Interview with TANIS RIDEOUT
Tanis Rideout is a poet and writer living and working in Toronto. In the fall of 2005 she released her first full-length book of poetry DELINEATION, exploring the lives and loves of comic book super-heroines, which was praised as a “tantalizing, harrowing read.” In 2006 she was named the Poet Laureate of Lake Ontario by the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and toured with the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie to draw attention to environmental justice issues on the lake. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous quarterlies and magazines and received grants from local and national arts councils.
I just finished Julian Barnes most recent book LEVELS OF LIFE – which was beautiful and painful. And I’m about to start one of Kate Atkinson’s mysteries. I’ve also got a number of research books on the go.
What first sparked your interest in writing?
I always loved books, but it never really occurred to me that writing could be something I could do until sometime in university. I wrote terrible angst-y poems in high school, of course, but I think pretty much everyone did.
One day in class I had this sudden visceral understanding that someone had written the book I was reading, which seems really obvious, but I don’t think I’d really thought much about it before. I decided to try writing myself.
What do you love the most about writing? The least?
I love when something slots in to place, when you realise if you do something in particular it will align a bunch of your thoughts and ideas. When it’s going well – it’s an enjoyable place to be. And I love research quite a bit. If I could just research and not have to do anything with it I’d be quite happy.
What I like the least are the days that are full of self-doubt and questioning – when you’re so deep in to something you can’t see it anymore and the only choice is to keep stumbling through.
I’ve learned that’s just part of the process, but I don’t like it!
Tell us a little about your writing process.
I have to write a lot. I’m not much of a planner – so I write to figure out what I want to say, who my characters are, that kind of thing. I often write a great number of pages before I even figure out what the heck it is I want to do.
For the most part I try and write through a draft before I really start to muck around with it or show it to people, but sometimes that changes.
Once I have a huge stack of paper then I try and make some sense of it and just keep going back over it, smoothing it out, shuffling it around until I can’t go any further. That’s when I need someone else to come in and give me their thoughts.
What are your passions?
I tend to be quite obsessive so I’ll grab on to different things at different times. I love travel and food. I love the water.
I love story and narrative. I love arguing about all of those things.
And writing – probably over all.
What inspires you?
Other people inspire me – seeing my friends work hard and put books out. Really fantastic writing – if I get stuck writing wise I’ll grab something off the shelf and read until it kicks me back in to gear.
How was ABOVE ALL THINGS born?
Years ago I worked at an outdoor equipment store and one of my co-workers was obsessed with all things Everest. He would bring in videos to show in the store – documentaries, that kind of thing – and I was just stunned by them – I couldn’t understand why people would try and climb Everest. So I started reading everything I could get my hands on, which led me pretty quickly to the early expeditions and I just got swept up in the romance of it, and by George Mallory. I had to write about him to get him out of my head.
Did the book require a lot of research?
I did do a lot of research – when I started I didn’t know anything about climbing or Everest, especially in the 1920s. I read everything I could get my hands on at the library, online, in stores.
Eventually I was lucky enough to be able to go to England for a while and had access to personal letters between George and Ruth, and official documents from the expedition.
As I said – I love this part, though – it’s fun and it’s always surprising what you learn and how you can use it to colour a story.
Is it hard finding the right balance between fact and fiction?
I knew from the very beginning I wanted to tell a fictional version of this story. There are so many fantastic non-fiction works out there about Everest and about Mallory, there wasn’t anything I could add to that. I was interested in the types of characters who might be in these situations, I want to get at an emotional truth more than a factual one. For me story and believability were the most important things.
Did you enjoy writing either Ruth or George’s perspective more than the other?
It’s funny – there were times when I loved and times when I hated both sections. I think, in general I found Ruth more difficult to write. She was so much more constrained by time and place that finding a way to keep her story as compelling as George’s was quite a challenge.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
To read everything and to keep at it. There’s a lot of rejection – but keep writing, write to get better. Be critical of your own work – let other people read it and listen to what they have to say. You have to actively want to get better, so you can’t be too precious about your own work.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
I just recently put out a book of poems called ARGUMENTS WITH THE LAKE – about Marilyn Bell’s historic swim across Lake Ontario.