Author Susanna Kearsley looking forward to first Highlands visit
By Darren Lum
Published Sept. 3, 2019
New York Times best-selling author Susanna Kearsley is excited and “honoured to be asked and given this chance to come up and meet the people of Haliburton.”
Kearsley will be at the Haliburton Legion on Sunday, Sept. 15 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., as part of the first ever Big Book Club. This admission-by-donation event, which includes a book signing and silent auction, will provide the public an opportunity to ask Kearsley questions related to writing philosophy and about her latest book, Bellewether, a novel of love, war and historical intrigue. There will also be a “tune in” opportunity through the Haliburton Reads and Writes Facebook page for a live feed of the event, which is hosted by Erin Kernohan-Berning. One person (and a guest) will win a chance through the silent auction at the event to meet with Kearsley for tea at a private home during her week’s stay. The auctioning of her time is a first for her. She’s looking forward to it though.
“I’m very easygoing and have no trouble talking,” she said.
She anticipates a different interaction depending on whether the person is a writer or a fan.
The Canadian author of 13 published (and one to be published) books will arrive on Sept. 14 and then stay for seven days, living at a cottage provided as part of the Arts Council-Haliburton Highlands Writer in Residence Program. Kearsley called it a “gift” to have a quiet place to write.
While in the Highlands, she will not only be available as a willing resource for people interested in writing, but will also work on her next book The Vanished Days, which is due to her publishers for May 13.
Visiting small communities is something she takes great pride in, because growing up in Port Elgin she never had such an opportunity to meet with working authors.
“I always wrote from the time I was very small, but it was never something that I really thought I could do for a living because I never had any contact with anybody who did do that for a living. Whenever I get an opportunity to go into areas like this one, especially connect with school children ... just let people see that writers are ordinary people who grew up in places just like this one, it’s something I just jump at. You know, if out of the community you can even inspire a handful of people to find their own voices and tell their own stories, it’s a wonderful thing. I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.
She loves meeting with school children because they ask the best questions.
“They’ll just ask you anything,” she said. “They keep you on your toes and they make you think a lot about your process and your craft because they’re really working on a lot of things themselves and I just really enjoy talking to kids about writing.”
The plan is for her to speak with Haliburton Highlands Secondary School students on Monday, Sept. 16.
Other than passing through the area as a child, Kearsley has never been to Haliburton County, but is looking forward to coming. She is long-time friends with Ruth Walker, who cottages in the area and is a member of Haliburton Reads and Writes, which is a subcommittee of the Literary Arts Round Table hosted by the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands.
Kearsley invites people to ask her questions.
“I aim to be very accessible and I’m not there to be a snob. I’m there to be there for people to ask questions. Some people are too shy to ask questions in front of other people at the main event so that’s kind of what I’m there for,” she said.
Marie Gage of the Arts Council ~ Haliburton Highlands wrote in an email, “the committee was looking for an author whose genre was different than last year’s author, Frances Itani, yet still popular with a broad selection of readers and writers in the region.”
Gage adds bringing Kearsley will be an “inspiration to prospective writers.”
The Literary Arts Round Table identified a lack of access in the community “to expertise that can help prospective writers achieve their goals. Always having to travel to gain the expertise was identified as a barrier to individuals advancing toward their goals. Through the book club format to this year’s event it is hoped to attract both readers and writers to benefit from wisdom.”
After 26 years of experience, the soon-to-be visiting author reveals the challenge she faces every time she writes.
“Every single time I think I’ve lost my ability to write and my publishers are going to want their advance back and my readers are going to hate this one and I might as well just give it up and stop writing. Every single time I think this is it ... Every single time it works itself out. I wish I had known then that this is just going to keep happening for my entire career,” she said.
She said going through it the first time, she thought it was a one time thing. Then it was the second time, she thought it was another reason. Now she accepts it.
“By now I know this is just my process and I don’t think it’ll ever stop. I just wish I had known this is just going to be the pattern of all my books and that I was never going to reach a point,” she said, referring to 26 years since she was first published.
“I still feel like people are going to come in and point at me and say, ‘Out of the pool. You don’t know what you’re doing.’ That feeling never goes away,” she said.
She said to reconcile this pattern, she reminds herself and also speaks to other authors, who go through the same struggle.
“Most of us have what we call ‘imposter syndrome’ where we don’t feel like we really are that good at it. Most of us have this dip in the middle of a book where we don’t feel like it’s doing very well and when you get talking to each other then you realize you’re not the only one goes through this. And you think, ‘OK. Push forward and it will get better’ and it always does,” she said.
She often writes early in the morning, which was born of necessity, because of her work as a curator, then a waiter, and as a mother raising two boys. One is in his last year of high school and the other is entering his first year of university in Estonia.
Kearsley does a lot of historical research for her books, but does not complete a character outline. She relies on getting to know the character through the writing process.
“This kind of driving in the dark and just seeing as far as my headlights will show me has been the way that works best for me,” she said. “It can be a little scary at times, but I write so slowly it’s maybe what keeps me interested more. It makes the process more interesting for me. It keeps me from getting bored.”
She said the time she takes to write a book is a little longer than others.
It will take on average a year-and-a-half to two years. Some books have taken her up to four years to write.
“There are books that have felt like they were just handed to me like a gift where I sat down and the story just kind of flowed through me. My book Mariana was one of them ... my book The Winter Sea was another one that felt like that. I just couldn’t wait to get into the writing to write that book,” she said. The Firebird was also included in that list when “everything was just perfectly balanced, craftwise.”
Her latest published work, Bellewether is the first time she has used her own family history.
“There is a specialness in that for me. Usually, I’m using someone else’s family history as the basis for a book. It is the first time I used my own family history and my own past occupation as a museum curator. As again, normally I’m researching someone else’s occupation and putting that on the page. It was a very personal book and that made it a very personal writing experience,” she said. “It’s kind of special to me for that reason.”
While writing this book, she experienced health issues. It contributed to the three-year effort, which was greatly supported by her publisher. She adds there is a sequel to the book planned to be written called, Windward Passage. She said it is already sold and will be written after current book is completed.
Her yet-to-be-published work is part of a collection of four novellas, a joint book with other authors, coming out autumn, 2020. The book is called, The Deadly Hours. That will be her 14th published book.
Home right now is the Greater Toronto Area. However she loves small communities.
Although she was born in Brantford and moved around with her father, an engineer, she speaks fondly about the “holiday community” of Port Elgin, which she said is similar to Haliburton.
“The time I was growing up we had one stoplight. That is about my pace. We had one stoplight and a movie theatre and, you know, it was a nice place to grow up. I’m really looking forward to [coming]. I like the slower pace,” she said.
Ever since Kearsley was a young girl, she has always loved the power of writing.
It keeps her going.
“It is how I process what’s going on around me. I pick up a pen and I write about it, whether it’s when I was small I either wrote a poem about it or I wrote a song about it or I wrote a story about it, whether it was a good thing or a bad thing or a scary thing that was happening to me it went down in words on a page,” she said. “And when I’m in a room by myself and the words are coming well everything else is gone except the story and that for me is a feeling that is just indescribable. It is just a feeling I want to recapture again, again, again, again and again. As long as I can keep doing that, you know, I’m happy.”
A publishing professionals panel discussion, called From Inspiration to Publication is planned for Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Minden Hills Community Centre. This includes a discussion about the business of writing from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then writers can book one-on-one sessions to pitch a manuscript, discuss a story idea or learn the best places to send work from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“This event brings two publishers, an editor and an author of children’s books to the Minden Community Centre for a discussion of issues of publication followed by an opportunity for local authors to meet with panellists in a private session in the afternoon. There is also a bonus workshop, run by Ruth E. Walker, an award- winning writer, in the afternoon,” Marie Gage said.
The publishers are Scott Fraser of Dundurn Press, Shane Joseph of Blue Denim Press, editor and partner in West Coast Editorial Associates, Frances Peck, and children’s author Heather M. O’Connor. The panel includes author, Minden Times columnist and retired general manager and editor of The Canadian Press news agency, Jim Poling Sr. The event is presented by Haliburton Reads and Writes. Register at www.eventbrite.ca/e/from-inspiration-to-publication-tickets-69081222797.