Today I’m welcoming historical novelist Genevieve Graham. Her first international best seller Under the Same Sky, and its two companion novels, were set in Scotland and the colonies, but she has since found her niche in writing Canadian historical fiction.
Elizabeth: Welcome, Genevieve. Can you tell us more about your most recent novel, Tides of Honour ?
Genevieve: Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m very happy to be with you here today, and I would love to tell you about Tides of Honour. Who doesn’t love to talk about their baby?
The story is about Danny Baker, an Eastern Shore fisherman here in Nova Scotia. Like so many other boys, Danny heads overseas in 1914 with no idea of the nightmare he’s about to experience. Life in the trenches steals men’s humanity, suffocates hope beneath blood and mud – except just when the horrors of war are becoming too much for Danny, along comes Audrey. The last thing he had ever expected was to meet the love of his life in France. They fall in love via dirt-smudged, water-stained letters, and Danny asks Audrey to marry him, to become his wife in Canada. Even after he is gravely wounded she is determined to be with him, and she begins her own voyage – meeting suffragettes and working as a munitionette – on her way to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Elizabeth: That sounds like a fascinating journey for both of them. I imagine for many love was the only way to survive the nightmare of war.
Genevieve: Very true. But often people change along the way, and as soon as Audrey arrives in Canada it becomes apparent that Danny’s a different man from the one she met in France. The war has taken so much more than his leg. He is tortured by memories and by the fact that his disability now renders him unable to do things he’s always done. Misery consumes him, makes him volatile and unpredictable, and he turns to the bottle for escape. With no other option, Audrey leaves him, and he is devastated.
The next morning two ships collide in the Halifax Harbour, and the explosion destroys most of the city. Almost two thousand people are killed and thousands more are maimed and/or blinded. Danny is jerked back to reality and joins the reconstruction efforts, but he cannot find the answer to the only question that matters: where is Audrey?
Elizabeth: And we’ll have to read the book to find the answer! Readers should also check out the beautiful book trailer for Tides of Honour. How much historical fact is woven into the story?
Genevieve: A lot. My goal is to breathe life back into real historical moments, and in order to do that I basically write the history and weave fictional characters/stories through the reality. History creates stories and shapes people, so my characters have to grow from within the facts, not the other way around.
Elizabeth: What does your writing process look like?
Genevieve: The spark is lit when I am intrigued by an event in Canadian history. The flame rises as I recognize that one specific moment does not stand on its own. It is surrounded, often caused, by others, and all of those things play a part in the creation of my story and characters. I am not a historian, so when I research I am teaching myself something for the first time, and I approach my writing from that perspective: my characters learn as I do. When I wrote Tides of Honour, I started by learning the basics of the Halifax Explosion, watching WW1 movies, and looking through websites on basic history, trends, fashions of the time. I need to feel as if I’m there. The creative process starts when I’m struck by an imagined scene, and that’s when I finally write. I often can’t get farther than a few pages before I have to stop to investigate something, and often that leads me down the rabbit hole and I eventually have to – reluctantly – rein myself back in. Through the course of writing a book, I always write tens of thousands of words about things that will never make it into the eventual book, but every word is vital to what I’m learning.
Genevieve: Yes, I ran my own editing business for about three years. Over that time I edited more than seventy books of all different genres. Editing had its pros and cons. On the positive side, it paid the bills, and it opened me up to all different styles of writing. Working with other writers was a challenge I usually enjoyed, and the end result could be truly rewarding. I enjoyed helping a writer transform an okay book to a good book, or a good book into an excellent one. I also loved to help writers learn and hone their craft. Unfortunately, I found it impossible to work on my own writing while I was editing for other people. Their styles and “voices” found their way into my work, and I inevitably had to rewrite my stories. In the end I had to take the plunge and leave editing behind so I could focus on my own books.
Elizabeth: What are you working on now?
Genevieve: Simon & Schuster Canada will be releasing my next novel, Promises to Keep, in April 2017. Again it is set in Nova Scotia, but back in 1755 the area wasn’t called that. The people called it Acadia. It tells the story of young Amelie Belliveau, one of the more than ten thousand Acadians who were ripped from their homes by the British, packed onto leaking ships, and sent nowhere in particular. Many people will know about the Acadians who became “Cajuns” in Louisiana, but my characters had a different fate in store. The romantic complication in this story stems from the fact that one of the British soldiers is a Scot who had survived Culloden. He bears no love for the British, but he is a good, honest man. If he is to save Amelie, he must commit the sin of treason.
Elizabeth: I can’t wait to read it! Can you tell us more about yourself?
Genevieve: I’m a classical musician by training, but I have dabbled in lots of different things through my life, from advertising to fundraising for the Humane Society to teaching piano and editing. I never planned to be a writer, and I feel incredibly lucky that I am able to do what I do. I began writing after I’d finished reading the Outlander series about seven times because I wanted to see if I could actually do it. About five years after I typed my first exploratory pages, Penguin US published my internationally bestselling 18th century Scottish “MacDonnell trilogy”: Under the Same Sky, Sound of the Heart, and Somewhere to Dream.
My husband and I will soon become empty-nesters, which is a difficult concept to face! Both our amazing daughters will be attending Dalhousie University in the fall (our eldest is already there), and we’re excited for them. They are both brilliant and ready to explore the world, and we can’t wait to see what directions they choose. My husband and I are comforting ourselves with the concept of travel … so many places to see! For now we’re just happy to bundle up with a good book in front of the fireplace along with our little white dog, Murphy. When the snow melts a little we’ll see more of our friendly flock of heritage chickens as they scratch and peck past my office window.
We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?
Genevieve: Tea … or Coffee with Baileys.
Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?
Genevieve: Mountain. I live by the ocean now, but I miss the Rockies.
Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?
Genevieve: Shopping. But mostly reading.
Elizabeth: Violin or piano?
Genevieve: Oboe! Ha! Actually, I play piano and my daughter plays violin. As long as it’s classical, I’m happy.
Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?
Genevieve: Either … if it’s believable.
Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?
Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?
Genevieve: Love, of course, though it can be heartrendingly beautiful to pen a poignant death scene.
There are book trailers for each of Genevieve’s books. I just love book trailers!
For more about Genevieve and her books, visit the sites below.
Links to Tides of Honour and Promises to Keep: http://www.simonandschuster.ca/authors/Genevieve-Graham/470984552