By Leslie Lindsay
You’d never know this is a debut. Anna Quinn writes with such a steady hand and full heart, but her words are sparse and poetic. Please join us in conversation as she talks about giving up traditional conventions, listening to the rhythm of language, and so much more.
Perhaps the most powerful, most lyrically written book I’ve read in a long time. THE NIGHT CHILD encompasses luminous prose in a tender tale of traumatic childhood experiences and the fragile curtain of mental health and motherhood in this arresting debut.
Nora Brown teaches high school English and lives an uncomplicated life with her 6-year old daughter Fiona and husband Paul. But when, one day near Thanksgiving, Nora glimpses a disembodied face with startling blue eyes and then, later, a message and the image deepens, Nora is completely terrorized. What—whom—was that? And what do they want?
Tests are run. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with Nora, so what was going on? Was it microsleep? Was it just her imagination?
Shaken and completely unnerved, Nora seeks the care of a psychiatrist. As the tale progresses, we learn darker truths, family history and secrets surface, and there’s more, too.
I tore through THE NIGHT CHILD. Quinn’s prose is so lucid, so glittering, it absolutely took my breath away. Readers need to be aware that the experiences portrayed are traumatic, yet under Quinn’s gentle hand, they are handled with softness and sympathy, maybe even poetry.
Please join me in welcoming Anna Quinn to the blog couch.
Leslie Lindsay: Anna, this book! Oh my. You absolutely blew me away. This is your fiction debut, but you’ve also written poetry and you teach, too. Before we get into all that, I want to know: what was driving you to write THE NIGHT CHILD?
Anna Quinn: First, thank you for having me! And thank you for your wonderful words about THE NIGHT CHILD. So now, to answer your question about the driving forces behind the story. There were many. I wanted to explore the themes of patriarchy, feminism, dissociation, sexual abuse and identity through fiction—I’d written into those themes for a decade as memoir, but I’d become stuck in my singular story, and I wanted more. I needed the perspective my imagination offered, and I also needed freedom from the voices on my shoulders. I wanted to write a survival, triumph story. I wanted to give voice to a child who hadn’t been heard for decades. I wanted to write a story about how essential it is to listen to the child within, how essential loving that child is to survival. I wanted to write about the tremendous urge of the body and mind and heart to heal itself. I wanted to write into destruction and create something life-affirming. I wanted to help in some way to dissolve the pervasive issue of child abuse in our country.
L.L.: How did your work as a poet and essayist inform your writing for THE NIGHT CHILD? Or, did it?
Anna Quinn: It did. I’ve always had a deep interest in form—how it informs content and vise-versa. Poetry and essay influence my fiction and fiction influences my poetry and essay writing—each form brings something to the table.
Essay challenges me to look beyond my familiar story and to explore the “so what” of it. Questioning the significance of content in THE NIGHT CHILD led me to a complete shift of consciousness, urged me to focus on the specific thoughts, feelings and experiences of Margaret and Nora.
And poetry? I’ve loved poetry since I was a child—felt immediately at home with the mystery, beat and pulse of it—it’s how I think really—in sensory fragments. Poetry insists I close my eyes and feel around for heartbeats—it challenges me to question and smell and taste abstractions—to go beyond primary emotions into the layers below, to continually adjust my lens, whether it’s to magnify an image, or blow the image apart and finger the pieces. Poetry teaches me to take words away if they don’t carry essential substance and intensity, to trust and use white space for breath or tension, to spend time with rhythm, and to break way from conventional restraints of structure and language.
“The Night Child is an exhilarating debut: Quinn immediately pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go until the final scene. She commands each page and expertly dives into the inner working of a broken mind. This fast-paced, riveting novel of coping with the past while trying to salvage life in the present is hard to put down.”
L.L.: What aspects of writing did you struggle with when you tackled fiction for the first time? What do you think you did ‘right,’ and what might you have done better?
Anna Quinn: I think once I let go of conventional structure, and the idea that I had to do certain things, like create a traditional arc or trajectory or have certain forced plot points, and accepted the role of witness and artistic advisor, rather than a controlling narrator, the story opened up and told itself. Letting go of the voices on my shoulders wasn’t easy for me though, which is why I struggled with memoir. But once I shifted to third-person I was able to step back and trust the story in a new, more imaginative way.
L.L.: There are a lot of psychological goings-on in this tale. Were you familiar with them ahead of time, or did you have to embark on some research? And I don’t want to ask about specifics, because I’m afraid I’ll give it away!
Anna Quinn: Hmmm, well, while the characters and events are imaginative, the emotional experiences in Nora’s life regarding her marriage, mothering, teaching and therapy were very familiar to me—they held the emotional truths of my body, my heart. Margaret’s memories were most familiar of all, and were heart-wrenching to write. I also interviewed psychiatrists and other people who had experienced dissociation and childhood sexual abuse as well.
L.L.: I so enjoyed how you brought the past to light in THE NIGHT CHILD, particularly as you write about Nora’s mother’s passage from Ireland to the U.S. and the trouble that ensued. I’m curious how that piece came to the narrative because it really adds a bit of depth and understanding to the current story.
Anna Quinn: I wanted to explore the generational impact of shaming and blaming the victim—who is almost always a woman. Maeve carried the shame of a teen pregnancy out of marriage in 1950’s Ireland. She was essentially thrown out of her country because of a patriarchal religion that made the consequences of her pregnancy, not only a sin but solely her fault, her disgrace, her cross to bear. This shame manifested as self-loathing and anger, and because it was only 1963, there wasn’t the kind of emotional and psychiatric support in American, then, as there is now.
L.L.: You’re a busy woman. You own a bookstore and teach writing. Plus, there’s that stuff called ‘living.’ Writing, if it’s going to happen, must be carved out carefully. What are some of your writing routines or priorities? And can you tell us about your [writing] workshops?
Anna Quinn: Now that my boys are grown and I run my own business, I’m fortunate that I can create my own writing schedule. I’ve designated Mondays and Tuesdays as sacred writing days and I sequester myself in my writing studio from 7 a.m. until late into the night, only stopping to take an occasional walk and eat something.
The rest of the week I write at home for a couple of hours in the morning and then head to the book shop to teach, curate books, or organize more writing workshops. ~Anna Quinn
I started the Writers’ WorkshoppeWriters’ Workshoppe over a decade ago. It began with my own search for a writing group—I’d placed a small flier on a bulletin board in our town and the response was so overwhelming, I decided to open a little space where people could come and find a group that fit their needs—ha, I was kind of like a writing group matchmaker. That little shop kept growing and we began offering workshops and bringing in instructors from around the country. Eventually my husband, Peter, and I bought the Imprint Bookstore in town and merged it with the Writers’ Workshoppe. Now, we have 7000 books and several workshops each day, readings and events, and it’s all rather magical.
L.L.: What is your most proud moment as a writer? This could be an actual moment in time or perhaps a piece of writing you’ve completed.
Anna Quinn: Oh, whoa, that’s a tough question, also the word, proud. But I guess if you mean a moment when I bit my lip hard because I did something scary and ha, I didn’t die? Well, it’s funny that the first writing moment that came to mind was winning a writing award in 6th grade. I’d written from the point of view of an onion named Ms. Pearl. She was struggling emotionally with people skinning off her layers.I was super nervous to submit it because it was just so weird, but my teacher nudged me to, so I did, and I won. I remember when my name was called out—I just couldn’t believe it. I remember that same feeling later, magnified a million times over, when my agent called to offer me representation for THE NIGHT CHILD, and then later still, when I signed the contract with Blackstone. But, the best moment of all— when the first box of books arrived, and I held THE NIGHT CHILD in my hands. Yeah, that was a moment.
L.L.: Is anything obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Anna Quinn: I’m pretty obsessed with the characters in my second novel right now. I can’t say much more except they are women pushing boundaries, and I’m all for that.
L.L.: Anna, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Anna Quinn: Thank you, your questions were so great. And thank you again for reading my book and offering your insightful comments about it.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE NIGHT CHILD, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna Quinn is an author, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, WA. She has thirty years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Psychology Today, Literature Circles and Response, Practical Aspects of Authentic Assessment, Instructor, Manifest-Station, Lit Fest Anthology 2016, and Washington 129 Anthology. Anna’s first novel, THE NIGHT CHILD, was published Jan. 30th, 2018 by Blackstone Publishing.
You can conncet with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of A. Quinn and used with permission. Exterior image of Imprint Bookstore retrieved from on 5.10.18].