1. As an academic, what was the impetus to write a novel?
I actually decided to do an MA degree so that I could write a novel. I had been writing poetry and short stories since I was an undergraduate, but I thought it would be good to do a two-year degree where I could concentrate on a single project and really develop it. The novel I wanted to write had a historical setting so I combined Creative Writing with History in an interdisciplinary degree at York University. As it turned out, I really enjoyed the archival research and so I have begun a PhD in History. But it’s an interesting challenge to write both “truth” and “fiction” particularly when you don’t find there is really a clear distinction between the two. In this regard, I was very inspired by Len Early’s historical fiction course at York and by Leonard Cohen’s “Beautiful Losers” which I think should be on every reading list, Douglas Glover’s “Elle”, Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace”. These are all novels that I feel engage with the question of what is a true representation of the past. They don’t claim to present one, but simply to show how what we are left with from the records, the artifacts, the landscape and the legends is fragmented and ghostly but so important nonetheless.
2. How did you find Laure's voice?
I began the novel writing from the perspective of Madeleine, Laure’s angelic friend. But this character was too static for me to work with in terms of exploring the territory of Canada. I needed a figure who was less religious, more open to change and more engaged with the world she was encountering. Laure was always there, but she had been the secondary character. I simply woke up one morning and thought, wow, how much more exciting would it be to write the novel from this woman’s perspective.3. What was the most surprising/memorable thing you discovered or that stayed with you from your research into the Filles du Roi?
From the beginning I was surprised to learn that so many of them had come from the Salpetriere in Paris. I had thought they were good country girls looking for decent husbands. My childhood impressions changed completely when I realized that many were basically poor, institutionalized urban women who had little choice in the matter. Most were likely terrified to leave behind the only life they knew in exchange for a dangerous sea journey and a cold wilderness peopled with rough French men, ascetics, and inhospitable native tribes.4. Your PHD thesis compares the migration of French and British women to North America. Any thoughts of writing a similar novel from the British perspective? Or any other ideas for future books. (Because you can't stop now!)
At the moment, I see my PhD thesis as somewhat separate from my fiction writing, other than the theme of course. I am still very much at the archival research stage, but I think it will be written as a history text. Mainly because to write a novel on the subject as well would be like crossing the same territory twice. I do really want to write a novel that picks up from “Bride of New France” a few decades later when the Iroquois are very brutally burned off their lands by the French. Also the story of the migration of women from Montreal to the mills of Massachussetts in the nineteenth century and the conflict this caused with the Catholic Church who saw these women as having gone to hell by going to the United States.5. You've travelled extensively - what was your favourite destination? Why?
Travel is exhilarating. It is always amazing to see how other people live in a different climate, with a different language, religion, food. I can’t say that there is one particular place as I feel there are so many I would like to return to, but definitely France and India have profoundly marked my philosophy and sense of who I am. Although home for me is always Canada. I have this silly fear of dying somewhere else and that being a terrible thing. So each time I return to Canada, I think, OK now I could die and it wouldn’t be so bad. My spirit belongs there. I suppose it’s because of my ancestry- 400 years on my dad’s side and less on my mom’s (she was Irish and her grandmother migrated in the twentieth century) so maybe that’s where the wandering comes from. I admire people like my husband who can feel at home wherever they live. He doesn’t have that internal magnet always pulling him back.
At the moment I am reading Deepak Chopra’s “Life After Death” and Paul McKenna’s “Control Stress”. I am a self-help junkie. I’m also reading Foucault’s “Birth of the Prison” which is all about cruelty and torture beyond imagining, crazy to think of all of this as forming part of the foundation of our current culture. Otherwise my reading is filled with children’s stories: Tatty McTat, Dr. Seuss, The Cat Who Came for Tea, … My two-year old son is a much more voracious reader than I am. He can sit through 5 or 6 books in a row, some read twice, and still want more!
I would have to say that Leonard Cohen is right up there, a mystic and a poet. What more could you ask for? Margaret Atwood’s engagement with Greek myth is spectacular as well.