Okanagan author Frances Greenslade will be the guest speaker at the Williams Lake Public Library on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
She will share excerpts from her latest novel, Shelter, published by Random House in 2011 and set in Williams Lake and throughout the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast.
The author says she fictionalized some of the names of small communities in the Chilcotin, such as Dutchess Creek, thinly veiled for Alexis Creek, but kept other place names like Bull Canyon, Redstone, the Potato Mountains, Williams Lake, Bella Coola and Namu.
Greenslade inserts the historic character of Chiwid throughout the story because she was so impressed with the oral story-telling in the book, Chiwid, published by New Star Books in 1995 about this unusual woman.
The author brings a seamless interplay of aboriginal and white characters in her story.
“I think it’s important to bring First Nations into Canadian literature and include their stories,” says Greenslade, whose husband is First Nations. “In Shelter, First Nations stories intersect, crisscross and converge. In my family’s case, ‘us and them’ doesn’t work.”
The book is the story of two sisters, Maggie and Jenny, and their quest to find out what happened to their mother, who left them to billet in Williams Lake, and never came back. Set in the 1960s and 70s in the wilds of the Chilcotin where it is still possible to lose yourself, the novel explores the attachment we have to our mothers, and the expectation we hold that they will always be our mothers and nothing more.
Greenslade says she wrote the first draft of the novel 20 years ago, about five years after her own mother died.
“I was 24 and my mother’s death was a feed for the theme of the novel. One of my characters, Maggie, feels guilty over her mother’s disappearance. I developed the theme from my own sense of loss.”
When Greenslade couldn’t find a publisher she put the book down for several years. Then in 2008 she picked it up again and rewrote the story from a different perspective.
One of the protagonists in the story, Emil, suffers from a severe mental illness. Greenslade says she based his character on somebody she met who imagined he was being chased or followed by birds of prey.
The author says she hopes the book captures the mystery of the land of the Chilcotin and Central Coast.
“I hope I’ve done the region justice,” she says. “It’s a very local story that’s got such a sense of place. I thought it would trigger some interest in British Columbia.”
Shelter has garnered interest further afield than that. The novel has been picked up by publishers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Holland.
Greenslade is on a year’s study leave from her English teaching position at Okanagan College in Penticton, and is currently working on a new novel set in rural Manitoba and Mumbai, India.
“I’m planning a trip to Mumbai in January, and I’m really interested in meeting up with people who have gone over to India as tourists.”
Besides Shelter, Greenslade has published two other literary works. Her first book, a travel memoir called A Pilgrim in Ireland: A Quest for Home, won the Saskatchewan Book Award for non-fiction. Her second memoir, By the Secret Ladder: A Mother’s Initiation, was published in 2007.