I am very honored to have the opportunity to talk with Heather Spears, a multi-talented artist. Her disturbing and beautiful writing examines the fallacies and frailties of the human condition. While her gorgeous drawings capture both joy and tragedy with equal honesty and loveliness.
RLM: You’re an artist in two different fields – literary and visual. Which came first, drawing or writing?
HS: Drawing, I couldn’t write yet. When I was 5 my brother started school, and after walking with him there (safe days then) and meandering home, I had nothing to do. Mother gave me pencil and paper and I drew all day.
RLM: You draw a great deal of children, particularly children in crisis. Besides the request of parents, what compels you to capture children in this state?
HS: I love to draw anyone who is in a state of perfect presence, as kids are all the time. People of all ages become beautiful doing something difficult and completely absorbing, from musicians, athletes, women in childbirth, kids just being alive, great joy, great grief. The uncertainty about how long I’ve got focuses me – as with drawing people in motion, or a stillborn baby. This is not invention – it’s visible – absolute intent, complete attention harmonizes the look – if I can explain it (we all see it), it’s because all the facial muscles are in harmony and we read this because our brains can, and respond to it as beautiful.
RLM: Following up on the above question, your Tesseract trilogy revolves around how humans have developed into a bi-cephalic race (conjoined twins that share one body). This would seem to also capture children/humans in a state of physical crisis. What clarity do you think human beings can find through the experience of pain or struggle?
HS: As I said, it is a visible clarity we respond to; for me, I just want to draw it when I can.
RLM: You also write visually stunning and emotionally raw poetry. Would you mind sharing a piece with us here?
HS: Sometimes owing to circumstances, I can’t get to, or compete, what I want to draw. Then I write it out of me – this is about that:
The room I am brought into
looks east over the Fælled
the cot is close to the window, in the long dusk
there’s still enough luminance. It is rare
to draw here in daylight. I look down
at a downy roundness, the solid occiput
the bright snub of the nose, the smudged
shadows gaining ground like soil
under the tiny fingers. Past the glass
a child’s voice rises, happy in the big air.
I have to be fast
the light won’t last
RLM: Would you say your poetry is prompted mainly from your own life experience or from events/circumstances in the world at large?
HS: Always in experience, which has to include what I take into myself visually from the world at large.
Have you any plans to write another science-fiction or fantasy novel? Right now I have been asked to edit the Moonfall Trilogy down to one novel and am working on that. It is a chance to make some changes about conjoined twins as I learn more about them – though I am pleased that I got most things right. But I thought they walked late, and this is incorrect. Also I would bring in more resistance on the part of the society to allowing Tasman’s separate twins Betwar and Atwar to remain apart.. Look how our society will do anything to normalize (separate) conjoined twins, medical procedures so invasive that the result can be death. As with perfectly healthy Elish Holton, decapitated from her twin Katey in Ireland in 1991. In the same way, it would be acceptable in Moonfall society that ‘Medical Book’ interfere to join abnormal (separate) twins, specially after Atwar was injured and could no longer walk There is a kind of fascinated desperation to normalize, to meddle at all costs. American Abigail and Brittany Hensel beat the odds in 1990 being born in the right town with the right parents and a tough, supportive doctor. I would love to discuss Moonfall with them one day.
RLM: Though born and raised in Canada, you now reside in Denmark. Why did you decide to leave your native country and live elsewhere?
HS: We did not decide, we went to Scandinavia for one year – my then husband Lenny Goldenberg wanted to study Danish pottery. That was 1962. Staying was not a decision: it was more poverty, put-it-offness and apathy. I function in English, though I have to say that learning Danish was an unexpected gift – it is the root and muscle of English and made me more conscious of my tool and my craft. But the kids had to adjust to a “refugee” childhood because then I was your typical “refugee” mother, English in the home with all the childrens’ classics and all the home traditions. I figured our stay was temporary; it took about 8 years to realize it wasn’t. My ties to Canada are still very close and I publish and teach there, returning annually; and one son, now a translator, who came to Denmark at 9 months old, has now emigrated and lives in BC where he was born.
RLM: What message, if any, in your stories do you want readers to grasp?
HS: Well, it’s a dystopia so sort an eco-warning. But I guess Moonfall is mainly about the human body and what we do to survive. It is the old plot of one character we’d consider normal living in a society that sees her as a freak, and the outcome of all that. Plus how a society can insidiously and quickly change into something religiously repressive and dangerous (The Children of Atwar), something that is uncannily relevant here and now.
HS: Reading poetry – poetry interrupts and takes over. Prose does better with a routine. As I get older – well, old – I spend more time completing projects than starting new ones. I have too many on the go and a sense of not enough time. I am teaching less, getting it into the books. I still draw dead babies for a living.
RLM: What are you working on at the moment?
HS: 3 more books about drawing and perception. A collection of poetry. , a wise and hilarious book of letters from a friend. A kids’ book The Girl who Ran like a Boy – set in ancient Greece, the first Olympics. Trying to catch up on the electronic media and get my drawings out there, like the video Drawn from the Fire, my drawings of Palestinian children.
Learn more about Heather and her work on her website.