Toronto, Ontario native Catherine Bush has three novels under her belt, the latest being Claire’s Head. All three of her books have won awards. She has had the opportunity to teach what she loves at a wide array of Universities, including Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec), the University of Florida, Humber School for Writers (Toronto, Ontario), the University of Guelph (Guelph, Ontario), McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario ), the University of New Brunswick and the University of Alberta. Currently, Catherine alternates writing full-time with teaching Creative Writing for the University of British Columbia’s low-residency MFA program. She has been writing stories since she could string sentences together. When she finds the time, she likes to spoil her standard poodle with dog agility classes.
Moe: Looking back, did you choose the writing profession or did the profession choose you?
Catherine Bush: I still don’t think of it as a profession: I think of it as a passion, a way of giving meaning to my life, and I have shaped my life in order to pursue this passion. That I’m able to make something of a living from it is great, an added bonus, but never anything I take for granted. Writing is above all an act of faith, a belief in writing fiction as a way to create more meaning in the world.
Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?
Catherine Bush: Who was it who said, I’m not interested in being a writer, I’m interested in the act of writing. Anyway, that’s how I feel. Being a writer means not much at all unless you’re actually writing or figuring out a way to be writing. I remember coming to that recognition first when I was around sixteen.
Moe: What inspires you?
Catherine Bush: A chord of Bach, the squeak of geese wings in the sky overhead, the disappearance of someone from my life, the need to look for the ‘why,’ the pressure of consequence, to create some kind of order out of the tumult all around us.
Moe: Every writer has a method to their writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Catherine Bush: I work best through the morning into the early afternoon. I can’t write for more than four to five hours at a stretch. After that my brain is tired and it’s time to go for a walk.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Catherine Bush: Generally I’ll work on a novel for about five years, and someone might first read it about three years into that process. I move consistently forward through the book but may rework sections many times as I progress.
Moe: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?
Catherine Bush: I write for a reader who’s passionate and attentive and eager to enter the world that I’m endeavoring to create.
Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Catherine Bush: I have a sense of the trajectory of the novel and write to discover the journey. I have a place I’m trying to get to, but sometimes when I get there, it is not the place I think it’s going to be.
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?
Catherine Bush: I do research but not as much as some readers might think: enough to be able to convince a reader, through a choice of detail, that I know what I’m talking about. I aim to be a convincing liar, not an authority. I let the story itself guide me in terms of what I need to know and where I need to go.
Moe: Where do your characters come from?
Catherine Bush: Ask them, not me! They appear, knocking on the door.
Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?
Catherine Bush: I steal and I transform, as all good writers do. I try to follow Henry James’ advice: to think of what constitutes your own experience in the broadest possible terms, and, in his words, “try to be one of those people upon whom nothing is lost.”
Moe: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If yes, what measures do you take to get past it?
Catherine Bush: I ask myself questions, walk away from the work, and let the unconscious take over for a while. If you can ask yourself the right question, you’re halfway there.
Moe: What do you hope readers gain, feel or experience when they read one of your books for the first time?
Catherine Bush: I’d like them to be transformed in some way.
Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Catherine Bush: Don’t think of it as a business: think of writing as something you do because you love it. But be pragmatic and educate yourself about the publishing industry and people in it. And buy as many books as you can. A culture of writers depends on a culture of readers – and book buyers. And often writers and readers are the same people.
Moe: What is your latest release about?
Catherine Bush: I describe Claire’s Head as a kind of neurological mystery: it’s about two adult sisters, who both suffer from migraines. When one disappears, the other goes in search of her and sets off on a journey that I think of as a bit like a contemporary Alice in Wonderland adventure, in which the world she tumbles through gets progressively stranger, its strangeness shaped in part by her own migraines.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Catherine Bush: Novels with amazing sentences in them, narratives that ask me, in some way small or large, to transform myself, or make myself anew. I’m reading Spanish writer Javier Marias at the moment, and Gil Adamson’s The Outlander, and the Dark Materials trilogy by the children’s writer Philip Pullman.
Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Catherine Bush: Dog agility classes with my standard poodle.
Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Catherine Bush: Writing requires a combination of talent and tenacity. Being tenacious, and being prepared to give yourself over to the process of writing, rather than obsessing about the product, is exceedingly important.
Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Catherine Bush: Well, I’d like to be a member of the Superdogs agility team.
Moe: What is your favorite word?
Catherine Bush: Peregrinate. It means to wander. Writing is all about the journey.
My interview with Catherine Bush was originally published 11/2/2007 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.