You are so in for a treat ! I welcome Kathleen Winter as my guest for my infamous Q and A today. So, please welcome her to the blog, sit back grab whatever your are drinking and enjoy !
In Annabel, you bring a controversial if not taboo topic to light: individuals who are intersex. What was it that made you want to include this topic in the book and in such a unpopulated place among Native Indians? I began hearing stories of children who were born intersex and wrote a short story exploring this. I had spent time in Labrador and the land there had a big effect on me. In Annabel, I describe it as having a kind of magnetic energy. I decided to expand the story into a novel because the short story did not give all the issues enough room to breathe. The questions involved became too constricted. The subject needed more space, so not only did I give it the structural space a novel provides, I also set it in the wild, strong space I knew Labrador to be. The culture in which Wayne/Annabel lives is primarily a white European culture with some Inuit influence (his father is both Scottish and Inuit). The Innu also live nearby, and there is German and French influence too. I felt that the land of Labrador, while wild and at times harsh, also had room in it to accept a lot of ideas including the idea of a child born both male and female. While I was writing the book, I came across some modern Inuit art that includes images of people who possess both genders at once.
Is there or would there be a metaphor for being in this location and the topic that Wayne is dealing with – how nature sometimes makes mistakes, but isn’t changed or altered? In the book is mentioned an important lake, deep inland, where the waters flow in two directions. This lake is unnamed, or has a secret name, and it is where Wayne’s father, Treadway, goes when he leaves home to hunt and meditate in the wilderness. This location is modeled after a real location and I feel it reflects the duality in Wayne’s life, a duality I don’t regard as a mistake at all.
How do you think other people would have reacted in the novel had they known about Wayne’s condition – would they humiliate him, or would they embrace who he is and it not matter? In the novel there are people, like his teacher Thomasina, who accept his condition exactly as it is. Then there is his father, who does not judge or disown his son, but who has a huge struggle with the fact that he wants his son to fit into the ordinary world. Then there is another character who knows, but we do not find this out until later in the story, and this character also has a combination of acceptance and judgment. Then there are some characters who exhibit outright, horrific reactions that create danger for Wayne. These are the ones who know his condition. Of the characters who do not know it, I think a similar spectrum of responses might be latent within them. I find it an interesting question to look at the secret and its effects, and to think about what might have happened differently depending on who knew the secret.
Of all of the other characters in the book, which one in your mind is the one that sympathized with Wayne more? Why? On the surface, Thomasina, his teacher (who was also present as a midwife at his birth) is the most sympathetic character. She is the one who insistently believes it would have been all right from the beginning to accept the dual nature of this child. She is the one most at peace with ambiguity, and she is also the person who tells Wayne the truth at times when no one else will. However, there is more than one kind of sympathetic gesture, and I think that through the novel Wayne’s father, Treadway, comes to show a depth of understanding that even I did not know he had when I began to write the book.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? My husband is Quebecois and he has a term: “l’ordinaire”, which he applies to the small, everyday forms of happiness, like being with your child and eating potatoes and laughing at the cat. There is another French phrase, “le petit bonheur”, which I think might mean the same thing. I love rain falling on the window, and I love clotheslines hung with fresh-washed towels flapping over the back lane. These, to me, are perfect happiness. There is a part near the end of Annabel where Wayne looks at things like this from his seat on the train: shovels left against fences, tumbledown trellises at the backs of towns, coffeepots left on balconies.
Besides having a talent for writing, what other talent(s) would you like to have and why? I would like to have developed my musical abilities more. As it is, I have taken voice lessons and sung in choirs, and some of my observations in those places have helped me write about what happens to Wally Michelin, Wayne’s soulmate, in Annabel. While I think I can express a lot of the beauty and sadness and humour of life through writing, I don’t think any art can do this as well as music can. I do compose some songs, but this is an amateur hobby since I do not write music in a literate way and I do it mostly in the house and no one hears the songs outside my family.
Do you have any favourite writers? Who are they and why are they favourites? I love Roald Dahl and E.M.Forster. What I love about Dahl is his unadorned and sometimes shocking truth, especially in books intended for young people, who we normally try to protect, but who see through this. Dahl is a breath of fresh air, and his portrayal of brutality and ignorance in the world is exceeded only by his portrayal of compassion and intelligence, and that only by a hair’s breadth. Forster I can sink into as a reader and lose myself in his graceful, impeccable writing, and his depictions of the barricades of class and gender that I find comprise a good part of my own themes.
Who is your favourite hero in fiction? Is there a historical figure that you most identify with? My favourite hero is Valda, who had her own strip in British comics when I was a kid. If Valda ran out of energy, all she had to do was visit her personal source of blue fire. She walked through that fire and emerged re-energized. I have never forgotten her.
If you died and had the chance to come back as anything that you wanted, what would it be and why? It would have to be a bird, a strong bird who can fly great distances over oceans. I would love to be able to fly to India with my own wings, or to crack sea urchins open on the rocks and suck out their pale orange roe with my beak.
GIVEAWAY: I have ONE copy of Annabel available courtesy of the wonderful people at House of Anansi.
Giveaway will end on JULY 16, 2010 !
Leave a comment as to why this book intrigues you, make sure when posting your comment, you use a valid email address while posting so that I may contact you if you have been chosen.
Canadian and US entries only please and no post office boxes !
Good Luck !