By Nikayla Goddard, June 22, 2017 —
“I’m so deeply afraid of the supernatural that I’m pretty sure ghosts just stay away from me,” University of Calgary creative writing professor Suzette Mayr joked. “I’ve never had the luck of running into anything supernatural.”
Despite this, Mayr’s fifth book, Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, revolves around a professor working within the halls of a sentient — and malevolent — building. Mayr found inspiration for the antagonistic building in the universities she has both studied and instructed at, including the U of C, University of Alberta, the University of Greifswald in Germany and the University of Wollongong in Australia.
The beginning of the book came together when Mayr took a leave from the U of C in 2014 to get her PhD in creative writing from the University of New South Wales. As part of the program, Mayr wrote the novel, which takes a satirical look at academia in the midst of mysterious occurrences at the fictional Crawley Hall.
Mayr was also influenced by the phenomenon of sick building syndrome, where people in a building suffer from unexplained illnesses. Particularly, Mayr was interested in the case of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation building in Toowong, a suburb of Brisbane, which was abandoned due to 16 inexplicable cases of breast cancer in employees.
“What I actually was interested in was writing a novel about haunted houses,” Mayr says. “But for many years I’ve been thinking about the university environment and it just seemed to me after talking with a couple friends and editors and writers that there’s a big connection between [sick building syndrome] and haunted houses.”
Despite having written five novels, Mayr says she strives to perfect her craft with each book.
“[I’m still trying] to figure out what my voice is, which is surprising to me that I still don’t quite know,” she says. “My books are all different from each other thematically, I wouldn’t say so much in terms of style.”
Mayr released her previous book, Monoceros, in 2011. The novel is about seven characters’ perspectives of the suicide of a gay teen in a Catholic school.
“I was a bit worried that this book would come across as fluffy compared to my last book,” Mayr says. “But it was me returning to the basics of writing — one main character, one perspective, one setting.”
Mayr’s advice for new authors is to do your work instead of talking about it.
“A lot of emerging writers tend to sit around and talk about it a lot — that’s not how writing gets done,” she says. “It’s isolating — sometimes it can be boring — but sometimes it can also be thrilling. People who are perfectly talented and could be producing work are spending all their time yakking on Twitter or whatever about the work when it’s like, ‘Why aren’t you actually working on the work?’”
Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall is available online and in bookstores.