I’d like to tell you something about myself and what led me to writing novels. In the photo gallery, you’ll find candid shots from events as well as some high-resolution photographs for downloading.
I was born in Victoria, British Columbia, the most English city in Canada. My grandmother and grandfather were from Birmingham and I was nourished by Yorkshire pudding, mince pies, and classic children’s books. All their lives my grandparents remained as English as you could get without actually living there. I grew up in a big family in a rural area of Victoria serviced by a library bookmobile that was more exciting than the ice cream truck. I remember hiding my shoes in the ditch and waiting barefoot for the bookmobile to come ambling down Gordon Head Road. Even then–I must have been eight or nine at most–I understood that literature was coming to the unwashed masses!
Later we moved to Surrey, which never recovered from the six wild kids in our family. Children weren’t watched over in those days, so I roamed where I wanted to and read what I could get my hands on. At seventeen I went to university and was blown away by DH Lawrence and poets like John Donne. It was there I met the passionate young man I married. Still together, we live in Vancouver close to our son, his wife, and our beloved grandchildren.
After teaching for many years at Langara College, I realized that if I was ever going to write a novel, I had better get started. Egging me on was the Chapters competition for debut novels. The prize was publication by McClelland and Stewart, which would solve the problem of what to do with my book once it was finished. I wrote on weekends, evenings, and during my holidays, barely coming up for air. I mailed off my first chapters and was one of the fifty writers chosen to submit complete manuscripts. My novel was one of the five books short-listed out of the 400 unpublished novels submitted in 2000, and excerpts were subsequently published in The New Quarterly: New Directions in Canadian Writing.
Encouraged, I decided to write a second novel that would make it to the very top. Two years later, the Chapters/Robertson Davies competition had evaporated, and I was only part-way into Conceit. Juggling my writing and day job, my energy flagging, I knew I needed support to keep going. I signed up for a mentorship program at Booming Ground with Thomas Wharton, and met June Hutton and Jen Sookfong Lee, who were also working on novels. We hit it off and kept on workshopping after the four-month course was over. We gave ourselves the name SPiN (www.spinwrites.com), vowing to stay together until our books were completed. Now we have done that and more, with all three novels published–my Conceit, Jen’s The End of East, and June’s Underground.
It all started with a quickening in my mother’s womb and my birth in the Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, a few blocks from where my mother herself was born. I’ve returned to my birthplace infrequently over the years. When I took the ferry over to read from Conceit, I made a pilgrimage to the homes I lived in–my grandparents’ four-square house, my parents’ first home, and the bungalow my father later built for our growing family. I was amazed that they were all still there. In Vancouver, these small working-class houses would have been knocked down to make way for something “bigger and better”. The Duke Street house looked exactly as it did when it won the prize for the best children’s play yard when I was four.
As I drove through Victoria, every ancient Garry oak, every rocky moss-covered outcropping, every street name seemed familiar although I was only ten when I was uprooted and planted on the mainland. If I feel the wrench to this day, imagine how torn my mother was, having lived in this paradise all her life.
I stood on the cliff in Gordon Head where we last lived, and was glad I had come over a day early, dodging a ferry ride through gale-force winds in the Strait of Georgia. I had been near tears all day, recalling things both trivial and great. Now, standing there, I felt the stirrings of my new project. I’d been jotting notes in journals for some time, but this was the first time I felt the emotion needed to begin, a quickening and tingling like a foot waking up after a long sleep.