Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Claire Holden Rothman

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Ten Questions with Claire Holden Rothman

Open Book talks to Claire Holden Rothman about reading, writing and her new novel, The Heart Specialist (Cormorant Books). Go to the publisher's website to read a preview of The Heart Specialist.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, The Heart Specialist.

Claire Holden Rothman:

The Heart Specialist is a novel set in Montreal at the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th. It tells the story of a young woman trying to enter the medical profession at a time when this idea was unheard of in Canada. She ends up curating the pathology museum at McGill University and discovering there a grossly deformed human heart with implications not only for her career, but for her identity and her capacity to love.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

CHR:

Not really. Writing is pretty right-brain for me, not too rational or logical at least in the beginning stages of a book. But I do tend to write for people who like investigating what it means to be human, who don’t mind poking around in dark corners.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

CHR:

I like writing first thing in the day. Location does not matter, but having a block of time set aside for fiction is key. I don’t really care if it’s at a kitchen table, on a park bench or in my home office as long as it’s blocked-off time.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

CHR:

My first publication was “Jyoti,” a story about an unmarried Hindu girl living in Guyana who gets pregnant. I was in my early twenties. I didn’t know much at the time about either pregnancy or writing. The story was published in The New Canadian Review, and it was sort of like having a baby.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

CHR:

Two years ago I joined a group of French-speaking Montrealers from the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and journeyed with them high in the Indian Himalayas to the source of the Ganges River. I was the only Anglo traveling with this group in a country entirely foreign to most of us. I was acutely aware of being simultaneously part of my group and apart from it in the context of India, a place which, like Québec, was colonized by Britain and still bears scars from the experience. The ironies were everywhere. Several stories resulted.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

CHR:

If I had to pick three books to show what Canada is to someone thoughtful who knows nothing about the country, I would pick Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are?, Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion and Michael Crummey’s River Thieves. There are so many other great Canadian books, but these three give a taste of our culture, geography and genius.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

CHR:

Wanting by Australian novelist Richard Flanagan.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

CHR:

Something that Aristotle said in the Poetics. Man is his desire. Figure out what a man wants, and you know the man.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

CHR:

Keep sending it out. Keep reading and writing. Never give up.

OBT:

What is your next project?

CHR:

A novel about Montreal set in the 1970s and today.


Claire Holden Rothman is a writer and translator. Her work on Le chercheur de trésors won her the 1994 John Glassco Translation Award. She has a BA in philosophy from McGill, a MA in English Literature from Concordia University and has taught English at Marianopolis College and creative writing at McGill University. Claire lives in Montreal. Her website is www.claireholdenrothman.com.

For more information about The Heart Specialist please visit the Cormorant Books website.

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

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