For the fourth time ever, Birks and Telefilm will honour 12 Canadian women in cinema at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).


Dress To Kill had the privilege of chatting with one nominee, best-selling novelist and screenwriter, Emma Donoghue. You may know her for her novel and feature film, Room, which was nominated for four Academy Awards, but as she embarks upon her latest project, a screen adaptation of Frog Music, we got to explore the woman beyond Room’s familiar quarters and watch her enter the infinite world.


Your novel Room was an international best seller and the movie was nominated for four Academy Awards, proving to be equally successful amongst the public. How involved were you with the process of transforming your novel into a film?

Emma Donoghue: Writers usually complain that it’s a traumatic process. In my case, I think I made one very smart decision, which was to hold out to the right director. I knew I could trust [Lenny Abrahamson’s] taste. I knew he was not going to make the film tacky in any way. It wouldn’t be voyeuristic and it was not going to be sentimental either. The business of working with him was wonderful. It was very much on the indie film model of working very closely writer and director together. It wasn’t like a big studio film at all, so I had a great time.


One of the most interesting aspects of this book is that it addresses such a dark subject through the eyes of a five-year-old. Why did you choose to have Jack narrate the novel?

ED: That was the whole idea of the book. I would never have written a kidnap story if it weren’t from his point of view. I thought the child’s perspective could offer just a much fresher take on the whole thing. We’ve all read crime stories and the idea of the locked up girl is very overfamiliar. The innocence of the child’s perspective and the fact that he doesn’t see these things as limits, I thought that would provide a really fresh angle. I also thought that the kidnap setup would offer a fresh angle on childhood because childhood is always a small tiny little world that then gradually opens up into a bigger world.


As an adult woman, it couldn’t have been easy to channel a five-year-old boy. How did you manage to give him such a genuine voice?

ED: I followed my son around. I watched what he was doing. I wrote down the things he was saying either to himself or to me. I studied his grammar. I asked him about his Lego. I noticed how he played with ordinary household objects. I just kept looking at my son, thinking, how would he be behaving while in a locked room? The difference is he’d probably be much tidier in that situation. If he only had a couple of homemade toys he’d be treasuring each one, whereas my son would be throwing toys around and saying, “oh, we’ll get more at the dollar store” [laughs].


True or false: ‘The book is always better than the movie’.

ED: No, I have to admit now. Movies can occasionally be better than books and in the case of Room, I really don’t mind which people prefer. I think in a way, they’re working the same kind of magic but using different techniques. I’ve dropped my old views that you should always read the book first. Some people say it’s probably better to watch the film first to get the gist of it and then the book can leave you off with additional details.


You’re currently working on the screenplay for Frog Music. Name one thing you’ll do differently this time around.

ED: I remember in writing the first film to the Room script, I was trying to polish every little scene and make sure the transitions between them were perfect. I was trying to make the first draft of the screenplay an absolutely complete document and I now realize that that is pointless because most of them get thrown away. I don’t mean you need to be careless, because obviously you want to impress people with your first draft. I’m staying much more relaxed this time about exactly which scenes are included, exactly what words they say, because I realize that it’s only a blueprint.



As a reader, do you have a guilty pleasure?

ED: Definitely. I have sought out every single one of the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. I’m not even guilty about them. He’s such an impeccable storyteller. He’s actually legendary in the trade. He uses this extraordinary method where he doesn’t plan at all. He does only one draft. I’m a huge planner. I’m fascinated by however it is that Lee Child manages to create these perfect plot machines.


What is your writing process like?

ED: One thing that’s distinct about my work is that I do a huge amount of planning. I think some writers have the gift to do all this in the back of their mind without being conscious about it, but my plot would be really feeble and long-winded and flaccid if I didn’t plan it out. If I plan out what’s going to happen in each chapter then I can see the flaws in advance. Something else I thought of is that I’ve got a treadmill desk! I’ve no exercise in my life apart from just regular walking with the kids, so the treadmill desk is an amazing way to build exercise into my working life.


Who are some writers that inspire you?

EB: Just looking at my ‘books to read’ shelf and I’m just salivating with excitement. Annie Proulx, Ann Patchett, Colm McCann. There are just so many.


As a member of the honorary group of women receiving the Birks Tribute from Telefilm, would you say that women in this field are given fewer opportunities than men?

ED: Oh definitely. In the world of fiction women are pretty equal. Every now and then there will be some exposé of women getting fewer reviews and quality papers or fewer book prizes, but it’s a marginal difference, whereas in the world of film, I think about 87% of films are written by men. It’s an incredibly male-dominated industry for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons I think is the hours of work. Once you’re directing a film, I think you pretty much can’t go home. So, it’s not very family friendly, which for some women is a problem. I had this unique opportunity to get into screenwriting in a way that’s usually quite difficult to get into, so I think everything that can be done to encourage women’s confident entry into the film business, you know, dressing ourselves with diamonds, whatever helps [laughing].


What’s the most rewarding part about being a writer?

ED: You feel you’re living the mortal life. There’s your own every day life, which might not be particularly exciting. You know, for every day with diamonds in it, there are plenty of days with nothing but grocery shopping. But through your characters you feel you live a comfortable life, it’s sort of like high-speed reincarnation.


Emma Donoghue will be receiving a gift by Birks at the Birks Diamond Tribute during Toronto’s International Film Festival along with directors Tracey Deer, Ann Marie Fleming, April Mullen, Léa Pool, and Ann Shin; actors Amanda Crew, Caroline Dhavernas, Christine Horne, Sandra Oh, and Jennifer Podemski, and scriptwriter Marie Vien. Selected by a jury of 20 well-established Canadian journalists and bloggers, these women who have distinguished themselves within the film industry, will be given this honour at an exclusive event held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto on September 12th.
















About The Author

Belinda Anidjar

Belinda is a writer with a BA in English Literature from Concordia University. She can be spotted reading in every public setting imaginable. Whether a 19th-century novel or a fashion magazine, she’s addicted to stories, fashion, and stories about fashion. Her eyes may rarely leave the page, but she can instantly be recognized by her tiny stature and bold lipstick.

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