Frances Boyle has had a busy year, with her new book coming out, readings, and her popping up all around, like at Planet Earth Poetry a month ago and at Arc. Did you missed her interview here in spring?
PP: You’re a big reader. What have you read lately that lit you up?
FB: As usual, I tend to be focused on what I’ve read most recently.
PP: I hear that.
FB: I just finished reading two novels that, in very different ways, I found extraordinary.
The first was The House of Rust, Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s debut novel that won both the inaugural Graywolf Press Africa Prize, and the inaugural Ursula K. LeGuin Prize for Fiction. It is a fabulist coming of age tale set in the Hadrami community of coastal Kenya and has a fantastic young protagonist, Aisha, whose “half-feral heart” drives her. The first half of the book is a sea-quest including tropes familiar from western fairy tales – her companion/guide is a “scholar’s cat”; she must meet and conquer three monsters in order to save her fisherman father who has run afoul of the sea. But the characters and the challenges she faces are told fresh with stories within stories, contemporary features and elements that as I understand honour the oral traditions of the Hadrami of Mombasa. The second half of the book is equally rich, taking place mostly on dry land, with Aisha juggling societal expectations for marriage and women’s roles, at the same time as she seeks her place in a world of magic. The storytelling is layered and unexpected, the language lyrical, vivid and beautiful.
PP: Wow, sounds interesting. What’s the second?
FB: The second, The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, dates back to the early 20th century. If I ever previously thought of the book, I assumed from the title that it was a war story and likely avoided it for that reason.
PP: I could see that and veer for the same reason.
FB: It was on list of “essential” books (Francine Prose’s I think), which is why it finally made it to the top of my TBR pile. There is no war and no literal soldiering here; rather it is the story of the domestic entanglements of upper-class couples, one British and one American, over several decades. it is the form the narrative takes that really impressed me; it meanders and loops non-chronologically, the narrator taking the reader through tangents and asides as he unfolds his memories, sifting and layering details of the story.
The book feels very modern, despite some of Ford’s takes on men’s and women’s relationships being (understandably) dated. The narrator probes trust and doubt, intimacy, desire and denial and so urges the reader to become complicit in the telling.
I’m excited that what I’m about to read next are two very different debut novels by Ottawa writers who I met fairly recently: The Petting Zoos by K.S. Covert, and Almost Visible by Michelle Sinclair. And I’m already a couple of stories in and loving Took You So Long, the collection by C.I. Matthews, a writer from Bruce County, who I know from social media and with whom who I share a publisher, The Porcupine’s Quill, who put out my short story collection.
PP: Cool. I hadn’t heard of either. What about poetry?
FB: Among the recent poetry books that lit me up: Annick MacAskill’s GG winning Shadow Blight, Manahil Bandukwala’s Monument, Kim Fahner’s Emptying the Ocean and Alycia Pirmohamid’s Another Way to Split Water.
PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?
FB: I’m bifurcated, in two different modes. My new book, Openwork and Limestone, was just launched so I’m in “business of writing” mode: organizing out of town readings, attempting to get the word out by seeking reviews, engaging with social media, and similar promotional work that doesn’t feel at all natural to me. However, I am proud of this book, so I would very much like it to find its readership. Which means that the administrative stuff is important.
My other mode is a shift in focus back to fiction. A third draft of my first novel is finished but it’s sitting somewhat in stasis. The current draft reflects many of the comments my beta readers provided, but I still have some big-picture structural issues to resolve.
I also have a handful of short stories in the works (including several speculative stories, some spooky, some sci fi) that I’m far from satisfied with. Since my short story collection, Seeking Shade, came out in 2020 I’ve only published one full length story and one flash piece, so I really want to re-activate those short fiction muscles.
And of course, thanks to the Ruby Tuesday writing group (now into our 17th year of weekly meetings), I am ever and always writing rambling free-writes and stream of consciousness impressions that I then attempt to turn into actual poems.
PP: The great leap, or leapfrogging to the next. Like publishing itself…
FB: Submitting to journals has become somewhat of a tic (or mild obsession, or procrastination technique), so I’ve racked up over 200 rejections this year so far, with my percentage of acceptances down somewhat from last year — just over 10% versus over 20% last year. It may be simply how the odds played out, or possibly that I’m aiming higher in my submissions.
PP: It’s an admirable ambition to put it out there.
FB: Aiming for rejection always seems to me to be a useful approach. Apart from literary focuses, life continues in a “two steps forward, one step back” way, with moments that feel as if the world is returning to normal, counterbalanced by extremely sobering health and political news. I keep to my routines, continue to mask when out in public and try to maintain my focus on things that I can control rather than fretting over what I cannot.
PP: Yay, let’s hear it for masks! And for what is within our power.
What have you got forthcoming? Anything you can tell?
Forthcoming this year or early next year are poems in various journals: The Quarantine Review, tiny wren, Gone Lawn, The /tℇmz/ Review, Parentheses Journal, Boats Against the Current and Rogue Agent, some of which have published my work before, while others are new for me.
The only additional thing that I hope may be forthcoming in the next short while is a chapbook that is out for consideration at a couple of places. It came together when I realized how many of my poems are concerned with water, in its various forms. The fluid dreamscapes and occasionally surreal spaces my water poems inhabit tend to coalesce around themes of family, especially from a perspective as both mother and daughter, and delve into neurodiversity and mental illness. I put the manuscript together in a way that reflects these preoccupations in what I hope is an intuitive way. Fingers crossed that it finds a home!
PP: I recall noticing water running through your poems. What work can people buy? Where?
FB: My new poetry collection, Openwork and Limestone! It is available from or through most independent bookstores around the country. Here in Ottawa, Perfect Books, Books on Beechwood and The Spaniel’s Tale all have copies, and the other two indies can bring them in.
Or people can order directly from the publisher (www.frontenachouse.com ) who will cover shipping costs (100% within Canada, 50% international). If anyone is in Ottawa and/or doesn’t mind paying a bit extra for postage, they can reach out to me, and I’ll be glad to send along a signed copy.
And I still have copies of my four previous books: the two earlier poetry collections plus my Rapunzel-channeling novella, Tower, and my story collection, Seeking Shade, that was a finalist for several awards.
PP: Awesome. Any author site, social media urls or things you’d like to plug?
FB: My website is www.francesboyle.com. I always try to keep my website up to date, including providing links to my online publications, so there is lots of work, both poetry, fiction, reviews and interviews, that people can access and read there, along with a few audio and video recordings.
FB: I am (for now) @francesboyle19 on Twitter. I have the same handle on Instagram, though I haven’t really figured out to make Instagram useful and/or interesting. I have not yet attempted any of the Twitter alternatives, but I’ll post if I venture into ancient elephant or bee territory.
PP: It looks like twitter may not die immediately at least. I haven’t done Mastadon or Hive either, but I’m exploring Substack.
Thanks for taking time out between readings and writing to chat here.