A Conversation With a Friend:
Susan Braley

Susan BraleyFriend of The Malahat Susan Braley recently participated in Malahat-sponsored panel discussion "Wither - or Whither - the Book Review?" Malahat Marketing Manager Susan Sanford Blades speaks with Susan Braley about the benefits of the panel, and Malahat friendship.

You attended our panel on the book review November 20th, “Whither—or Wither—the Book Review?” How did you enjoy it?

I found the panel discussion really stimulating, both as a writer who hopes to be reviewed one day and as a reviewer seeking out other reviewers. It was informative to hear from panelists from diverse backgrounds: from the publishing sector, from community-based print and non-print media, from the editorial team of a literary journal, and from academia. Over the course of the afternoon, these speakers explored what constitutes a satisfying review, whom reviewers are accountable to, how reviews are changing in light of new media, and how reviewing has flagged in Canada. I also enjoyed the wide-ranging conversation following the panelists’ comments.

Having written a review earlier in the year [in the Spring 2010 issue of The Malahat Review, #170], I came away from the discussion excited about new approaches to reviews and imagining ways that reviewers might work together.

I hope The Malahat is planning more such workshops.

You’ve recently ceased teaching English and Women’s Studies in order to work full-time at writing. How’s that going so far?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to write full-time, even on days when the blank screen will not relent. Over the last six years, since I moved from London, Ontario, to Victoria, I have written some short fiction and my first novel—with generous support from a Victoria writing group and excellent mentorships with Annabel Lyon (through UBC’s Booming Ground) and Sandra Birdsell (through the on-line Humber School of Writing).  My novel, called Falling Home, is now with publishers and doing its best to distinguish itself from others on the pile.

I bring a passion for literature to my writing desk, but creating fiction, I’ve learned, is remarkably different from reading, studying, and teaching it. But out of the challenges and frustrations of this complex art come rewards, like knowing when a character’s voice finally rings true. I’ve also discovered how transformative it is to write poetry, especially if I do so regularly. Having poems accepted for publication, both locally and nationally, has been motivating too.

And I haven’t forgotten teaching: I love the energetic exchange of ideas that often happens in the classroom, so I return from time to time. I’ve taught a course for the English department at UVic, and I occasionally offer workshops on journal writing to community groups.

Are you satisfied with the support for writers and the literary scene in Victoria?

The literary scene in Victoria is very lively—I can always find events that celebrate authors and their writing: book launches, poetry readings, UVic symposiums, writing-society meetings, awards nights, and library seminars. At times, I have to choose between literary events, since several are happening at once.

I’ve also enjoyed working with accomplished writing mentors at workshops, courses, and intensive retreats. These learning experiences have been transformative and the connections with other authors long-lasting. And I feel very much at home in the Planet Earth Poetry community, which warmly welcomes everyone who loves to write, read, and hear poetry.

You’ve been a Friend of The Malahat for almost a year now, which means you’ve received almost a full year’s subscription. What has been your favourite issue this year / your favourite poem / favourite prose piece?

A difficult question, since there are so many fine pieces!

But since you ask, I would choose:

  • The Spring 2010 issue (#170) as my favourite in 2010, because of its celebration of two extraordinary Victoria writers, Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, and also because of its theme of aesthetic kinship; this theme reflects the reciprocity and connectedness enjoyed by many of Victoria’s writers.
  • Eve Joseph’s “White Camellias” (Fall 2009, #168) as my favourite poem, since it explores so poignantly the “broken” beauty of poetry and the world that births it (Dave Margoshes’ “Stephen Hawking in Saskatchewan” (Summer 2010, #171) was another favourite).
  •  Dede Crane’s “The Fall of Langue d’Occ” (Fall 2010, #172) as my favourite prose piece, because her eighty-one-year-old character Nancy is so heartbreakingly real. I’m sure I’ve met her.

Finally, do you plan to join us on Friday January 28th at the Black Stilt during Planet Earth Poetry for our Winter issue launch/Tribute to P. K. Page?

Yes—I know I will be among friends.

Thank you very much, Susan, for your thoughtful answers. I’ll see you on January 28th, if not before then!