Amanda West-Lewis, author & director: "I was very much a library girl."
What was the first book you bought with your own money?
I really can’t remember the first book I bought. I was very much a library girl. I suspect I may have bought something for my mother, as we were always giving each other books. But I do remember one strange purchase I made, when I was 10 or 11 years old, with my friend Eleanor, on a Saturday. We went into a store in Chinatown, and I remember loving all of the Chinese trinkets. We decided to split on a purchase of a little two-dollar paperback Chinese-English dictionary. Not English-Chinese. Chinese-English. I think we loved the Chinese characters and were fascinated by how they concretized into English words. I remember the man at the counter smiling wryly and saying, “Are you planning on learning English?” I have no idea what became of the book, but I did become a calligrapher – I had a passion for visual language at a young age.
Have you ever stolen a book? Why/when/where?
No. I had an uncle who was a journalist and writer, the black sheep in the family who had done a few quite dreadful things. But by far the worst crime, as far as my mother and grandmother were concerned, was the fact that he stole some library books, showing how utterly depraved and immoral he was.
What was the first book you hid from your parents?
I didn’t have hide any book from my mother (she was a single parent). All books were regarded as worthy of reading. Except, perhaps, The Bible or Mein Kampf, but neither of those held any interest for me at the time. But I did know that you needed to hide books from other people. I remember once asking her if I could read a particular book on our shelf –– Candy by Terry Soutern and Mason Hoffenberg. I was 13 or so, and she said it was okay for me to read it, but I had to understand that it was a satire, a comedy on sex. And that I must not loan it to any of my friends, because their parents wouldn’t appreciate it. Of course, after reading it (it was pretty salacious for a 13 year old), I loaned it to my friend Cathy and got into terrible trouble!
In which fictional house or land would you like to live?
Mole End, from Wind in the Willows. Aside from being a perfect little house (complete with statuary), it carries with it the nostalgia and longing for home, the knowledge that no matter how humble, a home is the place you come back to. “… it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.”
Choose three adjectives to describe yourself.
This is a really hard question. I could give you three adjectives that are the ones I want you to associate with me. Or three that, if I am honest, are probably the most truthful. Or three that might describe me if I were a character in a book. So I think I’ll go with the latter. Disciplined. Passionate. Restless.
Where would you most like to go to research your next book?
The Rose Main Room in the New York Public Library. I love just about any good library and have a list of favourite reading rooms. But I haven’t ever had the chance to ensconce myself there. I think I’m afraid I’d never come out.
What is your favorite word?
I love any onomatopoetic word. These days “murmur” is up at the top of the list. It’s a perfect word that slides right out your mouth is does exactly what it describes. I love the visual repetition, as well. The arches of the m’s and half arches of the r’s balance perfectly with the troughs of the u’s. And then it repeats itself, like a sound echoing in the corner of a room.
What is a word you loathe?
“Butt.” Hearing it or reading it. “Bum” is a slightly onomatopoetic word and fits perfectly into the round soft shape of a bottom. But “Butt” is angular and hard and unpleasant. All wrong. The only time it works is as a description for an of a roast of pork. Or maybe a sackbut. But really, it then becomes just the butt of a joke.
What sentence by someone else do you wish you’d written?
“The first thing I’ve got to do,” said Alice to herself as she wandered about in the wood, “is to grow to my right size again, and the second thing is to find my way into that lovely garden.”
What superpower would you like to have – if you had to write a story about it?
If I had to write a story about it? That’s tough. A really worthwhile superpower like the power to save the planet wouldn’t make a very good story. Not much of a plot. Unless like Cassandra, your power was flawed. “Hey, my superpower is that I can tell the future!” But no one believes her. Great Story. Not much of a superpower.
In a way, as a writer and as a drama teacher for young children, I feel I already have a superpower –– the power to make people experience things outside of their regular lives, to make them see things in new ways, to change hearts and minds. What I’d like is to be better at my superpower.
How do you think a bookstore-in-the-family affected your relationship to books?
Great question. On the whole, it was an amazing experience especially because the store (Fanfare Books) was in Stratford. When I was 12, I worked in the tearoom at the bookstore. I was surrounded not only by books but by great, heated discussions about books and plays. It launched me into the wider world of books and showed me that there would always be more to learn. Christmas was the best. On Boxing Day, my grandmother would close the store to regular customers, and I had all day to browse. I’d sit on the floor and read. My Christmas present was that I was allowed to choose whatever books I wanted, up to $25.00. Really, can you think of a better Christmas? However, it did have a downside. My grandmother was very opinionated about books, and everything I chose had to pass inspection. So I felt a certain pressure to make “good” choices, which I think has permanently affected my reading habits. I still feel I should hide any trashy reading behind brown paper covers!