The Globe and Mail’s Jared Bland proved his conversation starters were anything but bland when he sat down with award winning author Heather O’Neill. Not only is Heather a regular contributor for CBC, NPR and The New York Times, she is also the author of two highly regarded novels, Lullabies for Little Criminals and her latest The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. Heather is often referred to as the ‘best metaphor writer in Canada’ according to Bland and I can attest to that, having just finished her latest book. Lucky for me and my writing pal Kristi, we got the opportunity to listen in on Jared and Heather’s conversation about writing, character development and the importance of point of view.
Heather chose to write The Girl Who Was Saturday Night in first person and spoke openly about developing her characters. As aspiring authors ourselves, Kristi and I were intrigued to hear about how Heather’s writing process took place. Her main characters are a set of twins named Noushcka and Nicolas, as well as a ‘bad boy’ named Raphael. She believes that “people want to read in an authorial presence,” and that’s why she decided to write in first person. After all, people assume that your narrator is real, so reading from their point of view “must feel like a genuine experience.” When a narrator is written in first person, they have the “ability to go off on a tangent” that a third person perspective is not able to do.
As far as developing her narrator Noushcka’s voice, the first thing Heather did when writing The Girl Who Was Saturday Night was make copious notes on her main characters. Then she read through her notes to see what worked and what didn’t. Heather knew she always wanted Noushcka and Nicolas to be at war. But beyond knowing that she wanted to describe their love and hate relationship, Heather knew she had to make a massive amount examples in her notes of certain situations between the two to see what fit best within the story.
The next step for Heather in her writing process is to submerge herself into her story writing, based on her research and note edits. As a self proclaimed serial sentence restructurer, Heather admits she is known to struggle and reorganize a sentence over and over until it’s perfect. She says “when you are writing metaphorically, you are writing in a subconscious place,” so when she goes back and looks at those metaphors she sometimes winces and has to apply rewrites. And then more rewrites. And then another rewrite… until it’s to her liking. We all have our hang ups and this is hers. Heather is the queen of metaphors and they are the centerpiece for the way she writes, so it is imperative that every one counts.
I’m so glad Soho House was able to provide an avenue for this Literary Lounge and that Kristi and I were able to experience it. It’s always inspiring to hear about different methods of developing a writing process, as it further confirms my theory that there is no perfect way- it’s just whatever works! And it was especially great to hear from a successful Canadian author who has a unique style of writing and has made a name for herself in the industry. I’m looking forward to seeing what Heather does next and I’ll be reviewing her book on Lit, Eats and All Life’s Treats soon, so be sure to check back!