The Siobhan Jamison Interview

EXCLUSIVE TO THE MIRAMICHI READER—Siobhan Jamison was born in Manchester to parents from Northern Ireland. She spent the 90’s living between Paris and Dublin but grew up in Toronto, where she currently resides and teaches at Seneca College. She is a graduate of The School of Creative Writing at The University of Toronto and is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Hull in the UK. Maternity and Other Corsets is her first book. Her work has been longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. She is writing its follow up Frozen Meat on Hooks, a novel in which the main character knows her sins but not why she can’t escape them.

Maternity and Other Corsets is the story of Maebh Murray as she chases the bohemian life through Europe with a French alcoholic painter she meets in Prague the summer after the Velvet Revolution. They move to Paris and have a child, and Maebh becomes breadwinner by day and breast feeder by night. They try life in Greece, Ireland, and Spain, where she ponders her artistic pretensions, bad marriage, and parenting and how difficult it is, in an atmosphere of western arrogance that is blind to its own contradictions, to make it all work.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in completing this novel?

Time, money and mental health.

When did you start writing Maternity and Other Corsets, and did you know it was a novel from the get-go?

What was to become chapter 2 was written in 2009.  I had only ever written poetry before, in bits and snatches, and hoped it would become a novella. My daughter was 16 and my son was 18 months. I was a single mother for the second time – convinced I was failing my children and lacking in confidence in every other way as well. I did not think I had enough pages in me for a novel.

Approximately what time period does the novel take place in? How hard was it or easy was it to dress the characters in the fashion from that time period?

The book takes place in the nineties and I’m a visual person so it wasn’t hard. Even though I was in Paris where fashion is less flippant but consistently elegant, I still remember the vintage grunge scene, Kurt Cobain’s slash blonde hair, sneakers with dress pants, Neneh Cherry in high tops and a mini-dress.

Did you know the first recorded song the Beatles ever did was ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’? (They sang back up). Also, does this song have any cultural/personal meaning to you?

Well, I thought it was a cheesy Irish song until the poor girl in Prague sang it to me. Most Irish songs are written in that vein and sure some of them do get the ol’ heart a longin’ for tings.

You describe Cabbagetown (a neighbourhood in downtown Toronto’s east side) with great acuity. Did you spend a lot of time in that area?

I spent my formative years in Cabbagetown in about 7 different houses that my parents renovated and flipped until the area became over-gentrified and kicked us out. But I’ve always liked the mix of characters and class you found there. You have to go west to Parkdale to get that vibe now which is where my parents live today.

Who is your least likeable character and was it easy or hard to write them?

I believe Elmore Leonard says to write the villain first and that’s the ‘battered and bruised’ sexy french painter husband in my book but he’s also the coolest; so yes – he was fun to write.

In an interview with the LA Review of Books in 2015, Heather O’Neill said, “Early on I noticed, during readings, that whenever I talked about something personal, the audience engaged in a different way. That’s what gave me the confidence to write about it.” How do you respond to this yourself?

Heather O’Neill’s story is gut-wrenching and Mary Karr speaks about how there’s no need to make things up when you’ve got such lived experience to draw from. And both of these writers did very much inspire me. Except that when I said I was writing about myself, I mostly got a blank kind of ‘but why’ look. And to be fair, when I started writing, I couldn’t articulate the darker aspects of the story. I played around with first and third-person voice but eventually decided to keep it a novel and settled on third so that I would not feel bogged down by truths I wanted to distance myself from and heighten or change wherever it felt best to.

Camilla Gibb was born in the UK and moved to Canada where she now writes and lives. Where were you born and when did you come to Canada and do you feel, as she does that a sense of preoccupation with the concept of “the outsider and questions of belongingness and identity.”?

Sure. I was born in Manchester but my parents are from Northern Ireland. Mum is Protestant and dad is Catholic so they left because of the troubles. I grew up in Toronto but did stay away for almost a decade to hammer ‘identity’ issues out. That’s a big part of the book. Coming back, Toronto had become the most culturally diverse city in the world and it’s easier now to be, as so many here, at ease with a sort of unsettled sense of home.

What are the two books you’d recommend to read during the quarantine?

I would say support a local author and if you are looking for something related to Mother’s Day and isolation Claudia Day’s Heartbreaker features both. Or if you like titles like me, order Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami from Flying Books. Oh and if you haven’t read Toni Morrison – please do.

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. Started in 2015, The Miramichi Reader strives to promote good Canadian books, poets, and authors, as well as small-press publishers, coast to coast to coast. James works and resides in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife and their dog.

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allan hudson
8 months ago

It was nice to meet Siobhan. An interesting lady.

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