Toronto Star Sees the Light of Dey

The Toronto Star loves Claudia Dey! Vit Wagner sat down with the Stunt author to discuss Dey's new experiences connecting with audiences as an author, rather than as a playwright:

As the author of three produced plays, Claudia Dey is accustomed to the public experience of sitting anxiously in a theatre on opening night trying to gauge the audience's reaction to her literary efforts.

There was no such nerve-wracking event when her debut novel, Stunt, was published last month by Coach House Press. That suited Dey fine, although it also explains why she now finds herself looking forward to public readings.

"I really enjoy these engagements with readers," says Dey over coffee at Bar Italia. "In the theatre, the transfer from the private to the public is so much more amplified. You have an opening night with this huge audience and all the critics. You're suddenly sharing your work with so many more people.

"With the novel it has been a lot more low-key and intimate. I'm enjoying these miniature conversations with people who are engaging with the book."

Dey is scheduled to read Monday at Kensington's Supermarket as part of the Toronto launch of "Fiery First Fiction," a national program aimed at promoting the efforts of first-time authors. Technically, Dey fits the bill, although she hardly counts as a literary neophyte.

Beaver, her writing debut for the stage, was first staged at the 1999 Rhubarb! festival and then later produced at Factory Theatre. It was followed by two other widely lauded works, The Gwendolyn Poems and Trout Stanley, both of which also premiered at Factory.

There was never any thought in Dey's mind that Stunt would also end up on the stage.

"The story began with a very persistent image I had of a girl on a tightrope walking above Kensington Market," she says. "As I took notes, it became clear that it was meant to be a prose work.

"I've always had this secret lust to write a novel. It's always been this quiet dream. And this time it was like I really didn't have a choice."

Mixing darkness and whimsy, the novel tells the story of a 9-year-old girl, Eugenia Ledoux, who is abandoned along with her mother and sister by the eccentric family patriarch, Sheb. The experience causes Eugenia to suddenly double in age.

"I really believe that loss and sorrow is accompanied by some kind of transformation," says Dey, who writes an advice column on relationships in the Globe and Mail. "I wanted to take the emotional transformation that comes out of a rupture and mark it physically. We've all aged overnight when we've lost something. So I thought, `I'll just put it in the book.'"

It is hardly the only fantastical element in a book that also involves an explosion at a shoulder-pad factory and tightrope walking.

"My editor was permissive of any of my stranger instincts," Dey says. "As long as I earned it through the writing, she would let it go."

While Dey has not brought the curtain down on her stage career, she allows that her next project will almost certainly be another novel.

"I've always thought of writing as the invisible profession," she says. "You close the door and you hide. Then you open the door and you have this offering for the world.

"Writing a novel is even more monkish in its solitude than writing a play. I'm a solitary person, so it really suits me. I loved being inside this imagined world, just following my instincts."

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