Today, I give you the last interview of the authors in Tesseracts 17: Speculating Canada from Coast to Coast to Coast, from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s not quite a complete set as I don’t have Vince Perkins from New Brunswick, nor Jason Barrett from Northwest Territories. However, should they eventually contact me I will include their interviews. You can find their bios listed for Tesseracts here. Last in the table of contents and our other Yukon author, is Patricia Robertson.
CA: “The Calligrapher’s Daughter” has the feel similar to tales like The Arabian Nights, or The Steel Seraglio. It mixes lesson and observation but in a subtle telling. Were you following a particular literary form when you wrote this?
I was aware that it was a fable, a form or mode I feel we need much more of as a means of responding to our increasingly nightmarish “reality.” Fables deal with archetypes rather than highly realized characters (which is why the calligrapher’s daughter is called that throughout the story rather than given a name). That said, I was conscious of the form without being inhibited by it (I hope!)
CA: Your world is vivid in description and feeling. What did you research in the process of this creation?
I love exploring worlds I don’t know and have been interested in Islam and Arabic history for a long time, ever since I lived in Spain (where the Arabs ruled for 700 years). I do lots of research in both books and on the Net to get the details right, or, where I’m inventing, so I know I’m deliberately altering or embellishing “reality.” Though I’ve discovered that there’s really nothing you can make up—so-called fantasy is only such in our current idea of what constitutes reality!
CA: We’ve had stories set in the modern world (the majority), a few other worlds and those in far space, with a smattering in the past and the future. Yours is the only setting that looks at Middle Eastern history. Why did you choose this setting and do you think your tale would have been as effective if told from another culture’s point of view?
As I explained above, Arabic history fascinates me (the setting here is actually North Africa). I’d recently written a suite of four novellas/short stories all linked by the theme of illegal migration and set in Spain and Morocco, so I suppose the setting was fresh in my mind. And I’ve always found the Arabic script incredibly beautiful, with its flowing curves. At some point I stumbled on the fact that there were female calligraphers early on in the development of calligraphy as an art form.
All of that means I can’t imagine the story from another culture’s point of view! It’s too specific to this one, although I’m sure there were female calligraphers in other traditions.
CA: While following the norms of her society, the Calligrapher’s Daughter manages to find strength of purpose. Do you think that people who are under the strictures of their culture, which may give unfair advantages to some and not to others, can still find a strength of purpose and prevail?
I think people do that all the time. There are always people who, through a combination of talent and tenacity and opportunity, forge lives for themselves that may be unusual or somewhat outside the norm. They usually pay a price for such behavior, too. Researching the story reminded me that history provides much more nuance than we usually see—women in such cultures are not always, in all conditions, “oppressed.” Cracks and byways and interstices can be found, or created.
CA: This was such a rich world. Have you used it in other stories and what will we be seeing from you in the future?
As I said earlier, I love exploring different worlds, so no, I haven’t used this one in other stories and probably won’t use it again. At the moment I’m working on a young adult fantasy called How to Talk to a Glacier as well as completing a third book of short stories. And I have a short adult novel, a fantasy, in mind too.
Born in the UK, Patricia Robertson grew up in British Columbia and received her MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. She has published two collections of fiction: City of Orphans, which was shortlisted for the BC Book Prizes (Fiction), and The Goldfish Dancer: Stories and Novellas. Her work was selected for both Best Canadian Stories 2013 and Best Canadian Essays 2013, and has been shortlisted for the Journey Prize, the CBC Literary Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and the National Magazine Awards (three times). She is currently the first writer-in-residence at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library in Kingston, ON.