Q&A with Nathan Whitlock

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

A Week of This came out of a terrible short story I wrote six or seven years ago that featured two of the main characters from the novel. The story was my attempt at something vaguely avant garde in that it was all told in very deadpan, absurdist dialogue. I did my best to forget about it. The characters never really left me, though, and when I finally made the conscious decision to attempt a novel, I kept going back to them – much to my horror, as I couldn’t see how I could stretch their story out over 200+ pages, and I was hoping to write something a little more ambitious, thematically. Something clicked as I started writing this, however, some kind of self-recognition in terms of my own writing and imagination. Writing the novel showed me the kind of fiction I wanted to write, if that makes any sense. The kinds of lives I was interested in writing about.

What was the creative process like for you?

I wrote most of the book while I was at home with my daughter. I wrote it in daily two-hour bursts during her nap. It was nerve-racking and more than a little lonesome, but it was the best writing discipline I have ever experienced, and part of me misses it.

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

When I was in elementary school, I read War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells nearly a dozen times. (I counted.) It is still implanted in my head, as I discovered when I recently read it to my son. The book’s political allegory sailed over my head – and still does – but the visceral nature of some of the scenes and the descriptions, the patience with which Wells outlined some unimaginable horrors, that stuck with me. I don’t write horror or sci-fi – not yet, anyway – but that sense of visceral detail got into my own writing, I think. Corrupted it, maybe.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading Reinhold Kramer’s new biography of Mordecai Richler and Carl Honore’s Under Pressure: Rescuing Childhood from Hyper-Parenting – both of those for reviews I am writing for the Toronto Star. I’m looking forward to getting back to Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, which I am midway through, and which was urged on me by a friend. It’s about four thousand pages long, with twelve separate volumes, all mostly plotless and dry as a bone, but completely addictive.

How and where do you write?

When and wherever I can, but not as often as I’d like.

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

Not sure that I have one. Probably myself, but alternately more forgiving and more critical. And gentler, and more charismatic, and more prone to spontaneous laughter and joyful abandon, and with a lots of spending money put aside for first novels.

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

As corny as this sounds, probably my son, though not for the soft-focus reasons you might expect. When he was about to be born, I realized that I needed to actually accomplish something and to commit fully to writing. It made me realize what a dilettante I’d been up until then, and how much time I’d wasted. It also has a huge effect on your imagination to suddenly have someone relying on you for their survival.

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

At the moment, it’s Widmerpool, the humourless social-climber from Dance to the Music of Time. He’s offstage for most of the volumes, but he looms the largest in the reader’s imagination. He’s a perfect illustration of how to create a character who is consistently repellent and aggravating, without ever going over the top and making him merely a cariacature or a cartoon character. It shows the kind of control that the best comedy requires, and how to write fiction that is funny without being HA HA HILARIOUS.

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

The character of the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-forgiving narrator. He reminds me the most of myself.

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

For the forseeable future, my theme is Boring People. People who are not quite marginal, but are being drawn along in society’s wake. A lot of writers are drawn to characters that are full of will and power, characters who create themselves – killers, leaders, other artists – but I am more interested with people who lack will, who get created by others and have to learn to live with it. Being such a person myself, the fascination is probably not that hard to figure out. Mordecai Richler said that novelists should act as “the loser’s advocate.” I heard that about a decade and a half ago, and it stuck.

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