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An Audience of Chairs

Best Seller
An Audience of Chairs by Joan Clark
Paperback $18.00
Jul 25, 2006 | ISBN 9780676976564

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  • Jul 25, 2006 | ISBN 9780676976564

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  • Feb 12, 2010 | ISBN 9780307375360

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“Joan Clark dares to write about those who live with a disability that is not physically manifest, but makes of life a labyrinth of potential disasters. Her risk is our benefit — if we only have the wit to live as intensely as Moranna lives. And as William Cowper has it, ‘there is a pleasure in madness’ that we all might wish to know.”
—Aritha van Herk, The Globe and Mail

“Elegantly written and deeply grounded in place, this moving, compassionate novel is far more than a story of mental illness. Moranna’s quest is for peace, joy, and connection — the same yearnings that drive us all.”
Quill & Quire

“Curl up in your favourite wingback for An Audience of Chairs. Clark, who excels at bringing wilful female characters to life, had me hooked on the first page with her plea to my imagination. . . . Readers are kept on knife’s edge.”
The Daily News (Halifax)

“Heartbreaking and satisfying at the same time. An Audience of Chairs is a brilliant achievement, one that deserves a huge audience of its own.”
Edmonton Journal

“A rich and rewarding novel.”
The Sun Times (Owen Sound)

“Clark’s portrait of this intense and complex woman is empathetic, sensitive and credible, and without a trace of condescension. . . . A deeply felt lesson not only in what it means to be human but also in what it means to experience compassion for others.”
Toronto Star

Praise for Latitudes of Melt:

A New York Times Notable Book

Nominated for the international IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Caribbean and Canada Region

"[Latitudes of Melt] has wonderful moments of clarity and transcendence, but never loses sight of what an ordinary life is."
—Carol Shields

"Mesmerizing. . . The novel casts a cumulative spell of ancestral continuity that is deeply and subtly true to life."
The New York Times

"Latitudes of Melt is a magical novel that takes us on a magical journey to places most can explore only by reading about them."
Ottawa Citizen

"Joan Clark evokes the profound sense of place we associate with the best Canadian writing. Absorbing and thick with detail. . . as rich and sustaining as a figgy duff."
The Gazette (Montreal)


IMPAC Dublin Literary Award NOMINEE 2006

Author Q&A

When did you first realize you were a writer?

I was in my early thirties when the first fiction I wrote on a kitchen table was published simultaneously in the UK and Canada. When the book arrived in the mail, I read it with eager anticipation that quickly turned to dismay as the flaws began leaping off the page. I put the book down and never did finish reading it. Later, when I told my sister what was between the covers of the book really mattered to me, she said, “Well then, you’re a writer.” Until then it hadn’t occurred to me that I was a writer, or could be in time.

Can you tell us about your writing process? What is your favourite part of the process?

For me, there are two favourite parts in the writing process. The first occurs after I have a fairly good idea of where the story is going and as it grows, bit by bit, sending out shoots and runners that blossom in unexpected places, the elation of discovery keeps me on a high. The second favorite part occurs when the story is more or less in place and final revisions begin. This part of the process involves endless snipping, shifting, juggling, tucking, poking, patting, in short, fiddling. I love the preoccupation with words and sentences, the pickiness precision requires and I sometimes think I could happily revise forever.

Why did you choose to write about someone who has bipolar disorder? Did you conduct research into the disorder for the book?

I know a number of people who have varying degrees of bipolar disorder, a condition that I think is familiar to many, if not to most of us. The human psyche is subject to highs and lows and that fact, along with questioning what is sane and what is insane, has long fascinated me. Most of what I’ve learned about the disorder has come from observation, but I did read many books on the subject. The one that most influenced me was A Mind That Found Itself by Clifford Beers who in 1927 helped found the American Foundation for Mental Hygiene.

Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?

If there is, it might be that I tried to write An Audience of Chairs twice before, roughly thirty and fifteen years ago and both times I backed off. Always vulnerable to the emotional weather of the characters in my novels, I didn’t want to depress myself, which I did while working on Eiriksdottir, A Tale of Dreams and Luck, a novel about the difficult and often brutal life of the Norse who briefly lived in Newfoundland 1,000 years ago. Also, I didn’t want to rattle the ghosts I rarely talked about; the death of my firstborn son and the suicide by drowning of my grandmother. All of which is to say that for me readiness is a huge dynamic in writing and that it is wise to wait until I have grown into a novel.

Did you travel in Moranna’s path (riding the ferries, Cape Breton and so on) when writing this book?

Well, part of my childhood was spent in Cape Breton and a large part of my imagination lives there; also living in Newfoundland I have often used the ferries. My father, Bill MacDonald, was a Cape Bretoner who was very proud of his Scottish heritage, as am I. (My mother on the other hand was Irish, a fact that inspired Latitudes of Melt, and I am proud of that heritage too.)

Despite Moranna’s illness, she is smart and very funny. Did you have fun creating her character?

I did. Because Moranna was reckless, impulsive and uninhibited, she gave me the opportunity to let go of my inhibitions and indulge my zany sense of humour.

Is there another character in the novel of whom you’re particularly fond? Why?

Although I am fond of Ian, Edwina, Murdoch, Lottie and Doris, I think that along with Moranna, I am most fond of Bun Clevet. I like his kindness and quiet, laid-back strength. A loner with a strong sense of himself, he has no axes to grind, no chip on his shoulder. There is nothing he needs to prove.

Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of An Audience of Chairs?

One tip I would give readers is that the book be discussed as a novel and in no way presumes to be a case study of bipolarism. It is the story of one woman’s life, full stop. Some readers are inclined to pass judgment on what this or that character should or should not do i.e. shouldn’t she be taking her meds? This kind of thinking gets in the way of accepting a character like Moranna as she is. It is significant that at the end of the novel Moranna finally accepts this fact herself. Having said that, after I publish a book and it’s ‘out there,’ in a sense it is no longer mine. As a writer I am fascinated by the different ways readers respond to what was once my baby.

Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about this book?

From the beginning, I imagined Moranna playing the piano and acting out the ambition of being a concert pianist on a piano board. But the subconscious inhabiting the depths that it does, it wasn’t until I saw the piano on Scott Richardson’s wonderful cover that I realized that I had been using the piano as a metaphor for the highs and lows we all experience. Most of us hope to play our lives on Middle C, but depending on our emotional makeup and what is happening or not happening to us, we find ourselves playing on either side of Middle C. Moranna of course was playing an entire octave on either side.

Is there anything critics and reviewers have overlooked in this book, that you wish they would notice?

I enjoy the fact that many critics and reviewers picked up on the humour. For me this is not a dark novel. Sad, yes, because it’s about what Moranna lost and what her life might have been. But in other ways, her life was rich. Moranna was adept at entertaining herself.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Spend time with my family and friends. Read, walk and in summer, swim. Travel, and when I get the chance, go to the theatre and to concerts.

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