Based in Halifax, Alison Delory is a writer, editor, and communications professional. Her writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Dalhousie Magazine, Halifax Magazine, and other publications. She is also the author of two children’s books, and her first novel for adults, Making it Home, will appear with Nimbus this June. In what follows, Delory shares the story of how she got started as a writer, details of her new projects, and more.
How long have you been writing?
What drew you to writing in general, and fiction, non-fiction, and writing for children in particular?
I love words. I was also drawn by the challenge and the opportunity to learn. My training and background is in journalism and professional writing, but over time I wanted to expand and experiment with new forms. I’ve taken courses and workshops and dabbled in poetry, blogging and academic writing, too. No forms come easily to me but I find enormous satisfaction in finishing any piece of writing. It would be smarter to stick with one thing and really master it but I guess I’m distractible because I jump around a lot.
You are widely published as a non-fiction writer and children’s author, but this summer, your debut novel for adults, Making it Home, will be published with Nimbus. Did you find the transition to writing fiction for adults challenging?
Yes, it was hard but I don’t think that’s a negative. It’s good to embrace difficult things. I’m used to doing lots of research and interviews and then writing true stories based on what I’ve gleaned. With the novel, I had to imagine what might happen next. I regularly thought I’d run out of ideas but then every day I’d surprise myself by pushing it forward just a little bit—maybe having one small breakthrough to advance the plot or writing even a few lines of prose that I was happy with—until eventually I had a whole narrative arc. Learning to trust myself and the process was a leap of faith.
Do you think technology has changed the way we write and read? If so, how?
Yes, at least for me it’s negatively impacted how I read and positively impacted how I write. I think collectively our attention spans have shortened. We’re more comfortable reading Facebook posts than novels. We snack more and consume fewer wholesome meals. I fight this urge every day and make sure I’m always reading a mix of short- and long-form writing. I’ll never not have a book on the go. That said, I love my laptop and can no longer write by hand. I find writing even a birthday card hard now. I need that backspace key and five attempts at writing each sentence before I’m satisfied with it.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
Exercise. A walk or a run are a good way to feel productive and moving your body has the wonderful side effect of freeing your mind so the ideas can creep in. Plus training for long-distance running and novel writing are surprisingly similar; you need the same discipline and ability to push through discomfort and self-doubt to complete either.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I often write in public at a library or coffee shop. I think writers need to be seen in the community and they have to be part of it. I’ve never believed in shutting out white noise or isolating myself; it’s the buzz of activity—life itself—that’s inspiring. But I don’t write every day and I don’t believe in telling anybody they should. You do you; write however it suits you best as long as it gets word on a page.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Cultivate an attentiveness to the world around you—there are stories lying in wait everywhere. Pay attention to small details like facial expressions, smells or words that strike you as lyrical, and if you don’t have a good memory, jot them down. A heightened power of observation improves not only your writing but your general way of being and living. Also find a writing community. Join a writing group. Seek feedback but more importantly give feedback. Teach if you have the opportunity. For me, teaching writing, critiquing writing, and editing taught me as much or more than actually writing.
What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?
Cafés that let you write for hours while sipping one Americano! The smallish size and supportiveness of the writing community. The fact that Halifax is cosmopolitan but the natural world is nearby and accessible. I really, really love being a writer in Halifax.
Do you remember the first time you were paid for your writing? What was it like?
Yes! I wrote a travel story on Harlem for the Toronto Sun in 1997. I knew it would run in a Sunday paper but not what edition so I bought it every week for months before it was finally published. I got $150 for the article. The travel editor was really cranky and offered no feedback but I owe her a debt of gratitude for setting me on a course.
Did you have a mentor when you started writing? What was that relationship like?
I’m so lucky to have had many. Lawrence Hill was one of my earliest creative writing teachers in Toronto. We re-met last summer and he was wonderfully warm and generous. Sherri Fitch read my first middle-grade fiction book, gave me feedback, and wrote an endorsement for the cover. I was gobsmacked. Lesley Crewe read an opening chapter of an adult novel and told me, “OK, you know how to write.” Kim Pittaway has been my nonfiction editor several times and her intelligence is staggering. My writing group has been invaluable. Then having Stephanie Domet as my editor for Making it Home was the best experience imaginable because she was tough, kind and funny at the same time and my book improved drastically. I can’t underestimate what all these people have meant to me. I’ll never be able to repay them but have hopefully paid it forward through my own students and can continue to do so.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished final revisions to Making it Home last month and am starting the work of marketing and promoting it so more the business side of writing. I also have a full-time day job with the University of King’s College where I write and edit stories or copy most days. But right now I am writing answers to this questionnaire : )