Q & A with Gwen Davies

Tell me a little about Facing the Other Way.
What the stories seem to have in common, now that I see them dressed and ready to go out in public, is that they are about behaving in a truthful way. What struggles do we go through to find that kernel of truth, how do we get pushed into looking for it, and what are the consequences when we ignore it.

Why did you choose the settings you chose?
I chose communal settings because community strikes me as the only useful way for us to move human cultures forward. It is untidy – but what isn’t? One story is set in Rochdale, in Toronto. While it was known as drug-dealing headquarters, it was student housing for U of T, an idealistic “free university” and a bubble of alternate culture. There were communes in the building where people followed their high ideals, particularly the 14th Floor Commune (where I lived for a year) that appears in “Marrying Gilbert.”

Where do you like to write?
I often find myself turning sideways to the threat of starting work, the way you do walking into a pelting ice storm. The solution for me is to write in a coffee shop. While I was writing for three months in New Zealand, I became writer in residence at the lively Hysteria Café in Wanganui. I feel more grounded with people around, and there is nothing else to do but write, particularly if your tools are pen and paper. I pay my rent by ordering according to how long I stay.

What do you think was the most significant world event the year you were born?
It was a year of beginnings: the first computer, helicopter, transcontinental flight, Cannes Film Festival, and meeting of the United Nations, among many. New things were established: the CIA, an independent Hungary, Yugoslavia and Syria, and Weight Watchers. The first rocket slipped out of the earth’s atmosphere and took a picture of our little planet, and while George Orwell published Animal Farm, Dr. Benjamin Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby & Child Care.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Travelling and catching coffee or a meal out. By travelling, think pensions and hostels, and a meal out might be a modest piece of haddock pan fried at Phil’s, but no compromise on the coffee.

What is your favourite journey?
Taking the train, when I used to be able to have a roomette, and breakfast in end car with the rounded back where I could watch the tracks and the country recede as I sat there with nowhere to go and no agenda. I loved to hang out in the upstairs glass dome and the downstairs bar, and the white-linen dining car with its etched-glass scenes from across the country and meals cooked in the train kitchen. Any decent train in any country would count here, and I’ve taken a few.

What talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to be able to let go of things I don’t need. That would be such a talent, to know and let go – of stuff, paper, ideas, the lot. I had it for one day, the day before I gave birth to my son. Unfortunately, I had only enough time to deal with a room full of baby things and didn’t get to the rest of the possibilities, but I’m here to tell you that it was exhilarating.

If you were to host a private dinner party for writers from the past, who would you invite to your table?
I’d put Northrop Frye and William Blake beside each other and see what kind of conversation they came up with, wouldn’t that be fun. I’d keep Emily Bronte for myself, I think, and talk to her about anything but Wuthering Heights.

What’s your favourite comfort food?
When the chips are down, I make a grilled cheese sandwich with old cheddar, sliced apple, mayo and Madras curry paste. It always works, even when I open it up on the plate and put in a handful of sprouts.

Is it coffee or tea?
There is a place for coffee and a place for tea. Coffee is that thing I hold on to with both hands when the meaning of life is slipping. Tea is good with company, and it settles the heart.