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Acclaimed Canadian author Dorothy Speaks has fond memories of growing up in Woodstock.
Speaks, who recently published her fourth volume of short stories, arrived in Friendly City when she was just two months old and lived there until she moved away aged 19.
“I remember Woodstock very well,” she said in an interview Thursday. “It was a very safe place to grow up.”
She remembered English as her favorite subject in school, while her experiences in the then smaller town of Woodstock provided her with ample material for her later creative life.
“Small towns represent a cross-section of humanity. I have lived in Ottawa for 40 years now. Everything you find here in Ottawa in terms of human nature, you saw that in Woodstock, so that was a really good base,” she said of the inspiration for her short stories later in the life.
She said her love of writing was very much inspired by her parents during their years at Woodstock.
“My parents were very important to me. Many years ago I would have said that Alice Munro – one of Canada’s greatest short story writers – was my biggest influence, but on reflection I’d probably say my parents were the biggest influence on my work,” she said.
The fifth of seven children, Speaks said her childhood had a hugely positive impact on her writing, although her family struggled financially as she grew up.
“It made me value family life over money and success. You know, simple values…work hard, do your best, treat everyone the same, that kind of stuff.
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The values his parents taught him continue to impact his stories to this day, as well as his work ethic.
“News writers are under a lot of pressure. It’s not easy,” she said.
She published her first short story book, Reflection of the Moon, in 1990. Despite writing a novel, short stories continue to be her favorite form of prose.
“I think the news is more reflective of what real life is. Life is episodic; it comes in short bursts. … Working with short stories is very different from working with the novel. I would compare it to working with clay.
“It’s a very organic form where you have to go through the feeling, whereas, when I was writing my novel, it very quickly became where you had to build a very solid structure like something out of wood, the framework of a home to hold that longer story and that broader trajectory.
Pseudo, his latest book, came out three months ago. This is another collection of short stories inspired by the conflicts and problems she has seen, as well as the difficult situations people she knows have found themselves in.
“The important themes that I have always dealt with have been loss, betrayal, regret and redemption, and I think each of my stories in this collection ends on a high note.”
While it took her two years to write her novel, she said it can take her six to eight years to write her short story collections “simply because each story is a new set of characters, a new world, a new scene and a new conflict”. so it takes time to develop that.
“I love this challenge. … I really enjoy the short story because it’s powerful, it packs a real punch, it’s intense and it’s hard to write,” Speaks said.
“I want (the readers) to have a really powerful emotional connection with my characters and my protagonist. That’s my biggest goal – to get them really, really deep into my characters’ feelings and have my readers have a really powerful connection with them.