The award-winning writer discusses his latest novel, Nightfall, and the challenges of writing.
Best known for writing Clara Callan, which won both the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award for fiction in 2001, Richard B. Wright is considered to be one of Canada's best fiction writers. His latest novel has all the narrative elements we've come to love: plotlines full of passion and depth, unforgettable characters and beautifully crafted prose. From his home in St. Catharines, Ont., Wright, 79, spoke to us about romantic love in the elderly and how he writes female characters.
Canadian Living: In Nightfall, you revisited characters from October, one of your earlier novels. Why?
Richard B. Wright: Odette was so appealing in October; she was a teenage kid with real kindness in her. She intrigued me, and I began to wonder what she would be like when she grew up and became an adult. I'd never taken characters who were very young and put them at another age. I thought it might be an interesting experiment.
CL: You're known for your adept portrayal of women. How do you write female
RBW: I sit down in a room and imagine them. You have to have an imagination to place yourself in another person's shoes. You have to think about what they would be like at a certain period of their lives, how they would feel about everything, from love to death. For Odette, it took me about eight drafts to get it right. I've always liked women; I've always found them more interesting to talk to than men. To me, women make interesting characters, so it's not surprising that a number of my books have prominent female characters.
CL: This book is a love story for an older generation. How does it differ from a younger love story?
RBW: When young people say they've fallen in love, they're really thinking about sex, and sex plays a big and important role in the lives of young people. But with older people, like James and Odette, sex will be there, but the primary motivator for getting together is companionship.
CL: How does Nightfall's theme of death impact your characters?
RBW: Speaking as an elderly person myself, death is much nearer, so time lived must be lived properly. That's what I liked about Odette. She always wanted to get on with living. There's this feeling of, "Time's running out, so let's make the best of it."
CL: What's hardest about being a novelist?
RBW: It's more difficult work than most people think. It's a long process—one you don't undertake lightly, as you're going to devote a lot of your life to it—and you're working by yourself in a room, talking to yourself a lot of the time. It's difficult but very satisfying, too, because you inhabit a whole world that you created.
Nightfall (Simon & Schuster Canada) by Richard B. Wright, $28.
For more great Canadian reads, check out these Canadian female authors that are worth reading right now and 10 new Canadian books to read this summer.
This story was originally part of "Q&A Richard B. Wright" in the July 2016 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!