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February 28, 2019
This is a simplified transcript of our twitter chat with author Randy Boyagoda on February 15th, 2019, edited for blog readability. To interact with the twitter version instead, click here: https://goo.gl/1TmGMu
WOTS: Original Prin is your third novel, which sits at the top of a long list of academic publishing credits. As a professor of English, what draws you to writing fiction?
Randy Boyagoda: I’m a reader first, last, and always. As a professor, I have a chance to talk about books in ways that inform but don’t take over my fiction writing. It’s also stable employment.
WOTS: Being a reader is definitely key! Your writing often pushes boundaries, especially what is considered to be “politically correct”, using humour. How do you approach writing diverse characters?
RB: I think the important point is to egalitarian in causing offence. In turn, that offence should never be gratuitous, but instead reveal something more meaningful about assorted human lives in contact and collision in our city and world.
WOTS: This shines through in the novel, to be sure, and leads neatly into my next question. Dragomans is a stand-in for any number of Middle Eastern countries experience socio-political upheaval – why did you choose to create a fictional setting?
RB: For all that there’s higher and contrarian purposes at play in my satire, I also am mindful of not wanting to presume a privileged perspective on a real place going through a crisis. It also distracts from the story itself.
WOTS: It’s your mindful approach to satire that makes your writing so enjoyable, in our opinion. You’re gently shedding light on sometimes harsh truths with humour we can feel good about laughing along with.
WOTS: There are certain parallels between Prin’s family, and your own – what made you choose to include these loosely-autobiographical elements in Prin’s story?
RB: I made the decision to draw on my own experiences to turn the satire on myself, fairly, and also to draw on sources of vitality and longing that have to do with being a husband and father (and son).
WOTS: We appreciated the self-insertion and, for us, made Prin that much more real. Original Prin is not quite a “campus novel”, although the satire around UFUs creative financial solutions rings all too true. What’s your favourite literary trope to play with?
RB: I think every novel demands that you find the right voice, style, pace, genre to reveal the story you want to tell. If you rely on a favourite trope (nice academic-fancy word!), I think you risk creating that sense, in readers of a certain kind of weariness: “Oh, here’s just another [insert name of author-on-auto-pilot] book.” To your other point: I think Original Prin – with its interest in financial problems, corporate-global solutions, etc. is a 21st century campus novel (alas!).
WOTS: Most definitely, every story needs multiple elements to be told – and tropes, while sometimes boring, when experimented with can create great new ways of telling a story. If PRIN is a campus novel, we think it falls into the space of “new, experimental campus novel”, to be sure.
RB: If that status earns it a place on campus reading lists, amen!
WOTS: As a Professor of English, a scholar, and an author, what are you excited to bring to your role as chair of the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury?
RB: I feel a little like Jim Carrey when he was invited to the Oscars … to give out an award for Best Actor. Really though, it’s a chance to read some excellent new Canadian fiction and to discuss and debate the merits of that fiction with other serious readers.
WOTS: Ha ha, love the comparison! For our final question: Original Prin is the first in a (rumoured) series of three, can you give us a glimpse of what we can expect from you next?
RB: In the next novel, Prin’s adventures take him to a Dante theme park in small-town America … obviously. Thanks very much for an excellent interview and happy reading, all!
WOTS: Thank you for chatting with us here today, Randy! We’ll catch up with you and Prin next time… wherever his adventures take you both.