Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Christine Walde

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Christine Walde

Christine Walde's second full length book, Burning from the Inside (Dancing Cat Books), tells the story of Thom, whose fondness for creating graffiti finally lands him in a youth detention centre. Thom is soon offered a chance to wipe his record clean, however, by informing on a group of graffiti writers known as the G7. As he gets to know the group, however, things change and questions arise about the G7, the cop who put Thom up to spying and Thom himself.

Today we speak to Christine about graffiti as self-expression, Thom's evolution as a character and the role of Led Zeppelin in the writing process.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Burning From the Inside.

Christine Walde:

Burning from the Inside is a story about two teenage graffiti writers who belong to an underground graffiti crew called the G7. Told from their two opposing viewpoints — from their first meeting to their final escape — Burning from the Inside explores the power of love while addressing issues about youth, graffiti and the urban landscape.


What drew you to write about graffiti artists? Did you do any research on the subject while working on this project?


I have always been interested in the symbolic and temporal nature of the language of graffiti. It's a lexicon of secret codes and signs that exist almost exclusively outside — both literally and figuratively — the language of mainstream culture, and because of that, it can also be a very powerful means of self expression. I was drawn to writing about graffiti artists because I was struck by the power of this language and inspired by it in the landscape around me. I was also curious about the stories suggested by graffiti and wanted to capture them as part of a larger narrative about the meaning of story in our lives. While I did some research on the internet, and was inspired by the story of graffiti writers like Utah and Ether, most of my research was either directly or indirectly influenced and inspired by the landscape and graffiti of London, Ontario where I was living at the time I wrote the book. I also have a friend who is an artist who told me some amazing stories that helped to inspire and inform me.


How did the character of Thom evolve for you? How would you describe him, and do you feel you have anything in common with him?


When I first started writing this book, I knew I wanted to write a character from a male point of view. But who Thom was, at that stage of his character, was embryonic. It was only later, through his interactions with other important characters like Driscoll and Aura, did he begin to develop. And as the plot and story evolved, Thom grew into a character who chose to define himself through the courage of his own actions, rather than by the influence of others. I would describe him as intelligent, but also mysterious, and secretive. He is, in many ways, an outsider. Perhaps because of this, he invents himself as a writer over and over again, with different names and identities, to protect himself. As a writer, sometimes I feel I share those commonalities with him, though my means of expression differ.


Loyalty, trust and authority are issues that emerge in this book as Thom struggles with these things and finds himself confronted with complex questions. Are these themes you feel passionate about?


The negotiation of self is always complex, especially when we are young. And I think confronting these issues of loyalty, trust and authority is an important and necessary passage. We are shaped by so many external forces: by love, by friendship, by family — but stories also shape us. The power of narrative is that it gives meaning and definition to the people and events in our lives, and that theme — the power of story — is what I feel passionate about and what is an underlying theme of the book.


What are you reading now? And what were you reading while working on Burning From the Inside? How do you find your reading habits affect your writing?


I read many different texts at once — everything from poetry and criticism to fiction and biography and magazine articles — and yet I tend not to read while I write; I listen to music instead. Not only does it help me to imagine the visualization of scenes, in the way a soundtrack would, but it also affects my mood, and the timbre of my writing. If it's any indication, I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin while I was working on Burning from the Inside.


What are you working on now?


In addition to writing fiction, I am also a poet and just currently finished a full-length poetry manuscript. But I have a new novel germinating in my brain. Just as Burning from the Inside is related to my first novel, The Candy Darlings, this new book will be a parallel work that speaks to former fictions and characters I have created. I hope to start work on the first draft this summer.

Christine Walde has been published for her poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Recent publication credits include appearances in Vallum, Carousel, The Antigonish Review, Plath Profiles, Hunter & Cook, and Border Crossings, among others. Her first novel, The Candy Darlings, was published with Penguin Canada and Houghton Mifflin (2007). In September 2011, London’s baseline press published her first chapbook, The Black Car. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

For more information about Burning from the Inside please visit the Dancing Cat Books website.

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

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

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