[originally posted on Kickaction.ca]
Holly Luhning recently published her first novel, Quiver, which will be available in bookstores on Feb. 1. Prior to the novel, she received a Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award, and her first collection of poetry, Sway, was nominated for a Saskatchewan Book Award. I spoke to the author (who holds a Ph.D. in 18th-century literature) about the writing and researching process for Quiver, and the literary scene in her new home Toronto.
Your first novel, Quiver, comes out on Feb. 1. How did you become inspired to tell this story?
While I was researching an undergrad paper, I came across across Raymond McNally’s non-fiction book about Báthory, Dracula Was A Woman. The book had nothing to do with my paper, but I took it out of the library anyway. I was interested in Báthory’s historical and political stories, but I was even more interested in contemporary fascinations, and even obsessions with her – artists, musicians, criminals who have been influenced by her legend. I was intrigued by this sustained, contemporary fixation on her the social anxieties this fixation reveals in regard to issues of violence, beauty, ritual, and femininity.
Shortly after my first collection of poems came out, I started researching Báthory further. I began to write poems about her story, but I started to realize that what I was really writing was a novel. I was interested in Báthory’s historical and political stories, but I was even more interested in contemporary fascinations and obsessions with her – artists, musicians, criminals who have been influenced by her legend. I was intrigued by this sustained, contemporary fixation on her the social anxieties this fixation reveals in regard to issues of violence, beauty, ritual, and femininity.
You’ve published two collections of poetry before launching your novel. Is the poetry-writing different from novel-writing? If so, how?
I don’t think there’s necessarily a concrete division between genres. As I mentioned, Quiver started as poems, and there are some parts of the novel that contain lines of those first poems (but just disguised as prose!). For me, working with poetry feels like I’m working with a very small space – one that can house beautiful, intricate art that’s often very tricky to make. But with a novel, I feel like I can spread out and work on a bigger canvas. I’m drawn to elements such as plot, story, narrative structure, character, that while of course are not restricted to the form of the novel, tend to be more central to the work than in poetry. At the same time, elements such as imagery, rhythm, metaphor, and economy of language are also important to the work. Figuring out how to put all these things together in the form of a novel is a wonderful creative and intellectual challenge.
The National Post review of Quiver – which was great and positive– reassured the readers that your book is not “academic,” despite your Ph.D. status. How do you feel about that assessment? Why does academic writing get such a bad rep?
I loved that comment and took it as a definite compliment. Quiver is a novel, not an academic monograph. So if it had come across as “academic” that would have been a serious shortcoming. I’m not saying one way of writing is better than the other – I do them both and they’re both a skill – but they each have their context, and a novel is extremely different in terms of structure, elements, tone, and audience. I wouldn’t want my novel to read anything like academic writing – I think that would make for a poor novel. Similarly, good academic writing is generally not going to be mistaken for a novel.
What are you reading at the moment?
Stunt by Claudia Dey (Coach House Books). The writing is lush and efficient – I’m really enjoying it.
What are some good literary events and networks for aspiring writers in Toronto?
I’ve only lived in Toronto since the fall, but from my experience it is a wonderful city for writers and has very active literary communities. At some times in the year, especially in the busy fall book season, you can pretty much go to a literary event most nights of the week if you want. There’s the Art Bar poetry series, the TINARS series, the Pivot series, among others, and many launches and other readings. There’s also several workshops and creative writing programs in the city, such as the Humber School, the U of T Continuing Studies creative writing courses/program, the Ryerson Chang School workshops, and for graduate programs, the MA at U of T and MFA at Guelph/Humber.
Quiver launch party will take place in Toronto on Feb. 10, at 7pm on the second floor of the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St W).
In Montreal, the launch will be on Feb. 17 at 7:30pm, in the basement of Thomson House (3650 rue McTavish). Poets Jon Paul Fiorentino and Thomas Heise will also read from their recent work.
You can find out more about Luhning’s writings and updates on her website.