Author spotlight: Amy Spurway

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 ParentThe Toronto Star, and other venues. Her debut novel, Crow (Goose Lane Editions) was released a year ago and was recently shortlisted for two Atlantic Book Awards, the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award (Fiction) and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. 

What was your reaction when you heard you’d been shortlisted?

The anticipatory anxiety around awards is always a bit of a struggle for me, so just seeing those announcements made is a huge relief either way. My reaction to actually being shortlisted involved a little happy dance in my backyard.

It’s little more than a year since your first book, Crow, came out. You’ve used the metaphor of giving birth to describe putting your book out in the world. Has this first year been akin to raising a toddler?

That metaphor still holds up pretty well. Toddlerhood is a time when the world really opens up — life gets bigger, more interesting, with so much learning and growth and exploring. This has certainly been a year of new places, new people, and new experiences for me and Crow. It has also been a very high-energy time — lots of movement, lots of chatting, lots of being ‘on’ and in performance mode for extended periods — which is also reminiscent of my days of raising toddlers. There may have even been the odd meltdown here and there and I definitely made a lot of funny faces, many of which have been immortalized in photos, so that tracks with raising toddlers too.

What have been some of the highlights for you during this year?

The Cape Breton launch at the Ross Ferry Firehall at the end of March, 2019, was not just a highlight of the year, but a highlight of my life. I have never felt so surrounded by love, and it was not just about me and the book: it was about an entire community coming together to pull off one helluva celebration. It was humbling, exhilarating, and a memory I’ll cherish forever.

Another major highlight of this year has been the people. So many people. Meeting other writers and connecting with booksellers, hearing from old friends and making new ones, talking with readers who relate to the story in so many different ways. There’s something about Crow that inspires other people to share little snippets of their own lives with me, and that’s something I deeply appreciate.

One more highlight was being part of the inaugural Briny Books lineup, and in conjunction with that, the release of a Crow-inspired jewellery collection featuring a funky ring, big honkin’ earrings and a bad ass bracelet. My husband got me the bracelet for our anniversary and it is wicked cool to have that as a memento.

Have you been invited to book clubs? What’s the book club experience like from the perspective of a writer?

I’ve been invited to several book clubs, and they’ve been so much fun. They’ve been great opportunities to talk about the story, characters, themes, and the process of writing with people who really want to get more in-depth. Book clubs have also given me a really great perspective on what resonates with readers, and why.

Cape Breton seems to be a place that nurtures really great literary writers. What’s in the Cape Breton DNA that creates great writing?

Cape Breton just seems to have a culture of storytelling, and I’m sure there are many reasons for that. Every person, every place, everything has a story behind and around it, and many Cape Bretoners have a keen sense of that, and a knack for teasing those stories out. That cultural bent towards storytelling produces some great writing, but also some great music. Great art. Great connections, and great conversations around the kitchen table. There is also immense resourcefulness and resilience in Cape Breton, and storytelling is an expression of that.

Growing up in Cape Breton are there any creative sayings or metaphors that you heard all the time that worked their way into the novel? 

Most of the sayings in Crow are straight out of my Grandmother’s and/or my mother’s mouths, or are things I’ve absorbed by sitting and listening. My favourite one — and the one that people often ask about— is “You’ll wish your cake dough,” meaning that you’ll regret doing something and wish you could start over and make a different decision. I can’t tell you how many times my mother said that to me over the years. And getting called ‘Missy’… any time my mother said  ‘Listen, Missy’ I knew I was in big trouble.

With the success of Crow, can you see yourself becoming a full time novelist?

I don’t think it is easy for anyone to become a full-time novelist, regardless of how successful a book is. The economics of the publishing industry are often surprising to those outside of it, and while big literary prizes and arts grants can be a pathway to some financial stability, the resources are limited, the competition is stiff, and you can’t take anything for granted. So, being a full-time novelist seems more like a lovely dream than a tangible reality to me, at this point. There is also something deeply fulfilling for me in having one foot in the literary world, and one foot in other projects and pursuits. Right now, that approach not only helps pay the bills, but it lets me have other experiences and connections that help shape and inform my novel-writing in weird, tangential ways. 

How is the second book going? (In your first Author Spotlight you talked about writing a book about a group of women cast aside by society for various reasons.) When might it be coming out?

There’s still a second book in the works, but the original idea I started working on shortly after Crow was published has been shelved for the time being because it just wasn’t the right time for that particular story. After a few false starts, I feel like I’m finally finding a groove with a new story but I can’t even hazard a guess as to when it might see the light of day. 

What has the pandemic been like for you as a writer?

The first few months of the pandemic shoved my writing life onto the backburner because I found myself trying to crisis-homeschool three kids who all require different levels of educational support, even at the best of times, not to mention struggling to manage my own emotional response to our new reality. A bunch of trips and events I was looking forward to got cancelled, my kid-free writing days were gone, the part-time work I had been doing came to a halt, and pretty much everything in the world went sideways. I went into a kind of survival mode, which, on the surface, isn’t ideal for writing and creativity. But it did force a certain kind of clarity. A real roll-up-my-sleeves-and-just-get-‘er-done kind of attitude that I think will ultimately serve my writing well in the long term.   

See Amy Spurway read from Crow in an Atlantic Book Awards Spotlight. 

– Questions by Marilyn Smulders

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Recommended Experience Levels

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) recommends that participants in any given workshop have similar levels of creative writing and / or publication experience. This ensures that each participant gets value from the workshop⁠ and is presented with information, strategies, and skills that suit their career stage. The “Recommended experience level” section of each workshop description refers to the following definitions used by WFNS.

  • New writers: those with less than two years’ creative writing experience and/or no short-form publications (e.g., short stories, personal essays, or poems in literary magazines, journals, anthologies, or chapbooks).
  • Emerging writers: those with more than two years’ creative writing experience and/or numerous short-form publications.
  • Early-career authors: those with 1 or 2 book-length publications or the equivalent in book-length and short-form publications.
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  • Professional authors: those with 5 or more book-length publications.

Please keep in mind that each form of creative writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and writing for children and young adults) provides you with a unique set of experiences and skills, so you might consider yourself an ‘established author’ in one form but a ‘new writer’ in another.

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