You’re right, Serafim & Claire is essentially a love letter to the city of Montreal. And a metropolis is so particular in the way it shapes a novel, in that, unlike a rural setting, there are powerful movements that are manifesting themselves in public places. Unlike a small village, a city hangs its dirty laundry out to dry. That completely changes the way you approach the setting as a writer. The forces and undercurrents that shaped (and are still shaping) Montreal, can be found in the news, in protests, in personal journals and biographies, and in photos that were taken on the streets. Which is why it was so important for street photography to become a focus for one of my characters in the novel, Serafim.
To me, all art is an attempt to explore what it means to be human, and different mediums navigate those waters at varying depths and efficiency. Music, in my mind, is direct, powerful, but fleeting, whereas literature is slow, nuanced, and long-lasting. Playing with different mediums has certainly provided insight and perspective that I don’t think I would otherwise have stumbled across. As an aside, I only discovered photography because of my research for Serafim & Claire. There is a very dubious aspect of taking pictures of strangers in public — pictures that they don’t necessarily consent to ― and then calling it art. That “stealing of intimate moments” in a public place was something I had to experience firsthand. I soon adopted a bag of tricks to remain unnoticed and unobtrusive, while gaining access to ever greater intimacy. There is something undeniably creepy about it. You can see some of these photos here.
I read all across the spectrum. I loved so many classics in my early adulthood; books by Melville, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Orwell, Woolf. But I love reading pop literature as well, like books by Nick Hornby, T.C. Boyle, Edward St. Aubyn, and Annie Proulx. I’m also addicted to poetry anthologies, the best of which, in my opinion, come out of the UK at the moment. And I was inspired to write, not by a particular book, but by listening to true and heartbreaking stories in the jungles of Guatemala.
I loved researching and writing this novel. In many ways, it’s my attempt to define and explore what I see as the multifaceted soul of Canada. The novel is very ADHD, in that it bounces around to different times and places and aspects of Canadian history, telling the intimate stories of twelve people, all of whom were the main influences on one particular man’s life, Cedric Johnson. I wrote the book in chronological order, but researched the topics and history somewhat randomly. There were a few unwieldy pieces that stood too far out from the whole, but my editor, Lynn Coady, helped rein them all in.