In which Kim McCullough, the author of Clearwater, lets us in on a few secrets.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you:
Not many people know I used to sing in the Sweet Adelines barbershop chorus. I was a member of Prairie Gold, the Regina chapter. However, my enthusiasm for singing far outstrips my talent.
How did you become a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was very young – I have a basement shelf full of half-completed, handwritten novels. They are all very angsty and sentimental and factually incorrect, especially when it comes to romantic endeavours. I didn’t share my writing with anyone, really, until 2007 when I attended the inaugural Fernie Writers’ Conference, where I worked with Angie Abdou. She read my short story out loud, while I had to sit and listen, then listen to the other students critique my work. It was mortifying, and it was empowering. From there – more courses and workshops, and then the MFA at UBC.
Tell us about your most recent project:
This year has been crazy – I’m not sure what to pick as my “most recent.” My novel Clearwater (Coteau Books) was out October 2. I am also working on my Masters’ thesis for UBC. It’s another novel, one that is loosely linked to Clearwater. So this past year has been a combination of editing Clearwater, while trying to create a new world in the thesis novel.
What is the most valuable piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
This one has taken me the longest to answer, probably because it’s both the easiest and most difficult question. The simple answer is: write. Write every day. But the truth is, the best writing advice came by way of writing lesson given by author Peter Oliva, one of my Fernie instructors. I’m sworn to secrecy, so I won’t go into detail, but it left our little workshop group devastated, some of us in tears, all of us cursing his name. Peter taught me that there is always a deeper, darker, truer place to go. And he taught me that if I think I’m at that scary place, look again. Dig a little deeper.
Give us your Desert Island Reading List (the 3 books you’d choose to be stranded with):
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Three Day Road, by Joseph Boyden
Old Friend From Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg – the writing prompts could help me while away the time.
The thing you like most about writing:
I like how the characters come alive. When things are really clicking, they move through a fabricated world all on their own. Because they seem so real to me, I know just how they would react in a given situation. Setting up those situations is pretty fun.
The thing you like least:
The time it takes away from my kids.
Unusual work habits/routines/superstitions?
For Clearwater, I had a certain playlist of music I would listen to when I was stuck – from classical piano from Debussy and Mozart (one of my characters is a pianist) to ‘70’s and ‘80’s top 40. (Seventies because, though the novel starts a decade later, the radio station in the town where it is set was ALWAYS ten years behind.) I’d wrap up with a few nice, dark blasts of Jeff Buckley and the tone was set.
What’s next for you on the writing agenda?
Promotion of my novel. Teaching more Creative Writing classes. Finishing my thesis.
Kim McCullough has published reviews and commentary on a number of literary websites. Clearwater is her first published book. She is currently working towards her MFA in creative writing at UBC. Originally from Regina, Kim now teaches in Calgary where she leads various writing workshops for students of all ages, including a writing class for women in recovery.
To find out more about Kim, please visit her website: www.kimmccullough.ca