Crossings: An Interview with Nicholas Royle

By McCance, Dawne; Dokurno, Karalyn et al. | Mosaic (Winnipeg), March 2017 | Go to article overview

Crossings: An Interview with Nicholas Royle


McCance, Dawne, Dokurno, Karalyn, Fics, Ryan, McGuire, Riley, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


The following Interview with Nicholas Royle (NR), another In Mosaic's "Crossings" series, took place In Winnipeg on 21 October 2013. Along with Mosaic Editor Dawne McCance (DM), three of the journal's graduate student interns participated in the interview: Karalyn Dokurno (KD), Ryan Fics (RF), and Riley McGuire (RM). Mosaic is pleased to publish this interview, which originally appeared in Mosaic 47.1 (March 2014).

DM First of all, on this, the 21st day of October 2013, welcome to Winnipeg, Nicholas Royle! Did you tell me that you have some family connections here?

NR My grandfather, William McAdam, and his wife, Emily, came here in 1919 after WWI. He had been a horse vet in the war and he came out here to farm. He was here for three years and then I think the harvest failed in the autumn of 1922, so he took himself off to Chicago looking for work, got involved in building skyscrapers, then quite quickly discovered he suffered from vertigo. After which he headed back to Scotland, I believe, to his brother's farm.

DM Where did he farm?

NR When he was here in Canada he farmed at Clandeboye, close to Lake Winnipeg. When he returned to Scotland it was to his brother Wattie's farm at Drymen, a village close to the shores of Loch Lomond, about 20 miles west of Stirling. Many McAdams are buried in the cemetery at Drymen. And I taught for seven years at the University of Stirling, from 1992 to 1999, so that was a curious time, to be living in what was in some ways a foreign country (people in Scotland generally regarded me as an Englishman and therefore a foreigner) but in the area where my grandfather and other family members had grown up. (My grandfather was actually born at Fintry, at the bottom, in effect, of what is now a reservoir.)

DM Can you tell Mosaic readers about your education, your early years as an academic, and what led you in the direction of Jacques Derrida, deconstruction, and the work you are currently doing? This is a big question!

NR It is difficult to say exactly what kind of work I am currently doing. There is teaching and writing. Writing is a complete pharmakon for me. I couldn't not do it. I would curl up and die. But it is also a sort of constant affliction and addiction, my maddening but ineluctable modality. I am nowadays trying to pursue several different kinds of projects at the same time: a novel (a full draft of which is, I hope, nearing completion), a series of essays about the nature of narrative (without at present any clear sense of where that is leading), a textbook (in collaboration with Andrew Bennett) called Studying Literature: Reading, Thinking, Writing [This Thing Called Literature], a book about (and perhaps also of) quick fiction, and so on.

I don't know when I knew I had to write, but it certainly goes back to my childhood (much of the early part of which I spent with my "Winnipeg" grandfather). I remember when I was thirteen and my brother was eleven, we made a sort of pact--that I would be the writer and he would be the painter. And my parents both had a love of literature and language and in lots of ways encouraged me in this direction. I think my experience of English and History at school were very important. I had very inspiring teachers--my History teacher perhaps most of all. And I did consider studying History at university (because in Britain, at least in those days, you generally studied just one thing), but my English teacher was also very influential. I appreciated this, I think, only very poorly at the time. He was called Ken Curtis and had been taught at Cambridge by F. R. Leavis, so he was one of that generation of schoolteachers who was a Leavisite in the most literal sense. He had two distinct personae--terrifying and benign--and indeed two distinct names to go with this curious "Jekyll and Hyde and go seek." For younger pupils at the school he was a figure of terror, known as "Killer" or "Killer Curtis. …

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