Q&A with Genevieve Graham
For Simon & Schuster Canada's Timeless Tour we had the pleasure of asking the authors questions. Today, we have Genevieve Graham, author of Come From Away, answering the Literary Hoarders' questions:
Your Goodreads profile says you were born in Toronto, yet your books are set in Nova Scotia. Do you currently live in Nova Scotia? What was the inspiration to set your books there?
I was born in Toronto and graduated from the University of Toronto in 1986 with a Bachelor of Music in Performance (I played oboe!), and I lived there until I was 27. Back in 1992 I took a ski vacation out to Banff, Alberta, and I was standing in a chairlift line-up when a guy called “single” (waiting for a chairlift partner) … and 10 months later, we were married! We lived in Calgary for 17 years where our little family grew to four with the arrival of our two beautiful daughters. In 2008 we decided that we were ready for a slower, calmer lifestyle, and I suggested we move east. My hubby thought I meant Saskatchewan (heh heh) but I meant Nova Scotia. You see, I had been researching Scotland almost obsessively because of my first three novels, which are set there. I wanted to get as close as I could to Scotland while still keeping my feet on Canadian soil!
We live in a small community on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, about 45 minutes east of Halifax. From the moment we arrived here, I was captivated by the wealth of history in this province. I got to work learning as much as I could … and realizing I knew very, very little. Why is it that we know so much about American history and European history, but we don’t know our own? For example, throughout high school and university, I was never taught about the Halifax Explosion, the largest manmade explosion the world had ever seen until Hiroshima. That led to my researching and writing “Tides of Honour”. Nor was I taught about the Acadian Expulsion of 1755, in which 10,000 Acadians were ripped from their homes and dumped on leaky, rented ships and sent to no fixed address because the British wanted to fully possess their land. From that came “Promises to Keep”. Then I started hearing stories about the U-Boats skulking around Halifax (and the area where I live) during WW2, and I knew I needed to learn more about that, so I wrote “Come From Away”. So many stories! How could I not be inspired?
Your website says you are “Breathing life back into Canadian History one story at a time.” When did this spark hit?
I have always loved historical fiction of all kinds, but the switch to focusing on Canadian history happened while I was writing “Tides of Honour”. The more I learned, the more I needed to know. At around that time, our daughters were graduating from high school, and even though we live in Nova Scotia, they hadn’t been taught about either the Explosion or the Expulsion, and I started to wonder what would happen to Canadian history if no one was learning about it? Sometimes history can be dry, but it doesn’t have to be. We have a full, rich history, and so many stories to be told. Historical fiction is the perfect vehicle to use to reach people who may not yet know about the past. I am presently working on a novel about the early Mounties and the Klondike Gold Rush, and I am also starting one set partially in Toronto just after WWI.
What 3 books, or maybe 3 authors (your choice or both!) influenced you? Was there a Canadian writer that inspired you? Is there a Canadian writer that you aspire to?
My greatest influence is Diana Gabaldon and her entire “Outlander” series. I’ve read it seven times (!) and I hear something different every time, whether it’s the historical facts, the characterization, or something about “the craft” of writing. I also loved “The Outsider” by Penelope Williamson, and I was seriously transported by Paullina Simon’s “The Bronze Horseman”. As far as Canadian authors, I adore Susanna Kearsley’s “time slip” novels. She is a fantastically intelligent woman with incredible research technique and a beautiful heart, and she creates characters that are so accessible. I absolutely love her writing, and I feel honoured that Simon & Schuster Canada has paired me up with her in the past and future. We toured Canada together in 2015, and her next novel, “Bellewether” will be coming out on the same day as my “Come From Away”: April 24, 2018.
How are you celebrating your literary successes?
I’m not sure how I “celebrate” it, but I am very grateful for it. I never planned to be a writer. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I gave it a shot, and once I learned the craft—or rather, once I began to learn it, since I am constantly learning more—I was addicted. I suppose the way I celebrate it is by doing more of it. In the beginning I loved the process so much that it felt almost like a guilty pleasure. I would retreat to my computer for hours on end and neglect chores and family … but now I realize there is absolutely no need for guilt. I do what I love, and I love what I do.
How (and where) do you write? Do you write in total silence? Music playing in the background? (If so, what do you listen to when writing?) Are you set up in a special room? Please describe your writing space and process.
I write in my office, a small room at the front of my house with windows all around. It’s a perfect place for me. It also has a door, which is important since I work in total silence. At first I thought classical music would be a good aid to my writing, but I soon found out that since I knew the music so well from my earlier training, it was more of a distraction. So now my favourite setup is in my office, candle burning, tea steaming, all by myself with no interruptions. I’ve also discovered that I write better in the afternoon and evening. Mornings seem more to be about business and social media for me, and my creative energy takes over later.
Frances Itani often asks other writers in CBC’s Magic 8 Q&A, “Describe a walk that would and could feed your imagination and your writing. In what part of the world would this walk take place?”
Anywhere in Canada. When I’m in Nova Scotia, I have only to look out at the Atlantic or drive the back roads past hundred year old houses (and older) for my imagination to get busy. In Alberta and BC it is impossible not to think of the adventures Canadians have had over the years. Just imagine the early travelers and settlers fighting through the bush, across the water, and over the mountains! When I was last in Toronto I was struck by how much the city had changed since I left it in 1992 … and my mind goes directly to the century before. What was it like then? Our country is full of stories. I take that walk all the time.
Thank you Genevieve for taking the time to answer a few questions! This now concludes the Timeless Tour! You can find the tour online at www.timelesstour.ca