Startle and Illuminate

Carol Shields on Writing

Publisher: Random House Canada
In the course of her extraordinary career, which included the novels The Stone Diaries, Larry's Party, The Republic of Love and Unless, as well as poetry, short stories, biography and plays, Carol Shields was unfailingly encouraging of other writers. She read and commented on her friends' manuscripts. She taught writing classes and she spoke and wrote on the craft of writing. Her own discipline rarely faltered. Her daily practice was to write a new page, then edit the page written the day before, then repeat, until, after a year or so, her book was finished. Now in her own words, as clear and straightforward as a glass of water, comes Startle and Illuminate, the best possible guide to the writing process, from conception to publication. This essential work, drawn by her daughter and grandson from her voluminous correspondence with other writers, essays, notes, comments, criticism and lectures, is a last gift from one of our finest novelists meant for both aspiring and established writers. It helps answer some of the most fundamental questions about writing: such as, why we write at all, whether writing can be taught, what keeps a reader turning the pages, and how a writer knows when a work is done.
     For Shields's devoted readers, Startle and Illuminate reveals her own thoughts on why we read--to be the other, to touch and taste the experience of the other; and why we write--for the joy of the making, to reimagine our world, to discover patterns and uncover forms that echo our realities as well as interrogate them, to imagine alternate worlds. It is a beautiful legacy.


“What is valuable . . . is the glimpse this slim volume affords into the creative mind of an author whose work continues to exert an influence on the development of literature in Canada more than a decade after her untimely death.” —Steven W. Beattie, Quill & Quire (Editor’s Choice)

“For anyone missing the Shieldsean way with words, [Startle and Illuminate] is not merely instruction—but a gift. . . . [Startle and Illuminate is a] highly readable collection. . . . Beyond the advice, the book is also, yes, illuminating in terms of Shields’s process and even her life. . . . There are also some sharp observations about how women have been marginalized in literature. . . . Perhaps you are not a writer, but a reader who misses the mastery of Shields’s prose, the excitement of reading new (‘new’) words of hers. This book is for you too.” —Marsha Lederman, The Globe and Mail 

“Shields’s collected thoughts on writing provide insight and guidance. . . . Shields was well-known for certain views on literature and these are included, along with fascinating details on how a few of her novels came about. . . . [Shields] makes some excellent points on pace—on how to speed the narrative up and slow it down. She emphasizes scene-building and the importance of good dialogue. And she lists the characteristics of what constitutes a good novel. . . . Startle and Illuminate is a good handbook for any writer to keep close by, and will also be of interest to the general reader who wants to know how in blazes writers turn ordinary words into spellbinding stories.” —Winnipeg Free Press