Mary Novik lives in Vancouver and is the author of Conceit, set in seventeenth-century London. Conceit was chosen as a book of the year by The Globe and Mail and Quill & Quire. It was long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller and won The Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize (BC Book Prizes). Mary Novik’s website can be found here.
I bought the bag in this photograph a few months before the launch of my debut novel, Conceit. The main character of my novel is Pegge Donne, the daughter of the poet John Donne. She's infatuated with the fisherman Izaak Walton, who pays little attention to her, until one day,
He asked Pegge if a servant could take him to the river to see whether there were any fish to be caught. She was so pleased that she took him herself, wearing a dreary brown stuff dress. From her shoulder hung a wooden box fitted with a leather strap. On the bank, it opened to reveal fifty compartments, each with a tiny, vibrant creature. He lifted one out: a tuft of badger's hair, the softest yellow hog down, and a white dove-feather, twisted together with white silk. It was then he recalled that he had once made a promise to build her a rod, but never kept it.
As I was working on Conceit, this box nestled in the back of my mind as the perfect apparatus.
I love writing, but before you have a book published you are invisible. You spend most of your life chained in the doghouse, typing. When you get out, you talk about your work compulsively and people feign thirst and head back to the bar. But by Summer 2007, I'd read proofs, checked the book jacket, and Conceit was in production. In a few months, it would be a real book. In this post-partum stage, authors are supposed to chill instead of persecuting the publisher by asking how things are going. Obviously, I needed to get away from my phone and e-mail.
I shopped around for a bag with the right heft and symbolism, something to announce that I was a real author. It needed to be large enough so I could whip out my novel to read from it without having to root around clumsily. This bag was perfect, luxurious black suede, yet workmanlike, with weighty hardware. The zips were stiff, so I rubbed them with beeswax. Everything had to be in good working order. Inside went my makeup, toothbrush, and zinc tablets to suck before events. The pockets on the side were just right for my cell, my keys, Conceit bookmarks, and the snappy business cards I'd had printed in Paris.
After my first event, lovely new copies of Conceit were produced and folded open to the title page for me to sign. "Do you have a special writer's pen?" Gulp. I pulled out a tacky ballpoint and tried to brazen it out, but the pen smudged, exposing me as an amateur.
That afternoon, I shopped for a sturdy, professional pen and tucked it into a pocket of my hold-all. Now my apparatus box was ready.
Read more about the Capacious Project here.
To view all the contributions to the project go here.