Ten Questions with Mark Sinnett

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Ten Questions with Mark Sinnett

Mark Sinnett's latest book, The Carnivore (ECW Press), is getting a lot of well-deserved attention. The Globe and Mail writes, "Sinnett keeps the pages turning with many twists and turns..." and Eye Weekly praises the author for his "original, terrifying portrait of Toronto's soul." In his Ten Questions with Open Book, Sinnett talks about his research, his writing, his reading and more.

To enter your name in a draw to win a signed copy of The Carnivore, send an email to clelia@openbooktoronto.com by January 29th with your answer to the following question: In what years is The Carnivore set?

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, The Carnivore.

Mark Sinnett:

The Carnivore is about the concessions we make in a long-term relationship, the struggles involved in loving someone for half a century, and the extraordinary betrayals ordinary, mostly decent people are capable of. It’s about death and mortality, duty and honour, self abnegation and then, finally, it’s about Hurricane Hazel, what it did to an unsuspecting Toronto.

More concretely, I suppose, it’s about a young cop, Ray Townes, and his wife, Mary, who is a nurse at St. Joseph’s. After the hurricane barrels through the city, Ray is proclaimed a hero for saving many lives. Mary performs her own unsung heroics at the hospital, of course. She also comes to believe that there is more to her husband’s story than the world knows, and the truths she uncovers – in the following days and weeks, indeed in the next fifty years – threaten to destroy them both. 

OBT:

What led you to write about the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel?

MS:

I was actually intending, for a long time, several months, to write about another storm, this one in Devon, England in 1952.  A river that divided above the small Devon town of Lynmouth burst its banks and caused a damage very similar to that caused by Hurricane Hazel. Prince Phillip visited the town and rode its small cable car up and down the steep hill. The images here, at least for me, are very strong, and I could have attached a similar story, perhaps. But I worry that I dwell too much on the country that I grew up in (I left England in 1980, when I was 16). I still listen to punk and post-punk from that period, for example, and I watch a lot of soccer, and bookmark BBC and The Guardian for my news. I’m living in the past, is how it feels sometimes. So I wanted to explore this country more. Get a feel for the last half century here. And I was living in Toronto when I started the book. I spent a few months researching Hazel and thought, Yes, I can do this, and, Yes, I’ll enjoy this. 

OBT:

How did you research your book?

MS:

I spent a lot of time in the Reference Library going through old microfiche. I read every account I could find about the storm. I read the biography of a cop who came of age in the fifties. And once I moved to Kingston I spent some time at The Museum of Health Care, and I talked to a couple of retired nurses. It’s amazing how many people have strong memories of that storm.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote The Carnivore?

MS:

No. No way. You can’t do that. You write the book as well as you can and hope it finds an audience. It doesn’t work to turn that telescope around. It makes for bad art and probably no audience at all.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

MS:

A windowless box, probably. A cell. Once the words start coming, I’m mostly unaware of my environment, but in the meantime I don’t want too many distractions. So no telephone, no family, no refrigerators …

But having said that, I think I’m deceiving myself. I remember visiting Dylan Thomas’s little writing shed, a place he called his “water and tree room” and that struck me at the time as just about the perfect spot. It perches unsteadily on the edge of a scenic cliff with a great view. It’s a box, but man, I could spend a lifetime in there, reading and looking and writing and drinking.

OBT:

What is the best advice you've received as a writer?

MS:

The Toronto poet Victor Coleman taught at Queen’s when I was there and he was a great influence. He made it okay to take my own work seriously and that was a real fork in the road for me. But as to anything specific, he said, I don’t remember. "Try harder," maybe. Or, "It’s your round."

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

MS:

If I’m simply trying the wow the newcomer with our abundance of literary talent I’m going to go with these:

First of all, a collection of Don Coles’ poetry, because he’s the best we’ve got. There’s a Collected Works out there now and there’s not a bad word in there.

The Canadian novel that impresses me most these days is Steven Heighton’s Afterlands. The NYT called it “magnificent” and they were right. I really don’t get why it didn’t explode here in Canada.

But I think Michael Winter’s The Big Why, about (among many things) the time that the American artist Rockwell Kent spent in Newfoundland, is wonderful too. A Newfoundland novel that actually acknowledges and speaks to the rest of the world.

As an afterthought, Richard Ford is apparently readying a novel called Canada. And it wouldn’t surprise me if that trumps much of what we’ve created within our own borders. Something to do with the importance of maintaining an objective distance.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

MS:

I’m reading Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City, which is great, and great fun too. I’m envious of something he does on every page. I’m also reading a couple of good recent poetry collections. One by David O’Meara, Noble Gas, Penny Black, and another by the Toronto poet Damian Rogers, Paper Radio. And, as if that isn’t enough, I’m reading Aldous Huxley’s Island and Margaret Elphinstone’s Light for a cable TV book show I’m scheduled to appear on next week, a decision I’m beginning to regret. One of those books is really heavy going and I’m not going to tell you which one it is.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

MS:

Edit your work. Accept and embrace the notion that editing is what makes the difference between simple inspiration and really publishable work. I wrote the first draft of The Carnivore in three months. I spent the next four years editing the manuscript. So don’t be in too much of a rush to send out your work. Let it sit for a bit, then go back to it with a more objective eye and ear. Then do it again.

OBT:

What's your next project?

MS:

I don’t know yet. I have a few ideas for the next novel. I sell real estate now and so a novel set in that world makes sense, but Richard Ford (damn him again!) has done such a marvellous job with Frank Bascombe, that I would have to live forever in his shadow. So perhaps something else. I’ve been thinking about a fictional memoir. Something outlandish. This is inspired in part by Andre Agassi’s recent hairpiece and crystal meth revelations. I’m trying to figure out whether we eat this stuff up because it sits in such stark opposition to his fairly endearing sports history, or whether any freaky story that reads as personal history can find an audience. I’ve also written half a thriller set in Argentina, but I’m not really happy with it. Maybe I’ll savage that for something more substantial.


Mark Sinnett is the author of: The Landing (Carleton University Press, 1997), poetry, winner of the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award; Bull (Insomniac Press, 1998), short stories; Some Late Adventure Of The Feelings (ECW Press, 2000), poetry; and The Border Guards (Harper Collins, 2004), a novel/thriller, short-listed for the Arthur Ellis award. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.

For more information about The Carnivore please visit The ECW Press website.


Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.
 

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