Martha Baille;
Emotional Evolution Shapes Author's Creative Life
 
Sitting in Javaville with Martha Baillie last week, I was impressed with her gracious candidness. Forthcoming regarding her creative process, she related her struggles with becoming a writer and the personal evolution, which led to her latest and highly acclaimed novel, "The Shape I Gave You."  Published by Knopf, the novel relates the story of Ulrike Huguenot, a young classical pianist. The night before she leaves to give a recital in another city she arrives at her Berlin apartment to find an unexpected and unwelcome letter. It is from Beatrice Mann, a Canadian sculptor, a friend and possible lover of her father. As we read (over Ulrike's shoulder) the eighty- page letter from Beatrice and observe Ulrike's reactions, we are given insight into the nature of confession and the surprising ways people choose whom to ask for forgiveness.

Born into a family governed by a conflicted mix of rigid, "Scottish," moral values (uncompromising self-discipline, civic duty, self-denial) and artistic, open-mindedness, Martha grew up feeling quite torn. Her father was a Mathematician; her mother a Painter and home life was animated by heated debates over linear VS non-linear thinking. Science and art fell into opposing camps.

Martha feels that she silenced, or at least refused to value a portion of her personality, her emotional creative voice, which only began to impose its will when she started acting in amateur plays at the University of Toronto and when she crossed the English Channel from Britain to France for the first time.

"I went off to university in Edinburgh at the age of seventeen. It was the first time I'd crossed the Atlantic. I studied History, French and Russian; subjects I felt would be arduous. I didn't see how studying novels or poems written in my first language, English, could constitute a difficult enough task. What was I thinking? I wasn't. I was so ignorant. Fear can produce willed ignorance."

"I wasn't thinking or feeling with any clarity. I was like a Medieval Knight riding into battle wearing a helmet and lowered visor. I could hardly see a thing and I was going at a gallop. In four years I attended three different universities in three different countries - Scotland (The University of Edinburgh), Canada (The University of Toronto) and France (Sorbonne)."

At twenty-three Ms. Baillie returned from a year of traveling in China, India, Nepal, Thailand and Europe. Upon her return she felt her internal compass had been shattered, "I was deeply disoriented, I had no idea which way pointed North." She began writing first about her travels, but felt it an impossible task because she hadn't the authority to write about the places she'd visited and realized she could only catalogue her personal experiences there. "Then, while writing, I started describing a young girl clutching a fork as if it were a spear and I knew what direction to go in.  That image compelled me to write my first novel, "My Sister Esther." It is a slender 120 pages long but took seven years to write." Why so long? "I kept stopping and considering applying to study Social Work!" Martha exclaimed, "I wanted an excuse to not pursue what I felt I most urgently needed to pursue. I labeled writing as self-indulgent. But I couldn't stop because the more I wrote the clearer my thinking became!"

That hard won creative clarity has yielded much profit. Martha has been published extensively; her novels are: in spring 2006, "The Shape I Gave You" (Knopf. Canada); in autumn 1999, "Madame Balashovskaya's Apartment," and in autumn 1995, "My Sister Esther" both published by Turnstone Press in
Winnipeg. Martha's poetic works such as: "The Unreeling Line", "Regretfully Yours", "July in Toronto", "Moths" and "Six Poems of Distance and Desire" as
well as several short fiction pieces, have been published in journals such as "Blood and Aphorisms", "Geist" and "Prairie Fire", also "Descant" and "The Antigonish Review". Baillie has given numerous public readings of her work and has also written reviews of other authors work (mostly for children) such as Margaret Atwood's "Princess Prunella and Purple Peanut."

Martha can be seen in our neighborhood, at the Parliament Street Branch of the library, often telling stories to children, or involved in the poetry reading events held there. She visits local schools and day-care centres, Storytelling in both French and English, entertaining while helping to nurture literacy skills.
 
Ms. Baillie has much advice for young writers. "Don't second guess your audience, if its good work it will speak to people" and this particular advice to young women writers, "Sometimes it's easier to cultivate someone else's talent rather that your own...never trust the easy way out! Pursue your work and know that it may take you someplace you did not expect to go."