Q&A with Maritime author Carol Brunel
How did you learn about the subject of your work and what made you decide to write about it? Maud Lewis and her art are iconic in NS, so much so that I think people may have lost sight of the actual woman who lived through the hardships she did and against all odds lived a hugely creative life. As a person of few words who for much of her life lived under the thumb of a domineering husband, she expressed herself through painting. I was deeply intrigued by her inner life, the life she lived through her imagination, and what she might have said and done if given the additional agency that comes with spoken language. So, I really wanted to create a voice for her and have her tell her story. Also, I had already written a novel about a woman artist—French sculptor Camille Claudel—who endured many of the same struggles Maud did in order to make her art. In a way this earlier novel, These Good Hands, helped prepare me for writing Brighten the Corner Where You Are.
How long have you been working on (writing/researching) your newest book? My present novel-in-progress has been with me for an embarrassingly long time, at least 20 years. Many false starts and a lot of protracted stops, and when the pandemic hit I found it impossible to focus on a story that by then seemed totally insignificant. Anyway, over the past year I’ve completed a working draft, which I am now revising.
What was the most interesting/entertaining thing you found in research that didn’t make it into the book? Since Brighten the Corner’s publication, readers have shared many interesting tidbits about the artist with me. My favourite one, from a former broadcaster based in Saint John, NB, is that Maud used to write to the radio station there with song requests. (She had no phone.) I don’t know if her requests were ever played. But it moves me deeply to imagine her doing this. She loved music, and country music plays a large role in my book.
What are some of your favourite books/authors now? Very recent faves include Olga Tokarczuk, her novel Flights. Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other. Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These. Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses. Jon Fosse, Septology. Annie Ernaux’s A Girl’s Story and A Woman’s Story. Annick MacAskill’s poetry collection Shadow Blight.
Is there any non-book media that influences your writing? Visual art—painting and sculpture.
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what? No, never. I need silence.
What is a book that you think is underread/ underappreciated? Hard question. Too many books are not recognized for their greatness.
When did you start writing? When I was seven, as soon as I learned you can string words together to make a sentence.
What is the best and/or worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? To write what you know—best and worst advice.
What is your favourite genre to write? Do you want to try writing in other genres? Fiction—novels and short stories. I also enjoy writing nonfiction (and have my first nonfiction work coming out this fall). I would like to try writing for children.
Tea or coffee? Tea , all the way. Full-on, well-steeped tea with lots of milk.