Today is Canadian author Roberston Davies' birthday and I was really charmed by this fascinating Paris Review interview with him in 1986 popping in my feed today. Davies is one of those remarkable individuals, larger than life, funny, brilliant, a world traveler, lecturer, he wrote, taught, and was part of the Gutherie Theater's artistic development. He also founded The Robertson Davies Library at Massey College in Toronto dedicated to collecting materials "focusing on the technical aspects of the book arts including the history, practice and technique of printing, illustration, typography, graphic arts, papermaking and binding from the late 18th century through to the mid 20th century." One can also visit the Roberston Davies Collection at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario that houses all of his papers -- a remarkable collection of over 5,000 items to pour over. (After my family treasure trove, I realize I am totally into that kind of browsing experience!)
I read and am re-reading his Deptford Trilogy and Cornish Trilogy which I do about every decade, because I love how easily he pulls in theater, the fantastic, deeply complicated plots that are so satisfying, and because there is no one better to write about academics and university life. But as a writer, it was this passage in the interview that most resonated with me as the notes, the images, and scribbled ideas for my own novel pile up and offered an unexpected encouragement in the process (which all I can consider at this moment, the outcome being so far off in the distance):
"I am at the moment winding up to write another novel, and when I say “winding up” I mean I am making notes and plans and perpetually building up what I will eventually write; that is the way I work. I make very, very careful plans and a great many notes—so many notes indeed that sometimes they are as long or longer than the eventual book. And sketches of characters and suggestions and references to things that will be useful. All that takes a long time. Getting to work on a new novel is a dismal business, for the beginnings never seem to get any easier with the passing of time. I toil like a swimmer who feels himself about to sink beneath the waves at any moment. Like all my novels, this one began with quite a simple idea, but as I work on it a mass of complexities assert themselves, and I have to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by extraneous detail. But then—at least the way I work—when you begin to write, you can write quite briskly because you have done all the preparatory work beforehand. I hope it turns out well. But with novels, like cakes, you never know. Even when I finish a book, I’m never sure whether it is good or rubbish."
So, I pray the cake will hold. And that will be good. And can I just add, that I love even more that he used a food analogy -- another habit of my family when talking about literature that is close to my heart.