A Conversation with Andrea Gunraj, author of THE LOST SISTER

The Lost Sister is Andrea Gunraj’s second novel, which Harriet Alida Lye has declared to be “a finely crafted story about forgiveness and redemption between two sets of sisters, [a novel whose] beating heart is the longing that comes from missing someone you love.”


Briny Books: What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?

Andrea Gunraj: The scene where the character Alisha goes into the woods to find an important place related to her sister’s disappearance. I pictured it in my mind for a while but didn’t think I could make it interesting or particularly readable. But I thought it was really important to have that moment. It took a lot of writing and re-writing to get it to the place it is now but I think it works well in the flow of the story now.

Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on?

Andrea Gunraj: There were a few scenes that definitely seemed to “write themselves.” They were the places I spent least time on writing and editing but seemed to be the strongest parts of the story. That really surprised me as I rarely write well on the first pass and have to do a lot of finessing to make something read better.

Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud?

Andrea Gunraj: The scenes that depict abuse are not ones that I would generally want to read out loud. They were hard for me to write and they are likely challenging to read. They’re important to the story, but I think they are for silent reading.

Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far?

Andrea Gunraj: I very much appreciate the early readers who volunteered their time to provide quotes for the cover. It was kind of them and they didn’t have to do it. They are all talented writers I admire and to get a positive review from them was truly wonderful.  

Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment?

Andrea Gunraj: Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry.

THREE BOOKS WITH….Dora Dueck, author of ALL THAT BELONGS

Book Cover All That Belongs, by Dora Dueck

We asked Dora Dueck, author of All That Belongs, to name three books she considers essential titles, the books that come to mind first when she’s asked to recommend an excellent read. 

Three essential titles? Three is boiling it way way down. But will give it a go.


The Diviners by Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence’s work paralleled my coming-of-age and affected me deeply—on  account of its power and passion, of course, but also because much of it happened where I  lived—in Manitoba, in Canada—and because of her raw honesty about women’s lives, which seemed daring at the time. I’ve been re-reading Laurence this year and I find her accomplishment hasn’t dimmed for me. If anything, I’m more amazed than ever. The Diviners is her crowning achievement.


Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler

Tyler’s pallet is generally small, circling around family life, and her writing is never showy, but she tells stories so effectively and with such insight, many become must-reads. I remember well the immersive experience of reading Dinner…, so much so that when a character in one of my linked stories reads through the night, this is the book she reads.


Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively

With its themes of memory and loss and quest for the meaning of the past, this book seemed to parallel what I was working at in All That Belongs. Claudia plots “a history of the world…and in the process, my own.” She’s not always likeable but she’s certainly compelling. Besides great writing (it won the Booker in its year) and compelling characters, it’s a novel of ideas. A perfect combination!


About All That Belongs:

Catherine, an archivist, has spent decades committed to conserving the pasts of others, only to find her own resurfacing on the eve of her retirement. Carefully, she mines the failing memories of her aging mother to revive a mysterious Uncle and relive the tragic downfall of her brother. Catherine remembers, and in the process, discovers darker family secrets, long silenced, and their devastating aftermath.

Spanning decades between rural Alberta and Winnipeg, All That Belongs is an elegant examination of our own ephemeral histories, the consequences of religious fanaticism, and the startling familial ties–and shame—that bind us.

A Conversation with Nancy Jo Cullen, author of THE WESTERN ALIENATION MERIT BADGE

The Western Alienation Merit Badge may be Nancy Jo Cullen’s debut novel, but she’s already an award-winning author of short fiction, poetry and plays. Casey Plett calls her latest book, “A queer prairie novel of my dreams—electric, funny, hot, heartbreaking, scathing…”


Briny Books: What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?

Nancy Jo Cullen: Honestly, the fact that I actually finished a novel is the thing I can’t believe I pulled off. It was really a struggle for me sometimes to believe that I could actually write a novel that is any good. So now I read it and I think that I managed to write a decent, entertaining novel. There were times during the process that I really didn’t believe I could pull it off. Novels are so big and unwieldy.

I also really like Robyn’s last scene in the book that jumps forward and backward in time so we see how she is in the current day while we watch the havoc she wreaks on the Murrays.

Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on? 

Nancy Jo Cullen: I always thought I was writing a happy ending story. A few problems that a family overcomes and then they love each other again and all’s well. I definitely didn’t want to write a story where Frances’s sexuality would be an issue that the family couldn’t manage. And I thought Robyn was a better person too. Initially when I imagined the story it would all come back to happiness. But the story, to stay true to the characters, just refused it. Trying to shoehorn the idea that the characters would all forgive each other weakened the novel and when I let go of it the story picked up steam.

Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud? 

Nancy Jo Cullen: Yes! There’s a sex scene near the beginning of the book that I’m very unlikely to ever read in public.

Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far? 

Nancy Jo Cullen: One of my very favourite places to eat in Kingston is a place called the Northside Café. I really like the two women who own it and I love the food, and the vibe, and the staff at their place. And we were friendly but they didn’t know I was a writer. Anyway, one of them found my book at our local bookstore, Novel Idea—the design (thank you Michel Vrana!) caught her eye. She looked over the book and realized it was me (most people know me as Nancy not Nancy Jo) took it home and read and she really liked it and she made the point of telling me. I was so thrilled! The cool woman from the funkiest joint in Kingston loved my book?!!! If the work of a book is to find a writer’s audience then this was one of those moments.

Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment? 

Nancy Jo Cullen: I’ve just picked up Kai Cheng Thom’s I Hope We Choose Love. I am drawn to her idea of love as radical action and when she talks about it she makes so much sense. Love is radical these days and that’s the kind of thinking I want to engage with.

I’m also reading Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I’m dubious, but it was a book my mom loved so I thought I’d pick it up. I’m travelling for the next couple of weeks so why not lean on a little gothic romance? Is it romance? I’m actually waiting to crack it when I’m on the plane.

And, I like to have a poetry collection on the go, my current poetry read is Panicle by Gillian Sze.

This might make it sound like I read a ton but I’m a slow reader and will linger over all of the above books.

Three Books With… Andrea Gunraj, Author of THE LOST SISTER

The lost sister

We asked Andrea Gunraj, author of The Lost Sister, to name three books she considers essential titles, the books that come to mind first when she’s asked to recommend an excellent read. 

*

Family Life, by Akhil Sharma

Winner of the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award

Hailed as a “supreme storyteller” (Philadelphia Inquirer) for his “cunning, dismaying and beautifully conceived” fiction (New York Times), Akhil Sharma is possessed of a narrative voice “as hypnotic as those found in the pages of Dostoyevsky” (The Nation). In his highly anticipated second novel, Family Life, he delivers a story of astonishing intensity and emotional precision.

We meet the Mishra family in Delhi in 1978, where eight-year-old Ajay and his older brother Birju play cricket in the streets, waiting for the day when their plane tickets will arrive and they and their mother can fly across the world and join their father in America. America to the Mishras is, indeed, everything they could have imagined and more: when automatic glass doors open before them, they feel that surely they must have been mistaken for somebody important. Pressing an elevator button and the elevator closing its doors and rising, they have a feeling of power at the fact that the elevator is obeying them. Life is extraordinary until tragedy strikes, leaving one brother severely brain-damaged and the other lost and virtually orphaned in a strange land. Ajay, the family’s younger son, prays to a God he envisions as Superman, longing to find his place amid the ruins of his family’s new life.

Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.

*

Dogs at the Perimeter, by Madeleine Thien

Set in Cambodia during the regime of the Khmer Rouge and in present-day Montreal, Dogs at the Perimeter tells the story of Janie, who as a child experiences the terrible violence carried out by the Khmer Rouge and loses everything she holds dear. Three decades later, Janie has relocated to Montreal, although the scars of her past remain visible. After abandoning her husband and son, Janie takes refuge in the home of her friend, the scientist Hiroji Matsui. Janie and Hiroji find solace in their shared grief and pain–until Hiroji’s disappearance opens old wounds, and Janie finds that she must struggle to find grace in a world overshadowed by the sorrows of her past.
Beautifully realized, deeply affecting, Dogs at the Perimeter evokes the injustice of tyranny through the eyes of a young girl and draws a remarkable map of the mind’s battle with memory, loss, and the horrors of war. It confirms Madeleine Thien as one of the most gifted and powerful novelists writing today.

*

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor

Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is the story of one family’s struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. It is also the story of an important year of discovery in the life of young Cassie Logan.

*

About The Lost Sister:

The anticipated sophomore novel from the celebrated author of The Sudden Disappearance of Seetha, which Quill & Quire called “an exciting, memorable debut.” Partially inspired by the real-life experiences of a former resident of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, The Lost Sister bravely explores the topics of child abuse, neglect, and abduction against a complex interplay of gender, race, and class dynamics. 

Alisha and Diana are young sisters living at Jane and Finch, a Toronto suburb full of immigrants trying to build new lives in North America. Diana, the eldest, is the light of the little family, the one Alisha longs to emulate more than anyone else. But when Diana doesn’t come home one night and her body is discovered in the woods, Alisha becomes haunted. She thinks she knows who did it, but can’t tell anyone about it. 

Unable to handle the loss of their daughter and unaware of Alisha’s secret guilt, the family unravels. It’s only through an unusual friendship with Paula, an older woman who volunteers at her school, that Alisha finds reprieve. Once an orphan in the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children and estranged from her own sister, Paula helps Alisha understand that the chance for redemption and peace only comes with facing difficult truths.

A Conversation with Dora Dueck, Author of ALL THAT BELONGS

All that belongs

All That Belongs is Dora Dueck’s fourth book and third novel, following 2012’s What You Get at Home, which won the High Plains Book Award for Short Stories and was shortlisted for the the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction and the Carol Shields Winnipeg Award at the 2013 Manitoba Book Awards. K.D. Miller calls All That Belongs “a gentle but compelling meditation on love, aging, the nature of memory, and the need to acknowledge and forgive the pain of the past.”

Briny Books: What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?

Dora Dueck: The interesting thing is that when a book project finally lands in real text in a real book, it all feels like it was written by someone else. Even the simplest sentences take on the aura of disbelief, like, really, when and how ever did I write this and how did all this come together—from me!

But, to answer your question more specifically, the first character that arrived in my head was Uncle Must, in the almost-vision-like scene of him inhabiting the figure of Saint Martinian in the middle of an ocean storm. Which made me ask, who in the world is this man? What’s he about and why does he matter? Which is what Catherine wonders too. I’m proud of the scene because, though it now appears well into the book, it was part of the first writing I did on the novel and I used it as a sample in an application to the Canada Council for a grant, which I needed at the time. It must have been convincing enough, because they gave me a grant.

Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on? 

Dora Dueck: There are linkages and layering that happened in the writing process—about fire, or music, for example—that I didn’t set out to make happen, but noticed as the book came together. And, themes—of shame and time, for example—that the story circled around, which I was aware of from the beginning but grew for me as characters emerged and did things. Almost as if I was being instructed or enlarged about them. How shame may be imposed from without or be taken on—almost nourished—within, so often unreasonably. How memory is a constant, awful reckoning with time. Recently I became aware of what can seem a deep undercurrent of sadness but which is —by being articulated, by being felt— actually an antidote to shame. Authentic emotion undoes shame in a way. This surprised and pleased me; I had not set out knowing that this is what can happen in remembrance.

Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud? 

Dora Dueck: There are always parts I avoid simply because, while I wish to entice, I’m really really reluctant to give too much away. But in addition, I don’t think I would try to read any of Catherine’s most intimate reflections on the loss of her brother Darrell, because as relatively steady-sounding or contained as her voice may be, I know her well enough by now that I would feel it trembling underneath and my voice might break and chances are I wouldn’t get through the passage.

Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far? 

Dora Dueck: At the time of answering this Briny Books Q & A, the book is just fresh off the press, so I don’t have reader responses yet. Well, except for the three blurbs! And Kerry Clare who had requested an advance copy! All four are writers and readers I admire and whose opinion I value. It was wonderful to hear “I loved it” from several, in addition to the formal blurb statements. But then one of them who sent me an email in addition with very specific things she liked, like the first sentence, small details like how someone whistles, the realistic marriage, the mother-daughter relationship. Even a particular word!

It’s always gratifying to hear readers say they read and enjoyed one’s book. But when they add particulars, even just a couple of things, it’s amazing how much encouragement-mileage the compliment gets!

Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment? 

Dora Dueck: Currently, I’m just wrapping up Michael Crummey’s Sweetland and getting into The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari and, for a “book club for two” with a friend, My Antonia by Willa Cather.

BONUS: Check out an interview with artist Agatha Fast Doerksen, who created the image on the book’s cover.

The Book Drunkard Festival Comes to Uxbridge

Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge Ontario announces the inaugural Book Drunkard Literary Festival.  Putting Uxbridge on the literary map in Canada is not a stretch for 30-year-old Uxbridge mainstay, Blue Heron Books. Paying tribute to former Durham resident, Lucy Maud Montgomery, who once quipped, “I am simply a book drunkard”, The Book Drunkard Festival aims to capture the wonderment of the written word and its ability to intoxicate, transport and transform. Festival runs October 17-November 3 and the schedule is spectacular.

3 Novel Accessories: CROW, by Amy Spurway

But before we wind down for the season, we’ve got one more instalment of 3 Novel Accessories, which has been the most delightful feature to put together. (See previously: Bad Ideas, The Luminous Sea, and Frying Plantain.) With this feature, we choose items from Toronto-based online accessory boutique Inner Muse that complement Briny Books titles both thematically and aesthetically.

“You know how people say, ‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry’? You will. And you will.” —The Toronto Star on CROW


Jenny Bird The Jane Cuff—High Polish Silver

Stacey “Crow” Fortune has a tender heart, but she’s as tough as nails, and I wanted an accessory that suited her kickass punk ethos. This is not the bracelet of a woman who suffers fools gladly.


Melanie Auld Stone Slice Ring—Rose Gold/ Black Onyx

But Crow is not only steely—she’s witchy too, and comes from a long line of women with such powers. Onyx stone is a powerful force and helps the wearer during times of turmoil, and will ward against the evil eye.


Machete Grande Drops—Calico

And finally, these gorgeous earrings. They don’t just match Crow’s beautiful cover—but if you, like Stacey Fortune, have just shaved your head, these statement earrings will absolutely complete your look. Wear them to your high school reunion.


What’s Coming Up Next?

Heads up! We’re winding down Briny Books V. 1 this week and going on a brief hiatus before our return in October with a brand new lineup of excellent fiction. If you’re subscribed to our newsletter, you’re going to find out FIRST when the new selections are announced and therefore get a head-start on our FREE DELIVERY DEAL (which will only be available for a limited time). See you in the Fall.

3 Novel Accessories: FRYING PLANTAIN, by Zalika Reid-Benta

Next up to be accessorized is Frying Plantain, by Zalika Reid-Benta, which has been one of CanLit’s most buzzed-about titles of the summer. We scoped out the stock at Toronto-based online accessory boutique Inner Muse to find gorgeous items that complement the book both in theme and aesthetic.

“[FRYING PLANTAIN] IS AN UNFORGETTABLE DEBUT.” — PAUL BEATTY, BOOKER PRIZE–WINNING AUTHOR OF THE SELLOUT


Machete Mini Hoop—Lemon

Pairing well with the book’s red and yellow cover, I also think that Kara would like the look she catches of herself in these earrings as she’s trying on lipstick in the mirror at Shopper’s Drug Mart.


Shashi Tilu Bracelet—Rainbow

The bright colours in this bracelet conjure Kara’s Jamaican heritage, and make for a fun and playful accessory.


Leah Alexandra—Love Token Necklace

Based on Rosemonde Gerard’s 19th century French poem, this necklace is stamped with the French sentiment “+ qu’hier – que demain”. It is a symbol of growing love which translates from the poem’s French verse meaning “I love you more than yesterday and less than tomorrow,” and signifies the strong but complicated bond that resides between Kara and her mother.


Three Books With…Melissa Barbeau, Author of THE LUMINOUS SEA

We asked Melissa Barbeau, author of The Luminous Sea, to name three books she considers essential titles, the books that come to mind first when she’s asked to recommend an excellent read. 

Dear Missy Marston, author of Bad Ideas and fellow Briny Books-er (Briner?), you are right. What an impossibly hard task to come up with a list of three essential books. Books have been pulled from the bookshelves. Books are all over my writing desk, books are all over the floor. Kurt Vonnegut and Karen Russell and Jeannette Winterson and Moby Dick are pulling at my sweater. I have cheated (just a little bit) but here, finally, and for completely arbitrary reasons, are my three:

The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje

The book that changed my life. I read The English Patient in my very early 20s and it shifted my worldview on what writing could be. I had grown up a voracious and indiscriminate reader—Madeline L’Engle, Harlequin romances, Nancy Drew—but this book took my breath away and made me say, oh this. This is what writing can be. It’s the book that started me on the road to being a serious reader and it made me believe that writer is a thing I could be. It’s luscious. 

With ravishing beauty and unsettling intelligence, Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel traces the intersection of four damaged lives in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Hana, the exhausted nurse; the maimed thief, Caravaggio; the wary sapper, Kip: each is haunted by the riddle of the English patient, the nameless, burned man who lies in an upstairs room and whose memories of passion, betrayal,and rescue illuminates this book like flashes of heat lightening.

*

100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

A very close finisher over Márquez’s book of short stories Leaf Storm. Solitude is a masterpiece of magic realism but I picked it because of all those yellow butterflies. The yellow butterflies have stayed with me like no other image from a book. All that colour and movement flitting towards me. I feel like I’ve caught them inside of me somehow.

The brilliant, bestselling, landmark novel that tells the story of the Buendia family, and chronicles the irreconcilable conflict between the desire for solitude and the need for love—in rich, imaginative prose that has come to define an entire genre known as “magical realism.”

*

A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf

My very most-battered book. It is funny, conversational, sly, and a brilliant treatise on writing and the conditions necessary for making art. Ultimately, though, it is Woolf’s attempt to answer the simplest question: “Why did men drink wine and women water? Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor?” This is a book about the poverty of women and is every bit as relevant today as the day it was written.

A Room of One’s Own, based on a lecture given at Girton College, Cambridge, is one of the great feminist polemics, ranging in its themes from Jane Austen and Carlotte Brontë to the silent fate of Shakespeare’s gifted (imaginary) sister and the effects of poverty and sexual constraint on female creativity.

Bonus Books!

I could not leave this list as it is without mentioning the canon of Newfoundland writers. To write from this place is to write from a deep tradition of storytelling—it is absolutely essential to my craft and to my identity as a writer. Start anywhere! Lisa Moore, Michael Crummey, Kathleen Winter, Jessica Grant, Sharon Bala, Andy Jones, Megan Gail Coles. I always have Straight Razor Days, Joel Thomas Hynes’ book of raw and elegant poetry, close at hand.