Margaret Sweatman is a playwright, poet, performer and novelist. Her plays have been produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange, Popular Theatre Alliance, and the Guelph Spring Festival. She has performed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, and the National Academy Orchestra, as well as with her own Broken Songs Band. With her husband, composer Glenn Buhr, Sweatman won a Genie Award 2006 for Best Song in Canadian Film.
Margaret Sweatman is the author of the novels Fox, Sam and Angie, When Alice Lay Down with Peter, The Players, and, most recently, Mr. Jones (2014).
A longer bio
My first novel, Fox, published in 1991, is located in the famous Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. It’s a collage of voices. I chose the Strike as the basis for my novel because I grew up in Winnipeg, a city that was divided north and south, economically and racially. Fox is an exploration of that divide.
I was lucky to be asked to translate Fox into a play, produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange and CBC Radio (directed by Michael Springate) in 1996. Theatre, history, politics, and music are among the most powerful forces in my life.
My second novel, Sam and Angie, explores the idea that narration – and love in its various weird forms – can be a form of surveillance. I wanted to work in a present filled with the anxiety of the undetermined moment, with what is unknowable in oneself and in others, even those with whom we’re most intimate.
Having worked with a small, intense scenario for Sam and Angie, I then wanted to write a sprawling chronicle, a comedy. This led to my third novel, When Alice Lay Down with Peter.
When Alice Lay Down with Peter is told by Blondie McCormack, who is 109 years old and who drops dead in the Prologue. It begins with the birth of Blondie, and the birth of my home province, Manitoba, in 1870, and dies with Blondie in 1979.
While I was writing When Alice Lay Down with Peter, my husband and I fought and lost a battle with the Red River. While our house was under water and we were evacuated, I put the manuscript for Alice aside to write a play called “Hectic.” “Hectic” was the end-result of a couple of years of workshops with theatre artists and sex trade workers, nine of whom eventually performed in the play, along with four professional actors. In the course of our workshops, the actor Debbie Patterson introduced me to the 17th century courtesan and comic actress, Nell Gwyn. I worked a version of Nell Gwyn into “Hectic.” But this historical figure, and her life in Restoration England, continued to haunt me.
So I began to work on what would eventually become The Players, my fourth novel, published by Goose Lane Editions in 2009.
The Players is about acting (in the 17th century actors were “players”). The central female figure, Lilly Cole, was first inspired by Nell Gwyn and her relationships with King Charles and his Court. The stories of brave coureurs de bois exploring a New World, all that lumber-jacket, birch bark stuff was concurrent with a Court notorious for its decadence, its sexual battleground, and its baroque theatre. That strikes me as a really peculiar coalescence – which returns us to the notion that a novel can be an ensemble piece, a collage of voices.
My most recent novel is Mr. Jones (Goose Lane, 2014).
Mr. Jones is the story of Emmett Jones, a man who flew with Bomber Command in Germany in WWII and, post-War, has launched a promising career with External Affairs in Ottawa. Emmett was born in Japan, speaks Japanese, and would have had much to contribute to Asian affairs (the Korean War, and eventually the war in Vietnam), but he is snagged by the paranoid anti-communist campaign that flared up around Joe McCarthy in the U.S.
Mr. Jones comes under surveillance by the RCMP and the FBI, a surveillance that never actually accomplishes anything and never actually ends. This novel reveals the power invested in the state to pry into our lives.