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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > APRIL 2017 > A painstaking effort

A painstaking effort

Barbara Gowdy persevered through chronic pain and illness to write her first novel in 10 years


Barbara Gowdy is a perfectionist who, by her own admission, can spend several days honing a single sentence. But there was more than painstaking attention to detail behind the author’s recent, decade-long publishing hiatus.

Gowdy composed her new novel while lying down, afflicted by chronic lower back pain, and typing on a propped-up laptop. Even then, Gowdy only was able to work during spells when the pain had sufficiently subsided, lessening her reliance on powerful, but dulling, medication. “My pain gets so bad sometimes that for months on end I can’t write,” she says, while lying on a sofa in her tidy, smartly appointed Cabbagetown home, discomfort visibly etched on her face. “I’m just in bed. And I’m on heavy-duty drugs like oxycodone that make me too woozy. When I’m feeling better, I can taper off the drug and write a bit.”

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Dennis Lee: The iconic poet returns with a career-spanning collection; The profound resilience of Barbara Gowdy.