Brought to Book: Linda Spalding on her literary life

‘I had to remould my brain to write “The Follow”. It involved three trips to Borneo and years of reading and studying and thinking hard about human beings and our place in the natural world’

Linda Spalding: “Since no Irish author could be overrated, they must all be underrated. Ireland is the origin of authorial species.” Photograph: Jeff Nolte

Linda Spalding: “Since no Irish author could be overrated, they must all be underrated. Ireland is the origin of authorial species.” Photograph: Jeff Nolte

Tue, May 13, 2014, 11:50

Linda Spalding won the 2012 Canadian governor-general’s award for The Purchase (Sandstone Press, £8.99), and was longlisted for the IMPAC award. In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested. Spalding was born in Kansas and now lives in Toronto. She is married to fellow novelist Michael Ondaatje.


What was the first book to make an impression on you?
There were two in my early childhood. The first was about a white rabbit and a black rabbit who were not allowed to be friends. This was written in the 1940s and must have been radical at the time since the rabbits prevailed. The second was called The Bear That Wasn’t – and it is such a classic that I’ve persuaded the New York Review of Books to republish it.


What was your favourite book as a child?
No contest. I read and reread A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett a thousand times. This was the edition with the wonderful coloured glossy pictures and it surely provided all the direction I needed for later life


And what is your favourite book or books now?
That would be a contest! I’m reading Willa Cather at the moment and finding new depth in her view of the world, but my reading is varied and constant and my favourite all-round author is John Ehle, who is the most under-rated of American authors.


What is your favourite quotation?
“Why is there something rather than nothing?” Liebnitz


Who is your favourite fictional character?
At the moment, I’d vote for my very own Daniel.


Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
Since no Irish author could be overrated, they must all be underrated. Ireland is the origin of authorial species.


Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?
But of course I prefer books. They smell good (usually) and I like the touch of paper to finger. Some are too heavy, unwieldy, but at least I know where I am and what progress is still to be made and I can reread sentences as I like, look for lost names and check the author’s photograph now and then for a sense of friendliness.

What is the most beautiful book you own?
A beautiful question! I have a very, very old book of Hunting and Hawking , but the most beautiful and most precious book I have is a letter press limited edition of Michael’s [Ondaatje’s] Tin Roof , published by Greenboathouse Press. Thick rust-coloured fold-over covers, black end papers and pages that feel like they’ve grown in a wild forest of white leaves. This book is very personal to me but is an astounding object to read and hold dear.


Where and how do you write?
Just about anywhere but I’m happiest in my upstairs study at home in Toronto. That’s where all my books and toys and photos are.


What book changed the way you think about fiction?
Move Over Midnight , by Jean Rhys

What is the most research you have done for a book?
I had to remould my brain to write The Follow . It involved three trips to Borneo and years of reading and studying and thinking hard about human beings and our place in the natural world.

What book influenced you the most?
Long ago I read all of Oscar Lewis, who translated first-person accounts of people of all types and classes in Mexico. His integrity, his standing aside to let them speak, changed my way of looking at the world.

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