Working with Tessa McWatt (Part 1)

In: Author, Current writing project, General update
Tessa McWatt

Above: Tessa McWatt

I’ve had the pleasure of being read and mentored by Tessa McWatt, author of several books and other pieces such as Why read a book (let alone write one)? Her most recent novel is Higher Ed, but was I first introduced to her work through This Body. I consider it one of the most absorbing books I’ve read and working with Tessa has been such a privilege.

Her feedback and suggestions have been helpful to me in the process of writing my new novel project. I found her support especially useful in building a stronger narrative arc and better dialogue. While she was here at The Banff Centre, I had the chance to ask her some questions about her work.

Tessa said that she didn’t read as much in her youth and she always feels like she has to “catch up” with formative and important books. That was kind of relieving to hear. I feel the same way and sometimes get self-conscious about it, especially when I’m around people who are such skilled writers and well-read. Of course, it’s all complicated by the fact that I have a hard time reading great books and doing my own writing at the same time. I easily get overwhelmed and emotionally drained when I read well-written things, and I also worry about getting “over-influenced” at the same time. (Right now, I’m in a big wrestling match with Naomi K. Lewis’ Cricket in a Fist. It’s winning because it’s such a gorgeous book.)

As author of many books, I wondered if there might be one Tessa liked or enjoyed best, but she told me her favourite is always the next one. After writing a book, she’s like many authors who have this quiet sense that they didn’t quite “do it right”. It’s hard for me to comprehend that given her remarkable way with words, but that drive to push to a better standard is something I can relate to.

Interestingly, Tessa always gives herself a challenge when she begins writing a new novel, something technical to push her boundaries and accepted ways of doing things. It could be a new point of view or structure she hasn’t tried before. For example, Higher Ed approaches its story from the unique perspectives of five different characters and stories that intersect with each other.

After meeting Tessa, I have more respect for her work and the fact that she came here to share her talents with relatively untested folks like me. She’s accomplished and skilled yet restless in search of her literary voice. And she won’t let herself give up or get lazy in a sense that she’s “made it”. That’s a good example to follow.

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