Ian Doig. Calgary Herald . Calgary, Alta.: Oct 19, 2003 . pg. F.4
Interview with paulo da costa
Calgary writer paulo da costa was born in Angola and raised in Portugal, before coming to Canada in 1989. His first novel, The Scent of a Lie, was awarded the City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for best first book.
Q: Why are you a writer?
A: There’s two parts — to make sense of the world and to explore the different facets of life through different characters’ eyes. It’s like living different lives by entering other people’s perceptions and points of view. The other part of writing I find appealing is the fact I can imagine different worlds, different possibilities of human experience through the imaginative process.
Q: What sparked the idea for your most recent work?
A: The Scent of a Lie was a natural book. It was perhaps a deeply embedded memory or experience of a world past — perhaps as seen through the eyes of me as a child. The book is set in Portugal and it’s a time of transition when it went from a very agriculturally based, almost medieval society, to a technological society and in a very short span of time. I was fortunate to have witnessed the transition in my childhood.
Q: At what point did you consider yourself a writer?
A: During my early schooling part of studying Portuguese involved writing a composition every week. As I was growing up, my mother was a teacher and she always said I wrote very well. One discounts moms because they are biased. In Grade 5 I wrote a story and my teacher was so impressed that he showed it to every other teacher in the school. He sentenced me to writing by saying ‘One day you’ll be a writer.’ That stuck with me. Though I didn’t take it seriously then, it was the seed.
Q: Who are your biggest influences in writing?
A: I tend to be a reader of poetry — e.e. cummings. After I wrote The Scent of a Lie, friends said ‘You should read people like (Gabriel Garcia) Marquez and then I realized there were resonances, but they weren’t conscious because I hadn’t read him at the time. Poetry is my literary foundation and that’s why the book tends to have that lyrical tone. I tend to read a lot of European and African writers. Mia Couto is one, he comes from Mozambique.
Q: Do other disciplines, such as music for instance, influence your work?
A: In the obvious sense of the musicality of language. The music in the book would be connected to the Portuguese language. I often read something in Portuguese before my readings to let the listeners hear the cadence and the music of the Portuguese.
Q: Why are you here?
A: I’ve lived in Calgary since I arrived in Canada in 1989. I think Calgary is a very supportive writing community. In official terms, the arts have very little support in the province. It’s a shame because we have incredible writers. Because we are such a small community and there’s such a diversity, we have a lot of co- operation and contact between writers. It’s a very generous community in helping each other out. Being in Calgary was crutial to grow as a writer. Unlike large places such as Toronto, New York and London, England, where you can be lost in the anonymity of the arts, Calgary is small enough to provide that continuous support that’s necessary to a budding writer.
Q: What’s on your bedside table?
A: I’m rereading The Selected Poems of e.e. cummings and Mia Couto’s Vozes Anoitecidas. I read and write in Portuguese, so I often have books in both languages lying around.
Q: What is the latest book you’ve read?
A: Blindness by Jose Saramago. He’s a Portuguese Nobel Prize winner and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s available in English.
Q: What novel do you reread most?
A: Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It’s like magic, and that’s why people might return to works of art. There’s something there that isn’t quite tangible, but still draws one again and again like a fountain of water. It’s not something I would be able to articulate clearly, but why does one look at the moon consistently?
Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?
A: I’m also a translator and I collaborate with magazines overseas. I’m also the editor of Filling Station Magazine in Calgary.
Q: What is your next project?
A: It’s a novel set in Brazil in a very small town and will probably have to do with the perils of globalization. That’s as much as I know. I let the characters and the story tell itself. It’s an adventure and I don’t know where it takes me.