Writer in Residence

Interviews With Three Up and Coming Writers

By Danila Botha

Hi Open Book Readers,

I feel very fortunate to be doing my MFA for the Masters of Creative Writing at Guelph University. I have some incredibly talented classmates, and I want to share three interviews with three exceptional up and coming writers: Julie Mannell, Nadine Sander-Green and Jess Popeski. I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot more from them very soon.

Interview with Julie Mannell

DB: Tell me about what you write: You’re so incredibly varied in what you do.

JM: I write poetry, prose, and essays. My writing has been featured in The Toronto Star, The National Post, The Huffington Post, amongst others. Most notably, I wrote a three-part viral Town Crier essay Small Town Asshole, This is You Here Now a walking tour of Montreal, and my short story Something About Something Something: With Sympathies to the Late and Great King of Pop which was featured in Matrix Magazine, was nominated for The Journey Prize.

DB: That’s incredible. What are you working on these days?

JM: I’m working on two novels and a book of poetry.

The first novel, “little girls”, is a philosophical fiction that explores the friendship between two slut-shamed teenage girls, one of whom may be a saint, as they try to discover what kind of a woman God would be. The story is set in the small, rural communities of Fonthill, Ontario, in the early ‘00s as a failed recreation of the Garden of Eden.

The second novel, “Weekending in India”, uses the context of the 2012 student strikes in Montreal as a backdrop to tell the story of three love affairs over five years between an Anglophone conceptual artist and a younger Francophone anarchist. The differences between them become a framework in which the complexity of intimacy is challenged by a transitioning socioeconomic climate and radical ideas of gender, queerness and national identity.

Both of the novels are dramedies.

My poetry book is a collection of lyrical, confessional poems of hate. The poems are written in the voice of the angry woman or the mean girl and investigate the correlation between rage and femme identity. The book is titled, “Not Nice”.

DB: I can’t wait to read them.

Interview with Nadine Sander-Green

DB: Tell me about your background as a writer. How did you get into writing fiction?

NSG: I grew up in a tiny town in the interior of British Columbia. My parents are environmental activists and we spent most of our family time talking about rocks and fish. Luckily, I had an amazing high school creative writing teacher who played Sigur Ros on his boom box and told us we weren't allowed to take our pens off the paper until the seven minutes of ethereal rock finally came to and end.

After graduating with an undergrad degree in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria, I started working as a reporter for a weekly newspaper near my hometown and after that, moved north to Whitehorse to cover territorial politics (which I knew nothing about) for a daily paper.

I loved learning about the world through the eyes of a reporter, being the one who got to ask all the questions, but I always had this nagging feeling that I was too shy, or not aggressive enough, for the job.

It didn't take too long until I was drawn back into the creative world. I started with non-fiction: essays, memoir and a bit of journalism here and there.

When I started writing fiction a couple years ago, I felt as though I had just been let in on an obvious secret. I could make everything up. I'm finding so much joy and freedom in fiction.

DB: Who are some of your influences?

NSG: I've been reading some powerful women writers lately, like Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore and Miriam Toews. Miriam is so helpful for voice and Lorrie is amazing with structure and Mary gives me the green light to write some weird ass metaphors.

DB: What are you working on now?

NSG: I'm now working on a novel through the University of Guelph's MFA program. The story follows Millicent, a 20-year-old reporter, as she learns how to navigate the political world of the Yukon. Of course, there's a troubling romance. And a lot of long underwear. The process of writing a first novel has had its ups and downs but at the moment the story feels very much alive to me, which is exciting.

DB: It sounds great. I can’t wait to read it.

Interview with Jess Popeski

DB: Tell me about what you write.

JP: I primarily write poetry. For me, a piece knows what it wants to be. I can’t contort it into something it hasn’t intended itself to be. An example was the “speech” I wrote as the Maid of Honour at my sister’s wedding. I wanted to avoid the cliché of the poet-sister reading aloud a poem of her own. I wanted, instead, to stick with an anecdotal speech, or an essay, or a script, or something—But the writing didn’t work until I surrendered, and allowed it to be the poem it wanted to be. And it went over surprisingly well!

DB: That sounds great. I’m sure it did. How would you describe your poetry?

JP: My poetry often encompasses ekphrasism. I’m fascinated by stuff that interacts with, is inspired by, or co-created with other art forms— mostly visual art and music. My undergraduate degree was in opera and classical voice, so song tends to dominate. For example, I’ve created video poems, I wrote a long poem, and performed alongside a friend’s gorgeous piano sonata, and my current project, one strand of which involves cataloging my paternal grandmother’s paintings. Nevertheless, I have a penchant for page poetry, and along with literary journal publications, I’ve been fortunate to release two chapbooks with Anstruther Press. One is called The Wrong Place, and the other is Oratorio.

DB: What are you working on right now? Also, who would you say are your biggest influences?

JP: I’m currently working on a tripartite poetry sequence for my MFA thesis. I hope it will unite my preoccupations with (non-binary!) ecofeminist poetics, and the genetic inheritance of fractured, grandmaternal generational lines, by reconciling private and political conflicts, often with a focus on the cyclical patterning of physical and mental health-related issues. I’m still at the beginning of my excavation. It goes without saying, I suppose, that my grandmothers, and their stories, are integral to the narrative.

I’m currently obsessed with Claire Caldwell’s Invasive Species, Ulrikka S. Gernes’ Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, Jane Munro’s Active Pass, and, unwaveringly, anything Di Brandt or Roo Borson.

DB: Thank you so much!


Danila Botha is a fiction writer based in Toronto. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, she has lived in Ra’anana, Israel, and in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her first collection of short stories, Got No Secrets (Tightrope Books, 2010) was praised by the Globe and Mail, the Chronicle Herald, and the Cape Town Times. It was also named one of Britannica’s Books of the Year (Canadian short stories) in 2011, and was published in South Africa (Modjaji Books, 2011). Danila has guest-edited the National Post’s “The Afterword,” and her short stories have appeared in Broken Pencil Magazine, Douglas Glover’s Numero Cinq Magazine, Joyland and more. Her first novel, the critically acclaimed Too Much on the Inside was published by Quattro Books in June 2015. She will be teaching at the Humber School for Writers in the correspondence program in 2017. She is currently working on her second novel and a new collection of short stories.