Photo by Michael O'Shea
Linda Svendsen's linked collection, Marine Life, was published in Canada, the United States and Germany and her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Saturday Night, O. Henry Prize Stories, Best Canadian Stories and The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Marine Life was nominated for the LA Times First Book Award and released as a feature film. Svendsen’s TV writing credits include adaptations of The Diviners, At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story, and she co-produced and co-wrote the miniseries Human Cargo, which garnered seven Gemini Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award. She received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006. Svendsen is a professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia.
RUSTY TALK WITH LINDA SVENDSEN
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Linda Svendsen: In Grade 2, we were asked to write a rhyming poem and I had so much fun doing it that I went on for a dozen stanzas. Building on this major breakthrough, in Grade 3 I tried to write a sequel to Tom Sawyer in which Becky and Tom married (roughly 6 pages of careful heartfelt printing).
KM: Why did you decide to become a writer?
LS: I don't think I ever decided to become a writer; it's happened by default and I still wonder how it's all going to turn out. All I know is that I really enjoy writing fiction and for screen and that it allows me to pursue all the other activities I considered such as acting, directing, producing, social work, anthropology, history, etc.
KM: What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given that you use?
LS: Nancy Packer, fiction writer (and mother of New Yorker writer George Packer and novelist Ann Packer) told me to take my characters to the cliff. And push them over.
KM: Your new novel, Sussex Drive, is a political satire offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at Canadian politics. Why did you decide to take on this subject matter? What do you hope readers take away from it?
LS: Sussex Drive was inspired by Canada's federal prorogue-a-palooza in 2008 and 2009. It's about a Conservative Prime Minister's wife and a left-wing Governor General and what happens when they can no longer play "Follow the Leader." I was very intrigued by the Governor General's role and decision-making in December 2008—would she or wouldn't she allow the Harper government to fall and the coalition to take power? Also, as Canadians, we're immersed in the entertainment/propaganda of the U.S. and U.K. (and their political figures with The King's Speech, The Queen, Game Change) and our own turf seemed rich and virtually unexplored. And it's chick lit, too, for canuckleheads.
KM: Sussex Drive reads like it’s written by a political insider. How did you approach the research for this project? Can you tell us about the process of writing this book?
LS: Sussex started out as a short story after December 2008 and headed toward novella length. After the 2009 prorogation, it became a novel and I visited Ottawa—the Parliament Buildings, Rideau Hall, Gatineau Lake, Museum of Civilization, the War Museum, and Rockcliffe Park. I happened to be in London in April 2009 during the G-20 and found it fascinating that the Canadians seemed to be invisible to the British press. Random House Canada bought the novel in October 2011 when I had 140 pages written; I wrote from January to June 2012 (my editors were amazing!) and it was published last October. Tight deadline!
KM: Many reviewers have commented on the sharp dialogue in Sussex Drive. In addition to writing fiction, you’re also an awarding-winning screenwriter. Do you plan on adapting Sussex Drive for film or television? If so, how do you plan on approaching the adaptation?
LS: I'm trying to talk my husband into producing Sussex Drive, but he's busy with other projects right now. 6 x 1 hour or a TV movie...fingers crossed!
KM: What are you working on now?
LS: Right now I'm deciding what novel I'm writing next. Great space to be in.
LINDA SVENDSEN'S MOST RECENT NOVEL
Sussex Drive, Random House Canada, 2012
DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER
A startingly funny and deeply satisfying satirical novel that makes the Canadian political scene accessible from the female perspective, behind the scenes at the top of the hill.
Torn from the headlines, Sussex Drive is a rollicking, cheeky, alternate history of big-ticket political items in Canada told from the perspectives of Becky Leggatt (the sublimely capable and manipulative wife of a hard-right Conservative prime minister) and just a wink away at Rideau Hall, Lise Lavoie (the wildly exotic and unlikely immigrant Governor General)—two wives and mothers living their private lives in public.Set in recent history, when the biggest House on their turf is shuttered not once, not twice, but three times, Becky and Lise engage in a fight to the death in a battle that involves Canada’s relationship to the United States, Afghanistan and Africa. The rest of the time, the women are driving their kids. From Linda Svendsen’s sharp and wicked imagination comes a distaff Ottawa like no other ever created by a Canadian writer, of women manoeuvring in a political world gone more than a little mad, hosting world leaders, dealing with the challenges of minority government, and worrying about teen pregnancies and their own marriages. As they juggle these competing interests, Becky and Lise are forced to question what they thought were their politics, and make difficult choices about their families and their futures—federal and otherwise.
EXCERPT FROM SUSSEX DRIVE
Vivieno Caldinelli's award winning work has appeared on CBC, CTV, CityTV, The Comedy Network, Bravo!, and TMN. Vivieno is an alumnus of both the Berlinale Talent Campus of the Berlin International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival Talent Lab. In 2005-2006, Vivieno participated in the Canadian Film Centre’s Directors Lab. His film, If I See Randy Again, Do You Want Me To Hit Him With The Axe? was produced with the CFC's NBC/Universal Short Dramatic Film Program. It was invited to over 25 festivals around the world including it’s premiere at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. It was nominated for over 10 awards including for 4 nominations at the 2007 Canadian Comedy Awards. In 2009, Vivieno was the Creative Producer, and served as both a Writer and Director on the Comedy Network Series, Hotbox. Currently, Vivieno is in development with Corus, Telefilm, JFL, and CFC Comedy Lab with his feature film, The House They Screamed In, and he just finished directing the Comedy Network series Picnicface.
RUSTY TALK WITH VIVIENO CALDINELLI
How did you first come to filmmaking?
From a very young age I was obsessed with movies and television. It was just a huge part of my life growing up. There was no real choice; it was something that I was going to have to do and become.
What keeps you going as a writer/filmmaker?
Without filmmaking and writing, I'm worth about $11 an hour in the real world. I have no other skills. Honestly. I have dug myself in such a deep hole that I have no other options other than to succeed. It's a lousy plan, but it's working so far. I am fortunate that I am very passionate and absolutely love what I do. Very few people get to live their "dream job". So I'm blessed in that regard.
When writing scripts, what is the revision process like for you?
It's all about layering draft after draft. With each revision, I fill out of the characters, trim needless dialogue and exposition, revise scenes, etc. It's almost as if each draft of the script is a transparency sheet with a part of a drawing on it. Writing draft after draft is like putting down a new sheet of transparency over the old one. Each sheet with another part of the drawing on it, complements and builds on the original until finally you're left with a perfect picture.
How did you deal with rejection when you first started out?
It was tough at first but then you learn to deal with it. You get thinker skin. You learn to stand by your ideas and writin but at the same time listen to criticism. It's very important to listen to what people think about your work. But it's up to you to take that criticism, filter it, and use it to strengthen you work.
What filmmakers would you recommend to new screenwriters?
I just would say watch what inspires you. Watch who you connect with. Who you feel best captures and complement your vision. These are you formative years, and the filmmakers and writers that influence you early will continue to do so for the rest of your lives. Others will come and go, but who and what inspires you now, will play a huge role in shaping what you will become later in your career.
Is there filmmaker that had a significant impact on your career?
This kinda connects with the last question. Growing up I watched a lot of Mel Brooks and John Landis. I absolutely loved anything they did. All my early films and writing were inspired by them. I have since had other influences, but those core influences that I had early on in my life continue to impact my career.
A piece of advice for new writers and filmmakers?
Just keep writing and making films. That's the only way you can get better. Creating and completing project after project is the absolute best experience to learn from.
VIVIENO CALDINELLI'S RECENT PROJECT
PICNICFACE on the comedy network
Picnicface (not Picnicfeast) is coming at you with the Series Premiere Sept. 21 at 10:30pm et/pt.
Picnicface is a fast-paced, mash-up comedy mixing a contemporary, Pythonesque animation and absurd sketch comedy. Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, the eight-person sketch troupe consists of Andrew Bush, Kyle Dooley, Cheryl Hann, Mark Little, Brian Eldon Macquarrie, Evany Rosen, Scott Vrooman and Bill Wood. Veteran Canadian comedy master Mark McKinney is Executive Producer and Showrunner.
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