Thursday, August 1, 2013

Meet our Readers - Ania Szado

Ania Szado's new novel, Studio Saint-Ex, is a national bestseller in Canada and has sold to five countries to date. Her first novel, Beginning of Was, was regionally shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and an AOCA from Ontario College of Art. Ania currently mentors writers one-on-one. She is the 2013 Writer in Residence for Whistler, BC, and will be teaching creative writing at University of Toronto in 2014. Visit her website:
Excerpt from Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado
Long after I had exhausted my shallow store of inspiration, Antoine still wrote, oblivious to his setting, to the hard floor under him, to me. I felt I was watching a man possessed by a zealous ghost, so unearthly was his silent intensity.
Then, without warning, an invading imp dislodged the zealot from his head. He turned around to grab at my legs, pulling me onto him as I fought and squealed.
“What have you drawn?” he asked, laughing.
I blushed. “I’ve designed a coat. For your prince.”
“Really? Have you sketched a whole wardrobe for the Little Prince? I will ask my publishers to offer him for sale as a paper doll.”
At first I thought he was serious. Imagine if my work could be produced on the scale of Antoine’s—and with his blessing! But he had made a sound, a truncated laugh that was almost a grunt. He was joking . . . or he wasn’t amused at all.
I said, “Better ask your prince what he thinks of the idea. He’s the one who told me to make him a coat.”
Now Antoine did laugh. He joined me on the sofa. “It’s true that princes can be somewhat demanding.”
“He’s right, though. He’ll be flying very high. Think how cold the air will be up there.”
Antoine nodded. “You have designed for him a very regal coat.”
“It’s not too much like a dressing gown?”
“Not at all.”
“I could put some ermine on the collar.”
“He’s just a child. Ermine is for kings.” He pointed to the prince’s shoulders. “You might add a little something here. Boys like a bit of glittery metal.”
I gave him my pencil, and he added a few quick lines.
I asked, “How about giving him a scepter?”
“What for?”
“To show his royal authority.”
Antoine thought for a moment. “I will write of authority, but not the prince’s. He has so much to learn.” He gestured for me to show him more sketches. “What else?”
“Nothing worth showing.”
“Shall I read to you what I have written so far?”
“I would love it.” I put my sketchbook on the table and leaned against him, studying the drawings that illustrated the text.
He began reading from his manuscript. “‘Once, when I was six years old . . .’”
Antoine read, his voice swelling like a springtime stream brought forth by the life he had created. And what a boy he had made. Antoine’s unruly charm, my blond hair; so curious and touching; so vexing. So lonely and far from home.
Antoine’s child. Yearning grew in me like thirst.
I was so taken with the story that when he broke off, I said, “Don’t stop! It’s not done.”
“I told you so, Mignonne; that is why I came here. I still have much work to do.”
“But I want to hear the rest.”
He chuckled. “Then perhaps you should greet me more warmly next time I show up to write.”
“You’ll come back? You feel productive here?”
“It went very well, compared to my last couple of nights. When I try to work in my apartment, the voice of the city through the windows has a distressing sound. There’s no sense of that here. It is so empty and still.”
“But not entirely quiet.”
“The sounds are different, and the feel. This place was built for hard, honest work. One doesn’t sense the piling up of people in their skyscrapers. There’s dignity in this building’s bones. You must feel the energy put out by buildings; I am sure your father did.”
“I felt it when we went to Bernard Lamotte’s.”
“Le Bocal. Yes. It is a very good place. It is like a little piece of France.”
“Is it? I’ve never been to France.”
The contentment in his expression fell away. “And now you can never see France as it has always been. Soon there may be no France at all. Oh, Mignonne, it breaks my heart to think of what you will never see or feel.”
I rubbed his shoulders. “Lie down.”
He stretched out, and I eased his head to my lap.
He closed his eyes as though to stop tears from escaping into the crow’s-feet wrinkles that radiated toward his temples. “You are kind to me. And I am so alone. There is no one who shares my memories, not a single man left on earth. The men I have flown with, friends I have lived with . . . Guillaumet, Mermoz . . . the entire Casablanca-Dakar team with Aéropostale, every man on the South American route . . . they are all gone. Disappeared with the mail, crushed, some of them melted with their machines. I am the only one still alive, the last who can still give his life to some greater good.” His tone grew ashamed. “And I do nothing; I lie weeping. France is imprisoned and I am of no use.”
“Don’t say that. The tide will turn. You’ll go back to France and see it free.”
“All I need is one signature. But I am shackled by spineless imbeciles who think I am too old to fly. At least I can believe that you feel there is hope. I knew from when I first met you: you are honest. You are not afraid to tell the truth.”
The truth was, I had told him what he wanted to believe. As I touched his lined brow and traced the scar at the edge of his mouth, I prayed he would see his beloved France liberated—but also that he would never fly again. I had never known so abused a body, so anguished a spirit, so vital a mind. So many times he had been flung into the ground. He would rather be dropped by the hand of God than be banished from the skies.
In my lap, Antoine said, “Once, I was lost for four days in the Libyan desert, with my mechanic Prévot. We were desperate for water. I spread out my parachute to try to catch the dew. In the morning, there was nothing; not a single drop. I just stared. I could not even make tears. I remember thinking that even my heart was dried out.”
Moisture beaded on his lashes. They gathered in points like black stars. I touched them gently. “Your heart isn’t dry anymore.”
“But it is cold, like the heart of this city is cold. Talk to me, Mignonne. Make me love life.”

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