This interview with Chuck Lovatt was the first that he granted for a Spanish Journal. It was conducted by José Sarzi Amade and Leonor Taiano Campoverde. During the conversation, the Canadian author spoke about his two novels The Adventures of Charlie Smithers and Josiah Stubb. Jovial, spontaneous and intelligent, Lovatt is certainly someone who deserves to be among your favourite writers.
Chuck Lovatt was born in the small town of Souris, in the province of Manitoba, on the Canadian prairies, on the seventh of November, 1954. The youngest of five children, He was raised on his family’s farm near the tiny hamlet of Carroll, just a few miles down the road.
He graduated from high school, with average marks, in 1972, with thoughts of going to university to study Archaeology. But it was around this time that he discovered the “wonderful women” and his life “suddenly became confused, and remained confused for decades”, as he says. University slipped through his grasp, so he studied carpentry at his local college, partly because he had to study something, but mostly to be near “that girl he knew”… It would seem that life had turned him into a hopeless romantic. Or perhaps He was born that way, who is to say?
Well, let’s go back to his literary career… Some of his awards include the 2012 Canadian Stories award in the Lest We Forget Category, for his story “Roll of Honour;” the 2013 Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group prize for fiction with “And then it Rained;” the 2013 Canadian Stories in the Creative Non-Fiction category for “The Thing About Pantyhose;” and again, the 2014 Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group for fiction with his story “Angel.” Other stories have placed second, or third in several other competitions, and been long and short-listed in several more – all across Canada, and in Britain and the United State as well. His debut novel, “The Adventures of Charlie Smithers,” has made appearances as an Amazon best seller, also in Canada, the US, and the UK. His novel, “Josiah Stubb,” was released last month, placing in the Amazon top 100 list for a category in Canada on its second day.
Revista Mito: Hi Chuck. Thank you for accepting this interview for Mito-Revista Cultural
Chuck Lovatt: Not at all. Thank you so much for inviting me!
R. M.: When you were little, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
C. L.: I did, and still do, want to become a pirate when I grow up. Not a mean one, though, just one who sails the seven seas, breaking all the rules, and has lots and lots of adventures. The problem with that is I’m afraid it’s never going to happen – my growing up, I mean.
R. M.: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?
C. L.: A serious writer? About ten years ago. Shortly after, I met someone who valued that part of me. I’d been writing, off and on, for twenty-five years, but with very little encouragement, so I tried to pretend that it wasn’t important to me. For all that time I was vaguely unhappy without being aware that I was, or why. Yet the change was dramatic when I realized that writing did matter to me after all. Accepting that realization was so utterly liberating I can’t begin to describe it.
R. M.: How do you compose your books? (Characters, plot, etc.), do you have any writing rituals, habits, or peculiarities?
C. L.: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I don’t use any method that grandiose; very seldom do I have anything preconceived. I start out with an idea – a thought – nothing more. Then I explore it. It’s the journey that I enjoy – the unveiling of the story’s secrets, one by one, like peeling back the layers of an onion, until eventually reaching the very heart.
R. M.: How does history fit into your novels’ framework?
C. L.: It provides the setting, and I believe, ignites the imagination.
R. M.: How long did it take you to write your novels?
C. L.: On average, I would say about a year, perhaps longer – a few months of research, a few more to write the draft, and the rest of the time to edit, edit, edit, edit, and then edit some more.
R. M.: Let’s talk about The Adventures of Charlie Smithers. How would you define this book?
C. L.: I wanted to write something that was different. Most adventure stories feature the rich and powerful for protagonists, such as Lord Greystoke in Tarzan, and Laura Bancroft et al. I wanted to write a story where a commoner was champion. So I set a servant (Charlie Smithers) out in the middle of the Serengeti Plain, created a scene where he would become separated from his master, and more or less sat back and recorded what transpired. I thought that he handled himself very well.
R. M.: Is Charlie your alter ego?
C. L.: Ha! I’ve been asked that question many times, but my answer is always the same: No, Charlie is himself.
R. M.: Was it easy to find a publisher for it?
C. L.: Heavens no! It took years of submitting. Although, more often than not, the rejections would arrive in the mail with a hand-written note at the bottom, saying that, even though they couldn’t publish my novel, for whatever reason, they had enjoyed reading the manuscript, and urged me not to give up. Although it was still a rejection, I’m grateful for them. The submission process can be very discouraging, but those short, handwritten notes kept me trying until, eventually, my persistence paid off.
R. M.: What is the role of England in this text?
C. L.: Except for when he was a soldier in the Crimea, England (or Britain) was all the world that Charlie knew up to the time of his adventure. Victorian England was a rigid society, with black and white ways of thinking, and very little grey. In short, and in the most definite of terms, Charlie’s upbringing schooled him to believe fervently in what was, or wasn’t, ‘done.’
R. M.: What is the role of Africa?
C. L.: In a way, Africa and her wiles picks up where the Crimean War left off. It challenges Charlie’s beliefs in God and convention. It shows him that black isn’t always black, nor is white always white, but that truth is a vast cornucopia of varying shades of grey.
R. M.: How did Josiah Stubbcome about?
C. L.: The siege of Louisbourg has always intrigued me. As schoolchildren, we were told very little about it, only that the British attacked a fortress that was deemed to be impregnable, and that this and that happened, but we were never told how it happened. So, one day a few years ago, when a window of opportunity opened, I decided to find out for myself, and write a book based on what I discovered. I wanted to spin a tale with the siege as a background, because, as a lover of history myself, I’ve discovered that a good work of well-researched fiction resonates far better than any non-fiction book I’ve ever read. Make history interesting – make it captivating – weave in a story to go with it, but never get the two confused! A certain amount of license can be taken with fiction, but I feel that it dishonours the past if historical facts are ever manipulated for any reason.
R. M.: What was its writing process like?
C. L.: Difficult to start with, but ultimately extremely rewarding. Relatively speaking, with Charlie Smithers there was very little research required – just a man and a woman traveling together on the second largest continent in the world, with very little historical points of reference to go by, so the story was able to flow, virtually unmolested, by very many factual details.
With Josiah Stubb, however, it was the complete opposite. A wealth of research had to be covered before I could even start on the manuscript, but even then I would no more than begin when I would have to stop to research something new that I hadn’t foreseen. This happened again and again, before the story finally began to take shape. But even after the draft was completed I felt that something more was required, something almost undefinable. So my friend, Amber, and I decided to take a week from work to fly all the way to the east coast of Canada: to Cape Breton Island to visit the fortress, and then off to St. John’s Newfoundland, to see if I could discover the nuances of where the story took place – a round trip of over four thousand miles. We discovered a wealth of information, even dragooning the services of an excellent historian in St. John’s. You see, the settlement had been destroyed by fire four times between now and the time of the story, and rebuilt along different lines each time. So it was next to impossible to understand what it was like back then without his help. I think that it was one of the wisest decisions I’ve ever made. Researching through books is all very helpful, but it can also restrict you to only two dimensions. By going to actually see Louisbourg and then breathing the air in St. John’s, I was able to add a third dimension to the book – a certain depth that appears between the lines. At last I was able to sit back and look at the finished result, knowing that I’d put everything into it that I could.
R. M.: Why did you decide to set it in the Seven Years War?
C. L.: Originally, it was simply because I had an interest in both the siege and the period, but I could have just as easily written about the first siege during The War of the Austrian Succession. However, I soon realized that, through a series of books, I had an opportunity to tell the complete story of a time that is very important, not only to Canada, but to all of North America and it all happened during The Seven Years War. If everything goes according to plan, The Siege of Louisbourg is only the first book of a trilogy.
R. M.: Are there any unpublished Chuck Lovatt novels lying around that we don’t know about?
C. L.: Oh yes, I have a few. Many are earlier efforts, when I still used a typewriter, or just a pen, but there are others in my computer’s hard drive, too. All are part of my writer’s education – things that I wrote just for the joy that writing gave me, and helped me to hone my craft. Amber is constantly urging me to revisit them, and who knows, someday I may. It’s never wise to ignore her advice.
R. M.: What are you working on now?
C. L.:I’ve just started Josiah’s sequel, but also I’m in the process of going through one more edit of Charlie Smithers: Adventures in India, before submitting it to my publisher. With luck, it should be released later this year, or early in 2015, so watch for it when it comes out!
R. M.: Just a last and personal question… Do you keep a private diary?
C. L.: I have done, but not for years. I stopped at about the same time that I began writing fiction in earnest. Is that a coincidence, do you think? I daresay that Freud or Jung would have much to say on the matter!
R. M.: Well, the interview has come to an end. It was a pleasure to know more about you and your texts. Thank you very much.
C. L.: Please, the pleasure was all mine! Once again, thank you for inviting me, and giving me the opportunity to reach out to your readers. All the best to you, and of course, Mito-Revista Cultural!