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Allan Stratton, Cannes and Jogging along the Great Wall in China...

August 3, 2010 | Naomi

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Allan Stratton, acclaimed author and playwrite, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for Word Out!.  

What are your favourite three books?

Tom Jones, Wuthering Heights, Crime and Punishment. Tom Jones is hilarious with a rich, beautifully constructed plot and bright, vivid characters. It takes maybe fifty pages to get into the rhythm of the language, but once you do it’s heaven on a plate. Wuthering Heights is also densely plotted, the first half dark and brooding, the second sharp and brittle. Crime and Punishment, in contrast to the other two I mentioned, is primarily focused on its characters, and what varied and closely observed characters they are.

My favourite books with teens in leading roles are The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Tenderness by Robert Cormier and Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease. The Lovely Bones is imaginative, brutal and sweet in equal measure. Tenderness provides two memorable character studies and an object lesson in how to mix first and third person narration. Cue for Treason is a swashbuckling tale focused on Shakespeare’s acting troupe; it’s not as fine a work as the others, but I treasure it because it was my favourite book when I was growing up.

My favourite pieces from Canadian literature are Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here because it’s so funny; James Reaney’s The Donneley’s Trilogy which is one of the finest pieces of dramatic writing anywhere; and Jack Hodgins’ The Resurrection of Joeseph Bourne for its extravagant vision.

Which of your books did you have the most fun writing?  Which of your books did you find the hardest to write?

Every book has its own challenges and rewards. The one I’m working on now, The Grave Robber’s Apprentice is a medieval fantasy; it’s fun in the most obvious sense of the word. But all my books have been fun to write in the sense of being deeply enjoyable, and all have had their challenges. For instance, it took a lot of hard work to describe tracking in the bush in Chanda’s Wars, and interweaving the various subplots of Borderline was also daunting.

There’s always a point in each book where I question whether I’m up to the task; that’s the time when I need to hunker down and return to basics: who are my characters? What do they want? What are they going to do to get what they want?

Your work has made you into a world traveller!  Tell us about your three favourite places in the world outside Canada.

Impossible to select. It’s like comparing mangoes and kiwis. But here are some of my most exciting travel experiences:

1)Taking a hot air balloon over Cappacdocia, Turkey.

2) Climbing Angor Wat and other Buddhist temples in Cambodia.

3) Swimming in a natural pool at Iguazu Falls, Argentina.

4)  Jogging along the Great Wall of China

5)  Exploring pyramids in Egypt

6)  Having an elephant walk beside my tent in Botswana

7) Seeing mad King Ludwig’s castle in Bavaria

8) Skiing opposite the Matterhorn

9) Crawling through Viet Cong tunnels in Vietnam

10) Bartering in the souks of Marrakesh

11) Going to the water market in Bangkok, Thailand

12) Diving in the Red Sea

13) Swimming with sharks off the coast of Cuba

14) Comparing the canal cities of Amsterdam and Venice

Tell us about your favourite place(s) in Canada?  

Again, too numerous to mention. But I’ve particularly enjoyed:

1) Seeing the leaves change colour in Nova Scotia

2) White water rafting in the Rockies

3) Exploring the Queen Charlotte Islands

4) Driving through the Saskatchewan badlands

Chanda’s Secrets was recently turned into a movie which premiered to a standing ovation at the 2010 Cannes International Film Festival and is being released in North America next April.   Can you tell us a little bit about that experience.

What I might do is to direct you to my blog. I wrote about being on the film set outside Johannesburg, South Africa, throughout the month of December, 2009. I also did a few posts  about being at Cannes through the last week of May, 2010. Just go to my website -- -- and click Blog. There are lots of photos. Oh, and you can also see the trailer at my site. (The film of Chanda’s Secrets is called Life, Above All.)

Your newest book, Borderline, is an amazing fast paced thriller.  Can you tell us how you created the hero of the book, Sami?

The way I create all my characters: In each scene I asked myself, if I was Sami what would I want? What would I do to get what I want? I also drew a lot on my past in understanding Sami’s confusion about his dad, his terror of untrue accusations, and his sense of being alienated from those around him. To be specific:

      My mom left my dad when I was a baby. Growing up, I was soon aware that the father I knew was very different from the father my half-brother knew, and even more different than the father my half-sister knew. As a teenager I thought, “If I can’t really know my dad, how can I know anyone? How can anyone know anyone?”

      The second experience happened to me when I was eight. I was hiding under the picnic table and eavesdropping on a conversation Dad was having with my grandparents about capital punishment. I remember breaking into a cold sweat, overcome with the certainty that one day I’d be executed for a crime I didn't commit. The idea that life isn’t fair has stuck with me ever since -- and that horrible sense of how helpless we are in the face of rumor, gossip and fear.

      Finally, there was growing up as a gay kid in the 1950s and 60s. Unable to be open even to the parents and friends who loved me, I instinctively learned to hide who I was in order to survive. I learned about the borders that keep us from each other, about the lines that separate and shape us. And I learned that ‘The Truth’ and ‘The Whole Truth’ are very different things.

      These three experiences connect not just to Sami but to the thematic passions in all my work – to my obsession with secrets, loyalty, betrayal, justice, and the absolute importance of living with truth.