Originally from Cape Breton and now based in Dartmouth, Amy Spurway is a writer, performer, and editor. She has worked with CBC Radio and published in Today’s Parent, the Toronto Star, and other venues. This spring, her debut novel, Crow, was published by Goose Lane Editions. In what follows, Spurway talks about publishing her first book, what she likes about living and writing in her part of Nova Scotia, her new projects, and more.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and fiction in particular?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Even before I could physically write, I used to put on plays. There are pictures of me as a two-year-old, with my parents and their friends dressed up in the costumes I insisted they wear while I directed the story, telling them their lines. By the time I was ten, I was writing and performing public speeches and radio commentaries, and I’ve written a little bit of everything since. Much of it, the less-than-glamorous stuff that helps pay the bills.
Despite the sense that I’ve always been a writer at heart, I never really saw myself as a fiction writer, and especially not a novelist. With Crow, I feel like I tripped and fell face-first into fiction because the drive to tell that story was just so strong.
Your first novel has just been published by Goose Lane Editions. How would you describe your first experience publishing a book?
This runs the risk of sounding cliché, but what can I say? I’m a risk taker. I can only describe it as being akin to giving birth to a baby. There is much anticipation and trepidation. There is crying. Praying. A little screaming. It takes time, and energy, and a small army of dedicated people to help bring it into the world. But in the end, here I am, holding this creation, this new being that now has a life all its own. It is overwhelming at times, but I’m so grateful and a little awe-struck by it all. Like my children, this book has helped me learn and grow in the most unexpected ways. But unlike my children, this book almost never wakes me up in the middle of the night anymore.
What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?
The ocean. My CSA box from Taproot farms. Witnessing the fierce, creative, collective resilience and resourcefulness that runs through so many people.
What’s the biggest misconception about being a writer?
Maybe it’s the idea that writers are essentially one-trick ponies. That we write one kind of thing, or that writing is all we do, or that there is a quintessential ‘writer’ type-person. Most of the writers I know are jacks-of-all-trades and masters of several others! Some are introverts, some are extroverts, some read and write widely, some have very narrow interests, and ‘writer’ is a part of who we are, but not the totality. If you don’t think you look or feel or act like a writer…join the club.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Don’t be afraid to write garbage. You might have to dump a bunch of bad writing onto a page, and then hunt around in the mess for a sliver of something good. That’s part of the process, and there’s no point in being too romantic or precious about it. And learn to love editing. Cutting, hacking, slashing, shifting. It’s a different skill set, but it is worthwhile to practice and embrace it. And finally, once you think you’ve got something, read it out loud, just to yourself. Hearing the words aloud is a quick way to uncover what works and what doesn’t.
What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?
I live in Dartmouth, and the great thing about writing here is that I’m never far from nature, when I need some clarity, or inspiration, or to just feel humbled and tiny and connected to life on a deeper level. The same can be said of my other part of Nova Scotia, which is Cape Breton. When I go back home, I also love listening to people talk and tell stories. Every pocket of the island (and the province, for that matter) has its own accent and dialect and developing an ear for that continues to be immensely helpful in my writing.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Life’s too short for guilt. I love the things I love, guilt-free, including Kevin Smith movies, and the song “MmmBop” by Hanson.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
Writer’s block feels like something I could never afford to have, because most of my writing was either professional projects on a deadline for clients, or personal projects that had to be shoe-horned in to whatever hours I could find. So I’ve learned to just keep going, no matter what. Get something down and keep hammering away at it until it works.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve started what feels like it will be novel #2. Loosely, it is the story of a group of women who’ve been cast aside by society for various reasons, and now they’re done playing nice.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I’m deeply interested in the human psyche, so perhaps a psychologist. A Jungian psychologist, in particular. Either that or a professional tarot card reader.