Anna Quon is a novelist and poet who lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. She has published two novels with Invisible Publishing, Migration Songs (2009) and Low (2013), and has also self-published a number of poetry collections. In the following post, she talks about her writing, her experience teaching creative writing, guilty pleasures, and more.
How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and fiction and poetry in particular?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I remember writing and illustrating stories for the mimeographed school newsletter when I was six. I loved to read storybooks and nursery rhymes, and later novels and poetry. I remember reading books having to run outside to burn off the excitement. It was reading that made me want to write. And I guess I gravitated toward poetry and novels because that is what I liked to read the most. I like being able to see characters develop, or at least to follow them around, and I like to play with words, so novels and poetry. But also I admit I had this romantic notion of novelists and poets, which is still hard to shake!
Before I wrote my first novel I was a freelance writer which I loved and did ok at but I burned out of it after a few years. I only wrote a novel when I felt I had nothing left to lose
In addition to being a writer, you also offer writing and creative expression workshops. Do you see a connection between teaching and writing? What similarities or differences do you note in the two practices?
I have facilitated a number of workshops in writing, arts and crafts and digital storytelling, mostly for people living with mental health issues. I don’t see myself as a teacher because I really don’t have the kind of mastery of a body of knowledge or skill that I think you need to teach, or that I like to believe good teachers have. So I facilitate learning maybe, hopefully by offering opportunities for learners to explore a medium, by giving them a writing prompt, for example, as a springboard to jump off into their own thing, and by giving them examples of other people’s writing that seems excellent to me and helping them think about and discuss it. But really I am facilitating a creative experience.
A lot of people living with mental health and illness issues want to express their feelings, thoughts and beliefs, tell their stories, celebrate their okayness and fight prejudice and discrimination against them and their diagnoses, history of medical treatment, symptoms and side effects, etc. They also want to just write about everything else anybody wants to write about. And at a long standing writing group I facilitated, the participants most enjoyed playing—with words, images, dialogue, puppets. Just having a good time—and that’s what I tried to facilitate.
I’ve learned about being clear with instructions, which is humbling because I like to think I am clear in my writing and words but I am not always. I think being a facilitator of writing workshops in particular has helped me loosen up a little as a writer, but mostly it has helped me appreciate the diversity of people who love to write and read and how excellence comes in many forms.
I want people to have fun, to take pleasure in their writing. I take pleasure in mine but it is not the pleasure of free flowing creative expression usually. When I take pleasure in it it is because I am able to apply some control to the free flow of my imagination and expression. It’s about feeling like I am using a precision tool well.
Whoops, I don’t think I’ve answered your question!
You’ve self-published a number of poetry zines. What led you to self-publish this work, in lieu of seeking out more traditional avenues for publishing?
I don’t read poetry journals very often. I like zines, and find them interesting and fun. So is making your own books. Someone suggested making a zine to sell, and I enjoyed the process so I decided to make another and my brother wanted to help me with the design and layout. After that I made a few more and sold them at a shop or two and also at markets—I like selling—but I also have a thin skin and didn’t want to face rejection letters from journals! I really wrestle with my ego sometimes.
What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?
Oh, Nova Scotia is where I have lived all my life, and my Dad, who was born in China and moved to Canada more than 60 years ago, had a job here. I love living in the Halifax-Dartmouth area in particular because it’s a big small place and is beautiful and temperate. Really I love it here for the usual reasons everyone has.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
I guess I would say take a time machine back to your birth and look around a lot and read a lot and write a lot when you get old enough to. Failing that, do it now. Also take a course from a writer who has been around the block. I loved the courses I took at the Writers’ Federation of NS.
What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?
Um. There are lots of coffee shops? I like Two if By Sea because it’s noisy but I can’t hear other people’s conversations, so it’s white noise to me. I like that there are amazing writers who live here and do their own thing but it feels like they respect and are friendly and supportive of each other. That’s the impression I get anyway.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I have taken up swearing in my head. I sometimes eat cake for breakfast and cereal for supper. I wish I could say I was hatred free but sometimes I indulge that part of me.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I don’t think I write enough to have it. That’s sad but it hasn’t been a problem for a while so maybe it’s working.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a series of poems called “Body Parts” and also making a little animated film of a poem I wrote some years ago called “The day I stopped talking” which is somewhat autobiographical. And waiting to hear if my third novel will be accepted for publication.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
That’s actually a hard question. Once I thought I might be a plumber, but I am physically disabled by a back condition so I think I’d be a burned-out grade school teacher by now.