Interview: Guillaume Morissette

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Set in Montreal, Guillaume Morissette’s novel New Tab spans a year in the life of twenty-six year old videogame designer Thomas. It’s a story of self-reinvention, bilingualism, ambiguous relationships, and enormous shared utility bills.

ROR: My first language is Welsh, but I’ve only ever written creatively in English, which I guess parallels your French/English situation. For me, I feel like I probably will want to write in Welsh at some point, but I maybe get the impression that writing in French isn’t even slightly something you’re considering at the moment?

GM: It’s just a pragmatic thing. Switching to English as my primary language and being friends with people from the Anglophone community in Montreal just felt like a fresh start to me, like a clean slate and a convenient way for me to reinvent myself and reset my identity and stuff. I also felt like writing in English instead of French had interesting advantages, like being able to reach a bigger audience online etc. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a thing in French, but it’s not impossible. I feel like it would have to be something I can only express in French.

I think I feel the same as you in that writing in a second language does give a sense of otherness/a unique perspective. I recently read Burrard Inlet by Tyler Keevil (who I think is roughly your age); I enjoyed that too, but it’s a very different Canada he’s writing about and stylistically it’s very different to New Tab. Do you read much Canadian literature?   

GM: I read a few things, but I also find it hard to relate to a lot of stuff from Canadian literature, probably because I don’t have the same influences or sensibilities or something. There this line in the Wikipedia entry for “Canadian literature” that goes something like, “Canada’s literature often reflects the Canadian perspective on nature, frontier life and Canada’s position in the world.” I remember reading that and just thinking, like, “Shit, I am totally doing it wrong.”

How early on did you become aware of alt lit? Which writers did you read/engage with first?

Pretty early. I got into contemporary literature in maybe 2009, and found a lot of stuff I liked just by reading HTMLGiant and other places. It honestly feels like those websites gave me a better literary education than my literary education. In late 2010, I began connecting with writers on social media and randomly added Steve Roggenbuck and other future “alt lit” people. In the summer of 2011, I travelled from Montreal to New York and did a reading with Steve, Spencer Madsen, Mike Bushnell and other internet writers. It felt like this weird inversion, like my internet life had become my real life and my real life had become my internet life. I’ve continued growing my online presence and maturing/evolving as a writer since, and I feel like I’ll probably continue pushing in that direction until it stops making my life interesting to me.

I really enjoyed the video game related stuff in New Tab. So, what’s your all time favourite computer/video game?

GM: Damn, hard to say. There are tons of games that I remember really liking, but I also feel like I would view them in a completely different way if I were to play them now. Growing up, I was really into games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Earthbound, Secret of Evermore or Uniracers. I liked role-playing games and games that had a witty script or were actually funny. The one game that dominated my imagination the most as a kid, I think, was this semi-obscure Japanese role-playing videogame called Ogre Battle. It had a linear plot that accounted for your decisions and gave you a lot of freedom to play whatever style you preferred, including good or evil. It was difficult, mysterious, at times morally ambiguous and very insane. I still experience flashbacks of that game from time to time, like, “Remember that time you got stranded in that s****y village on the far end of the map, that was good.”

My ideal game might be a multiplayer where everyone ignores each other for the most part. I really enjoyed the section in the novel where you talk about subverting Call of Duty; I’ve sometimes done similar stuff when playing online, like wounding rather than killing people and telling them this is their second chance to live a better life or whatever.

GM: There are times where writing and writers just feels like a big online multiplayer shooter to me. Like writers are jealous of other writers who they view as having more success than them, so their instinct tells them to s**t-talk other people or something, but I am really starting to feel like it’s kind of delusional to think you’re in some sort of ranked deathmatch with other writers. It seems so much more interesting to do the opposite, to try to be kind to other writers and support them. The thing is that literature is sometimes contagious, in that when you find a novel or a book you really like, you usually end up craving more stuff to read that feels equally pleasurable. So if someone else’s book is pleasurable and ends up getting people excited about books and wanting more, that’s not a bad thing for me, in that there are now more people interested in literature overall, I guess.

Guillaume Morissette’s novel New Tab (Vehicule Press) is available now @anxietyissue

Richard Owain Roberts’ short story collection All The Places We Lived (Parthian Books) will be available in March 2015 / @RichOwainRobs

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