Author: André Alexis
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Ottawa and in Petrolia, Ont. Both places, city and country, left their mark on me, but I was born in Trinidad and moved to Canada when I was four. So, the influence of Trinidad on my sensibility is also fairly strong.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Some time around the age of 12 or 13, the idea of being a writer seemed right to me, somehow. In fact, I started to write somewhere around then. Not seriously, but tentatively, to see what I could do.
Why did this particular book demand to be written?
It’s possible to answer this question about most of my books, but not Pastoral. Pastoral overcame me, if you know what I mean. I wrote it in three months while I was staying at a friend’s home in London, England. I didn’t really have time to think about it. The novel simply came. And when the first draft was finished, I was surprised by it.
What is your favourite book of all time?
I have four: Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable), Raymond Queneau’s Le Chiendent, and Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I couldn’t possibly choose among them and they have each influenced me deeply.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten?
It wasn’t given to me personally. It was said to Graeme Gibson by Mordecai Richler. I’m paraphrasing, but Richler suggested that perseverance is what makes a writer. I think this is true of any profession, but it’s important to remember if you practice an Art. Writers aren’t always thanked or encouraged for the work they do. They’re as often discouraged or derided. You’ve got to keep going, despite all that.
What is your hidden talent?
A hidden talent? Hmmm. I believe I have a great capacity to love. If loving is a talent, then I think I’m good at it. (But then, I’m also good at hating.)
Who do you admire most?
In my personal life: my mother. In my professional life: Harry Mathews. He has been a constant inspiration and true friend.
What song do you sing when nobody's listening?
Having had my own radio show for a while — and having started out wanting to be a musician — it’s difficult to narrow down. It’s easier to say what song I sing to myself these days: “Am I Wrong?” by Nico and Vinz.
André Alexis, Pastoral, $18.