Whatever gets me through the day

(With thanks to Susan Orlean for the idea)

Where did you grow up?

In Dublin’s fair city (“where the girls are so pretty”).

Where and what did you study?

University College Dublin. Majored in English, drama, satirical revues, Guinness, and pretty girls.

Where do you live and why?

Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Albertans are my raw material. I write about them. I immortalize them.

Of which of your books are you most proud?

The first one, Building a Province. It opened the gate for me.

Describe your morning routine.

Check calendar. Check upcoming deadlines. Check e-mail. Check Twitter. Check Facebook. Check LinkedIn. If all’s right with the world, I drink tea and start writing.

What is a distinctive habit or affectation of yours?

I always check my e-mail but rarely answer the phone.

What is your favourite item of clothing?

A crisp shirt.

Please recommend three books (not your own) to your readers.

Blue Nights, The Year of Magical Thinking, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. All by Joan Didion. One of America’s best nonfiction writers.

What book do you wish you had written?

Mavericks by Aritha van Herk. She’s an Alberta novelist who turned her hand to history and did it better than those of us who profess to write history for a living.

Describe your routine when conceiving of a book and its content, before the writing begins.

Go for a long walk and daydream.

Describe your writing routine.

Shut off radio. Close blinds. Drink tea. Write lead. Check e-mail. Write second sentence. Check Facebook. Write third sentence. Check Twitter. Rewrite lead. Check New York Times home page. Finish ‘graph. What more can I tell you?

Do you have any unusual rituals associated with the writing process?

See above.

Besides the obvious, what do you keep on your desk?

A shillelagh. Don’t ask.

What is the view from your favourite work space?

I never really notice. The blinds are always closed. Sometimes I think it may be snowing outside, but I never know for sure.

What do you do when you are stuck or have temporary writer’s block?

Check Twitter. Check Facebook. Go to Tai Chi.

What do you do to relax?

See above.

Do you have any superstitions?

I believe that if I finish my day’s writing in the middle of a sentence, I’ll be able to pick up tomorrow where I left off and never miss a beat. If I finish with a full stop, I’ll get writer’s block for sure.

What is something you always carry with you?

My credit card. Even when I’m walking around the house. You never know when a buying opportunity might present itself.

What is your favourite snack?

The pizza slice I put in the fridge after last night’s supper.

What phrase do you overuse?

“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

What would you do for work if you were not a writer?

I wouldn’t work. I’m too old to do anything other than write.

Tell us something about you that is largely unknown and perhaps surprising.

I made it into the Guinness Book of World Records (1981 edition, p. 212) with the shortest book review ever written.

What would you like carved onto your tombstone?

“He never ate his vegetables.”