Author Q & A with Elizabeth Collis
by Christine Nessler
May 24, 2023
This week’s Author Q & A is with Elizabeth Collis. Collis writes from Nova Scotia, Canada. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ellipsis Zine, Progenitor Art and Literary Journal, Tangled Locks Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, The South Shore Review, and elsewhere. Find more at www.elizabethcollis.com and on Twitter @ElizabethCollis.
Collis’ nonfiction story, The Truth About My Old Haunts, is featured in Issue #11 of The Good Life Review.
Tell us about yourself.
Born in my mother’s home province of Nova Scotia, Canada, I grew up in England, my father’s birthplace. My early and intense love for language and imaginative worlds came from my parents, who brought me and my siblings up in a house filled with poetry, stories and books. After studying English Literature and Philosophy at university, I worked as an English language teacher overseas before moving to Canada, where my husband and I operated a small manufacturing business for twenty five years and I worked as a business advisor. There was a long gap in my writing output while I concentrated on business and family, but I’m grateful retirement has given me the opportunity to return to story-telling.
The Truth About My Old Haunts was written in a unique format, dividing your personal truths, lies, and maybes about the home you grew up in. What inspired you to write this story and in this fashion?
I am working on a memoir, Care For Me, an exploration of the tumultuous last year of my parents’ lives, and the redemptive power of place. Family truths, lies, maybes and childhood landscapes have been swirling around my mind as I write.
In my education and business careers, I did an ice-breaker activity with groups of strangers called ‘two truths and a lie.’ You tell the group three sentences about yourself and the participants have to guess which one is untrue by asking you questions. One of my ‘true’ sentences was “I once lived in a haunted house.”
So I began this piece by simply dividing the material into ‘truth’ and ‘lie.’ But as I explored my memories of the house and re-experienced its power, I became unsure about a clear division between actuality and falsehood.
How does your format of truth, lies and maybes play into the art of non-fiction writing in general? How do you sort through memories versus facts?
Adding the ‘maybes’ allows ambiguity to live between the memories and the facts. I believe part of non-fiction writing is leaving space for uncertainty. I strive to write my truth, which is not the same as either memory or fact.
What impacted you most when writing The Truth About My Old Haunts?
The intense physicality of consciously recalling my dreams of the house in order to describe them. Afterwards, I felt both exhausted and elated; as if I’d just run a marathon.
Tell us about the work you have done or do that makes you most proud.
I am proud of The Truth About My Old Haunts because I pushed myself to experiment with form and style, and the subject matter was difficult. All of that took courage. Also I have a humorous flash fiction being published soon. As most of my writing is fairly serious, I’m really pleased I can call myself a ‘funny writer’ as well now!
What is your writing process? How do you make it a part of your daily life?
I am an early morning writer and I write or revise every day. Word count goals don’t work for me, but for my memoir I started using a daily writing process journal, which is very helpful. I love all aspects of writing: the initial getting things onto the page, the revision, getting feedback; everything.
If I have something to work out in my current writing—storyline, character, or language, I resolve it by walking. By the end of a long, rhythmic hike, the solution has appeared. It’s magic.
How is your process different when writing fiction versus non-fiction?
For the first draft, it’s not different, I simply get it down on paper. In non-fiction, I am not only writing my story, there are other players involved. I am aware of that in subsequent drafts, and spend much more time gathering and considering their input, researching, and thinking about how my writing might affect others.
How have your life experiences impacted the way you write?
I started writing seriously when I had already lived a lot of life, so I have lots of material. In fact, I look at my story idea list and worry I won’t get it all written in my lifetime. On the other hand, my maturity has given me patience and self-confidence, and rejection doesn’t bite too much. Many of the themes in my work reflect my life: living and working on three continents and in many different countries, entrepreneurship, being part of an immigrant and mixed-race family, the experience of migration, and questions of identity and connection.
What advice can you give to beginning writers?
When I first started writing seriously, I worried I wouldn’t find the story. But I think most people with an urge to write have the story. Beginning writers need to concentrate on craft. Learn how to write. Find teachers, editors and support; practice, improve, repeat. A few weeks into deciding I was going to write a novel three years ago, I realized the narrative idea was there, but I couldn’t write fiction. So I took online writing courses, joined my local writers’ federation and a writing group, and read books and articles on craft. I started with very short fiction–micro and flash—then short stories and short non-fiction. Getting my pieces published has allowed me to work with editors, and I have learned so much from them. Editors are my favourite people! Now I’m writing a memoir and I will write that novel, but not before my writing skills are more developed.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “The Good Life?”
For me, it’s a life with a positive balance; one where I contribute more to the world than I take from it. If someone connects to my work and benefits—if they are entertained, stimulated, comforted, moved, provoked or amused—then I’ve achieved “The Good Life”.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for participating in this Q&A and for your sharing part of your story with us. We wish you the best!!