Strathy Language Unit

Strathy Language Unit

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Writing English in Montreal (part 4)
Date: March 1, 2016 |  Category: News
Author: Rachel Montour

Editors Note: This is the final part of a four-part series exploring the work of multilingual authors in Montreal who choose to write in English. Why do these individuals choose English, and how have their own linguistic backgrounds and the bilingual context of Montreal shaped this choice and their work? Strathy literary intern and English graduate student Rachel Montour, herself a bilingual Montrealer, interviewed four young writers on this topic. The focus of her forth piece is Vincent Orellana-Pepin. (Click here to read the previous profiles of Patra Dounoukos ReiserJohn Henry Rumsby and Phillipe Shane To.)

She had never seen anything other than Granaghan Beg and most of her time was spent in or around their little house at the northernmost edge of Ballycar Lough, about a hundred and fifty yards from where two unnamed roads converged, a stone's throw away from the water and a life away from anything else. She laughed loudly as she always did when he kissed her brow and he lovingly placed her head on the worn out pillow whilst wishing her the sweetest dreams. He walked down the cracked and creaking stairs and out the front door, locking the deadbolt and the chunky master lock behind him. (Work in progress, Untitled) [Click here for a longer excerpt.]

Vincent Orellana-Pepin describes his prose as clean and honest. “If a sentence needs to be short then it will be short, but if it needs to be long then it will run half a page. I very much dislike comas and all kinds of punctuation. I do not believe that words should be interrupted by it”, he explains. Vincent reiterates the importance of honesty in his works when he further explains his narrative choices: “I try to keep my prose realistic and never dwell in science fiction or fantasy. I very much appreciate the omniscient narrator because I believe that it births the most honest prose”. Through his fiction, Vincent aims not to write about “great heroes like Tolkien did”, but to make his mundane characters his readers’ heroes. This modernist focus on realistic portrayal of the everyday life serves an avowed fascination for the human condition and reasoning. “I am not interested in crimes and mysteries, […] I am more interested in what makes you [unique]”, he states.

For Vincent, the creative process is thus an intimate one as it reveals “honest” depictions of humanity through setting and characterization. His aesthetic focus on individuality reflects a personal investment which in turn is confirmed through the affirmation of language as a prime component of his identity: 

My trade, [Language], is what the stock market is to the broker. It is what I have to offer and it is what I hold most dear to me. I have always loved attention, from my childhood years to my days as an international athlete. I wanted everyone's eyes to be on me, and now, the way I captivate people's attention is by speaking, by writing, by telling stories.

In this answer, literature and language are not dissociated as Vincent does not specify to which languages he identifies most and why, but rather refers to the broader concept: language as a mode of communication. 

In another section of this interview, he identifies Spanish as his mother tongue, but he has also learned French and English from his parents. Despite his fluency in all three languages, Vincent has “never even considered French or Spanish” to write his fiction. English is “just better suited” for his style. He explains that he considerably prefers “the plasticity of the words in English than in any other language. English just sounds better than anything else” for what he aims to accomplish through his works.

When asked to reflect on the role of his individual and social linguistic context on his writing in English, he declares:

I do not believe that where you are from or where you write makes any difference in a writer's journey. If his stories and messages are relevant, they will make their way around and people will appreciate them. Yes I write in English in Quebec, but I do not believe that that changes anything. I write for the people who want to read me, for those who are interested in what I have to say, whether they be Jason from New York or Abhishek from Nepal, if they speak English and want to hear me, then I am writing for them.

He leaves the interview with this claim that Literature transcends its social environment and its creative process remains unaffected by linguistic decisions. It is appreciated for the art’s sake regardless of external pressures.