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On Writing: Michael Redhill

One of the things we love to read at Brick is a writer writing about writing. Fortunately, Brick’s contributors are not only wonderful talents, they are also kind enough to share their insights. In a series on the writing process, our editorial intern Chelsea Rozansky asked some of Brick’s writers about their craft. First, the ever-witty author of Bellevue Square, Michael Redhill, took the time to answer some questions over email.


Brick: The piece you wrote in Brick 100, “Enlightenment,” is very funny. I had a writing teacher this year tell me that most writers don’t do humour well. Is there a trick to it?

Michael Redhill: Well, I’ve never been afraid to be ridiculous, and I think that’s part of it. Deadpan stupidity is just about my favourite mode. Some of Steve Martin’s essays are the funniest things ever written, and they are seriously, committedly, stupid. And although I worry she’s been forgotten, Erma Bombeck was brilliant too. She said, “Humourists can never start to take themselves seriously. It’s literary suicide.”

Brick: I find that when I write a personal piece or memoir, I default to humour, but I write much more earnestly and sentimentally on other subjects. I think it’s because when I tell stories about myself, I find that the joke tends to be on me, but I’m sure there’s also a defence mechanism at work. In recent pieces for Brick, like “Enlightenment,” or “My Fame” from Brick 99, you cast yourself as a kind of clever fool. Why do you choose to write in the first person when you are doing humour?

Redhill: First person is almost always best in writing humour. Stephen Leacock wrote almost exclusively in first person, as does David Sedaris. I think the key is that first person draws you in close, where it’s even a little uncomfortable, and it tells you something really silly or dissonant, but it does so apparently not knowing it’s silly or dissonant. I also find that writing in third person makes things a bit arch.

Brick: Do you have a writing routine?

Redhill: Chaotic. But generally, I’ll try to write five hundred words a day, five days out of seven, and I can do that with two two-and-a-half-hour-long writing/rewriting/researching sessions. Many days I only get one session in. And I go silent for periods that can be up to a couple months in length. However, when I’m focussed I feel locked in and I get the writing done.

Brick: Has winning the Giller Prize for Bellevue Square changed your approach to writing? By that I mean, is it easier to write when you’re not broke?

Redhill: It is much easier to write when you are not broke. I’m busier now, and more productive, than I have been in years, and I like it. It means I might stay afloat. The Giller has changed the trajectory of my career, but it won’t change how I approach my work. I’ve had something like a working routine for a long time.

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