Anne Giardini, QC, BA’80, is a novelist, lawyer, president of Weyerhaeuser Company Limited, member of the SFU Board of Governors, and daughter of late novelist Carol Shields. Her first novel, The Sad Truth about Happiness, was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2006 and for an Audie Award for outstanding audiobook. Her second novel, Advice for Italian Boys, was published in 2009.
How do you combine your heavy workload with your extensive volunteer activities and still have time to write?
I try to set realistic timelines for each thing I do, and I schedule time for longer meetings and tasks. This includes blocking time to read novels, go to yoga, walk, visit with friends, and be with my three children, all now young adults. Some days have more balance than others, and I accept that. Oh, and I have hired a wonderful woman, Lorna, to do the cleaning and laundry. I should have mentioned her first because she is of course the linchpin that keeps the wheels from falling off.
When do you write?
I write on evenings, weekends, and holidays. I have an upcoming two-day writing retreat at the Gulf Island home of two friends. Along with one other writer who is also going, I will write all day and then we will convene in the evening to talk about our work. I have never had the luxury of writing like that, uninterrupted and in the company of other writers, and I am looking forward to it very much.
You have a new book coming out soon. Tell us about it.
It isn’t finished yet. But it should be much closer to being done after the retreat. It is a novel about death, and turned out to be heavier and denser than I wanted. So I am going back and inserting more dialogue and more humour, to act as leaveners. The novel follows four people who both encounter or are engaged with different kinds of death – the death of self, but also of language, of family, and of love. And it is also about what happens as we go through into death, which I believe I have worked out.
Did you find it daunting starting your first novel given your mother’s reputation as one of Canada’s greatest writers?
Yes. But we are all of us writing in the glow of great writers – Austen, Woolf, Nabokov, Updike, Munro, Pym, Wilson, Spark, Laurence, Shields, MacEwan, and so on. We have to not be abashed, but have confidence in our own voices and in the stories we want to tell.
How did your experience as a student at SFU influence you?
SFU gave me a super education. Even now, so many years later, I can easily place myself back in an SFU lecture or seminar room, and hear the professor challenging us to read more, think harder, revisit assumptions, and construct more elegant or robust theories. My major at SFU was economics. One course, on the economics of natural resources, has been particularly useful to me in my career in the forest industry, because it raised complex and fascinating issues about the protection and allocation of public resources. That course helped inspire my passion for sustainable forestry and environmental values.
What is your best memory of SFU?
I have a wonderful memory of sleeping under the stars with friends from Shell House on the grass beside the track field. There was very little light pollution and no clouds and the stars were scattered profusely across the great bowl of the dark sky. We laughed and told stories to each other while the stars and the moon moved in their trajectories overhead.
Were there any faculty members at SFU who influenced your thinking?
Professor A.H. Somjee in the Department of Political Science picked up on my interest in how poorer countries develop socially and economically. I was quite young – only 20 when I graduated – and had the usual notions of earnest youth about how development might be encouraged in the right direction. Professor Somjee was kind and thoughtful as he went about deflating my simple little heartfelt ideas, and he always took the next step of proposing new avenues of thought that could lead me to more interesting ways of seeing things.
What do you do in your spare time?
Lots of yoga. I started at the urging of a friend, I am afraid quite skeptically, four years ago. I saw almost immediately that it made me stronger, more flexible, more focused, and more grounded. Now an hour on my mat is an almost daily necessity. And I read. I read on the computer all day long in that scattered skittering way we all do now, but in the evening I pick up a book, either in the flesh or though the Kindle app on my iPad, and immerse myself in a sustained way in something wonderful.
What are you reading right now?
I have been rereading all of the novels of Barbara Pym, lighting up each next one from the embers of the last. When they are done, as they soon will be, I will reread her collected diaries, letters, and notebooks. When that is done, I will reread Hazel Holt’s biography of her. The Barbara Pym Society is having a North American conference at Harvard next spring, and I have sent in a paper proposal.
What music do you listen to?
I listen to what my children are listening to. I have come in this way to poor Amy Winehouse, and to Mumford and Sons, Sufjan Stevens, Patrick Watson, Daft Punk, the bands Stars and Broken Social Scene, and many others. I often say to my sons or daughter: I like this, what is it? And I get a pitying look for my unknowingness, and then they tell me what it is. Oh, and I have never ever tired of Joni Mitchell or Neil Young.