Why I Wrote This Book Issue #31

Featuring Cathy Stonehouse, Sofia Mostaghimi, Darrow Woods, and Suzanne Casey.

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

Cathy Stonehouse, Author of Dream House (Nightwood Editions, October 2023)

In the spring of 2017, my mother, who was living alone in the UK (where I am from) fell and broke her femur. After this, she never returned home. By 2019 she was living in a sub-par nursing home (the best we could afford), and it fell to me and my brother to empty her tiny, semi-detached house and put it on the market in order to pay for her care. A familiar story, perhaps, but one which led me into defamiliarizing territory: going through the physical remnants of my mother’s, and my family’s life in a house that had never been my home; visiting my mother in a “home” that was anything but; returning to the village I’d grown up in 30 years prior, where no one could even understand my Canadian accent, not to mention the country I was born in which was undergoing a catastrophic shift in direction (Brexit).

I wrote the first long section in a rush, after the house was emptied and I was back in Vancouver. Soon I was delving into surreal, associative dreamscapes that took up where the experience of loss left off, building a series of poems that engaged not just with my mother’s house, but my grandmother’s, the house I grew up in, and the house of the body, eventually completing work on the book in the aftermath of the global pandemic and my mother’s death in fall 2021, sadly before I could see her again. Looking back, I see this collection of poems as a way of integrating immense change, and celebrating the home I have made in poetry and the imagination, not to mention my dark humour and fascination with surreal juxtaposition, both of which have enabled me to find beauty and joy in the most unlikely places; I hope this happens for my readers, too.

Cathy Stonehouse (she/they) is a poet, writer, teacher and visual artist. As a young adult, Cathy migrated from Northern England, where she was born, to Vancouver, BC—the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, where she still lives. She is the author of a novel, The Causes (Pedlar Press, 2019), a collection of short fiction, Something About the Animal (Biblioasis, 2011) and three collections of poetry, Dream House (Nightwood Editions, 2023), Grace Shiver (Inanna Publications, 2011) and The Words I Know (Press Gang, 1994). She also co-edited the anthology Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), with Fiona Tinwei Lam and Shannon Cowan. She is a previous editor of EVENT magazine and currently teaches creative writing and interdisciplinary expressive arts at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC. Find her online at www.cathystonehouse.com.

Sofia Mostaghimi, author of Desperada (Penguin Random House, April 2023)

It was the song “Desperado” – a song about runaways – by Rihanna which inspired the writing of my novel, Desperada. I felt compelled by the voice of a woman so unlike me, a woman willing to detach herself from all worldly responsibilities rather than to deal with her grief head on. I wondered: who is this woman? will she be able to heal? Meanwhile, this woman was wondering: how do I go on living after someone I love has died? So I wondered about this, too. I wanted to understand if, despite its inherent dangers, escapism might allow a character like Kora, access to or a way of healing. We don’t look straight on at the sun. Instead, we feel it out of the corner of our eyes. Maybe it is so with grief, so I wondered what light might seep between the blinds of Kora’s escapism. I wanted to explore if this way of being in the world, of grieving, could help a character as messy and unsettled as Kora to understand something about herself, her dead sister, her life, anyway. If it could help her heal. I wasn’t sure that it would, but was propelled forward by the cast of misfit characters she encounters on each leg of her journey through six different cities. Characters who believe nothing matters, everything matters, that God is the answer, or beauty is, or romantic love, or female friendship. These characters made me so curious because each, in their own way, had a distinct idea of what it means to be here, alive and living, they became like those rays of sun my character, Kora, didn’t know she needed to feel. Many of these misfits were inspired by real people I met in my twenties, people whose views helped me understand my own. In this way, Desperada is an ode to our messy, tender twenties, in which we cannot help but to form our identities against the current of time, which tells us we are mortal, and against those connections we form with others, which tells us we don’t have to be.

SOFIA MOSTAGHIMI is a Toronto-based fiction writer. Her work has appeared in Joyland MagazineThe Fiddlehead, and The Puritan, among others, and has been longlisted for the Journey Prize and the Toronto Book Awards. Desperada is her first novel.

Darrow Woods, Author of The Book of Answers (Biblioasis, June 2023)

Years ago, a colleague’s wife confided she wrote stories based on fantasies of the gruesome deaths of certain parishioners who made her husband’s life difficult. Plotting a mystery was healthier than strangling the president of the ladies missionary society. 

I’ve never entertained murderous thoughts about people from my congregations. Honest. 

I do confess to rewriting some pastoral interactions the way I wish they’d gone down. One from my time as a young pastor on the Miramichi inspired a scene in The Book of Answers I hear has made other pastors laugh out loud.

To keep me reading, a mystery requires certain vital elements.

A vivid sense of place is essential. I’m thrilled that readers of my novel recognize the marina, streets, and general vibe of Bronte Village, a kind of small town within Oakville, Ontario. 

I look for an investigator with a compelling outlook on life. I may not agree with how they see or do things, but I’m curious about what informs their choices, even when they don’t live up to their own code. To me, this runs deeper than a quirky or merely interesting protagonist.

Rev. Thomas Book, a recently widowed forty-something pastor is my “reluctant sleuth.” He emerges from his cocoon of grief to respond to bodies dropping at Saint Mungo’s church. He’s qualified mainly by distaste for those who abuse power, and compassion for their victims. Helped by better equipped friends, Tom finds his path not only to solving the crimes, but towards the next stage of his own life. 

I wrote the kind of mystery I like to read, hoping others will as well.

The Book of Answers was a finalist for a Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence.

Darrow Woods pastors two United Church congregations in Southwestern Ontario. He’s also an Ontario Provincial Police chaplain. Read his newsletter at: https://darrowwoods.substack.com/

Suzanne Casey, author of The Quilting Bee (Independently Published, April 2023)

I started writing The Quilting Bee with the bits and pieces my protagonist would give me in the middle of the night. By Page 52, I realized she was one of the side characters in my first novel Danny and MJ. I stopped and reread the information I had of her from my first story (e.g. I had her
name and hair colour wrong). And from that point on, her story exploded in my dreams.

Cathy West had a lot of trauma to reveal, and I became the avenue she chose to tell her story through. In the midst of giving her life, I gave a lot of me into it, also. Although fictitious, the community of St Vincent where Cathy grew up is a copycat to my hometown of Grande- Digue. The corner store I’d walk to … the wharf where Cathy learned to swim … the school, and the farmland across the road from it … my grandparents home … my great-uncle’s house was Cathy’s home … the church where I got married. And watching my mother make quilt after quilt was the inspiration to make Cathy have that talent, as well. Relieving Cathy of her story erased all misgivings I had of my own personal stories for which I finally shared with my family. Writing the story of Cathy West was a whirlwind, yet very therapeutic for me.

Encouraged by her Grade 4 teacher, Suzanne Casey has been writing ever since. It took,
however, four more decades before seriously dedicating herself to her art. The death of her
parents finally kicked her into gear to write her stories. DANNY AND MJ (Archway Publishing, 2019), THE QUILTING BEE (Independently published, 2021) and BIRCH ISLAND (Independently published, 2023) are her first three novels. She also dabbles into poetry, and recently wrote a French children’s book for her four grandchildren (unpublished, 2023). Ms. Casey is passionate about travelling,kayaking, biking, snowshoeing, coffee dates with friends and bonfires at the camper. What she’s most passionate about is being Mom to 2, Wife to 1, Mémère to 4, and middle child of the 5 children her parents had.

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