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Interview with FRANCES BOYLE

What led you to submit your work to RED SKIES?

I first noticed Splintered Disorder Press because of the interviews you posted with rob mclennan and Amanda Earl, friends who I admire, and both pillars of the Ottawa writing community. I was further intrigued when I read that SDP grew out of a friendship begun at Carleton University. I haven’t submitted to many of the publications focusing on the surreality that was 2020 — I don’t often write directly about experiences but rather approach them obliquely or let them emerge in my writing slowly over time. But a new women-run press with Ottawa connections was too hard to resist, and I felt I HAD to submit something I hoped would work for the RED SKIES mandate. I’m so glad that you found my poem to be a fit.

What writers and artists currently inspire you?

I could rhyme off a list of names but I’ll respond more generally here. I am inspired by young writers, especially young women who are so fierce in challenging injustices, and in taking on projects across multiple disciplines. I am inspired by writers who began “emerging” later in life, after raising families and having other careers (most of the women in my fabulous poetry group, the Ruby Tuesday collective, fall into this category). I’m inspired by writers whose books don’t receive the recognition they deserve but who keep on writing and publishing work that is true to their own vision. I am inspired by those who do get the prizes or make the “important” lists, and who use their successes to raise up others. I am inspired by anyone willing to wade into the challenging worlds of bookselling and publishing (especially the labour-of-love chapbook publishers). I am inspired by anyone who shares a passion for writing, and who celebrates community.

Are you working on any projects currently?

I’m putting the final touches on a poetry manuscript, of which “Recesses in the Moving Wall” (my poem in RED SKIES) will be part. Once that’s out the door, I have several fiction projects that I want to spend time with. My “inventory” of polished short stories was pretty much cleared out last year when my collection Seeking Shade was published, and I have several rough drafts and new story ideas, including speculative lit ones, that I plan to develop and write. And my possible-maybe-someday novel is beginning to take some fuzzy shape, with groundwork laid via the writing (largely back story) I did in November during National Novel Writing month and the reading and research I’ve begun.

If you could share a meal with one person, dead or alive, who would it be? And what kind of meal would you share?

I’m going to go sentimental here, and say I’d love the chance to share another meal with my Mom, who passed away in 1998. We kids were always allowed to pick what we’d have for our birthday dinners. Several years I asked for her “Irish” stew, which amused her because she would gladly have cooked something fancier for me. She always strove to make a stew that would live up to my dad’s memories of his own mother’s, and it was a great favourite of mine. As I type this, I can almost smell and taste the savoury mix with chunks of stewing beef, potatoes and carrots simmering in gravy.

When you were writing Tower, your Rapunzel-infused novella, what inspired you to lean into that particular tale? Have you attempted to rework other fairy tales?

Rapunzel held a particular appeal for me as a child, maybe because I had an illustrated version that I returned to often, fascinated in particular by one drawing of the witch cutting Rapunzel’s hair with long scary scissors. At some point as an adult, I read the unexpurgated version of the fairy tale where, in the aftermath, Rapunzel “lived in poverty, with the twins she had borne” … so THAT’s what was going on with the prince in the tower!

The genesis of my book was a writing exercise, a one-page character sketch of the Rapunzel witch as a lonely woman longing for a child. That piece sat in a drawer for several years, until I decided to try writing the fairy tale as a contemporary story. My first effort ended up only covering the lead-up to the baby being found among the vegetables. It is now the first chapter of Tower and was one of the first pieces of my writing published in a literary magazine. I continued writing about what happened to the witchy woman and her adopted daughter, filled in the early life of my “prince”, and my imaginings of what happened after my girl left the tower. I first conceived of it as a collection of linked stories, but eventually, at the urging of a wonderful mentor, Isabel Huggan, reworked it as a novella.

I continue to draw on folklore on my writing. “Fairy Tales for Survivors,” one of the stories in Seeking Shade, began as a reworking of Sleeping Beauty but in revision it ended up being far more meta. I’ve also written a number of poems that rework or reimagine fairy tales and myths, including several in my first two poetry books and even more in the new manuscript.

What are your three favourite places to visit in Ottawa?

I’m not doing much (i.e. any) visiting these days, but three Ottawa places I’m missing are:

The Manx Pub, for the great writers who David O’Meara brings in for his Plan 99 reading series, for the cozy cellar ambience, for their yummy pub food that isn’t typical pub food, and for the fine beer they stock.

The National Gallery, where I love to visit my favourite art (especially the alcove where Prudence Heward’s work appears alongside that of her fellow Beaver Hall artists, plus paintings by David Milne and L.L. Fitzgerald and the original Group of Seven), pause to listen to the amazing Forty Part Motet in the Rideau Chapel, and sit for a cup of tea in the cafeteria overlooking the towering One Hundred Foot Line sculpture outside on the lawn.

It’s not a single place, but I really miss visiting my friends’ homes, especially the kitchens/dining rooms of my writing group consœurs. I am nostalgic for the textures of the tables that we sit around to write and critique, for the art on their walls, and for the aromas of coffee and baking that accompany our conversations.

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