Culture & Conversation

Gavin Thomson

I met Gavin in a particularly contemporary way— via an article published on the Internet. We had been interviewed about some of our views on writing and both our voices had emerged in the same space.

Gavin is a McGill student and also the prose editor for Scrivener Creative Review, a literary publication devoted to fiction, poetry, reviews, illustrations and photography.

Hello. Who are you?
Hello, that’s a good question. I don’t really know, and I won’t try to answer here. My name, however, is Gavin, and I was born in Ottawa (unfortunately), but spent half-my childhood in the Gatineau Hill Region, Quebec. Four months from now, I’ll be alive and writing in Norway, my mystical womb away from womb.

What have you been reading?
Well, I’m still an undergrad at McGill, so lately I have been ignoring my school readings in order to read short stories by Murakami, Calvino, Gaitskill, Marquez, Bolaño, and most recently, Nicole Krauss.

I love ‘magical realism,’ these days, or whatever I should call it. I love how at certain moments, the stories by ‘magical realist’ writers (not all listed can be labeled such) will erupt, rupture, release, come, lift off, and I will feel, for that moment and sometimes longer, that there is something more — or something like that. (I think the feeling is actually prelinguisitc). As a child I seriously wondered if ghosts were real, if people were truly psychics, if I were truly psychic, if I had lived my life as it was at that moment, a hundred times or so before, if each day I awoke, I awoke to a different life with fake memories which were implanted in me and which I believed were real …In my parent’s house there was a room with mirrors on two sides and I used to stand in that room and look at my reflection multiplied hundreds of times, curving and warping gradually, on and on and on. I tried to move in such a way that would trick my reflections, to my reflections do something I did not. But I couldn’t. Then I started to wonder which version of me was the real me. What if the version of me that I thought was me was just a reflection of me, a copy, and the real me lived in one of the reflections in the mirror world beyond? What if my whole (short) life I thought I was a real person, when I had only been a reflection of a real person? What if the real me lived in another world, exactly like mine in every way except for the fact it was not mine? I used to feel a certain terrifying, wordless joy when I asked those questions in front of the mirror, and I feel a similar way when I read stories by the writers I mentioned, like Murakami’s “Man-Eating Cats.”

Why do you write?
Once again, that’s a good question, and I don’t really know. What I will say, though, is that, as clichéd as it may sound to some, I feel a need to write, and I feel better about myself when I do. More precisely — and this connects to my experience with the mirrors — when I write, I feel that I am being me, and when I don’t write, I feel that I am not being me, and that me is somewhere else. So I write, I guess, to feel that I am being me.

I think young people create elaborate reasons to not do what they want most to do in life, because doing what one most wants to do in life can be very scary. Then of course many young people don’t even know what they most want to do. I know what I most want to do and I am fortunate for that, and it can be very scary but of course.

Where is your favorite place to write?
At my kitchen table in the early morning, alone and with a cup of coffee, after meditating.

What books or authors have impacted you the most?
Ah, this question makes me think: I have not read enough! I have not enjoyed reading enough! My mind is like a kindergartener sprawled out on a smelly carpet!

But I will say: Knut Hamsun, the early Norwegian Modernist whom no one seems to know (perhaps because of the disgusting political stance he took in his old age). “The Vane Sisters,” by Nabokov, and of course Lolita. “The Aleph” and “The Approach to al-Mu’tasim” by Borges. Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist.” Lives of Girls and Women, by Munro. A poem called “Address to Winnie in Paris,” by Sarah Manguso. “Neutral Tones,” a poem by Thomas Hardy. “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly,” by Safran-Foer. “The White Stocking,” by Lawrence. Mrs. Dalloway. “We So Seldom Look on Love” by Barbara Gowdy.” How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti. The Sun Also Rises, because it is so severely angry, aggressive, lucid, unhappy and funny. A collection of stories I am currently reading by Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. And then there are also books of philosophy, a subject I also studied: Fear and Trembling, by Kierkegaard. George Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principle of Human Knowledge. Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. An essay by Thomas Nagel, called “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” An essay I just read on Lolita and unreliable narration by Amit Marcus… “David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction” by Adam Kelly…Theatre and movie reviews in The New Yorker…This list is too white/canonical, I know, but maybe you can forgive me: I’m still a student at a very conservative school.

What is good writing?
Please don’t ask me that.

Do you have any favorite words?
No, actually. But I have always detested the word, “cloak.”

Could you recommend 3 books?
Hunger, by Knut Hamsun (1890). It is one of the earliest works of stream-of-consciousness. It is incredibly manic. And it is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying.

20 Under 40, from The New Yorker. It’s a collection of stories by contemporary writers under forty-years-old. Some are in my opinion incredible. Some are in my opinion not.

Fear and Trembling, by Søren Kierkegaard. He is humble, and he cares.


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