Q & A with H. M. Blanc, author of Between Bodies Lie

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Reading and highlighting Hugh Blanc’s debut novel, Between Bodies Lie,  as our first official book club pick, was a no-brainer, frankly. It’s written with grace, astonishing sensitivity, and bears the feel of a classic story told by a promising young writer. Following up on the book’s feature, Hugh kindly agreed to visit us on the Paper Based blog to answer a few questions about his work and thoughts on the book, as well as looking forward to what the future holds.

Hugh, congratulations on your publication, and the success its garnered! Did you anticipate warm, mixed or unfavourable reactions to your novel while you were writing it?

Thank you. I have been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response. The anticipation through the writing process would change from day to day. I imagined everything from acclaim to ridicule depending on the given day. Once the book was finished, I expected a mixed response. However, the feedback so far has been positive across the board, and more than one person has told me that, although it is not the type of novel they would normally pick up, they were engrossed and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Many writers feel that they write for a specific audience, an ideal kind of reader — who is H.M. Blanc’s ideal reader? What are his/her traits, and other favourite authors, or great works of literature?

I cannot say that I have envisaged an “ideal reader,” but I suppose the audience for this novel would be, like myself, interested in examining human nature and also with a love for language. Based on that they may perhaps enjoy literature I enjoy: classic authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as contemporary authors like Michael Ondaatje, Jeanette Winterson, Steven Heighton and works like Ada or Ardor, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, maybe even The Subterraneans.

Have you always been compelled to write? Was there a galvanizing moment in your life when you knew with certainty that writing novels was what you were meant to do?

There wasn’t a singular moment, but when I was twelve my father brought home an IBM electric typewriter (yes, you read right!), and I began typing out short stories on it. I was always interested in storytelling, but writing for the first few years was an avenue towards film. It was probably when I started reading Nabokov that I began to appreciate what could really be done with literature. By the time I finished my first year of university I knew that it was something I had to do, regardless of whether the work was ever seen.

Tell us a little more about the process behind writing Between Bodies Lie. Did you have to do much research, and did you encounter any unforeseen difficulties along the way?

One of Henry Miller’s rules was “When you can’t create you can still work.” I found this to be true. It was important to establish a routine to write regularly. Luckily I had the support of two roommates at the time, who are also writers; Neala Bhagwansingh (whose sister Marsha provided the cover artwork) was a constant sounding board and fantastic editor-of-ideas, and Norris Blanc, both provided regular discussions to fuel the literary fire. Since the novel is set on a fictitious island, based on a place where I have grown up and lived, there was not much in the way of research required. The trial came more from digging down to lay things out honestly. Because the novel is an exploration of intimacy it was necessary to lay a lot bare and I found myself having to rail against the natural instinct to hold back for fear of revealing truths which might be embarrassing. In the end the story demanded exactly that though, that vulnerability.

Any big writing plans in motion for another book? What does 2013 look like in terms of your writing projects, goals and intentions?

I haven’t settled yet on what novel I will pursue next, though I have a few ideas and a couple already started, and I intend to make a commitment to one before the end of February. I am currently working on a screenplay short, as well as considering pursuing a couple of other projects; including a feature-length screenplay and possibly even a graphic novel. And then, of course, there is Between Bodies Lie which I will be working on getting more exposure for, so hopefully you will be hearing even more about it in 2013.

Thank you again, Hugh, for taking the time to share your musings and insights with us! We certainly look forward to your upcoming creative projects, and of course to hearing more about your plans for Between Bodies Lie. 

H. M. (Hugh Michael) Blanc was born in Burlington, Ontario, to Trinidadian parents. The family returned to Trinidad when Hugh was 3. There Hugh attended St. Monica’s Preparatory School and then St. Mary’s College. He went on to study Film and Creative Writing at York University in Canada. He currently lives in Trinidad.