Welcome Lounges AMA AMA with Alan Reed

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    • Alan ReedAlan Reed
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      Ask Me Anything

      with Alan Reed

      thin air winnipeg international writers festival international ecrivains logo

      Alan Reed is a novelist with a special interest in the play of language, and how the way a story is told shapes what it becomes. His books all try to reimagine the world in unexpected ways. He hopes to create something slightly fantastic from the small details of everyday life; something that might have already been there but that takes a certain kind of looking to be able to see.

      He has written two novels, The Benjamenta College of Art and Isobel & Emile, and a collection of poems, For Love of the City. Before focusing on writing for the page, he wrote plays and other texts for live performance. This work was staged, performed, and occasionally exhibited in Canada, the United States, the U.K., and Europe.

      Originally from Edmonton, he left to study semiotics at the University of Toronto and then left again to study writing at Dartington College of Arts. He now lives in Montreal. 

    • Alan ReedAlan Reed
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      Post count: 18

      Hello everyone, and welcome to the last AMA of the festival! I hope you’ve all enjoyed yourselves and the unexpected turn the festival took for this year. I’m Alan, I have just comfortably settled in, here in Montreal. There were storms this afternoon but it is looking to be a calm, quiet evening. I have put on an old sweater and my slippers and I am ready to answer all your questions.

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        Also, Jamie Woollard (who composed and performed the accompaniment for my readings) will likely be dropping by sometime, so if you have questions for her ask those too!

      • Jamie WoollardJamie Woollard
        Participant
        Post count: 1

        Hello everyone, Jamie Woollard here. Happy to discuss any sound related stuff!

      • Brock PetersBrock Peters
        Participant
        Post count: 8

        Hi to Jamie! To both of you: how did the idea come up of combining your musical and literary talents? Have you broached the idea of collaborating on a novel-length project?

    • Brock PetersBrock Peters
      Participant
      Post count: 8

      Hey Alan, thanks for making yourself available for questions! How did you connect with Pedlar Press, and what was it like working with Beth Follett? I had the chance to meet her a couple of times, and was really impressed with her commitment to independent literature.

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        I’d heard that she was retiring, a couple of years ago, and was a little heartbroken. Pedlar Press is an amazing press, I have always sat up and taken notice of the books they put out, and I say “they” but really I mean “she”, because Pedlar has always been Beth. Without her I didn’t see how it could go on. And then I heard that she’d found someone to take over — Monica Kidd — and was overjoyed that Pedlar was going to be sticking around. And I wanted to do my part to keep it going. So I sent my manuscript in and they (and I mean “they” this time) liked it, and it went from there.

      • Brock PetersBrock Peters
        Participant
        Post count: 8

        Oh, that’s excellent news that she’s found someone to take over! Really glad to hear it! Was “their” editorial process pretty intensive, ie were there any really major changes to the book, or did it come out mostly as you’d submitted it?

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
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        Post count: 18

        It was fairly intense. Working with a good editor (Monica, in this case), it always feels like the book comes out of the process feeling more like itself. And it did. She trusted in the odd things I was trying to do and gave me the confidence to double down on them, and the times she wasn’t quite sure and had questions about what I was up to ended up making things clearer, first, and then better.

      • Brock PetersBrock Peters
        Participant
        Post count: 8

        Hah, very cool. What sort of “odd things” do you mean? Certain literary devices?

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        Mostly it was the lengths of sentences. I wanted the text to feel like the endlessly winding corridors of the college, and so the way to do that was to make the sentences equally endless and winding. I tried to make it feel like by the time you get to the end of a sentence you’ve kind of forgotten where you started from. And I really wasn’t sure if that would work, and I was so tangled up in writing the book that there was just no way I could tell anymore. Monica was very helpful in catching where I had gotten way too carried away.

      • Brock PetersBrock Peters
        Participant
        Post count: 8

        I love that sort of experimentation. Hrabal’s “Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age” comes to mind. And I hate to ask, but between the winding language, the artistic influences, and the labyrinthine cover, I feel like there’s a bit of Borges in your writing. Is he an influence, and what other authors would you consider your primary stylistic influences?

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
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        Post count: 18

        I have yet to really get into Borges. Someday! Robert Walser was the most important influence on this book (the title of it comes from one of his), and then there are bits of Virginia Woolf and Alessandro Baricco floating around in it, to round things out. And Gertrude Stein. For years I have been learning from the rhythm of her work, how much she does with just rhythm to create meaning.

      • Brock PetersBrock Peters
        Participant
        Post count: 8

        Amazing, I’ve honestly never heard of Walser or Baricco. Thanks Alan!

    • Kevin ReedKevin Reed
      Participant
      Post count: 1

      Hello Alan, your profile description in this AMA indicates your ‘special interest in the play of language’; and both of your novels have very distinct patters to them. It often reminds me of descriptive text similar to what I would expect in a play or screen play.

      How much of this stylistic choice is your chosen voice for these works vs influence from your performance writing education?

      thank you
      -Kevin

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        Both, of course. Because it is hard to tease apart one’s influences and one’s choices. They keep cropping up in each other. When I started writing I was writing for theatre, and so there will always, always be a bit of that in anything I write. And when I started writing books I wanted to make something on the page, treating words like sculptural objects and the page as something like a stage to set them out on and put them into motion. I wasn’t thinking of this theatrical metaphor at the time, but, now that I have thought of it, it feels true.

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
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        Post count: 18

        Going to Dartington to study performance writing made thinking of writing books like that possible for me. Performance writing, for those who haven’t heard the term before, is a particular kind of experimental writing. It stresses that writing is an act, something that is performed, and not the object one ends up writing. It let me start thinking of writing books from the perspective of the acts involved — me sitting down to write, you sitting down to read — instead of anything like the formal conventions of the novel. And, because I wasn’t depending on those conventions as much as I might have otherwise, I was able to more freely reimagine and remake the form of the novel from there.

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        For anyone curious about performance writing, this is a good overview by one of the last practitioners of it : http://luckysoap.com/lapsuslinguae/2013/07/writing-on-writing-on-performance-writing/ (There is a link to the left, it’s just the same colour as the background)

    • David LightfootDavid Lightfoot
      Participant
      Post count: 5

      Hi Alan.

      Your latest novel seems to be centred mostly around art and artistic works. What types or art do you like to do in real life, and do you have any of it displayed in your home?

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
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        Post count: 18

        I used to draw and do photography, but sadly I haven’t really done either in ages. I am far, far too demanding a perfectionist to have the time to do all of that and write as well.

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        Wait, that’s not entirely true. Instagram has helped me to keep up a little bit with photography. Which you can see here: https://www.instagram.com/alanreedwrite/ (There is a link here, to the left, it’s just the same colour as the background.)

        • This reply was modified 2 weeks ago by Alan ReedAlan Reed.
      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        I don’t like to decorate with my own work (I like the process of making it, I am less interested in what I make). So my home is decorated with other people’s art and Tarot cards.

    • Brock PetersBrock Peters
      Participant
      Post count: 8

      To Jamie and Alan: how did the idea come up of combining your musical and literary talents? Have you broached the idea of collaborating on a novel-length project?

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        Jamie is having trouble with the website, so I will start and I hope she’ll be able to add to it.

        We got the idea to collaborate on this because we were both working with the idea of place. In different ways and in different media, of course, but it was enough of a bridge to meet in the middle and do something together. And it was really great to work together. We have an idea for something else, something much longer, and it would be great but we have run into the problem of possibly not having the time to actually do it. At least not yet. I remain hopeful, but for now life conspires against us.

    • Alan ReedAlan Reed
      Moderator
      Post count: 18

      And time has flown. I’m having fun, I’ll be sticking around for a little bit longer; if there’s anyone with a question they’re just about to ask, please do!

      • Brock PetersBrock Peters
        Participant
        Post count: 8

        Okay, last one from me and then I’ll be quiet: How did the study of semiotics inform your fiction writing? Do you have any opinion on CS Peirce?

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        Semiotics is basically how I was able to start writing. It gave me the critical and analytic awareness I needed to be able to grasp language and do what I wanted to do with it. I haven’t done much with Peirce, I landed more on the Saussurean side of things, and don’t really have a coherent opinion on him. The thinker of semiotics that I have learned the most from has been Roland Barthes, especially his later, more poetic work, where he was able to so rigorously and beautifully describe the various ways that literature moved him.

      • Alan ReedAlan Reed
        Moderator
        Post count: 18

        And thank you, Brock, for all of your questions! I feel you have done an excellent job of keeping me on my toes.

    • Alan ReedAlan Reed
      Moderator
      Post count: 18

      And that is all for me, I am signing off. Thank you, everyone, for all your questions; I hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as I did. Good night!

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