Q&A with Claudia Dey

This is your first foray into fiction. How did you come up with the idea for this work?

Stunt began with an image of a girl tightrope-walking above Kensington Market. I lived near the market and for a few years, walked through it every morning on my way to the Factory Theatre where I had a small office for writing. The image of the girl on the rope persisted and became the point of departure for the book.

What was the creative process like for you?

It took five years.

I often felt like the only waitress in a very busy restaurant where every customer had a different need – dessert, menu, bill, water, high chair. It was an enormous amount of information to balance in the brain. A constant chatter, every surface of the world became one for scribbling stray notes. I imagine that this is what it is to be haunted – or a lunatic.

From draft to draft, the process alternated between rapture and drudgery; you are the pioneer discovering land for the first time, and then you are the meticulous draftsperson mapping this discovery. I am still astonished by the amount of time the book required and the focus. I worked with a monk-like devotion and forgot the rules of civility; I had to check that I was dressed whenever I left the house.

Who did you read as a kid, and how did these first forays into reading fiction affect your sensibilities as a writer?

My father read the Narnia series aloud to my sister and I at bedtime. It purported other possible universes; this lateral thinking was very appealing to me. It told me that the world had a false bottom - that behind one door might be another door, and behind it, unnamed treasures and threats. The Brothers Grimm’s classic fairy tales had a macabre quality that I loved. Dr. Seuss and Dennis Lee taught me that language can be so playful as to be re-invented; there are no rules to story telling other than the ones you declare.

What are you reading right now?

The New Yorker, Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love, and a collection of short stories by Aimee Bender. I just finished Michael Winter’s The Architects are Here; it was boisterous and incandescent, the prose lightning-fast and assured. I would be remiss if I did not mention Anna Karenina. Though I read it two summers ago, I am still reading it – or being read by it – in that it continues to be present in my mind. Tolstoy wrote our interiors with such deftness and specificity that I came to believe we could understand each other profoundly if we wished. Through this form, we could uncover our essential humanity.

How and where do you write?

In the morning, uninterrupted, in a third floor office in my home.

Do you write with a certain audience in mind? Who is your “ideal reader”?

A leftover of my theatre training, I still imagine bodies in red velvet chairs filling a darkened hall. I am not entirely sure who they are, but they are willing to be still and to pay attention.

Name one person in your life who profoundly influenced your work, and why did you choose this person?

Gwendolyn MacEwen. Her work could never be confused for another’s; her voice was so distinct. She excavated ancient cultures and chose extraordinary twins for her verse – T.E. Lawrence, the Loch Ness monster, escape artists, Grey Owl. Her curiosity was untameable. She was a sensualist, a scholar, and as far as creatures of the mind investigating what it is to be human, an unmatched daredevil.

Who is your favourite protagonist in a work of fiction or poetry, and why?

This is a musical, albeit poetic choice: any construction of David Bowie’s. His blue eye shadow, his high heels, his bad teeth, his excellent suits. He is androgynous and otherworldly; his capacity for transformation is limitless.

In your own work, which character are you most attached to, and why?

Eugenia Stunt Ledoux of Stunt because she is able to alchemize her grief into a form of daring.

Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it.

I am fascinated by questions of belonging. How do we define ourselves when the obvious markers of identity are gone? Are we alone in this world or are we twins, who upon finding each other, complete puzzles?

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