Donna Morrissey's Pluck
Halifax author Donna Morrissey travels back in time with her newly released memoir Pluck. Recently we spoke with her about her past, present, and future.
What are your roots?
My roots are in a small outport on the northwest coast of Nfld. Place called Beaches. About 15 houses and with a dead-end road.
Why and when did you start writing?
I was in my early forties when I started writing. It was something I started at a friend’s prompting, and it took flight with each and every word I wrote. I wrote for no particular reason except the glory of linking words together and creating images and telling stories from my past. It is the same today, 25 years later - I write for the pleasure of creating stories.
How have you evolved as a writer over that time?
It is difficult to judge how one has grown as a writer over the years. I know that I have – it is sometimes painful to read my earlier stuff. On one hand I can’t believe those stories came out of me, I would never be able to recreate it. And yet, I would write my sentences differently today - or maybe not - that would interfere with the voice of the story. It is always the same - each time I re-read something I have written I want to rewrite it and make it better. So, have I grown? I don’t know…I will always be growing. Am I getting anywhere? I don’t know…
What inspired you to write Pluck?
Pluck is the story I have always wanted to write. It took me six novels to get to that point. The stories of my mother and father, of me and my siblings. Each book of fiction mirrored some of those stories, but never enough that I felt satisfied. And then the day came when it felt as though I had no more fiction left in me. But I had my story of my mother, my brother, my father…and so it felt like the time was now for that memoir which is as much as my mother’s story as my own.
What were the challenges involved?
The most challenging aspect of this process was in seeing myself as the main character. I was so used to writing fiction that I objectified myself and wrote as though I were a character - which Penguin put the boots too….we don’t want a character, we want ‘you’. That was tough. And humbling. To speak of oneself for so long felt like indulgence. But, eventually, the events kind of took over and it felt as though I were writing a work of fiction - but reality-based.
What were the rewards?
The ending was the most rewarding part - the knowing that I had written this tribute to my mother and her tough story. And to my own. Lots happened in my family - tragedies, grief, and all the ramifications of that. I suffered a breakdown from the guilt I incurred from the accidental death of teenage brother when he was on my watch. It nearly destroyed me. Watching my mother’s battle with the fallout of my brother’s death and then her battle with breast cancer - it was brutal. But we survived as a family. It was our love that kept us together, that got us through, despite it being sorely tested at times.
What did you learn during the process?
It was a great learning process. How to write a memoir without hurting people. How to NOT take control of the story when it is as much of your sibling’s story as your own. How to keep perspective and see the story from the outside while writing it from the inside. How much to leave out, what to include, how to disguise people so as not to bring undue attention onto them. Frig, tons of learning…The one good thing about writing a memoir is there isn’t much by the way of research. Perhaps checking and cross-checking facts with my siblings and aunts and uncle sometimes. But mostly it was a story that simply came without prodding.
What has the response been like?
Thus far the response has been surreal. I am astonished at the incredibly wonderful feedback, the people who’ve thus far come to me wanting to share their stories of grief or loss or mental illness and spirituality. Everyone connects with suffering and joy; everyone has a story to tell. So many wish they could write their story and I tell them ‘you can’. Simply sit and write it for you. Be the hero in your own story.
What make a good book/story?
A good story leaves you feeling fulfilled at the end. It holds elements of life that are recognized by most readers. It holds truths that are challenging to find in real life, but easily recognizable in fiction. Sometimes fiction holds a greater truth than life itself.
Is your creative process more ‘inspirational’ or ‘perspirational’?
When writing there are always moments of great inspiration. But mostly it is perspiration. It is sitting there and mining those words out of stone. Of writing and re-writing and re-writing. A good story comes out of the rewrites. But then, when that wonderous moment comes and you have an insight that surprises even yourself re one of your characters or situations, it is absolutely addictive. It will keep you in that seat for hours more, days, weeks, perhaps, before that next wonderous moment arrives.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Atlantic Canadian literature?
Atlantic fiction has never been richer. We have found our voice and it is a strong, unique voice. We wear it with the colors of our culture. We are bringing forth our past and our present and we are writing them with the blood of our ancestors, ourselves, and we are sending them into the world. May they fly high and far.
What’s next on your agenda?
I have begun another memoir, this one about my father, and I am editing a novel I’ve just finished. Writing. May I write myself into the beyond!!!