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A Writer Profile: Angélique Lalonde

As of this writing, Angélique Lalonde's first collection of stories, Glorious Frazzled Beings, has been shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize - an incredible accomplishment for a debut. Two years ago, Angélique was awarded the 2019 Writers' Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for her story 'Pooka', about a lonely and resilient carpet collector and sculptor, in which the Jury called "a contemporary classic...deftly weaving explorations of identity, isolation, and displacement with colourful and unexpected imagery."

The Prize-winning Pooka is included in Glorious Frazzled Beings, along with other startling stories that explore the magic and obscure connections between the human and more-than-human worlds, and all the places we call home. There's the somewhat-ghost that tends the family garden, the shapeshifting mother sifting through her ancestors' gifts, and after a tragic death, the daughter struggling to make sense of the online dating profile her elderly mother left behind.

In clean and efficient prose, Angélique has crafted a love song to the homes we make, keep, and break. Joining us here on the Journal from Gitxsan Territory in Northern British Columbia where she lives with her partner and two small children, Angélique shares with us the magical place she calls home, how she struggles to carve out time to feed her need for solitude, and why she tends to write more in the winter months.

Where writers write.

Describe your writing space. What do you love about it?

My writing space is a room looking east on the second floor of a log house built by the landlord’s family in the 1980s on a large acreage along the Skeena River in the Kispiox Valley on Gitxsan Territory. I love the large window overlooking my garden, the chicken coop, the greenhouse and barn, the forest, and beyond that, Sidina and 9-mile mountains, which are the settler names for these mountains that have other Gitxsan names I am not given to know.

I cannot see the river from this window, but I can hear it during certain times of the year when the water is running high or in winter when all the foliage has died back. Many beings show themselves to me from this window, living out their lives in a place full of magic learning.

I love that I have many books and pieces of art around me, things gifted from the world I walk in the form of bones, feathers, rocks, lichen, and dried fungi. Bright colours and curious lines gifted by human friends.

"I love that it is my room and that no one else is given to spend time here unless invited. I love that I can hear my family from here living out their lives without having to attend to those lives in the moments I am in this room, writing."

How important is it to have ‘a room of one’s own’?

So very, very important to me. Also, I recognize the huge privilege of that. It’s something I have fought for in every home I’ve shared with a domestic partner. So much more hugely important to me now that I also share domestic space with children whose boisterous lives are all over the house, and here is a space I can keep quiet, and somewhat organized, ready to house me in the solitude in which words like to be played with.

What special objects do you keep on your desk?

I have a watercolour painting and pencil drawing I made a few years ago of a mouse driving a horse carriage under a rainbow, framed by electric pink tyrannosaurus silhouettes and black and white geometric shapes. A line drawing of flowers in gold and white on black paper by Yen Ha that she sent to me from her home in New York. A series of digital line drawings made by Lianne Charlie that she had printed into stickers and gifted me last time I visited her in Whitehorse, and a watercolour cut-out that looks to me like a polar bear Trudi Lynn Smith made for me last time she visited me.

There are also bundles of medicines on my desk – sage gifted to me by Katherena Vermette from her home territory, and from Lianne Charlie from her home territory, and cedar from the river – medicines I take time with before writing. I also keep a brass deer statue on my desk that matches one my mother has on her kitchen shelf at home.

Any rules for when you’re in this ‘space’?

I have no rules for myself, but do have a loose rule, that is rarely followed by my children - not to come up when maman is working. Admittedly, it is hard to say no when little children come saying they are just here to give you a kiss, so I let them in, and they always linger, wanting to know what I’m up to. Usually then I let them take something special they are not usually allowed to play with, that they can only have as long as I’m up here and then they have to put back when I come down. It seems to be an effective way to keep their visits short.

What is your writing process like?

My writing process is like showing up and seeing what comes when I am in the space of creating new pieces, which is my favourite part of writing, the part that really feeds me. The part I learn through and play in. There are also other processes related to editing and thinking through things. The editing work is also interesting, it’s where I get to be precise and consider things from different angles, wondering at what I am trying to get at and asking myself questions.

The thinking through things happens here, but it also happens when I walk out of this room into the world, moving through the forest and into the garden, touching medicines and moving my body in various ways. There are a lot of pauses too, especially because I work three days a week co-directing a social justice non-profit, parent two small children, and tend a large garden. So my writing is seasonal, with more writing in the winter when the plant world is sleeping.

What is the easiest and most difficult part of the process for you?

The most difficult part is that I do not have nearly as much time as I would like to write, but I suspect that’s a very common feeling for working parents who are also writers, and that it often feels like I have to jockey my partner for time. Since we have no family around and the children are too young to be unattended, it often feels like we trade off on time to do the things that feed the parts of us that need solitude and focus to exist.

I don't know that there's an easiest part. I so deeply value the moments of presence and being that feel like a larger connection to a more-than-human world I can be in relation to more fully by attuning myself and reflecting with words, but I wouldn’t say that’s easy.

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?

I am a morning person, so my favourite time to write would ideally be first thing in the morning before relating to anyone else. My children wake too early for that to happen, but after all has been tended to on the weekends, I often am gifted some morning time to myself. I have no outside measurements of time or words I impose on myself because I feel my writing would suffer from such strictures. It would only harm myself to try to impose such things because of needing to earn a living in other ways and valuing the relationships with those around me.

"I carve as gently as I can (which is not always that gently) into the time there is to create the space for writing to happen. If it isn’t happening when there is time, I go and do other things that feed me, like walk, garden, or play with colours and lines."

How do you manage writing with other demands on your time?

This is currently my biggest struggle, and I don’t always do it gracefully. I have a dear friend who is a poet, teacher, and mother, and she told me that mostly she writes on retreat in the current arrangement of her life. I think about that a lot and hope that in the next year or two I can carve out some retreat time to be more immersed in writing for a stretch of time without the other demands asking for me to turn away from writing to attend to the world I am in relation to on a daily basis.

But I also want to write in lived time, to find little moments for that, because it sustains me. In winter, I am fairly good at ensuring time during the weekend and one day a week that I set aside for writing when I have childcare. But these are often the only times I am alone in the house, so other things often happen as well – like laundry and vacuuming and organizing, and I try to hold these as parts of the process. I work three days a week and would like to see that move to two days a week in the next year with two devoted writing days while my children are being cared for by others.

I feel like that would create a greater sense of balance and allow me more capacity to dive more fully into developing stories without always having interruptions directing my attention elsewhere. But then, in some ways, the writing that happens now is also in relation to life, which is currently full of interruptions. It is important for me that my writing be in relation to life, so I also sit within these demands as the relations that shape the writing, and attempt to develop some sense of acceptance with that.

Who are your favourite writers?

A quick list for where I’m at right now: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, N.K. Jemisin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lauren Groff, Alice Munro, Yoko Tawada, Joy Harjo, Olga Tokarczuk, Joan Aiken, Mary Ruefle, Lydia Davis.

What can books teach us? How do they change us?

Books teach me that there are other worlds and ways of seeing than the ones I experience and know, they let me touch the minds and experiences of other people, landscapes, places, and times. They give space for imaginative play and exploration of complexity. I have been formed, shaped, and changed in so many ways by books and hope to continue this learning throughout my life.

Angélique Lalonde was the recipient of the 2019 Journey Prize, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award, and was awarded an Emerging Writer’s residency at the Banff Centre. Her work has been published in numerous journals and magazines. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Victoria. She has since worked as an organic vegetable grower and community organizer. She dwells on Gitxsan Territory in Northern British Columbia with her partner, two small children, and many non-human beings. Glorious Frazzled Beings, published by House of Anansi Press, is her first collection of stories.

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