Bill Arnott’s Showcase Interviews: Edythe Anstey Hanen

Today we’re chatting with author Edythe Anstey Hanen. I met Edye over salad and lasagna at the Whistler Writers Festival, where Edye was a WIBA Finalist for her poignant novel Nine Birds Singing.

Hi Edye, thanks for joining the Showcase! Please share a bit of background to let us know who you are …

Growing up in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood in the burgeoning hippie culture of the 1960s was the ultimate dream for a restless, searching teenager like me. I was raised in a tight-fisted, insular and confining religious family that did not support or encourage a life outside our small enclave of home. No makeup, jewelry, comic books, movies, dances, radio, TV, parties, or mixing in any way with the outside world. I felt alienated from the very universe in which I lived and went to school. I soon learned that if I wanted a bigger life, it would be up to me to find the way to make that happen.

“My advice: Never think you’ve arrived. It’s all just one long, amazing journey.”

Edythe Anstey Hanen

I studied for a year and became an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and worked for several years at St. Paul’s Hospital. Working in that ‘straight’ job (necessary for my independence) was a curious counterpoint to the world at my doorstep that encompassed my ‘other’ life: the mad, thrilling passion I sought out in jazz clubs, protest music, sit-ins, love-ins in Stanley Park and Owsley acid.

I eventually married and moved to Bowen Island where we raised our two children. I began to interview some of the old-timers and write their life stories, loving my island home and its fascinating history more and more as the years went by. In my 30s I took the ferry then the bus out to UBC, coming home at night by water taxi. I studied Creative Writing and began my first attempt at a novel.

I worked and wrote for the Bowen Island Undercurrent community newspaper for 17 years and in 1997 became the editor. I took early retirement in 2007 and began to write full time, sending stories off to contests and magazines.

I’ve been published in The Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Hamilton Bay Observer and I am a regular contributor to Mexconnect, an online travel magazine focusing on Mexico. I’ve also been published in Room, Prairie Fire, The University of Alberta Anthology of Essays and several other literary magazines. My first novel, Nine Birds Singing, was published by New Arcadia Publishing in 2017 and was a Finalist in the Whistler Independent Book awards.

Q. That’s a remarkable journey. What do you feel you’re best known for?

I am best known for my love of little things. Found things: feathers; pebbles; beach glass. Small treasures: a tiny bottle of Joy perfume given to me over 50 years ago; a rose quartz angel; a 3-inch high piece of folk art pottery from Oaxaca of an old woman with a rooster on her head carrying a bouquet of roses. And words. I love words. I grew up as a child believing I had no voice. I felt unseen. Perhaps it was then that I came to love the world of ideas, learned to shape them into words, and those words into vessels that would hold all my hopes and imaginings. And that’s how I finally found my way to myself, sheltered within the comfort and safety of words.

Q. Itself another journey! What would you say brought you here?

What brought me here? I define ‘here’ as two things: my home in the woods with its creeks and wildish gardens and starry skies. The other ‘here’ is the place I inhabit as a writer, the place inside me where the words live. I came to both places because of a small, secret dream I had as a child: the vision of myself living in a little cabin in the woods writing stories.

Q. I love it. Believe, achieve. And who’s a mentor to you?

A mentor in my life was writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell whose works I discovered in my early 30s. It was through reading The Power of Myth that I found my way out of the wilderness of my religious upbringing and came to understand religion as metaphor. I was finally freed.

Q. That’s a mentor! Now, tell us what’s your favourite book, album, movie, and food dish.

It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite book out of the thousands I must have read since childhood but one I have loved for years and read many times is Love in the Time of Cholera with its beautiful and haunting opening line, “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

My favourite album: Bob Dylan’s Bringing it All Back Home.

My favourite movie is Becket (1964). I watched this movie (about the relationship between Thomas à Becket and King Henry II) first when I was 18 and many times after that. It was a movie that stirred my heart like no other. Years later when I watched it for the last time I understood that the movie was about the impossibilities of love.

My favourite food dish changes frequently. For now, my favourite food is homemade gyozas in an orange teriyaki sauce.

Q. Brilliant. All of it! Tell us please, what are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a collection of interconnected stories set in my world of the sixties: Vancouver’s iconic 4th Avenue; California’s Steinbeck country; Big Sur; a long road trip to Montreal and Upstate New York and the even longer, turbulent journey back home. The collection is called Borderlands.

I see a world that we inhabit and that inhabits us—a place that holds us and embraces us in some very personal way. It’s the territory that contains the story of our lives. Between our beginning and our end, I see us as nomads, moving forward into our limitless futures, journeying, transforming, becoming. It’s the road we travel between the present and the future that holds the mystery and the promise. Though this unknown terrain feels boundless when we’re young, it has its way stations and its outposts. There are guides waiting in the shadows. Signposts along the way. But there are no maps. Only this vast, unknown country of our dreams. This is the place I call the borderlands.

Q. I’m left feeling I’m journeying alongside you Edye; that’s going to be a great read. What’s your advice to others?

My advice: Never think you’ve arrived. It’s all just one long, amazing journey. Know who you are. Know your most authentic self. Then live and write from that place.

Q. Lovely. And because I like silliness, a Quirky Q. Make a choice: Soup or salad?

I choose salad because that’s what life is, isn’t it? A big salad. So much to choose from. You gotta love it.

(Bill) Agreed. Thank you Edye, for your insights and sharing. That was great fun!

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, the Gone Viking travelogues, and A Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot (Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.