Writers' Rooms: Mary Novik

Mary Novik

(c) Novik

I write in a large room overlooking a stream that runs down into MacKay creek. Books and papers are everywhere. I'm blessed with a generous space and the quiet to go with it. It's a deeply personal study that is a refuge from the world. Nothing much has changed about that stream for centuries, except that fewer fish inhabit it. When I was writing about Izaak Walton in Conceit, I felt connected to rivers that he fished in England in the seventeenth century.

I keep binoculars on my desk to check out nuthatches, creepers, and hummingbirds. It's amazing how many birds you can spot while you're waiting for an idea to flit by. Once, a bear attacked our squirrel-proof bird feeder. I threw a paperweight and a three-hole punch out the window, then winged some books, but the bear kept trying to get at the seeds. Finally, I ran into the yard and pitched garden furniture at it.

In spite of having the perfect study, I have trouble getting started some mornings and drive to a coffee shop or library to turn on the ignition. The best ideas arrive when I shut off the busy side of my brain—when I'm driving, emerging from a deep sleep, soaking in the bathtub, or eating a peanut butter cookie. I cling to the hope that this is legit, like Alice Munro's wool-gathering and Gail Anderson-Dargatz's feeding the muse.

When I despair of writing a single worthwhile sentence, I console myself with tales of real writers with real office woes. Sometimes I stare at the building in Dundarave where Munro rented space until she was driven off by an interfering landlord—a trauma fictionalized in "The Office." During the seven years I was writing Conceit, I treasured a newspaper photo of Susan Swan who locked herself in her car to revise her first novel while her kids lay on the hood pressing their noses against the windshield. "The novelty wore off eventually," Susan recalls, "and I had to come out of the car."

Mary grew up in a large family in Victoria and Surrey, and now lives in North Vancouver. Her debut novel Conceit (Doubleday 2007) is about the family of the poet John Donne. It was longlisted for the Giller, won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and was chosen as a Book of the Year by both Quill & Quire and The Globe and Mail. Mary welcomes you to her website.