Thursday, March 26, 2009


Shaun Smith for DESK SPACE

DESK SPACE Who (a witty one-liner or a bio)?

Shaun Smith YA novelist & journalist.

DS When did you start writing, publish your first book (or when are you publishing your next)?

SS I’ve been writing since high school, almost 30 years now, but professionally only since 1996. My first novel—Snakes & Ladders—was published in January 2009.

DS Where do you write (at your desk/outside/in bed)?

SS On occasion I scribble by hand in a notebook, but only when I am working out story ideas. That usually takes place in a big comfy chair or in bed. It’s not really “writing” per se, but more like sketching, and takes up about 4% of my writing time. I do all my “real” writing at my desk, on a Mac. I wrote Snakes & Ladders at the desk in the photo here but in three different apartments. The first draft was written in a tiny bachelor apartment in North Toronto looking out a huge window into a wall of trees. I revised and finished the MS in a basement one-bedroom in Little Portugal facing a wall of red-brick. I finalized the edit and proofs (just today!) in the top story of a big old house in Parkdale looking out into a massive horse chestnut and jack pine. I like being back up in the trees with the birds and squirrels.

DS Why do you work where you do (at your desk because it is a quiet space/outside b/c it helps you think/in the park b/c you can smoke, etc)?

SS Simply put, I write at my desk because that is where the writing happens. I’m certainly not the first to say it, but I believe a writer has to have a place of his/her own to write. Some people say they can work anywhere but I don’t believe them. I feel as though my desk is as important to me as a taxi is to a cab driver. When I was a teenager, I knew I would one day become a fulltime writer, but I didn’t know how to do that because I came from an environment that did not value the written word. I had to find a way to carve that out on my own, and a desk, I eventually discovered, was essential to that. In the photo, up above my desk, to the left, you can just make out black-and-white photos of two of my favourite writers sitting at their desks. One is John Cheever and the other is P.G. Wodehouse. I cut those photos from Jill Krementz’s amazing book The Writer’s Desk, which was a very important book for me when it was published in 1996 because it provided a window into a world I wanted to enter. Sadly, it’s now out of print.

DS What are you working on now?

SS Assuming “now” is a flexible term, I’m working on a second YA novel, called The Slow Machine. It’s a road-trip story about a boy, his father and (escaped con) grandfather. That’s about all I can divulge on that at the moment. I’m also working on the outline (ie: scribbling in notebooks) for a five-book fantasy series.

As a journalist I seem to be talking to at least one different chef every day now, so of late I have been tacking the modifier “food” onto my journalist handle. I used to be a chef myself, so when I broke with that career in the 1990s to focus on writing, it became logical that I start writing about food, start looking at the kitchen from the outside in. Right now I have a bunch of food articles on the go—a piece about cookbooks by Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal, another about squab, another about four young Canadian chefs.

1 comment:

Erin Lynn said...

wow - I really appreciate what you have to say, Shaun, about carving out a space for writing when you come from a place that doesn't value the written word! I am currently in an environment that doesn't value the written word and trying to work on my M.F.A. - challenging, but certainly feasible - your article was heartening to this midwest lady!