Story by Sandra Williams-Hervé
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Jowita Bydlowska doesn’t have a problem with telling personal stories.
In fact, Bydlowska has written one of the most talked about books of the year, Drunk Mom. For 11 months she tried to hide the shame of her alcoholism by delving into the world of escapism. The result is one shockingly amazing read. From coast to coast her excruciatingly honest memoir has elicited both positive and negative reactions.
We caught up with the Polish-born and Toronto-based author during this year’s International Festival of Authors (IFOA) and discussed the reaction to her memoir, the future of Canadian literature, the beauty of Canada, and petting elk.
Vacay.ca: You’ve been on the road lately. What city or province in Canada has been your greatest source of inspiration?
Jowita Bydlowska: I loved, loved Vancouver. I’m actually working on a novella that was inspired by my recent visit to Vancouver for the writers festival. I really enjoyed Banff – it was just magical. I was thinking, too, during my trip out West, how little I’ve seen of Canada, and, what a fascinating country we are.
Vacay.ca: It’s easy to love Banff. Where else are you in love with?
Bydlowska: I love Nova Scotia and Quebec (Montreal particularly) and, of course, Toronto; but there’s so, so much more to explore here. I wish the flights were cheaper. I’d go to Vancouver all the time.
Vacay.ca: Where do you think every writer should travel to?
Bydlowska: Outside of their comfort zone, which, is to say that a North American should find Europe interesting or South America or Africa. Somewhere that you are not comfortable, I think. But that’s advice I’d give to anyone.
Vacay.ca: What about Toronto? You’re currently working on your novella, is there a favourite haunt that you like to go to?
Bydlowska: Toronto Island. I go there all summer; it’s the best place ever. I couldn’t go away this summer because of all the media I was doing so I didn’t get any vacation days. So, I would go [to the Toronto Islands] religiously twice a week on my bike throughout all the construction. I like Yorkville, too. I like all the little hills there and also High Park.
Vacay.ca: Considering that one of the major themes of this year’s IFOA is conflict, since the launch of your book, Drunk Mom, you have had your fill of angry responses. For instance, one reviewer wrote, “She dares the reader to hate her.” Were you expecting such intense negativity towards your memoir?
Bydlowska: I was expecting strong reactions, yes. They’ve been both positive and negative. I suppose the negative stuff is more salacious but I consider both types of reactions equally valid.
Vacay.ca: Your book is unabashedly honest and raw. Why did you feel compelled to write it and why now?
Bydlowska: I felt compelled to write it because I’m a writer. Also, I thought it was an interesting story to tell and I was confident I would be able to maintain enough distance from it being my own story and to be able to tell it as honestly as possible.
Vacay.ca: Do you think that the type of honesty that is poured out into the 289 pages of Drunk Mom is typical or atypical of contemporary Canadian literature?
Bydlowska: I truly don’t know. I’ve been told that the book was unusual because Canada is a fairly conservative country but I don’t know; we have our share of wonderful, honest stories. Priscilla Uppal’s Projection comes to mind.
Toronto Author Receives Emails From All Over the World
Vacay.ca: What kind of a response have you had to your book internationally?
Bydlowska: They liked it enough in Australia to publish it there (with HarperCollins) and they liked it enough in the US (Penguin, 2014). I get emails from people all over the world though – recently Brazil and before that Poland (maybe not surprisingly since I’m Polish) and before that the UK, Sweden and other parts of Europe.
Vacay.ca: How has the release and responses to your first work influenced things that you are currently working on or in your day-to-day life?
Bydlowska: I’ve maintained the same work ethic. I write like it’s my job. It is my job. I try to write every day.
Vacay.ca: What do you think Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize means for Canadian literature?
Bydlowska: I think it was wonderful that she won and I think her win will bring more attention to Canadian literature internationally. We need that – we need more attention because we have some amazing writers here.
Vacay.ca: What are your tips for surviving a book tour?
Bydlowska: It’s a pretty fun thing to have to survive. There will be parties so bring high heels, if you’re a woman or man who likes to wear heels. And bring one of those awful little down-filled jacket things to line your fancy coat with. Bring a phone charger. Be nice to everyone. Don’t pet elk if you go to Banff.