote one novel between each of the “Sunday” series, all set in English-speaking Montreal. At the risk of incurring egalitarian wrath, I have always found poverty tedious and boring as material for fiction. My books deal with the comfortably affluent middle class, those for whom earning a living is not the major preoccupation. They can afford the luxury of ethical values. Although I have been called a “mystery” writer, a sobriquet harder to shake than that of a shoplifter or student activist, I consider my books to be social novels. Any slight element of mystery or suspense is there to illuminate character and not provide thrills or shivers.

Let the reader decide.

— Edward O. Phillips

Edward O. Phillips is the author of many novels and short stories. Among his best known work is the Sunday series of novels featuring Geoffry Chadwick. He received the Arthur Ellis Award for Buried on Sunday (1986). A former teacher of English and Visual Arts, Phillips holds a Masters in Teaching from Harvard University and a Masters in English Literature from Boston University. He currently resides in Montreal, where he has lived most of his life.

For more information about A Month of Sundays please visit the Cormorant Books 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.

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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