Why I Wrote This Book: Issue #9

Featuring Caroline Bishop, Allan Hudson, and Jonathan Garfinkel

Why do your favourite Canadian authors write the books they write? Let’s find out in this exclusive feature here at The Miramichi Reader.

Caroline Bishop, author of The Other Daughter, Simon & Schuster (January 10, 2023)

The Other Daughter tells the story of a woman in her late thirties who has discovered a family secret which makes her question everything she thought she knew about her life. Determined to find out what happened to her mother forty years ago, she travels from her London home to Switzerland, where her mother gave birth to her. Here, she’ll discover that she could have lived a different life entirely.

The glimmer of this idea came from my ‘what if?’ musings about my own life. I was born to a Canadian mother and a British father and grew up in Britain, but I could easily have been brought up in Canada instead, had my parents made a different choice. If so, how different would I be? I’d speak English with a different accent, have different cultural experiences, different friends. I’d still be me—because surely my innate personality would be the same—yet a different version of me.

This idea preoccupied me even more after I moved from Britain to Switzerland in 2013 and found another completely different set of experiences in my new home. As a journalist for an anglophone Swiss news site, I was learning a lot about Swiss history and culture. I became fascinated by the ongoing fight for equality in a country where women only gained national suffrage in 1971, and the country’s historically conservative mindset, which, up until 1980, resulted in government welfare measures whereby children were removed from parents who were considered morally unacceptable—including unwed mothers—sometimes only to be treated appallingly in whatever home they were placed. All this gave me the context for my novel, which sets my main character’s very personal story within a wider historical narrative about the social expectations placed on women in the 1970s, in both Britain and Switzerland.

Allan Hudson, Author of Code Name: Iron Spear 1941 (South Branch Scribbler, Nov. 7 2022)

I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction, especially during the second World War. My father was a soldier who participated in the invasion of Sicily. I completed and published a novella based on true events during this period of history and I realized how much I enjoyed writing about this time period. 

After much consideration, I wanted to craft a story of a murder mystery set in the same time period. This led me to search the internet for information of my home province’s (NB) participation The search found a multitude of army bases, air force bases, supply depots, maintenance depots and most fascinating was New Brunswick’s role in early radio direction finding (which was later referred to as radar). 

I discovered Royal Canadian Air Force Base Scoudouc. The base was instrumental in training pilots from Commonwealth countries such as Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of Canada, as well as their role in radio direction finding. Most surprising was the fact that RCAF Base Scoudouc contained a “secret”. I was unable to discover what the secret was, so I created my own. 

Further research during the same time period I found out about a recent development of a magnetron being shipped from England to Atlantic Canada for testing radio direction finding in the microwave spectrum. Whether true or not, I read of the Third Reich’s plan to send spies to countries considered possible enemies while air travel was still allowed from Germany to other parts of the world before the war started. Secrets, German spies and a mystery, a story was born.  

I love creating new characters. Warrant Officer Stefan Kravchenko, a former police officer from Manitoba, is with the Air Force Special Police. He’s given the task of solving crimes committed on the base before the police are brought in. There are too many sensitive issues on base to have civilians nosing about. 

Jonathan Garfinkel, author of In a Land Without Dogs the Cats Learn to Bark (House of Anansi Press, Feb. 21 2023)

In March 2003, I entered a corner store in Kazbegi, Georgia to buy a bottle of water. I was greeted by a giant bear of a man named Zaza. Upon realizing I was a foreigner, Zaza locked the door and plied me with vodka while citing eternal damnation to Canada for their defeat of the Soviets at the 1972 hockey Summit. Later, a Chechen named Aslan joined us. After the third bottle of vodka, we trudged through the snow to a hidden bar where I danced, drank, and was drawn into a brawl from which I narrowly escaped.

The next day I woke up. Due to a record snowfall coupled with intense corruption by the local authorities, I was stuck in Kazbegi for eight days. It was a fascinating convergence of geographies. Fifty Armenians driving fifty white Ladas were stuck in the main square; journeymen from Moscow awaited their concubines; Iranian carpet-sellers fretted about their shipments; Chechen, Russian, and Georgian drinkers finished the town’s supply of booze. Then there was a bread shortage. This almost caused a riot.

While I never saw Aslan or Zaza again, these characters loomed large in my imagination. Kazbegi also happened to be the place where Prometheus was allegedly chained to Mount Kazbek for stealing fire from the gods. I had entered, I believed, a land rife with mythology, beauty, and horror. So began the seeds for this novel.

Over the years, each time I returned to Georgia—for love or for research—I witnessed a country undergo profound changes. Somehow this small nation, caught up in geopolitics, history and its troubled Soviet legacy, told a much larger story. The result is a novel about people caught between past and future, one empire and another, and the enduring traumas of the Soviet Union. Given the war in Ukraine today, the novel feels eerily prescient, a shadow of our dark times.   

1 thought on “Why I Wrote This Book: Issue #9”

Comments are closed.