The Storyteller’s Daughter was your first published novel. Tell us a bit about this story and what inspired you to write it.
The novel tells the story of a teenage girl named Skye MacNamara who learns that the parents she has always known are changelings, that she herself is descended from a line of seannachies (the ancient storytellers of the Scottish Highlanders who have been said to have almost mystical abilities), and that her real mother has been trapped in a story for the past 15 years. Skye’s task is to try to rescue her mother, which she can only do by learning what it means to be a seannachie.
I began writing The Storyteller’s Daughter while I was finishing up my Ph.D. dissertation, which has a strong focus on memory and how our identity is made up of stories—stories that we tell, stories that we have been told, stories that we find in the world around us. One of the novels that I studied was Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief. There is a single line in the novel where MacLeod refers to seannachies. I’d never heard of them before, and I was riveted by his description of the way “they would ‘remember’ events from a Scotland which they had never seen, or see our futures in the shadows of the flickering flames”. That single line inspired a chapter in my dissertation, but it also inspired my novel. I had the good fortune to live in Scotland for a few years while I did my degree; those experiences combined with my childhood in the prairies to create the setting and background for my story.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
I am currently in the process of turning my dissertation into a book, which will be published by McFarland. The book will look at representations of memory and identity in the works of four Canadian authors: Alistair MacLeod, Michael Ondaatje, Jane Urquhart, and Margaret Atwood.
I’m also working on a sequel to The Storyteller’s Daughter: Where the Story Begins. It picks up just after the last novel ends, and finds Skye and her friends facing new conflict as a consequence of some loose ends that were left at the end of their last adventure. It’s given me an excuse to delve even deeper into Celtic and Gaelic mythology, and helps let off a little steam after a day of immersion in critical theory!
When you were a kid, did you dream of being a writer?
I have always thought of myself as a writer. Even when I’m not working on stories or essays, I always have a pen near at hand. I have written dozens of journals, tons of poetry (bad), and zillions of skits and anecdotal stories that are intended to point out the absurdity of my daily life. I have always dreamed of being a self-sustaining writer, but I’m also teacher. I love teaching students how to express themselves, how to articulate their thoughts more effectively, and to appreciate the power of stories and narrative. Teaching and writing go hand-in-hand for me; I wouldn’t want (or even be able) to give up either.
Do you have any advice for new writers thinking of publishing a book?
Hmmm… I’m still looking for advice in this department myself. But from what I’ve gathered, I’d recommend that new writers start by reading as much as you can about publishing, both traditionally and independently. Make contacts—through blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all those kinds of social media. There is a lot of really helpful information, and a lot of authors who are willing to share their experiences. The other thing I’d recommend is to take a deep breath and slow down—don’t rush into anything. Take your time, especially if you want to make writing and publishing a regular thing!
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00LFJDTDA
Who is your favourite author and what strikes you about their work?
This is a tricky question. I love Terry Pratchett’s work: his novels are incredibly clever, hilarious, poignant. His characterisations of Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax resonate very strongly with me. I love Death, too. There is always something for me, whatever the mood or situation, in his pages. I’ve read all of his novels dozens of times. If I could write satire, I would aspire to write it like his.
Of course, I love a lot of authors and have had dozens of favourites over the years. My recommended reading list for anyone who makes the mistake of asking is huge. But Pratchett is my go-to guy when I’m reading just for me.
My cover art was done by the incredibly talented Vanessa Kalyn. She read my book and came up with a number of different possible images. I chose the image of the three girls for the cover because I love the way she captured each girl’s personality so clearly yet so simply, and I feel like there’s a strong sense of the dynamic between them. Vanessa’s artistic style is incredibly unique, and the image just pops. It’s so different from every other cover I’ve seen. I still remember the first time I saw it—I couldn’t stop smiling!
Other than writing, do you have any unique talents or hobbies?
Reading and writing seem to occupy a lot of my time. However, I love to swim (I was a lifeguard for years), and I want to start camping again. I used to do a fair bit of that kind of thing, but haven’t for years. I also love to do things with my hands—a friend of mine taught me to do beadwork, and I LOVE that. I like to draw as well (though I’m not very good at it), and would love to learn to paint but I just don’t understand colour.
Give us a memorable quote from your book meant to intrigue and tantalize us.
I took a step closer then stopped, undecided. She was a lonely, eccentric old woman who’d known me all my life. My parents had trusted her. I trusted her. Part of my brain was prepared to follow her, but the rest of my brain was gibbering unintelligibly in all-out panic. Everything she said sounded right, but it all felt wrong. I knew how a mouse that has wandered across the path of a ferret must feel. At that moment, I didn’t care if I never saw any of my stuff ever again. All I wanted was to get out of there, alive and with all my usual bits still attached.
“I just remembered something…” I mumbled. Then instinct took over and I turned and ran for it.
As I dashed from the steps back to my car, I was certain that I felt her breath on my neck. I fumbled with the door handle on the passenger’s side and scrambled into the car, slammed the door, hit the locks and scrambled across to the driver’s side. Only then did I look back, and I half expected to see Mrs. Schnout pulling a full-on Cujo, slavering and crashing into the door behind me. Instead, she was still standing in front of her open door, hunched and squinting, watching me.
What other books are similar to your own? What makes them similar to your own?
Books that blur the line between reality and fiction have a lot in common with mine—you know, the idea that there is a huge part of the world that we know nothing about where amazing things are happening but we don’t realize it because we aren’t looking for it. Stories that bring gods and mythical creatures into this world, and focus on a heroine who is stubborn and independent but also vulnerable in a variety of ways, like Nicole Peeler’s Jane True stories (though her stories are way sexier than mine!). My narrative tends to focus on adventure and challenges to the individual, rather than on romance, which makes it a bit different from a lot of stories.