Ann Diamond is an award-winning writer whose short story collection Evil Eye won the Hugh MacLennan Award for Fiction in 1994. Her book of poetry, A Nun’s Diary, was adapted for theatre by director Robert Lepage. Mona’s Dance, a novel that chronicles the adventures of a nightclub dancer, was featured on The Arts Tonight, CBC Radio, as the best small press book of 1988.
Her work has been published in Best Canadian Stories (1991), The Thinking Heart: Best Canadian Essays (1992), and numerous other anthologies and periodicals. A radio play, “Solo Death Waves” (1993), was broadcast on CBC Stereodrama. A memoir, “Roads to Freedom,” won the 1991 Event Magazine Creative Non-Fiction Prize. The following conversation is the first installment of an interview being conducted by email, by Ross Merriam, web editor for Geist, with Diamond, who is working from the Greek island of Lemnos.
Ross Merriam: How’s Greece?
Ann Diamond: The weather here is really awful right now. I came here by accident in 2003 and met someone. I have been coming back ever since.
RM: Do you have a writing routine?
AD: Lemnos is not always a “good place to write” — in part because it’s large and interesting to explore. And when it rains, our kitchen floods, as it’s doing today. It can get cold and windy, and we have animals. Cats and a dog. Today they’re wet and they all want to get in our bed, the only warm, dry place. I can’t believe I came here, knowing what it can be like. But the truth is, I can write better under horrible conditions as long as I feel trapped, with no escape except to write. This method has its drawbacks, but seems to work. If writing is the lesser of two evils, I am up for it. I think this is because I am (by day) a normal person who enjoys a good time. My writing mind, however, is mainly drawn to dark puzzles. So if possible, and if there is something lighter to focus on, I will avoid writing. It’s always been this way with me, ever since I spent the winter of 1980–81 on Hydra. People think Greek islands are pleasant — not in winter!
RM: In your piece “An Awful Thing” you talk about living in Montreal during the sixties and studying with Raymond Carver, and you also speak of your own inability at that time to “find the story.” What have you learned since then that has helped you find the story?
AD: Until recently I had very little sense of my own childhood — very fragmentary memories, and a general impression that the first few years were totally uneventful. I sometimes imagined that time as “idyllic,” but actually, those years were a blank.
It seems to me if you can’t remember your childhood, your life will feel artificial. Your first encounters with the reality of being in a human body, and all that that means, and the state of shock that comes from trying to exist in this world — those are moments that rarely repeat themselves later. And maybe that’s why those early memories are so fragile. Because children are also fragile.
Life has taught me that wherever there is a sense of “nothing happening,” or a blank space, a memory hole, usually something is being hidden. There is a kind of silence that is really closer to gagging on something unspeakable.
So my own story, which you could call my missing childhood, only began to appear in 2002. And that’s the story I am working on now.