Author Spotlights

Author Spotlight: Shannon Webb-Campbell, 2024 Ellemeno Prize recipient

Recipient of the inaugural Ellemeno Visual Literature PrizeShannon Webb-Campbell is of Mi’kmaq and settler heritage. She is a member of Flat Bay First Nation. Her books include Re: Wild Her (Book*hug, forthcoming 2025), Lunar Tides (2022), I Am a Body of Land (2019), and Still No Word (2015), which was the recipient of Egale Canada’s Out in Print Award. Shannon is a PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick and the editor of Visual Arts News Magazine.

Of Shannon’s winning poem, “Her Eros Restored,” prize jurors Sue MacLeod, Jessica Scott Kerrin, and Carol Shillibeer had this to say:

“‘Her Eros Restored’ loosens a too-tight corset—each of its poetic sections responding to Les Chiffons de La Châtre — Corsets roses [Rags of the Castle — Pink Corsets] (1960) by Gérard Deschamps. It does so by reclaiming small moments of feminine autonomy. From the first section’s ‘catapulting through moonlight… on the equinox’ to the last section’s ‘tangle like root vegetables,’ the poem perceives a world in which a person of mixed heritage, devalued within the dominant culture, can both fly above its restrictions and simultaneously dance with the earth and sea—so that life feels as if a new story is being born—a story of power, energy, love, and authenticity. No mean achievement. This is a thing of beauty.”

Read “Her Eros Restored” below, followed by our interview with Shannon.

Her Eros Restored
after Gérard Deschamps, Les Chiffons de La Châtre – Corsets roses, printemps 1960

 

1
on the last day of summer
we catch a Trans-Atlantic flight over midnight
catapulting through moonlight
before a swirling hurricane
makes landfall on the Equinox
we kick up our heels
as the city of light embraces
its second new year

 

 

2
at Le Comptoir Parisen alone
I write long after Anaïs Nin
for a world that does not exist
she was the first of her kind
to pursue pleasure for its own sake
I am now a sultry femme
a visionary sprite
who splits, sips and slurps

 

 

3
we are drinking champagne with the rats
on the steps of the Pantheon
beneath the only star in Paris
you toast to the writers and philosophers
gulping brut out of paper cups
I thank the poets, chemists, and revolutionaries
blood buzzed we tiptoe backwards
walking separately along the Seine

 

 

4
I need to break the glass of Deschamps’
Les Chiffons de La Carte—Corsets roses
smashing the patriarchy I must
set women’s rags and underwear free—
it’s no longer springtime in the 1960s, ladies!
unhinge your brasseries, panties, corsets and girdles
let the old girls breathe and fight back beyond
wives, mothers, child-eaters, witches and whores

 

 

5
you see the house lights
Illuminate Palais Garnier
I am strapped inside the opera house
on a boat ride of toil-and-trouble woes
charting a three sisters’ tragedy
waves of love, lust and revenge
while fancy Parisians take candlelit selfies
you wander alone in the rain

 

 

6
years after the wages of crude men
where I got cornered on slick streets
whose too aggressive tongues
pushed me hard down cobblestone
I became a Paris runaround
wearing my extravagant outfits—
pleather dresses, pleated skirts, fanciful feathers
you restored my best lace

 

 

7
reading e.e cummings’ erotic poems out loud
under covers we tangle like root vegetables
wrapped up in borrowed sheets you read to me
around you and forever: I am hugging the sea
tracing my lips with your wet fingertips
you tell me your only wish
a desire to draw me nude
but you never do

Andy Verboom (WFNS Program Manager): Tell us about your influences, Shannon. In your regular writing practice, how do the works of other artists and writers guide your hand? Do you think your primary literary form—poetry—is particularly attuned to influence from artistic others?

Shannon Webb-Campbell: My regular writing practice spans all kinds of inspirations from other artists and writers. As the editor of Visual Ars News and Muskrat Magazine, I spend a lot of time experiencing, reflecting on, and writing about art. I frequently visit galleries, engage with artists, and have my own visual practice. Art has leaked into my poetic practice. Tuning into other art forms encourages us to think, see, and feel differently. To experience the bends of sorts. As a poet, I draw from artistic others but also from poetry in general. Poetry bends language. Perhaps it encourages us to bend with life, too.

AV: I like this metaphorical knitting of “the bends”—a dramatic bodily disorientation in a rapidly changed environment—with the more common connotations of “bending,” like refraction and flexibility. Do you experience impactful artworks as productive disorientations? Put another way, do artworks need to disorientate us in order to shift our perspectives?

SWC: This is an interesting question, Andy. Part of me feels like, when I am disoriented, I look to art as a way of orienting, but perhaps it’s vice versa. Sometimes I am seeking pleasure, other times intellectual nourishment, but most often, I am interested in new ways of seeing the world, a disruption or shift from my own point of view. Art does this. Poetry also works in this way, too. When they are impactful, I think art and poetry are incredibly rich and productive forms of disorientation, a space where we can detach from our day-to-day thoughts and give our creative minds room to spark. Art and poetry are means to open up new possibilities, different ways of thinking and experience new and old life cycles.

AV: Your artist’s statement for “Her Eros Restored” mentions encountering Deschamps’s Les Chiffons de La Châtre during a research trip to Paris. What were you there to research, and how did that topic lead to you to this artwork at the Centre Pompidou?

SWC: In autumn of 2022, I travelled to Paris to saturate myself in art, architecture, and beauty as part of sketching out my next poetry collection, Re: Wild Her (which is forthcoming with Book*hug in 2025), and I encountered Deschamps’s Les Chiffons de La Châtre at the Centre Pompidou for the second time.

The first time I visited the work was on a solo trip to Paris in 2009, which was after selling most of my belongings, including my clothes, and hosting a small lomography art show, Moving Pictures, at Love, Me Boutique on Dresden Row to help fund my trip. Deschamps’s Les Chiffons de La Châtre left an impression in my mid 20s, but what struck me was how different I felt experiencing the work for a second time, which all these years later still bears the traces of the bodies who wore the rags and discarded women’s underwear. “Her Eros Restored” is a poetic attempt to overthrow the patriarchy, subvert the male gaze, and set these bodies and their discarded under linens and corsets free.

AV: “Her Eros Restored” is included in that fourth, forthcoming poetry collection, Re: Wild Her. As you approach a book-length collection, how do you think about its individual poems? And what does it mean, for you, to further separate a poem into individual parts or sections?

SWC: I initially imagined writing “Her Eros Restored” as a long poem but got distracted. Other poems interrupted the flow of that idea. Initially, I conceived of it as a numerical poem, but that’s evolved recently through the editing process with my fabulous editor, Sandra Ridley. The version of “Her Eros Restored” that won the first-ever Ellemeno Visual Literature Prize has gone through its own rewilding process and will appear slightly altered in the published book.

I think separating the poem into parts or sections lets each stanza exist as its own nesting doll. The space and line breaks are important to give the poetics room to breathe, as well as air out those fleshy pink corsets and panties that have been under Deschamps’s glass since the 1960s.

AV: Is there an echo, then, between the process of composing “Her Eros Restored”—the interruption and return to Deschamps’s work—and the space essential to the poem’s structure? Or am I overcomplicating things?

SWC: Honestly, I don’t think I had the poetic tools to draw upon when I first encountered Les Chiffons de La Châtre. In fact, the only piece of writing I published from my first trip to Paris are two letters included in When The Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets, an anthology edited by David Esso and Jeanette Lynes (Goose Lane, 2015). The anthology features over 129 love letters by English Canadian poets P.K. Page to F.R. Scott, Leonard Cohen, Louis Riel, Milton Acorn’s letters to his former wife Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Susan Musgrave’s letters to her late husband Stephen Reid.

AV: How does Re: Wild Her fit into the arc of your earlier collections?

SWC: Still No Word (Breakwater 2015), which was the inaugural recipient of Egale Canada’s Out in Print Award, seeks the appearance of the self in others and the recognition of others within the self, and it inhabits the mercurial space between public and private. Edited and introduced by Lee Maracle, I Am a Body of Land (Book*hug 2019), is a complex revisioning of an earlier work exploring poetic responsibility and accountability. Lunar Tides imagines the primordial connections between love, grief and water, structured within the lunar calendar. In a way, Re: Wild Her follows the arc of my earlier books as a poetic extension, but is a text entirely its own.

 

Author Spotlight: Shannon Webb-Campbell, 2024 Ellemeno Prize recipient Read More »

Author Spotlight: Jack Wong

Author/illustrator and NSCAD alumni Jack Wong has had quite a prolific year! With two picture books out in 2023 (When You Can Swim, Scholastic; and The Words We Share, Annick Press) and a third one coming in spring of 2024 (All That Grows, Groundwood Books), Jack has made a splash on the children’s literature scene to great acclaim. His accolades include receiving the 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award in Young People’s Literature for When You Can Swim, and a Blue Spruce Award nomination for The Words We Share. Jack has participated in competitive mentorships from Annick Press and Visual Arts Nova Scotia, and he spends his free time volunteering in the Reading with Newcomer Children program, an initiative of IBBY Canada. He will also be participating in the 2024 Canadian Children’s Book Week tour in New Brunswick. We were thrilled that he had time in his busy schedule to chat with us about his work.

You’ve certainly been busy this past year! Have you had any chance to catch your breath?

Not really! Releasing three books in the span of a year has been pretty intense. It wasn’t really planned that way: I had the opportunity to be interacting with three separate publishers, and their respective projects ended up landing at around the same time. It’s a great fortune, but I’m also living with the consequences! And publishing is of such a pace that you can do a course correction (e.g., have a better eye for scheduling future projects), but you’re kind of stuck with any decisions you already made for another three or four years.

We’ve heard you describe yourself as a “Jack-of-all-trades.” After a varied career in several other fields, what made you turn your attention to writing and illustrating children’s books? And how have your previous life experiences prepared you for the task?

I’ll skip over how I ventured into the arts from another career altogether (engineering) and pick up after graduating from NSCAD, when I spent several years struggling to find a means of artistic expression. I recall during that time several chance encounters with picture books that felt like the most moving and exciting aesthetic experiences I’d had in a long time — comparable to memorable moments at art galleries, for example — and deciding that that was the medium I wanted to work in, too. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that those chance encounters with children’s books came, in the first place, as a result of doing little projects with family and friends for their children.

One thing I’ve learned, not from working in any field in particular but just from having tried so many things in general, is how not to worry about imposter syndrome. We can focus so much on not fitting some imagined standard and lose sight of the fact that, by dint of our own grab bags of individual life experiences, we’ll all invariably approach the same task slightly differently. That slight difference is all that any one of us, as artists, ever has to offer.

It’s an impressive talent to be able to both write and illustrate a picture book. Do you start with the text first, or the illustrations? Or do you create them in tandem?

At the beginning, when a story or idea is still just all in my head, I find that I’m thinking in both words and pictures. For whatever reason, I tend to grab at the words first, aiming to pin down a manuscript before attempting the illustrations. I think it’s mostly because it takes a lot more effort to be drafting with a sketchbook than with a word processor!

For your debut picture book, When You Can Swim, you embarked on a promotional tour to schools in the United States, from North Carolina to California. What was it like to connect with your young audience? And what advice would you give to other kidlit writers preparing for school visits?

The first school visit I ever did, I was introduced by this archetypal children’s librarian: the one with the sonorous, expressive voice and infectious energy that just commanded the whole room — and for a brief moment I was petrified, thinking, “Right, that’s how you address a room full of kids — was I supposed to be like that?” Thankfully, I realized pretty quickly that other people play their roles so that you can play yours: by doing what they did, that librarian had perfectly prepared their group to be ready and attentive for me to do my thing.

My best advice is to be yourself and to be very well-prepared (which I hope isn’t paradoxical). I have a fairly small voice, but sometimes what actually results from that trait is a more intimate experience: at times, I can feel kids are on the edge of their seats just because of my hushed delivery. Being prepared allows me to play to my strengths: instead of just stumbling upon the moments where that effect is desirable, I try to have my script down to the exact words so I have opportunities for suspense or surprise built in.

When You Can Swim is such a beautiful love letter to the joy of swimming! What do you enjoy most about swimming, and where is your favourite place to swim in Nova Scotia?

Thank you! It may surprise some people that I actually find swimming kind of daunting and uncomfortable. Any time I swim outdoors, I need a big mental push to get in the water, even if I’m invariably glad afterwards that I took the plunge. If the book is successful in creating an encouraging yet empathetic tone towards swimming, it’s because I actually wrote it as much as a pep talk for myself as for the young reader.

Though many places represented in the book are further afield (as far as Meat Cove at the northern tip of Cape Breton), my go-to place to swim is probably Chocolate Lake, which is just up the road from me. We live in such a beautiful place to have lakes dotting the landscape — kids here don’t know how lucky they are!

The Words We Share will surely resonate with many newcomer families in which children often translate a new second language for their parents. Why was it important for you to write this story, and what do you hope readers will take away from it?

The Words We Share draws from my own childhood experiences, immigrating with my family to Canada from Hong Kong when I was six years old, then translating for my parents when I picked up English much more quickly than they did. I’m certainly thrilled at the prospect that kids who have similar experiences will feel seen by and represented in this book, but I also think that the higher service I can do is to make other kids see and understand them through story. For that reason, my focus was always to create a story that was engaging and entertaining and universal — the reader who doesn’t have lived experience of immigrating or translating should still be able to feel it’s a story for them, too.

All That Grows is due to come out this spring, just in time for us all to get excited about digging into our gardens! Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect from this book, and what inspired you to write this story?

All That Grows follows a boy learning about the natural environment when he starts helping his green-thumbed older sister in her garden. The more he hears about different plants, however (not to mention their seemingly arbitrary classifications as flower, vegetable, or weed), the more he becomes aware of how complex the world is, and the less he feels he knows — especially in contrast with his sister, who somehow seems to know everything.

While this book has STEM appeal on its surface, I hope it succeeds in conveying larger things than the apparent subject matter. I wrote the story during the first months of the pandemic; for me, a child contending with a flood of received facts and judgements about the natural world serves as an analog for that period of time when what we learned from daily health briefings seemed to raise more questions than they answered, and reminded all of us that we really don’t know very much. How we resolve to move forward, in the face of uncertainty, is very much the underlying theme of the book.

You’ve held several book launches at Woozles and seem to have a great relationship with their staff. How important is it to build relationships with booksellers? Any advice for authors who might be hesitant when it comes to self-promotion?

I am extremely lucky to have the support of Woozles! While it’s been invaluable to have a relationship with my local children’s bookstore, I didn’t intentionally set out to build one. For a while, I was just that childless shopper who always felt sheepish browsing for hours at their old Birmingham Street location… It was such a relief that the staff (starting with long-time seller Nadine King) welcomed my presence just the same, and I was eager to meet their kindness. I think it helps when the professional relationships you need to forge are with those whom you admire anyway, and Woozles made that easy.

I’ve personally found so much enrichment in reframing “self-promotion” as acts of expressing gratitude. It’s an incredible thing for any person to give their time and consideration to a book. All I’m really doing is either thanking the reader for having read it, or thanking them in advance for reading it in the future!

What do you do when you have writer’s (or illustrator’s) block?

I can’t say I’ve figured that out! I try to subscribe to the old adages: write anyway, everyday, so that you’re present when the good stuff arrives, etc… More often than not, however, I find I’m not so much blocked — I know I have an idea in my head — but the prospect of actually grabbing hold of it is so daunting. Over time, I’ve learned to place more and more faith in incremental improvement, and try to adopt the mindset and the conditions for that to happen. When I have to revise a piece of writing, I’ll give myself just an hour or so each day over a period of time, and each session I’ll completely re-type the previous day’s draft, whether I have anything in mind to revise or not. Each time, a few choices are made in the process, however minor, and the ball is advanced an inch closer to the goalpost. Of course, it helps that most of the things I write are very short!

After your third book comes out this spring, are you going to take a break, or do you have any other projects on the go?

I took a bit of time off for the holidays, but other than that, it’s nose-to-the-grindstone. Luckily I’m very excited about the next things! I’m currently illustrating a picture book on acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma (written by James Howe, author of Bunnicula and other classics), while working on early development for my next written-and-illustrated book with Scholastic.

Author Spotlight: Jack Wong Read More »

Author Spotlight: Jill MacLean

Three of Jill MacLean’s five novels for middle-graders and young adults won the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature. A fourth book won the Red Cedar Award. Two of the books are in Nova Scotia’s schools. She was born in Berkshire, the setting for her newly-released medieval novel for adults, The Arrows of Mercy, and re-visiting it—in reality in the 21st century and in imagination in the 14th—has given her much pleasure. She now lives in Bedford, Nova Scotia, near her family.

What do you feel passionate about?

My website gives a partial answer to this question: the power of words; a good story, well-told; the need to have characters alive in my head; canoeing, reading, gardening and travel; family and friends (far from least, even if last).

A relatively easy list to compile.

The passions that drive my writing are less conscious. They can nudge me towards genuine discoveries and they supply the energy that enables me to stick with a novel from beginning to end, through innumerable revisions and disheartening rejections. Passion demands persistence.

When I write, I don’t start out with themes in mind. I have to trust they’ll emerge as the story shapes itself and I’m often the last one to grasp what they are, even though they’ve grasped me for months. Theme, for me, equals passion.

How does that passion figure into your new novel, The Arrows of Mercy?

Two of the themes that underlie this novel are, in modern terms, scorched-earth warfare and PTSD.

I was born in England in early 1941, a time when Britain was in danger of being invaded, a time of intense anxiety. I had uncles in the forces, an aunt living through the blitz, a healthy young father who was an aeronautical engineer and took the train to work five days a week, conspicuously not in uniform. I remember long curls of barbed wire, blackout curtains and ration books, air-raid shelters, sirens, gas masks made of floppy green rubber that stank. I remember the victory parade from my perch on my father’s shoulders. By writing this novel, I’ve learned that war affected me, small though I was.

Edmund, my protagonist, was conscripted into the king’s army as an archer, and survived thirteen months of brutal warfare in northern France that left him haunted by the blood on his hands. I still have traces of PTSD from the long ago car accident in which my daughter died, and I suspect that many of our first responders suffer from full-fledged post-traumatic stress. Loss is a theme throughout all my books.

In the nineties, I completed a master’s degree in theological studies, taking the maximum allowable number of courses in comparative religion, and was fascinated by the stories cultures tell themselves in order to give meaning to life, to impose order on randomness. Even so, Edmund’s religious doubts took me by surprise. I found them intensely interesting.

To summarize all this, whenever a novel of mine is released, I feel as though I’ve undressed in public.

You are perhaps best known as a middle grade writer, having penned several award-winning books including The Nine Lives of Travis Keating and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy. Why was it time to write a novel for adults?

By the time I’d finished the fifth of my novels for young readers, I was afraid I was falling into a literary rut: four of the books overtly about bullying, four of them set in Newfoundland (where my family was living at the time), all of them contemporary. Time to call a halt, change gears. Clichés abounded. Panic abounded, too.

Into that hiatus dropped my longtime fascination with the medieval period. I’ve been to the Cloisters, Cluny and Chartres, that great stone pile shot through with blues and reds. During my various trips to England, I sat in many a thick-walled Norman church steeped in the spirits of those who’d found solace there over the last eight hundred years. A medieval novel, then. Although the manuscript started out as YA, this soon changed. I wanted no constrictions, I wanted to write whatever came into my head. I wanted an adult audience.

Tell me about your decision to place this book in the past— 1348, to be exact.

The medieval period stretches, roughly, from 500 to 1500. What we now call the Hundred Years War started in 1337 under Edward III, who felt he had a legitimate claim to the French throne. From the beginning, I’d known Edmund would be an archer. The battle of Crécy, in which English archers slaughtered “the flower of French knighthood” was in 1346, the siege of Calais 1346 – 1347. Plague came to England in 1348. One by one, the dates closed in.

What kind of research did you engage in? Did your research take you to any interesting places? How did the pandemic affect your ability to do research?

I started reading early in 2014, taking full advantage of Dalhousie’s extensive medieval collection. The setting hit me on the head one day: Berkshire, the county where I was born – where else? I asked my son if he’d go to England with me that fall to do the driving, he agreed, and off we went. In London he was able to watch the last stage of the British version of the Tours de France (he’s a committed long-distance bicyclist), while I went to the British Museum and British Library. Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross added to the weight of each of our suitcases.

We picked up the car in Reading, took off for Wales (the first roundabout was a shocker) and explored the restoration of a medieval village in Comeston. We got lost in Cardiff, made it back to Berkshire, and drove the back lanes in the southwest of the county, narrow, winding lanes with hedgerows high as trees. Just as well for the sake of the local population that he was driving – and such a pleasure to spend ten days with my then 48-year-old son (we managed to find some wonderful pubs).

On the banks of the Kennet River, somewhere between Kintbury and Newbury, I found where Edmund lived, wandered the fields and woods, and knew I had to write this book.

Can you talk about the language you used for The Arrows of Mercy?

It was tricky. From the start I didn’t want to write about aristocrats. It was the lowest echelon of 14th century England that snagged me, the peasants, the villeins, whose unending labours allowed knights to fight and bishops to pray. I couldn’t replicate Berkshire dialect, Middle English was the language of the villeins, French of the aristocrats and Latin of the church. Gradually it came clear that Edmund, during the long siege of Calais, was tutored by a squire in grammar, verse and story, awakening in him a passion for words and “what rides their underbelly.” His manner of speech and thought thus differed from that of his neighbours when he came home, another factor in the isolation he experienced. Throughout the narrative, I used words like cottar, assart, maslin, chevage, virgate, because they were integral to life in the village (there’s a glossary at the end of the book). I also investigated medieval swearing (fun) and made up a few words along the way.

I wondered if you could talk about writing about the plague during a time of pandemic. What kinds of parallels were you making?

I researched the book during 2014, wrote it over the next two years, then started revisions, which lasted, literally, for years. So the actual writing was well before Covid.

When the pandemic happened with its various restrictions, the writer in me was rather amused that Edmund’s village, in its way, had been practicing “social distancing” and that Agnes the wise-woman knew enough to wear a cloth over her face and wash her hands, and to preach these precautions to others, some of whom listened, some of whom did not.
Geraldine Books, by the way, in Year of Wonders, brilliantly describes a 17th century village in Derbyshire, which, when infected by plague, totally isolated itself from the outside world.

Why did you decide to self-publish The Arrows of Mercy? What challenges does self-publishing present?

Because I was in love with the research, I wrote a sprawling mess of a novel, characters tearing off in all directions, events galloping across the pages. After the book went through two professional edits, I felt it was ready to send out to Canadian and UK agents. It wasn’t. Rejections dinged into my inbox. I had another professional edit. More revisions. More rejections, both from agents and Canadian publishers. Still more revisions. Finally, when I’d changed the ending innumerable times, when the manuscript had gone from 156,000 words to 113,000, I knew I’d found the essence of the story and the revisions had to stop.

I write to communicate and I wanted a book in my hand. After researching self-publication, I settled on a company out west and spent five months working with them so that I could hold that book. The challenges now? No placement of the novel in bookstores, as by traditional publishers. No promotion, no publicity. For three months I’m focusing on marketing The Arrows of Mercy, then I’ll write over the summer (I’m desperate to get back to that daunting blank screen) and do more marketing in the fall.

I made a substantial start on the sequel last summer—and I swear it won’t take eight years to finish.

Did you have any readings or launches you’d like to mention?

The launch of The Arrows of Mercy was wonderful, way beyond my expectations. More than seventy people in attendance, Mike Hamm of Bookmark sold over fifty books, and Brian Bartlett in his introduction was most generous in his praise of the novel. I’d also invited a champion archer and medieval enthusiast, who was kind enough to come in peasant garb with his longbow and describe how the bow, the weapon of peasants, changed the face of European warfare in the 14th century, starting with the battle of Crécy.

There was such warmth in the room, such a gathering of old friends and family—the three younger generations of my family did all the set-up and take-down, and when you add laughter, conversation and an armload of lovely flowers, it’s little wonder I was high for days afterwards.

So Edmund is now out in today’s world. I wish him well.

Author Spotlight: Jill MacLean Read More »

Author Spotlight: Michelle Wamboldt

Michelle Wamboldt grew up in Truro and now lives on the beautiful South Shore where she watches the waves and walks the beaches every day. She loves to create, whether it’s painting, rug hooking, sewing or writing.  She received her BA in English literature from Dalhousie and then went on to journalism school in Toronto. She did short stints at CTV National News and The Chronicle Herald, but much of her career was in government communications. She has worn many hats over the years but now finds herself comfortably settling into a new role as an author. It is the act of writing, putting words on the page and creating an order from the chaos of thought and ideas that truly gives her pleasure. Birth Road (Nimbus Publishing, 2022) is her first novel, and in the past year she has also had short stories published in The Dalhousie Review and Moose House Publication’s second volume of Blink and You’ll Miss it.

Tell me about the birth of Birth Road. Why did you want to tell Helen’s story?

It was a very slow birth, which took over a decade! I abandoned this story many times over the years, but it would not let me go. It truly haunted me, and I could not rest until I had it out of me.

I wanted to tell my grandmother Helen’s story because she meant so much to me. We were very close, and although she did not share all the details of her life with my family, she did tell us some stories. So, I knew enough – from the things she had told me and things my mother knew. I knew that her younger years had been difficult and challenging. I knew she had faced tragedy and heartache and I marvelled at the strength she must have had to survive.

After she passed away, I started writing short pieces based on stories she had told me. The one story that always stuck with me was how she had walked several miles to the hospital on the day she gave birth to my mother. She walked alone on a hot summer day, wearing a coat to conceal her stomach and carrying a suitcase. That image always stuck with me. So when I decided to expand on the little stories and write a book about her life, I knew she would have to be walking that road, recalling the key moments of her life and letting these memories tell the story of how she came to be pregnant and alone.

So even though I wrote this story as a tribute to my grandmother and the strong woman she was, it was my own mother that I wrote it for.  My only goal was to finish it and place it in my mother’s hands. Having it published was not my motivation, but I’m so glad it happened.

Why did you choose to go the route of historical fiction instead of non-fiction?

When I started out, it was going to be a story based in fact and follow the events of Helen’s life very closely. To be truthful, her real life had so many difficult and tragic circumstances that I was unsure if I would be able to write about them. Through the process of writing and dreaming and visualizing my characters, a new story came to me. Luckily, the cast of characters that eventually appeared helped me to tell a version of her story. They played out like a movie in my mind and I just followed them, and the real Helen became a thread woven between the lines of fiction.

There are so many things in the book that Helen did in her real life – growing up in a logging camp, moving to Boston, working at Stanfield’s, marrying Edgar and many other things. (I don’t want to give away anything for those who haven’t read it yet.) But her story became mine, and my new characters, many of which I had fictionalized based on real relatives, had their own stories to tell. I think this is something we all do when writing – we pull from the well – we gather all the stories and people from or past and stir them all together and see what comes out on the paper.

What were some challenges / favorite things of writing historical fiction?

This may sound funny, but I did not knowingly set out to write historical fiction. In fact, it wasn’t until my editor, Whitney Moran, offered me a publishing contract for what she called my “historical fiction” that I had even thought of my novel as historical fiction. But of course it is!

Looking back now at my writing process, I can say that my favorite thing about writing historical fiction is the research. And this must be my journalism background, but I could happily do research all day. This is where so many great ideas are born, from characters to setting to the tiniest details of a scene. You can also find so many gems going down the rabbit holes. Hours can be happily lost as you learn about an event or person that can lead to interesting ideas for new stories.

I think the main challenge is the pressure I put on myself to ensure accuracy. I wanted to be sure, if I had a song, movie, car, train schedule or war reference in a scene, that it was authentic. I was very careful to ensure all of my historical facts were accurate.

How did your background as a journalist help you in the writing of this book?

It was a great help. The research was second nature due to my background in journalism. Interviewing people and searching out resource material is something I not only enjoy but have been trained to do.

Tell me about your research. Where did it take you?

As I have said, research can lead down so many new roads, and that was the case with my research for Birth Road. I did not write with a detailed outline, only a timeline and an idea of the key moments in Helen’s life that I wanted to convey.

Through my research, I was able to transport myself to a logging camp in the early 20th century and envision daily life for the McNutt family. I thought Stanfield’s would be a small part of the book, but after visiting the Mill and interviewing former employees, I had so many amazing stories and rich visuals that I knew I had to make it a major part of the story and plot. I also was surprised how much the Second World War, the North Novas and Halifax during the war came to be a key component in the story. That had not been my intent, but because of my research and the things I learned about soldiers’ training and substance abuse, I had material to build on and plot twists I could work with.

I enjoyed every part of the research. All of the people I met and everything I read helped in some way to enrich my story. I think research is not only important for ensuring historical accuracy; I think it can be an endless source of inspiration as well.

In your acknowledgements, you mention quite a few other writers. What role did other writers have in your fiction writing journey?

The support and encouragement I received from other writers was invaluable. I struggled with self-doubt and found it almost impossible to make myself sit in the chair and get the work done. (Let’s be honest, even with one novel published, I still struggle.) I could come up with any excuse to not write. I now know it was my fear that kept me from writing, but without the positive feedback from other writers, I would never have been able to overcome that fear on my own.

Also, I can easily admit, I am nothing without a deadline. Throughout the time I worked on this manuscript, I was lucky to have two different periods when I had a mentor who I was accountable to and deadlines I had to meet.  In 2013, it was six months with Donna Morrissey, and in 2019, it was six months with Chris Benjamin.  Without the structure and deadlines, I would never have begun or completed my manuscript. I will forever be grateful to them both for encouraging me and keeping me on track.

I am also lucky to have friends who are writers, such as Renée Hartleib and Sylvia Gunnery, who continued to show interest in my work, year after year, and insisted I keep writing and get Helen’s story out into the world.

What’s your advice to writers who may have a manuscript in a drawer?

Get it out of that drawer! Trust in your voice. We are all full of doubt, so you are not alone. Know that your story matters. Send it out, and if it isn’t accepted, send it again and again.

I would also encourage writers to share their writing with other writers.  I myself am not very good at this – but I do believe it is helpful to boost confidence.

What are you working on now?

I always seem to have a few ideas that are fighting for my attention.  For now, the one I am focusing on is another piece of historical fiction, this time set down here on the south shore in the 1920s – 1930s.

Author Spotlight: Michelle Wamboldt Read More »

Author spotlight: Jan Fancy Hull

Jan Fancy Hull lives in Lunenburg County. Prior to being awarded the 2022 Rita Joe Poetry Prize, her poetry was published in The Antigonish Review, and in an anthology, Gathering In (Windywood). She has also published two collections of short fiction, three mysteries in a series of twelve, and a non-fiction book (Moose House Publications).

As the title “Moss Meditations” suggests, your winning entry for the 2022 Rita Joe Poetry Prize reflects on nature. What are some of your favourite outdoor spots in Lunenburg County?

I wrote “Moss Meditations” as my personal response to an experience which excited my imagination. I live 100 feet from the shore of a small Lunenburg County lake. Looking out my windows, I watch the seasons, the weather, and the lake change a dozen times every day. In summer, I take my small boat on the water and just drift. Nature is awesome.

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How did you prepare to enter “Moss Meditations” in Nova Writes? Did you revise the piece on your own or did you seek out feedback from others before the submission deadline?

All the above. I shared the initial version with a couple of trusted readers, then submitted it hither and yon, including to a previous Nova Writes. The great value of NW is the commentary that all entries receive. My poem received praise and suggestions, but no prize—OW. I knew it had good bones. I implemented (most of) the suggestions, submitted it again—WOW!

If you could only read three books of poetry for the rest of your life, which collections would you choose and why?

I’d choose three thick anthologies of diverse poets from diverse periods of time including the most recent. For the variety, and the possibility of finding new favourites with every turn of the page.

You’re also a member of WFNS. What spurred you to sign up?

I wanted to be part of / benefit from / support the provincial writing community. By the end of this year I will have published six books of prose published by Moose House Publications. I learned about MHP in a WFNS newsletter, so membership paid off bigtime!

What’s one thing you can’t write without?

A tinfoil hat, naturally. Also: For prose I need virtual hiking boots so I can navigate the rocky story trail without twisting an ankle.  For poetry, I need a virtual shovel to unearth extraordinary meanings hidden in ordinary things.

For more about the Rita joe Poetry Prize, see our Nova Writes Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts.

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Author spotlight: Libby Broadbent

Libby Broadbent writes in Port Medway, Nova Scotia, in between teaching high school and running her small art business, Blissfully Writing Studio. She has self-published five novels under the pen name Mavis Williams, and her writing includes fiction, poetry, plays and illustrated children’s stories for her two granddaughters.

Your winning entry for the 2022 Joyce Barkhouse Young Adult Fiction Prize, Seventh Son, is excerpted from a longer YA fantasy manuscript. How did you approach worldbuilding for this story?

Worldbuilding for Seventh Son came to me as I explored my home community of Port Medway. The Old Port Medway Cemetery and Seely Hall are the imagined home of Button and the long-dead Gracie who guides him on his quest. His journey to discover his destiny takes him to Long Cove, just down the road from Port Medway, and the ocean is the constant soundtrack to his adventures. You can see the teddy bears he encounters in the trees and bushes on the road to Long Cove, and Elinor is the name of a local (now deceased) community member. I have long been fascinated with “life” under the gravestones, and how young people believe in things that adults find impossible. I wanted to capture the wild nature of rural Nova Scotia and the ancient atmosphere of our oldest graveyards, seen through a child’s eyes as he navigates both grief and adventure.

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In your entry to Nova Writes you mentioned that this is your first foray into young adult fiction. What led you to try your hand at this genre?

I grew up in Narnia and the Shire. I love fantasy novels, and young adult writing is fun and fascinating. I have written five romance novels (under the pen name Mavis Williams) but the story of Button kept pestering me over the past few years and I felt compelled to try to put it on paper. As a high school teacher I like to pretend that I understand young adults—even though they prove me wrong repeatedly—and I just really love immersing myself in that magical world of young people where there is so much possibility and hope, even when they’re faced with challenges and obstacles requiring great resilience.

Many thanks to WFNS and the team of readers/judges who facilitate the Nova Writes competition. It’s a thrill to be noticed in the ranks of so many wonderful entries.

Who was the character you found most easy to write in this story? And who was the most challenging to capture?

I loved writing both Button and Runa, the twins who don’t know they’re twins. They’re fun and wild and while I didn’t find them easy to write (is anything about writing easy?) I loved discovering their personalities as the story unfolded. The hardest character to write was the antagonist. A bad guy has to be worthy, and his purpose has to be both malevolent and relatable, and I really struggled to discover who my bad guy was and what he wanted. It turns out he’s Button’s Great-great-great Grandfather determined to seize Button’s powers as his own.

Did you read a lot growing up? What was your favourite book as a child?

Oh, I read ravenously as a child and still do. Favourite book? Gaaaaa… ALL the books! The Fairy Caravan, Narnia, The Hobbit. Fairy tales, epic fantasy, Moby Dick. I love Dickens and Shakespeare just as much as Ursula McGuin and Philip Pullman.

Do you have a favourite writing spot or setup?

I write in my living room, facing the Medway River, with my wiener dog by my side and a coffee at hand. I am mostly a 5am writer, before work, before sunrise! I strongly encourage anyone with an urge to embrace the madness of a writing life to check out Nanowrimo as an inspiration and a motivation to get the words on the page. I do National Novel Writing Month every year, and it has honed my practice to the point that getting 1600 words on the page in one sitting isn’t at all daunting anymore. Not all of those words are good words, mind you, and I have been known to write “I don’t know what the &%$%$% to write next!” but I don’t stop until I’ve hit that number. I don’t believe you need a specific place or time to write but finding your personal motivation that gets you to the page is essential. I belong to a small writing group of lovely ladies who support each other relentlessly, and I try to set myself the goal of 50k words in a month when I’m working on a novel. The coffee helps, as does the wiener.

For more about the Joyce Barkhouse Young Adult Fiction Prize, which alternates year-to-year with the Joyce Barkhouse Writing for Children Prize, see our Nova Writes Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts.

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Author spotlight: Jodie Callaghan

Jodie Callaghan is from the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation in Gespe’gewa’gi (Quebec). She started writing stories when she was 8 years old and has always been drawn to story-telling. She has found writing to be the best way to connect to her history and her culture. Jodie currently resides in Northern New Brunswick with her husband, child, and pets. When she’s not teaching, you can find Jodie dreaming up stories she will one day write.

Your debut book The Train, which recently made the 2022 Ann Connor Brimer Award for Atlantic Canadian Children’s Literature shortlist, centres around a conversation between the young protagonist Ashley and her great-uncle, a residential school survivor. What inspired you to write this story?

I wrote The Train for my community’s local writing contest. I was working as a video journalist for the Aboriginal People’s Television Network at the time and was interviewing a lot of survivors of the Shubenacadie Residential School. I think The Train was my way of processing all of the difficult conversations I was partaking in. I remember sitting down to write something to enter into the contest and The Train just poured out of me. I was able to draw a lot of inspiration from conversations I had with my grandmother about her time in Indian Day School. The character Uncle is heavily influenced by her experiences and Ashley is a reflection of how I felt at the time.

As an adult educator and former journalist, there are a number of ways you could have approached this important topic in your writing. What drew you towards a picture book in particular?

The Train was originally written as a short story, however, upon seeing other residential school picture books coming out, I thought The Train could find a home among the rest of the books out there. It was amazing to see it come to life with Georgia Lesley’s illustrations.

How did it feel to see your original story transformed into a dual-language edition translated by Joe Wilmot?

It was honestly a dream come true for me. I have always wanted to publish a book, so seeing it realized was so special. Having the dual-language edition come out was extra special too because it was something I asked my publisher about early on and they were immediately on board. I love that we were able to get someone from Listuguj to translate it, as it was important to have it done in the writing system we use in our school. It was important to me to create a community resource too.

The Train was published by Second Story Press after winning their 2018 Indigenous Writing Contest. What was it like to return to their 2021 contest as a judge?

I was very flattered to have been asked to participate as a judge. I was also incredibly blown away by the number of entries we had to read. I don’t know what I expected going into it, but it was very cool to have the opportunity to read all of the manuscripts that were submitted. I also just enjoyed the whole deliberation process. I love talking about books and representation and now I am so excited to see the winning books out in the world soon. The stories that won are so great and I look forward to adding them to my children’s bookshelves.

Have you always been a storyteller? Who encouraged you to keep writing over the years?

Yes, I have always been drawn to storytelling and specifically writing. I started playing around with writing fiction when I was in the third grade and luckily had a very encouraging teacher who spoke to my parents about encouraging my writing and reading. I have had so many wonderful English teachers over the years who continued to encourage my writing. As I grew older, I definitely got a lot more self-conscious about my writing and have been much more hesitant to share. This is something I am working on moving past. I really want to write and publish more books, so I am ready to throw caution to the wind and put myself out there!

What are some other children’s books by Indigenous writers you’d recommend to young (and young at heart!) readers?

Some of my favourites at the moment are Little You by Richard Van Camp; Swift Fox All Along by Rebecca Thomas; Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard; and Giju’s Gift by Brandon Mitchell. I also love any book illustrated by Julie Flett – her illustrations are so beautiful. 

Are you working on any new stories at the moment?

I am! I am currently plotting out a YA horror novel with a young Mi’gmaq protagonist. I grew up reading and loving R.L. Stine novels, and so, I’m hoping this book has the same vibes as his work. I love creepy stories and I really just want to write the book I would have loved reading as a kid.

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

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Author spotlight: Monika Dutt

Monika Dutt finds motivation in relationships, community, and being outdoors. Her work is focused on improving the health of communities in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador. She volunteers with groups focused on labour and racial justice. Her ten-year-old son brings her joy.

“Foundations,” your winning entry for the 2022 H.R. (Bill) Percy Short Creative Non-Fiction Prize, involves a common misfortune many of us have faced: a flat tire. What was it about this particular instance of car trouble that made you want to write about it?

Partly because my flat tires seem to always involve epic journeys; I’m known for that. Mostly because this particular journey seemed to draw out so many emotions, memories and relationships. It also happened during the first year of the pandemic and I was struck by the contrast of being so alone yet also still part of a network with so many people, living and past. My mother died one month before my son was born so she is intimately connected to his life. My experiences of being both the caregiver and needing care felt intrinsic to this road trip. Lastly, a significant pull to Atlantic Canada for me has been the geography, the land. The vastness, ocean, and forests can be both grounding, and, sometimes, intimidating, as they were in this story.

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What inspired you to submit “Foundations” to Nova Writes this year?

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been taking virtual writing classes through Toronto-based Firefly Creative Writing and although I typically don’t share my writing, I found the classes motivating. Additionally, as someone who works in public health, writing has been an outlet for me when dealing with some of the most challenging times in my career over the past two years. I have never submitted a story to a competition before, but both the desire to tell stories from the pandemic (this story happened during the pandemic, but I tried not to write the word “pandemic”!), as well as encouragement from writing classmates, gave me confidence.

Your son plays a heartwarming role in this piece. What was his reaction when you told him you’d won Nova Writes?

He was happy for me! It helped him to see something concrete come out of all the writing he sees me do. At the same time, he is fully into tweenhood so after saying congratulations he went back to doing his hair and picking the right shoes for the day.

You’re a physician as well as a writer. Is there anything you have learned from working in healthcare that has informed your creative pursuits, or vice versa?

My degree before medicine was liberal arts which fit perfectly with my interests. A background in humanities was also a perfect framing for medicine, which can often be reductive. As a public health physician I try to understand the stories that create communities, and as a family doctor, it is a privilege to hear so many personal stories and see how health is shaped by each person’s context. Writing has helped me process the challenges and surrealness of the past few pandemic years.

As a reader, are there any memoirists or creative non-fiction writers whose work you particularly connect with?

Mira Jacob is a wonderful author, and I love her book Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations. She is also the daughter of parents who immigrated from India around when my parents did and many cultural nuances of her writing resonate with me. There are so many books I’ve loved; I’ll pick a few that I’ve read recently. Tomson Highway’s Permanent Astonishment is magical. Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power is necessary reading; I just finished His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa which has many similar themes. I’ve also immersed myself in Newfoundland and Labrador stories/authors lately, and Cassie Brown’s Death on the Ice: The Great Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914 is haunting.

For more about the H.R. (Bill) Percy Short Creative Non-Fiction Prize, see our Nova Writes Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts.

Author spotlight: Monika Dutt Read More »

Author spotlight: Amy Jones

Amy Jones is a novelist, editor, and creative writing instructor and mentor. She is the author of the novels Every Little Piece of Me (McClelland & Stewart, 2019) and We’re All in This Together (McClelland & Stewart, 2016), and the short fiction collection What Boys Like (Biblioasis, 2009). Her third novel, Pebble and Dove, is forthcoming with McClelland & Stewart in 2023. Originally from Halifax, she currently lives in Hamilton, ON with her husband, writer Andrew F. Sullivan, and her rescue dog, Iggy.

WFNS recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Alistair MacLeod Mentorship Program. You were part of the 2005 mentorship cohort. What was that experience like for you?

Honestly, it was the first time anyone took my work seriously, which in turn helped me give myself permission to take my work seriously. It gave me an immense boost of confidence to have my work chosen. I had the amazing good fortune of working with Linda Little, who helped me polish my short stories, which was the only reason I got into my MFA program, which was where I wrote my first book. So I guess you could say it really was the start of my writing career.

The film adaptation of your first novel We’re All in This Together came out last year. How did it feel to see your writing transformed into a movie?

It’s really hard to describe the feeling—it’s like seeing your own thoughts on screen. But at the same time, I could see the filmmaker’s vision as well, sort of superimposed over them, so it became something completely new. I was extremely lucky to work with someone who understood my book and my characters so well, and who took such great care with them. I’m not going to lie—I bawled my eyes out the first time I saw it, just from how overwhelming it was, in the very best way!

Your second novel Every Little Piece of Me examines the potential downsides of life in the public eye. What inspired you to explore this topic in your fiction?

One of the themes I think is kind of ongoing in my work is the idea of identity, and the different layers of it that we veil ourselves in, either consciously or subconsciously—who we think we are, who we pretend to be (and especially who we think we have to be), who others see us as, who we think others see us as, all the different strata to ourselves that we have to dig through to get to the “real” us, if there is such a thing. In ELPOM I was particularly interested in how this intersects with social media, fame, and the public eye in general, especially for women. I’d say the inspiration for this stemmed from my own re-evaluation of how I have interacted with or viewed female celebrities in the past—I feel like there are a lot of us looking back at how we treated women like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan through a more contemporary lens and realizing how wrong we got things.

The addition of a, shall we say, “Lunenburgesque” setting really adds an interesting dynamic to Every Little Piece of Me. Why did you want to bring the novel’s celebrity characters to small-town Nova Scotia?

I knew I wanted the Hart family’s reality show to be in a small town, and Nova Scotia just seemed like the right fit. I’m so intrigued by how kind of “exotic” people in the US and even in the rest of Canada think the Maritimes are, and I wanted to play with that a little—not just the contrast between Manhattan and small-town Nova Scotia, but also the contrast between the characters’ perception of small-town Nova Scotia and how it changes over the course of their time there, how it changes them. Plus, I am not done writing about Nova Scotia by a long shot!

You’re a graduate of the Optional Residence MFA Program at the University of British Columbia. Do you have any advice for other writers considering graduate studies in creative writing?

I have a lot of thoughts on this! I had a good experience with my MFA, but it’s not for everyone. There’s a myriad of ways to become a writer, so really think about what it is you need—maybe it’s just time, or mentorship, or accountability. And for the love of god don’t make the mistake I did and go into massive debt over it! It’s hard enough to make a living as a writer without having to deal with student loans hanging over your head for years.

Hamilton is home for you these days. Do you still consider yourself an Atlantic Canadian writer?

I absolutely do! I think I keep a piece of all the places I’ve lived with me, but I spent the first nearly 30 years of my life in Nova Scotia, and I still spend a lot of time there. It’s the place that shaped me the most, and it will never stop influencing my writing.

I know you still visit family in Nova Scotia from time to time. What’s the first thing you like to do when you get back to St Margarets Bay?

When I’m not in NS, I constantly dream about being out on my dad’s ancient Boston Whaler, heading for Shut-In, searching for porpoises. And, of course, picking up lobster from Ryer’s!

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

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Author spotlight: Charlene Carr

Charlene Carr has independently published nine novels. Her first agented novel, Hold My Girl, has sold to HarperCollins Canada, Sourcebooks Landmark (US), Welbeck Publishing (UK), Alma Littera (Lithuania), and is set for adaptation to TV by Blink49 Studios in partnership with Groundswell Productions. She has received grants from Arts Nova Scotia and Canada Council for the Arts to write and revise her next novel. 

As your website mentions, you’ve travelled extensively and lived all across Canada. What brought you to Nova Scotia?

My original plan was to go to grad school in Ontario or Quebec, but after living in South Korea for awhile, having some pretty intense situations happen both there and at home, I decided being closer to family (who lived in New Brunswick) might be a very good thing. So I applied to Dalhousie just days before the deadline, and was offered a full scholarship, so Nova Scotia it was! After a few months it felt like home, the first place that had felt that way since I’d left Toronto eight years earlier.

In the past decade, you’ve independently published nine novels and a novella. Can you share some of the benefits and challenges of your self-publishing journey?

A major benefit is certainly the fact that you’re entirely your own boss when you self (or independently) publish. You determine your publishing schedule, your deadlines, what you want to write and how you want it written, etc. However, that’s also the major challenge. You’re all on your own—either handling all the many assets of publishing yourself or hiring them out, which isn’t cheap, and certainly hard to do if you don’t have another source of income, which I didn’t for most of that time. The other challenge is that writing, at times, can almost seem on the back burner as you essentially become an independent publisher. The work of maintaining that, if you want to take it seriously—through marketing, advertising, charting meta data trends, etc. is a full time job.

In addition to your standalone books, you’ve also released the Behind Our Lives trilogy and A New Start series. Did you always intend to write these stories as a series of linked novels, or was it while writing your first books that you realized your characters had more to say?

So I had NO intention of the A New Start series being a series. I wrote the first book as kind of a lark, and as a promise to a friend that I would give self-publishing a try. At the time, I didn’t want to publish my first full-length novel that way (which I’d spent over ten years honing) so I wrote When Comes the Joy (which was originally titled Skinny Me). I had so much fun through the process of writing it and had such a great reception from readers that I decided to keep going. Autumn, the lead in the second book, was a character from When Comes the Joy I was really curious about, so I decided to make the next book about her, and the pattern of having each book be about a character in this group of friends stemmed from there. Each novel is a standalone, but if you read the later books before the earlier ones, there are some spoilers.

As to the Behind Our Lives trilogy, that was meant to be one book, but once I started outlining it I realized the story I wanted to tell could not fit between the pages of one book (and have people still able to pick it up!) So, I decided to split it into three, and by doing that, I was able to give the story the time it deserved.

I love that you’ve shared some book club discussion guides on your website. Do you have any advice for other authors who are interested in connecting with book club audiences?

Although I haven’t been booked through it yet, I’ve heard very good things about the new website Invitd.ca, which allows readers to book authors virtually. Outside of that, I think just make it clear on your website and through social media that interacting with book clubs is something you’re keen to do.

It took me nearly four years to write and edit my debut novel, so I’m in awe of your prolific publishing accomplishments! What does your writing process look like? Do you work on one project at a time, or do you always have a few different stories on the go?

For the most part I’ve worked on one project at a time. After my first three novels, I started outlining/drafting and that has made a huge difference to my efficiency and ability to write more quickly. When you have a general idea of what you want to get on the page each day it really minimizes the ‘staring at the screen’ time. I also give myself word count goals and stick to them like it’s my job . . . because it is! I’m gentle with myself though. Before I was a mom, my daily word count goals were often between 1500-2500, depending on the project and the time frame I’d set for wanting the next book published.

However, when I had a very attached, nursing child at home with me, I ended up giving myself a goal of 300 words, four days a week, and as long as I hit that four days, I considered myself successful, even if I may have only gotten 150 words in during a session. Of course, there were many days I got 1000 or more if the muse moved me, but it was a great lesson in the fact that even a little bit of consistent effort adds up to a lot. The book I wrote with that low word count goal is Hold My Girl, the book that looks like it’s going to totally transform my career, with deals in Canada, the US, the UK, Lithuania, and an option for TV adaptation!

You’re quite active on Goodreads. Is there a certain etiquette you follow when reviewing someone else’s work online? How has reading widely impacted your own writing career?

Now that I’m an author myself, if I don’t feel I can honestly give a book four stars or higher, I don’t rate it. It does become tricky, because I also really care about tracking my reads (for my own personal enjoyment) and there are a lot of books I like (which would be 3 stars based on the rating system), but that’s considered a critical review. So I’ll mark that I read the book (not give a rating) and try to ‘hide’ that I’ve read it by not adding it to my update feed. I actually find it very frustrating that a 3 star rating is considered a critical review, because how is ‘liking’ something critical? Not every book can be one’s favourite.

Reading widely has defined my career. Growing up, I’d only read the classics and the type of contemporary novels that are studied in university. Before independently publishing, I hadn’t read a single book that would be considered commercial. So, when I finished my first novel Beneath the Silence, although I really liked it and was proud of it, I didn’t know where it fit. It wasn’t until I started independently publishing that I began reading the books that were topping the charts, and learned there was this whole other world of fiction I knew nothing about—wonderful books that readers devoured—but weren’t strictly ‘literary’. Although I would classify some of my books as firmly in the commercial Women’s Fiction category, where I see my writing going and where I hope Hold My Girl sits, is in the realm of Upmarket fiction, that sweet spot between literary and commercial. My role models are books/authors such as Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.

I know hiking was one of the ways you combatted writer’s block when you lived in St. John’s. Do you have any favourite hikes around Halifax?

I do! Unfortunately I get out a lot less as it’s tricky doing it with a little one, especially because I have some serious neck and shoulder issues from a car accident and kids come with more gear and less patience. But I’d say the Musquodoboit Back Country Wilderness Trails are my favourite, with the Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail as a close second.

Your tenth novel Hold My Girl will be published next year by HarperCollins in Canada. How did working with an agent and traditional publisher compare to your independently released titles?

Well, the second part of that question I won’t totally know the answer to until after the book is released, but working with my agent was an incredible experience. She’s very editorial, and we spent six months and four to five rounds of revisions getting the manuscript to a place where she felt confident it would sell and sell well. She clearly knows her stuff, as the book sold well and quickly—an overnight pre-empt in Canada—and even garnered the attention of multiple high-profile, LA based production companies.

As to working with publishers, it’s been a wonderful experience so far. It’s hugely encouraging to have a team in your corner, who are such experts, and are handling all of the stuff that I found the most difficult when I was independently publishing. It means my core focus can be on the writing, and it also means my book will have a massively greater reach than I ever could have managed on my own—which is the dream, my book in the hands of and touching the hearts and minds of as many readers as possible.

Hold My Girl may not be in readers’ hands yet, but it has been optioned for television adaptation. Have you allowed yourself to daydream about potential cast members?

I have! Haha. Quite a bit. And the production team has also given me their dream potentials. I won’t share any names though!

A number of your books are set in Halifax. I’m sure all of your characters experience this city differently. How do you go about envisioning or re-envisioning the same place through their eyes?

All of my books actually have Halifax in them in some capacity. And like any place, it is what you make it. For some, the city is merely a setting . . . for others, (for example Lincoln in Behind Our Lives) it’s practically a character. As someone who has lived in many places, I’ve experienced that myself—how some locales get under my skin, almost becoming a part of me, and others are simply where I lived for a time. So, it really depends on the character, where they are in their life, how they operate—whether they spend a lot of time walking the city (such as Lincoln, above, or Tess from Hold My Girl) or whether the city is merely a backdrop to their life, and doesn’t actually affect their journeys very much (such as Autumn and Tracey from the A New Start Series).

Questions by K.R. Byggdin

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Recommended Experience Levels

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) recommends that participants in any given workshop have similar levels of creative writing and / or publication experience. This ensures that each participant gets value from the workshop⁠ and is presented with information, strategies, and skills that suit their career stage. The “Recommended experience level” section of each workshop description refers to the following definitions used by WFNS.

  • New writers: those with less than two years’ creative writing experience and/or no short-form publications (e.g., short stories, personal essays, or poems in literary magazines, journals, anthologies, or chapbooks).
  • Emerging writers: those with more than two years’ creative writing experience and/or numerous short-form publications.
  • Early-career authors: those with 1 or 2 book-length publications or the equivalent in book-length and short-form publications.
  • Established authors: those with 3 or 4 book-length publications.
  • Professional authors: those with 5 or more book-length publications.

Please keep in mind that each form of creative writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and writing for children and young adults) provides you with a unique set of experiences and skills, so you might consider yourself an ‘established author’ in one form but a ‘new writer’ in another.

For “intensive” and “masterclass” creative writing workshops, which provide more opportunities for peer-to-peer feedback, the recommended experience level should be followed closely.

For all other workshops, the recommended experience level is just that—a recommendation—and we encourage potential participants to follow their own judgment when registering.

If you’re uncertain of your experience level with regard to any particular workshop, please feel free to contact us at communications@writers.ns.ca