Interview: Amber McMillan

Thursday 9 June 2016
Amber McMillan's We Can't Ever Do This Again (Wolsak and Wynn) was undoubtedly one of my favourite reads of 2015, so it was a pleasure to learn more about it, and Amber's writing process, through this interview.

The first thing I was drawn to was your book's title. We Can't Ever Do This Again is a title I'm sure we can all relate to. Can you tell us a little about the title and what inspired it? 
I struggled with what to call the book for a long time. I couldn’t come up with a title that I thought was relevant to the aims of the book and also comprehensible in and of itself. Then, over the phone between Toronto and Vancouver, my boyfriend said of our separation “We can’t ever do this again.” In the context of our conversation, his comment was meant as a joke but it struck me as encompassing some essential totality that I was after. A decision you make before you know what any of the consequences could possibly be.

We Can't Ever Do This Again is divided into four parts. What can you tell us about each part?
The parts are organized in a loose chronology. If this were a story, these would be the order of events. Except for Part 4. Part 4 leaves the narrative of the book and addresses the issue of how the personal is informed by the wider, more inclusive events that get shared by many more people. Like war, for example.

As a reader, We Can't Ever Do This Again seems deeply personal. How much was inspired by your own life and what was fiction? 
I don’t know how to write a poem of fiction. I can’t imagine how I would think myself into something like that. The library in the town that I was born in has one shelf for non-fiction and one shelf for fiction. Poetry went on the non-fiction shelf. When I was older I asked the librarian how come the poetry books were on the non-fiction shelf instead of somewhere else. He said where else would they go? Now, looking back, I have to agree with him. If the choice is between fiction and non-fiction, I’d put We Can't Ever Do This Again on the non-fiction shelf.

I was struck by the everyday details found in We Can't Ever Do This Again, from waiting for a bus, walking home from school to daily chores. Have you always had such a keen sense of observation?
I don’t know about that. From what I remember, my mum used to say I had my head in the clouds all the time, always distracted. I’m not as much that way now, but I certainly was for a long time. The one time my parents enrolled me in sports was a baseball team for kids under 13. All I remember of that year was standing in the outfield during a game and making chains of dandelions. I would actually take off my baseball glove to do this. Occasionally I would toss fistfulls of grass in the air and spin around as the blades floated back down to the ground. Needless to say, I wasn’t a good player and I didn’t go back the following year.

What's next for you writing wise?
I have a book of non-fiction coming out this fall with Nightwood Editions called The Woods which documents my time living on Protection Island, BC. It has some juicy local history, some murders and a few other surprising turns.

Amber McMillan’s poems have appeared in The Puritan, CV2, Forget Magazine and subTerrain among others. She currently lives on Protection Island, BC. We Can’t Ever Do This Again is her first book. Visit her at Photo Credit: Nathaniel G. Moore

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