Many thanks to the marvellously talented Valerie Francis http://valeriefrancis.ca/ for tagging me for this Blog Hop!
What am I working on?
I am working on a couple of novels. The first, which will out in September, is called The Good Doctor. It is a kind of faux biography of Wilfred Grenfell, the self-styled Labrador doctor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, treated from the point of view of an imposter who is pretending to be Wilfred Grenfell for reasons which become apparent as the story unfurls. We see the two men shadowing each other through the known history of Grenfell ― from the East End of London in the 1880s, to the expanses of the America’s and the fundraising tours of the 1900s.
I’ve also been working on an off for some time on a fictional manuscript set in St. John’s during the terrible winter of 1818 when the harbour was iced over, food supplies were running out and the governor, Francis Pickmore, felt besieged by both the elements and the rowdy, desperate elements of the city. It might not sound like it, but the novel-in-progress is actually fun to write.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a difficult question as I’m always a little stymied by the idea of ‘genre’; the term in itself is so limiting and if so often used as a put down, particularly in phrases like “genre literature.” The books that appeal to me tend to defy genre or at least play with the idea of genre. I think because I wrote two books, Easton and Easton’s Gold, which had as a central figure a privateer turned pirate (Peter Easton) I have felt somewhat bracketed by the term ‘historical fiction.’ Yet the term ‘historical fiction’ is loaded. It often means fiction that follows a familiar pattern, fiction that is plot-driven rather than character-driven. This is a perception that I have personally struggled with because don’t see any reason why a book which includes a pirate should be less serious or weighty, or more predictable for that matter, than a book without a pirate. But certain preconceptions can get relayed to the reading public.
Both of my Easton books had modern as well as seventeenth century themes. Easton explored the very fine line between legal force and illegal force, at least as much part of the political ether in 2004 with the invasion of Iraq as it was in 1610 when peace with Spain saw ‘loyal’ privateers crossing the dividing line into piracy when they continued to live through plunder as before. Easton’s Gold (2005) carried the theme further to examine the existence or non-existence of a universal morality. Some commentators picked up on the parallels but many didn’t and that label of “historical fiction” probably didn’t help matters.
Easton’s Gold was actually about the inner life of a former pirate, how a sudden upsurge in repressed sensitivities can come upon a person in old age. If a novel about a former pirate’s psychological turmoil sounds vaguely comical I think it says more about “us”, our reader expectations, than it does about life or art.
One refreshing thing about writing today is that writers are bursting through those genre demarcations all the time. What’s been happening with the mystery novel is a case in point. No one could argue that Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, for example, is populated by characters less real, or less three dimensional than any work self-consciously labelled ‘literary’. Yet there is a crime and a detective. And once the crime is solved, the novel is over. To me this seems like the best of both worlds. So, short answer: I dislike the word “genre” so much, I don’t even want to engage with it. To me it’s a marketing term and has very little to do with the creative process.
Why do I write what I do?
Well, the quickest and most honest answer is I write what interests me, so I can circle a character or event ― real or made up ― for a very long time before I get an ‘in’ where I know I will remain interested in what happens and how people will deal with a situation. Picking a time and a situation in the past sometimes yields questions both about the era in question and about ourselves in the 21st century. I remember that when I was circling the legend of Sheila NaGeira, noticing that something was drawing me in, I became aware of a kind of retrospective goddess worship in this character with so much invested in her (legend has her as the first woman of European descent who was supposed to have given birth on the island of Newfoundland; this would make her the mother of the Newfoundland nation, if you like). At the same time there were some tenuous folkloric connections with the image of Sheila Na Gig in Ireland, a rather fearsome gargoyle-like character. If you add the two you arrive at a character who was despised and feared in their own lifetime but deified afterwards. This seemed too rich a vein not to mine, especially with another strand of the Newfoundland legend, that Sheila was a healer, a midwife and by extension a witch. In many cultures, the scapegoat has a very specific role of being the recipient of all the community’s collective fears, then being ejected. We don’t have to look too far to find how the role plays itself out in later generations, how we later worship what we destroy. Anyway, I’d like to think that I look for the stories behind the stories ― or the stories behind history perhaps.
How does your writing process work?
Well, I don’t really think about process that much so I’m not sure it’s always the same. Usually I have an idea and the idea tugs at me for some time. I will often do a lot of background reading while a concept is forming. I suspect I think about something for a year or two ― perhaps longer ― before actually committing something to the word processor. I don’t work with written plans or spreadsheets and when I do ― as a special aid to organize thoughts ― I find I don’t actually look at them again (I wouldn’t be able to read my own writing anyway!) The essential thing is to know each character, to commit to feeling what they are feeling, to keep to it and stop the writing, if necessary. If I suddenly don’t know how they would feel, I’ll wait until it feels truthful again.
Next week, watch for the acclaimed author of Hull Home Fire and The Loss of the Marion, Linda Abbott: Linda Abbott was born in St. John’s, the eighth in a family of ten children. She is a graduate of Memorial University, with a Bachelor of Arts and Education. She holds a Certificate in French from Laval University, Quebec City, and attended the Frecker Institute in St. Pierre. She is a retired French Immersion teacher, having spent most of her career at Holy Trinity Elementary School in Torbay. The Hull Home Fire is her second novel. Her first novel was the critically acclaimed bestseller The Loss of the Marion. She resides in St. John’s.Here is Linda’s blog address: http://lindaabbottauthor.wordpress.com
NOTE: The Instant Hook Literary Award (see earlier post) has been adjudicated. The winner and two runners up will be notified this week, and all entries (there were several dozen) will be contacted soon after with my thanks and a brief written response to their entry. Many thanks to all those who entered!