Mothers & Memories: Rachel Lachmansingh in Conversation with Joanne John

Joanne John

Joanne John, whose story “Tasting Colour” appears in The Malahat Review's winter issue #221, talks with previous contributor Rachel Lachmansingh about building on an opening idea, stopping when you feel a story is done, and exploring the mother/daughter dynamic in her writing.

Read an excerpt of her story “Tasting Colour” here.


Joanne John is an Ottawa writer whose work ranges from playwriting to poetry. She was awarded 2nd prize in a Canadian Authors Association Poetry Contest for her poem “On Wellington Street” and subsequently wrote and co-produced Stories of the Shell, with support from the Great Canadian Theatre Company and the National Arts Centre. Her monologues have been performed at the AfriCanadian Playwrights’ Conference, Harbourfront Festival, and were featured in a compendium of monologues Telling it Like it Is, edited by Djanet Sears. Joanne is a past member of the NAC's playwright’s unit. Her poems have appeared in the online publication, The Sentinel, and she has been a feature poet at the Dusty Owl Series, Voices of Venus and Arts Night. Joanne’s short story, “The Derelict Café,” won first prize in the 2013 Carleton University Writing Competition. Her play, four whores and a pro was stage read at Arts Court as part of the 2018 Undercurrents series. In 2019, the Theatre Artists’ Co-operative: The Independent Collective Series (TACTICS) produced a workshop of four whores and a pro at Arts Court, and in 2020, Joanne’s new play Puzzles was workshopped online with support from TACTICS. Puzzles was featured in the Ottawa Fringe Festival in June 2022, and was subsequently nominated for four Prix Rideau Awards, including Best New Creation.

“Tasting Colour” is an impressively compact piece. How do you approach writing such short fiction?

I suppose I approach all writing with an opening idea or concept, whether poetry, plays or short fiction, then I build on it as I write hoping it all gels together. In this case, I wrote the first sentence a couple of years ago then sat down one evening and started writing until I was finished the first draft. Of course, I went back at it a few times afterwards until I had a draft I felt was done.

What was your inspiration behind writing about pica?

First off, I wanted to write a story about a woman who’s labeled as “crazy” partly because she sees the world through her unique prism, one full of colours. Also, I had learned about pica during one of my pregnancies, how it drove some people, pregnant women included, to eat things not usually seen as food. I decided to incorporate the disorder into the story as the Mother’s way of internalizing colour, by eating chalk.

The prose in “Tasting Colour” is beautifully specific. Do you have a technique for crafting vivid imagery?

Thank you, but I can’t really say that I have a particular technique. The words just come together in my mind to create the image I want, then if it’s not quite right, I move them around or replace them with better ones until I’m satisfied.

The relationship between mother and child in your story is especially poignant. What was your experience writing this dynamic?

I’m always fascinated by different experiences of the mother/daughter dynamic. I wanted this story to explore how our mothers, however flawed they might have been, can leave us with powerful memories and feelings of connection.

Have you read something recently that’s been inspiring to your writing/process?

Lately, I have been reading short and flash fiction so I thought I’d try my hand at telling a full story in less than 1000 words. “Tasting Colour” ended up being shorter than I intended but I stopped when I felt it was done.


Rachel Lachmansingh

Rachel Lachmansingh

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