Be My Neighbour: Carrianne Leung

Carrianne Leung is the author of “The Wondrous Woo”, published in 2013 and nominated for the Toronto Book Award in 2014.  She is also part owner of the local “Multiple Organics” shop for locally grown organic food.  I got in touch with her to talk about her writing, creativity and living in the neighbourhood.

■ – How long have you lived in Brockton?  How did you end up here?

Carrianne Leung – My partner, Andrew and I moved to Brockton almost ten years ago. Previously, we were living in an apartment in Parkdale for a number of years and wanted to stay in the west end. When we looked to buy, we found this little row house on Norfolk that we could afford. We were able to make friends very quickly. Our street is tiny, so we got to know our neighbours immediately. Then, we got dogs and were able to form connections with other dog-owning neighbours. The kid came next, and this meant experiencing the neighbourhood as part of a community of parents and kids. Then my friend Nupur and I opened up Multiple Organics, and that introduced us to all the wonderful small business owners on Dundas West. You can say that Brockton facilitated all these things happening for me. When I look back on it, I am so happy that we moved here. The neighbourhood far exceeded my expectations of what “home” is and can be in the city.

■ – Your son is a similar age to my daughters and I know they both go to the after-school program at McCormick Community Centre.  You grew up in Scarborough.  How do you think your son’s childhood will be different growing up in Brockton compared to yours in Scarborough?

CL – Surprisingly, I don’t think Fenn’s childhood will differ drastically from mine in the suburbs. Even though we live in a bigger city, our neighbourhood really does feel like a village in many ways. We are so lucky to have the facilities that we do – McCormick Park, the area, the community centre, Shirley Street School, etc. He is growing up within a tight neighbourhood, and he and his friends will likely be in and out of each others’ houses as they grow. This is not so different from my own childhood in Scarborough where the boundary between house, street, park and other public spaces were blurred.

■ – Why did you want to write a novel and how did that happen?  Have you always been a writer or is this something you came to later?

CL – I’ve always wanted to write. I started my first novel when I was a kid. Writing fiction and poetry was something I did on and off all my life.  I never let myself have the time and space to devote to it before. It was a lack of confidence as well as the need to divert my energy into working. That’s a lot of people, I imagine. Anyway, I had a window of time and decided that finally, I was going to write a novel.


■ – I’m interested in the creative process.  On your blog you mention that writing to you is like sculpture – you form something in an organic way.  For you, what comes first – characters or plot?  Or are they always tied up together?

CL – This is a good question. I am not sure. It changes. Something compelling always come up. It could even be an idea initially and not plot or character. I just follow it along and wait for it to take shape. The revisions are the fine sculpting work.

■ – Do you start from the beginning and work your way through the novel or do you write chapters all over the place and then string them together in the end?

CL -I don’t even have outlines usually! As the story unravels, I follow along. Sometimes I am surprised at what happens. Mostly, the story is chronological in the first draft. I may make notes for later chapters, but I always write in order. Of course, as I revise and edit multiple drafts, I am usually all over the place. It’s actually the same in academic writing too. I have a PhD, so I also write scholarly work once in awhile. To me, writing is all creative whether it be fiction, non-fiction, a blog, poetry, even an email. I have something of an outline, and then I write and watch it grow.

■ – As a creative person, I need time to make things to feel healthy and happy.  You mentioned on your blog that when you don’t write your characters come to haunt you — how do you feel about your own creativity?  Do you think it’s a form of therapy?  Do your ghosts disappear once you get their stories written down?

CL – I am always thinking about writing. My inclination is always towards the written word. It’s how I make sense of things so that I can go from writing personal essay, academic texts, fiction and poetry with fluidity. I suppose you can call it “therapy” in the sense that I HAVE to write. It’s not really even an option for me. Writing fiction is interesting in the idea that I am “haunted” by stories and characters. When I am in the process of crafting a piece, I am constantly thinking of them so that characters and the worlds they inhabit become so vivid for me that it feels like I am being followed. When I finished The Wondrous Woo, I actually had a weekend of saying goodbye to the characters. It may sound weird to some people, but it was something I had to do to mark an ending.

■ – How did it feel once you finished and published your book?

CL – Writing and publishing a novel was the only thing that I ever had on my bucket list, so to finally be able to do it was exhilarating. I didn’t realize that another great part was to come – hearing from readers! I love receiving feedback. The novel belongs to readers now and not just to me, so it is really meaningful to hear how others encounter the world of Woo.

■ – You were nominated for the Toronto Book Awards this year.  Can you tell me about that experience?

CL – It was thrilling! It was already a dream come true to have a novel published and read. Being shortlisted for the award meant that I was able to reach a lot more people. These days in publishing, the onus for promoting books weighs heavily on the writer. I would have never been able to receive the kind of attention that I have without the nomination. It was so cool to read at Word on the Street!! It was also an honour to meet the other writers on the shortlist. They are all people who I admire greatly. Lastly, the TBA nomination gave me the boost that I needed to take myself seriously as a writer.

■ – You mentioned that you are working on a book of short stories. Do you know how long it will be and when it will be done?

CL – I don’t know how long it will be or when it will be completed. Like other things that I have written, I have to wait for these stories to reveal themselves to me. Short stories are more manageable at the moment since I work full-time, teach part-time and am very busy with my family.  They don’t require the length of time and momentum that is required in novels. That being said, short stories demand another kind of attention and are challenging in their own way.  I am having fun. That’s the most important part. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.