‘I was ad­vised by a univer­sity pro­fes­sor that my cre­ativ­ity was cor­rupted by sen­ti­men­tal­ity’

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - GLOBE BOOKS - LIN­DEN MACIN­TYRE

Lin­den MacIn­tyre is an award­win­ning au­thor and broad­cast jour­nal­ist, hav­ing spent al­most a quar­ter-cen­tury as co­host of CBC-TV’s The Fifth Es­tate. His books in­clude the mem­oir Cause­way: A Pas­sage from In­no­cence, as well as the nov­els The Long Stretch, Why Men Lie, Pun­ish­ment and The Bishop’s Man, which won the Sco­tia­bank Giller Prize. His lat­est novel, The Only Café, was re­cently pub­lished by Ran­dom House Canada.

Why did you write your new book?

Years ago I was ad­vised by a univer­sity pro­fes­sor that my cre­ativ­ity was cor­rupted by sen­ti­men­tal­ity and that I might be more suited to jour­nal­ism where writ­ing is dis­ci­plined by ob­jec­tiv­ity and moder­ated by ed­i­to­rial over­sight. I ac­cepted his ad­vice but even­tu­ally con­cluded that a story some­times re­quires anal­y­sis of ap­par­ent fact and that anal­y­sis re­quires a de­gree of cre­ativ­ity. This was es­pe­cially true in the cov­er­age of con­flict. Un­der­stand­ing con­flict, es­pe­cially in war, re­quires an ex­plo­ration of char­ac­ter, mo­ti­va­tion, the un­seen cir­cum­stances. I have long wanted to re­port an­a­lyt­i­cally on the Le­banese civil war, which I cov­ered for the CBC, through a cre­ative and an­a­lyt­i­cal work of fic­tion. Which is what I have tried to achieve in writ­ing The Only Café.

Which fic­tional char­ac­ter do you wish you had cre­ated?

Sheilagh Field­ing in Wayne John­ston’s clas­sic, The Colony of Un­re­quited Dreams. Field­ing, the char­ac­ter, be­cause of her in­tegrity and flaws, be­comes a per­son we have known and joins all the other ex­em­plary peo­ple in one’s mem­ory. She is un­for­get­table for who she is or was, and is as real as any­body one has known.

What scares you as a writer?

Leav­ing a story un­fin­ished on the page when it has been com­pleted in the imag­i­na­tion. At a cer­tain point in the writ­ing process I find that the plot achieves an imag­i­na­tive crit­i­cal mass and that the com­ple­tion of the story is a mat­ter of time and the unan­tic­i­pated mo­ments of in­spi­ra­tion that make the writ­ing bur­den bear­able. When asked if I en­joy writ­ing, I re­spond: I en­joy hav­ing writ­ten. I fear the writ­ing project that will be­come an ef­fort wasted, an emo­tional re­ward de­nied.

What’s the best ro­mance in lit­er­a­ture?

The best ro­mance in lit­er­a­ture is one that has never, to the best of my knowl­edge, been fully ex­plored – the love af­fair be­tween Ellen Ter­nan and Charles Dick­ens. Even Peter Ack­royd’s ex­haus­tive Dick­ens bi­og­ra­phy, while fac­tu­ally com­plete, re­frains from ex­plor­ing the emo­tional depths of what was prob­a­bly the au­thor’s most in­tense re­la­tion­ship.

What’s your favourite book­store in the world?

I ad­mire Cir­cus Books and Mu­sic, a sec­ond-hand book­store on the Dan­forth [in Toronto] and like­wise Book City, also on the Dan­forth. But my favourite book­store is Ben McNally’s on Bay Street. Ben and his fam­ily don’t just sell books, they ad­vo­cate for books and pub­lish­ers and au­thors and work hard in the com­mu­nity to gen­er­ate pub­lic in­ter­est in and de­mand for books. McNally’s is more than a book­store. It has be­come a lit­er­ary in­sti­tu­tion.

What’s more im­por­tant: The be­gin­ning of a book or the end?

I think the be­gin­ning of a book, cer­tainly for be­gin­ning au­thors and the non-famous, is cru­cial. A book by an iconic au­thor will be read be­cause of the rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion that it will be worth the time and the an­tic­i­pa­tion. Also, an es­tab­lished rep­u­ta­tion will usu­ally sur­vive the dis­ap­point­ments of a loyal read­er­ship. But for most of us the key to es­tab­lish­ing en­gage­ment is, very early on, to cre­ate the prom­ise that will lead to an­tic­i­pa­tion and com­mit­ment. With­out that mo­ti­va­tion the bril­liant end­ing doesn’t mat­ter be­cause no­body will ever get that far. That said, hav­ing cre­ated an­tic­i­pa­tion and lured a reader/buyer into a com­mit­ment, the fail­ure of an end­ing will negate the po­ten­tial of the next be­gin­ning – no mat­ter how clever and se­duc­tive. The reader will be wary and in­struct the buyer to be­ware.


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