Lesley Crewe is the author of ten novels, including Relative Happiness (Nimbus Publishing, 2005), which has been adapted as a major motion picture; Mary Mary (Nimbus Publishing, 2016); and Beholden (Nimbus Publishing, 2018). In what follows, she talks about her previous work as a freelance writer and columnist, her advice for aspiring writers, what she likes about living and writing in Cape Breton, and more.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and fiction in particular?
I’ve been writing in journals and diaries for a long time, and sent long-winded letters home to my parents when the children were little. I took English in university and have loved books since I was two. Nothing made me happier than reading. I started writing columns in magazines around 2000, and I enjoyed that, but then was asked to do some freelance articles, which eventually bored me. Making up stories felt like my nursery rhyme books and that was comforting. I published my first novel in 2005, when I turned fifty. All of it was just for fun. When something happens in my life, and I have to process it, I turn to a pen. Other people sing, dance or crochet.
What do you think is changing in fiction these days?
There’s more of it. The choice is overwhelming and inspiring, but I know I’ll never get around to reading it all, and that makes me sad. I almost have a panic attack when I walk in a bookstore now, which is why book sellers are so important. I depend on them to help me choose.
You’re a former freelance writer and columnist. Has this work informed your fiction? If so, how?
Every time you write anything, it helps you in the future. It’s like a muscle that becomes stronger. The writing that helped me the most with my fiction was writing a screenplay. That was definitely like homework. Editing to the nth degree. My writing became a bit tighter after that, and that’s a good thing. You don’t want to meander all over the place, which is why it’s so essential to have a great editor!
What’s the biggest misconception about being a writer?
That it’s easy. Everyone has a fabulous story (and I’m sure they do), and when they get five minutes, they’re going to write a book. Hopefully they will, if that’s what they want, but it’s not always that simple. I know how tough it can be, which is why I so admire writers, and not just the ones who are published. I did a school visit to a grade four classroom and a little boy came up to me and said, “This is your lucky day! I’m a writer too!”
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer?
Write as if no one is ever going to read it. Just put it all out there and don’t censor yourself. Later you can delete, delete, delete. And don’t fret if you stop writing for a while. Sometimes not writing is as important as writing. It’s like the tide, or breathing in and out. You need both to make it work.
What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?
I live in Cape Breton. This place is a haven for the most fantastic characters alive. I just stand in line at Sobeys and they’re right there. Being here is like being in the middle of a great big character soup! Silver Donald Cameron told me there was a very handsome priest in his neck of the woods that the locals called “Father What-a-Waste”. How can you beat that?
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Watching British movies or television series on Netflix, when I’m supposed to be writing or cleaning my house.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I grab the cat and bring him into my study. His purring makes me happy. I shut the door and open the window so I can hear the rain and watch the birds. I always shut the door, even when I’m alone in the house. I don’t want all that dialogue to escape down the hallway.
Do you remember the first time you were paid for your writing? What was it like?
No, not really. Isn’t that disappointing? But I do remember my first advance and thinking, “Holy crap. What have I done?!” It wasn’t make-believe any more.
What are you working on right now?
I’m starting on a book of my columns, Are You Kidding Me? It should be a fun process. Completely different from what I’m used to. It will be nice to change things up.