Creator Q&A - Agata Antonow
A few thoughts from a New Brunswick based writer
Agata Antonow is a New Brunswick based writer who was kind enough to answer a few questions for How About This readers! Please have a look!
When you were a kid what did you want to become when you grew up?
In my earliest memories, I wanted to be a teacher. I spent a lot of time around teachers and was lucky to have some great ones. Then, in second grade, Mrs. O’Neill took us to the public library. We all signed up for library cards, learned about the Dewey Decimal System, and learned about how books were made.
I already loved to read, but this was the first time I had thought about the fact that someone wrote the books, illustrated them, and made them. I didn’t quite articulate that I wanted to be a writer, but that’s certainly when that glimmer of possibility first appeared.
Please tell us the story of how your first published work came to be.
In Grade 7, our teacher asked us to submit short stories as part of a class assignment. I didn’t know it then, but he sent my story along to the Hamilton-Wentworth Roman Catholic Separate School Board because they were putting together an anthology of children’s stories, art, and poems. I remember getting a felt crest with “Hamilton-Wentworth Roman Catholic Separate School Board” on it and three copies of the anthology a few weeks later. My story was the first one in the publication and it filled me with absolute wonder to see my words there, among others chosen from across the district.
Are you a life-long New Brunswicker or have you only lived here for a short time?
My husband was born in Saint John and we moved briefly to Fredericton about 15 years ago. Then we moved around a few times. We moved to Florenceville-Bristol in 2020.
When writing, do you have a preference between pen and paper writing vs. computer and keyboard?
I jot down a lot of ideas and complete writing exercises in notebooks with a pen. Sometimes parts of first drafts go in there, too. I collect pens of different colors and beautiful notebooks just for this reason.
Some of the time, I type directly into my laptop. When the words are really flowing, it’s faster. And, of course, it’s easier to edit something you’ve got in a file and printed out.
The two experiences are very different. Writing by hand is slower and more connected to the senses. There’s the texture of the paper, the smell of the ink and binding, the sound of the scratching of ink on paper. With a keyboard, there is only sound. One’s not better than the other, and it’s nice to be able to switch back and forth.
Do you do any writing exercises to help sharpen your skills?
I take workshops as often as I can and I really like Natalie Goldberg’s freewriting exercises. I do freewriting to warm up most days. Natalie Goldberg describes freewriting as doing scales, and I really like that idea of putting down some words just to clear my throat and shake out the cobwebs.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
There are many: A.S. Byatt, David Lodge, Emily Brontë, Patrick deWitt, Judith Flanders, Annie Dillard. A mixed bag of literary fiction, non-fiction, humour. I always look for writing that surprises me and takes me to a place I’m unfamiliar with.
Please tell us about your most recently published work or work in progress.
I recently won the Alfred G. Bailey Prize for a Poetry Manuscript from the WFNB (https://wfnb.ca/Writing-Competition) and had a short piece published in The Gravity of the Thing’s latest anthology. I also had a few pieces published last year, in Scribble Lit and Defenestration.
Florenceville-Bristol is probably one of the smaller communities that you've lived in - was it a big transition to move there?
Yes. My husband and I moved from Montreal, which was a big switch. There are more potato fields here, for one thing—and farming equipment on the roads. It’s very green in this part of New Brunswick, and while there are things I miss about city life, it has been a positive experience to slow down and rethink life for a bit.
Please describe your ideal notebook.
I love a notebook with thick, thirsty paper. I especially love notebooks with textured paper and rough edges. I’ll always gravitate towards a nice ribbon bookmark and an antique clasp, where it’s available. Etsy is a treasure trove of beautiful hand-bound notebooks when I want to treat myself.
On the other side of the spectrum, I also like plain black notebooks, like Moleskine or the Blueline brand from Staples. Sometimes, I look in art supply stores for sketchbooks with thick watercolor paper and plain black covers.
Pretend you wake up one morning and discover that the Internet has been destroyed. What's the first thing that you do?
Part of me would be sad. I’d miss my writing community online and all the resources I visit online. But part of me would rejoice at the big “silence” button on trolls and distraction. I’m prepared, in either case, with a collection of books I could dive right into if the Internet ever went away. There’s a reason why libraries were the original Internet.
With time, I’d probably look for a group trying to create better ways to stay in touch. I’d join them and try to find new avenues to share words with each other.
Thanks to Agata for answering a few questions for us!
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