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
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