Sydney Warner Brooman (they/them) was raised in Grimsby, Ontario. They attended Western University in London, Ontario, and currently live in Toronto. The Pump is their debut short fiction collection. Their story “The Bottom” was shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s 2020 Open Season Awards, and they have recent work in American Chordata, Thorn Literary Magazine, and other literary journals.
Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.
I graduated from Western University in London, ON with an Honours BA in English Literature & Creative Writing in 2018, which is where I actually started The Pump. The book began as a thesis project under the supervision of poet Tom Cull, and I wrote most of it before I graduated. I’ve worked a few odd jobs, the weirdest being a pioneer village actor and tour guide. That job makes an appearance in The Pump.
MR: Tell us about some of the books, authors, poets or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
I probably wouldn’t be a writer if I hadn’t read Gordon Korman and Roald Dahl when I was young. Dahl’s Danny The Champion of The World is a book I return to often. I had a lot of teachers in public school and university who certainly encouraged me on my writing journey, but I honestly can’t remember a specific moment in which I ‘decided’ that I would be a writer. It always just felt like something that had to happen.
MR: Tell us a little about your debut short story collection, The Pump. How long has it been in the making? Had you considered making it a novel first?
The Pump is a book of heavily interconnected short stories that follow the townspeople of a Southern Ontario small town with an apathetic municipal government, a tainted water supply, and an environment that has turned against the townspeople after being mistreated for so long. The book is about queerness and love and living below the poverty line and attempts to explore how we separate where we grew up from who we are. It was never going to be a novel—I knew I wanted the book to be made up of stories from the outset.
MR: In her review of The Pump for TMR, Anuja Varghese observed: “Through the beavers, we get both a deeply unsettling bit of magical realism and also an interesting disruption of the beaver as a patriotic Canadian symbol. In Brooman’s stories, the very notion of “home” is turned on its head, and what is exposed in the process is unremorseful violence and all-consuming rot.” Does that sound like what you were trying to convey?
The beavers are definitely more symbolic than a literal pull from my upbringing. I wanted something that honoured the Can lit tradition while also turning it on its head—a part of nature that is typically non-violent, especially towards humans. We humans intact so much violence on each other and on the land we live on, so I wanted to give the land some of its power back.
MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?
All of Heather O’Neill’s books are favourites of mine, particularly her most recent The Lonely Hearts Hotel. That book teaches me how to be a writer in a new way each time I read it.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?
Heather O’Neill 100%. But it could never be a written biography—it would be like, some kind of experimental stage show with film and live art and audience participation and everyone could bring their pet cat to the venue. Her daughter Arizona O’Neill is one of the best short filmmakers I’ve seen in a long time, so she would probably be the best person to make it. I could just attend and cry and clap and be president of the fan club. Arizona’s at the top of my list of other artists/creatives I’d like to work with someday.
MR: Tell us about your writing space. (Do you always write in the same area? Do you use a laptop or a desktop computer, etc)
I do most of my writing on my phone actually! My process is that I draft dialogue and scene structure on my phone, with little notes like “add description of house here”, and then I send it to myself and do all the descriptions and editing on my laptop afterwards. All my best words are written in my notes app on my phone though.
MR: Amazing! Covid question: how have you been coping with the pandemic? What changes (if any) has it made in your life?
The pandemic has made me a real homebody honestly. I always used to write at libraries or coffee shops—always out of the house. Now I’m much more comfortable creating things at home, and doing things like cooking and cleaning and just relaxing in my space. Pre-Covid, my house was kind of just that place I slept at. Now, it’s a sacred space.
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing (or reading)?
Life is really busy right now. I’m usually working my day job, or running errands, or helping at church. My partner and I love going for these really long walks around Toronto and finding new places to have coffee and just exploring until our feet hurt and we’re lost. I try to get outside as often as I can so that working from home doesn’t make me too restless and anxious. All of these little everyday things make up a life at the end of the day.