Recently, I read the wonderful book Annabel, by Kathleen Winter, which I reviewed and posted earlier on this blog. After reading the book and thinking about it a lot, I wrote to Kathleen a few times with some questions and she was kind enough to indulge me and take the time to answer them. She also gave me permission to post them, so here they are. Hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.
JD: Overall, I loved the book and found your writing so poetic. You really evoke a sense of place in your descriptions of the land and the wildness of Labrador and the hustle of
KW: You're right about Jacinta - she does retreat. I'm not sure I know the answer to your question, except maybe to say that yes, it was a choice I made, to have Treadway emerge as the stronger one, and I can see why a reader might feel the way you do. It would be a good question for a book club! I felt that Jacinta's self-enforced repression of her wishes regarding Wayne, all through his childhood, made her feel ultimately that she had made a deep mistake that she didn't know how to fix. I already had a strong female character who didn't care what any man thought (Thomasina) and I guess I gave her the bravest female role.
JD: Images of bridges occur throughout the book. Thomasina sends
KW: I can pinpoint the instant bridges came to me. The Ponte Vecchio did not exist in early drafts; Wally and Wayne built a treehouse, but the treehouse didn’t feel right to me. For a long time I left it in there but I knew it wasn’t what the story needed. I didn’t have a clue what to do instead. I was having coffee outdoors at Café El Mundo with my husband and the idea of bridges flew gently into my head, and I knew then and there what was going to happen with bridges throughout the story. It was a gift, the idea. A lot of writing is like that, for me. There is author control on one side, and inspiration on the other. It is really important to me to admit that I don’t know the answer to something I’m writing about, and to let the question sit, over time, until the idea wants to come to me of its own accord, in a completely unexpected form.
JD:Both Jacinta and Thomasina support the feminine side of
KW: One of the hardest things for me in the writing of this novel was to stand back and allow the concepts of masculinity and femininity to breathe. I think they are artificial concepts when it comes to the soul, or the inner person. So I did not want to polarize them, even in apparently polarized characters, like Treadway and Jacinta. Treadway has music in him; he sings, and he has intensely private moments in which he consults the wilderness about whether he has made a mistake in forcing
JD: Why did you isolate
KW: I mentioned earlier that there is a tension between author control of a story, and what the story wants to do. I don’t decide ahead of time what is going to happen.
KW: I did think of removing the attack scene from the book after I had written it, because it is so brutal. Then I did some reading about what happens to many intersex people and others who don't fit at extreme ends of the gender spectrum, and realized that this scene was mild compared to the brutality, torture and even murder that many people of ambiguous gender have to face. So I left it in. I was disturbed by it too.
JD: You’ve probably read Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, another book about a trans-gendered young person, but treated in a completely different way. What did you think of it? In that novel,
KW: I am just beginning the first chapter of Middlesex now, after finishing my own book, so I don’t have any thoughts on it yet. But I do have thoughts about how
JD: One final question, about
KW: This question really interests me because it makes me think more deeply about where I came up with Wally’s harsh experiences. She remained a strong person, but by around grade five something happened to the social atmosphere at school. There formed a social hierarchy, with sophisticated and hidden forms of creating inner and outer circles, as well as outcasts. I have seen and experienced this, and I know it affects children deeply for life, so I felt it was important enough to put in the book. The scene in which she loses her voice comes directly out of this atmosphere of covert bullying. She lost her voice because she had the courage to speak out against the bully, who reacted with impulsive violence. When I wrote that scene, I wanted to take it out of the book. I told my daughter, who was the same age as Wally and Donna, about the problem: that I did not want singing to become impossible for Wally, since, as you say, it was her one true passion. My daughter replied, “Have her sing anyway.” So that is what I did.
Thank you for these great questions. They go deep into the book and I appreciate them. Kathleen.
JD: Thank-you Kathleen for taking the time for this. I really loved the book and found it a very tender story. So easy to love