Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Genevieve Graham

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Genevieve Graham

In 1917, the Halifax Explosion left an already war-scarred Canada shocked and devastated, with over 2,000 deaths and nearly 10,000 injuries. In Genevieve Graham's newest novel, Tides of Honour (Simon & Schuster Canada), Private Daniel Baker believes his French wife, Audrey, has been killed in the explosion.

Tide of Honour tells the story of how Daniel and Audrey meet in wartime France, how they deal with the scars, emotional and physical, of the war, and how they are torn apart and brought together once again in Canada. A gripping, historical page-turner, it's a stunning addition to Genevieve's acclaimed novels.

We're welcoming Genevieve to the site today to participate in our Lucky Seven series, a seven-question Q&A that gives readers a chance to hear about the writing processes of talented Canadian authors and gives authors a space to speak in depth about the thematic concerns of their newest books.

She tells us how the theme of survival runs through Tides of Honour in more ways than one, why Audrey's point of view was essential to the book's development and explains the invention of the "plot tub".

OB:

Tell us about your new book.

Genevieve Graham:

Tides of Honour tells the story of a small town Nova Scotian fisherman who, like so many other young men of the time, heads bravely into WWI and comes back a changed man — physically, mentally and emotionally. The only bright moment he experiences during his stay in France is meeting Audrey Poulin, a young, artistic woman who lives on a dying farm with her contemptible grandmother. Through correspondence they fall in love, and Danny asks her to become his wife. Thrilled with the idea of escaping her wretched existence, Audrey travels to England to buy a ticket to Canada. To earn the money, she becomes a munitionette. From other women in the munition factory she learns about the suffragettes and attends some meetings. The first few months of the newlyweds' life are loving but strained. Danny is recognizing his shortcomings now that he is physically disabled, whereas Audrey is finding acceptance and encouragement as a gifted portrait artist. They move to Halifax, hoping to find work for Danny, and life only gets harder between the two of them. When their marriage seems about to end, Halifax is blown apart by the largest manmade explosion (second only to Hiroshima, which happened decades later), and Danny cannot find her. Only now does he realize he cannot live without her, but he is convinced she was killed along with almost two thousand others. Ironically, the destruction of Halifax is Danny's opportunity to rediscover himself as a man. He becomes an active part of the reconstruction effort. He joins his friend's group of protestors, who are demanding money and job security. One night, as they are demonstrating outside of a wealthy home, he sees a face he knows so well, staring back at him through a stranger's window...

OB:

Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?

GG:

I suppose the central theme is survival on every level, beginning with the poor souls living day to day in the trenches. Those who came back from the war were never the same. They'd seen too much, done too much. They returned to places that no longer felt like home, to people who loved them but couldn't possibly understand the torment which twisted their hearts and minds more tightly every day. Many wished they had not come back; survivors' guilt was as terrible as the memories. But they had survived, and they had to find a way to make it work, if they could.

Survival also applied to their loved ones, who had no idea what to do with them. They craved the person from before but were left with unfamiliar, tortured shells they barely recognized. Relationships were severely tested, and many failed.
But the human spirit is driven to survive, though it might only become apparent when it is pushed to the breaking point.

Did I know this was the question? No. I actually didn't even realize I was writing about PTSD. I followed Danny through it all, feeling his pain, his desolation, his confusion, but it wasn't until I sent the manuscript to my agent that I understood why he was falling apart. That was really eye-opening for me. I have always known that I am not the true “author” of my stories, just the person responsible for writing them down. My characters tell the stories and teach me so much.

OB:

Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?

GG:

Originally I had written Tides of Honour entirely from Danny Baker's point of view. Audrey was the woman he loved, and she lived a very interesting life, but she wasn't central. Then I began to explore her, to examine her history and her motivations, and I discovered a strong, determined woman who deserved to have her story told as well. Without it, the book was incomplete. Once I added Audrey's life to the book, it better explained Danny's as well.

I wrote the book in about five months, but that was only Danny's story. I added Audrey's about six months after I thought I'd finished. So I guess, all in all, the book took about a year to complete.

OB:

What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?

GG:

I write in my little office, and my only soundtrack is silence. I love music — especially classical — and am easily distracted by it. When I lose myself in the process, my family sometimes has to remind me of the time or bring me something to eat or drink, though I am usually too distracted to eat much. I love my office, with its wrap-around windows. In the spring I open them to hear the birdsong, and in the darker months I light a candle or two. All my work is done on my Mac, though I occasionally take notes at the strangest times. I used to get inspired when I was working out, and the girl at the front desk got used to that — she'd supply me with paper and pen as soon as I sprinted toward her with that distracted gleam in my eye. My clever husband gave me a pen that lit up so I could roll over at 3am and write what I needed. Sadly, the pen's battery died, and I haven't been able to find one since, so now I write in the dark and hope I can read it in the morning!

OB:

What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?

GG:

In this, I am very fortunate. My husband is a brilliant problem solver. We have a hot tub, but occasionally it is renamed the “Plot Tub”. He and I will sit in there with a glass of wine, and he'll patiently listen to me complain about my writing blocks. When I'm done, he'll somehow dig the answer out of my mess. Without fail, I connect to at least one of his ideas, and the story will take off from that point.

Note: We have discovered that he's really only good at this for the first glass and a half. After that, well, things get a little silly.

OB:

What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.

GG:

In my humble opinion, if I am aware that I'm reading a book, it's not “great”. A great book takes me away so I lose myself in adventures, lets me feel so close to the characters that they become friends. The books must treat me like I'm intelligent, and I must be compelled to turn the next page. Too many books are predictable. Or gratuitous. Or speak to the reader as if they are simple. I will always love Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. In those books she gives me absolutely everything I could ever want, and every time I read them I am fascinated by something new, whether it's the story, the technique, the characters, the research… that's the kind of story I want to read — and write!

OB:

What are you working on now?

GG:

Since writing Tides of Honour, I've become aware of how much amazing history has actually happened here in Canada. I was a lousy history student. I slept through the tedious curriculum of memorizing dates, names, and places, and as a result I learned very little. Now that I'm older and seeing our country's history from a different perspective, I am focused on bringing that history back to life, and I'm trying very hard to get Tides of Honour incorporated into the Halifax Board of Education's high school curriculum. I'm currently writing a story around the Acadian Expulsion from Grand Pré and following my Acadian, Scots, and Mi'kmaq characters' adventures all the way to the Plains of Abraham.


Genevieve Graham graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in music in 1986 and began writing in 2007. Her first three novels, Under the Same Sky, Sound of the Heart and Somewhere to Dream, were international bestsellers. Graham is passionate about historical adventure, runs an editing business and teaches piano. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Visit her at http://www.GenevieveGraham.com.


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