Xaverian Review Issue 2 Launch on March 14, 2019

Literary launch of chapbook featuring StFX artwork

On March 14, 2019 the Xaverian Review launches its second yearly edition. The chapbook is a showcase of art by StFX students, staff, faculty, and alumni.

The second-issue launch is scheduled to happen from six to nine this evening in Bloomfield Centre.. Featured performer Natashia Gushue, whose works are recently published in Xaverian Review issue 1 and The Xaverian Weekly issue 9 of volume 127, is scheduled for an appearance among artists and authors including professors Chris Fraser and Robert Zecker.

Xaverian Review was first published last year as the result of a two-year project brought to life through the efforts of Rachel Revoy, Savannah MacDonald, Sloane Ryan, Rebecca Charnock and Evan Curley who published a 40-page chapbook.

The executive member of this year’s team are Natalie Chicoine, Alexandrea Guye, and Jade Fulton. Chicoine and team are keeping the vision to allow creative mediums to be celebrated, to grow, and for collaborative multi-platformed opportunities to become facilitated this year.

“It’s been an honour to work with my best friends on this project. It was started by female students and continued by female students this year,” said Chicoine. The Xaverian Review executive members are strong-minded, smart, independent women who have powerful vision.

The publication, sponsored by the Students’ Union, is printed locally. Artworks published in the Xaverian Review include paintings, drawings, poems, short stories, photography, and other creative works.

Admission to the Xaverian Review issue 2 launch is gratis. This event is open to the public.

The Golden X Inn will be open until 1 a.m. for patrons who want service during the intermission scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and after the event.

Reflecting on her experience this year, Chicoine said, “I’m blessed. We’ve got so much support from everyone for a project still in its infancy.”

CFXU is in charge of sound engineering for the event happening in Bloomfield Café.

A limited amount of issue 1 and 2 copies will be available at the launch for free.

Lawrence Hill speaks at StFX on October 19


Get your shorts to Schwartz Auditorium for an evening with a great Canadian novelist

Photo: Lisa Sakulensky

Photo: Lisa Sakulensky

Lawrence Hill will speak at Schwartz Auditorium Friday October 19th, 2018. Thanks to the StFX event sponsors Committee for Aboriginal and Black Student Success, African Descent Affairs and the Department of English, the Canadian novelist and professor of creative writing at Guelph University is scheduled for a first public speaking event in Antigonish this Fall.

Lawrence is the grandson and son of African-American soldiers who served with the American Army during WW I and WW II, respectively, and is working on a new novel about the African-American soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway in northern BC and Yukon in 1942-43. He is a Member of the Order of Canada, and lives with his family in Hamilton, Ontario and in Woody Point, Newfoundland. 

Earlier this year, Lawrence was interviewed by Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School senior students who had completed a novel study of The Book of Negroes. Lawrence’s critically-acclaimed novel won various awards including The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and two-time winner of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. The Book of Negroes was made into a TV mini-series in 2015. 

Photo: Jenn Priddle

Photo: Jenn Priddle

The questions crafted by senior students deconstruct some key elements of Lawrence’s literary devices like imagery. Senior student Timothy Matthews asked, “How did you come up with imagery for all the different settings?” 

Lawrence replied, “It’s really hard to write about a place, isn’t it? Let’s think about the ways you might write about a place and the kind of images you might use. It might be the image of a tree or nature. It might be the image of sound. What is Aminata hearing? What kind of language is being used around her? It might be the image of history, the social or historical setting of the place.” 

The evening with Lawrence at Schwartz is some four hundred kilometers away from where the novelist did his research in Shelburne, Nova Scotia when writing The Book of Negroes. Shelburne is an important place in Lawrence’s novel, especially since the book fictionalizes the 1784 riots that depicts a fragment of the Black Loyalist experience and resiliency. 

Senior Lauren Breen asked, “How much did you fictionalize the narrative when representing historical events like the Shelburne riots?”

Lawrence responded, “I gave myself every liberty to play with or exaggerate or contort minor details for the purposes of dramatic effect. I didn’t make what I would consider to be any major deviations from my understanding of the grand lines of the transatlantic slave trade.”

The full interview with Lawrence, published on May 31st, is available on The Xaverian Weekly’s website under the Arts and Community section.

Lawrence is author of novels Any Known Blood, Black berry: sweet juice and The Illegal and essays “Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book”, “Is Africa’s Pain Black America’s Burden?” and “Act of love: The life and death of Donna Mae Hill”. 

The later essay, published this year, is a heartfelt personal story that calls for Canada to reform its assisted suicide policies. 

Kalista Desmond and a drum group led by Morgan Gero will perform as opening acts for Lawrence on October 19th. Kalista has performed powerful spoken word poetry as an opening act at last year’s Youth Activism Conference headlining event with Desmond Cole. Morgan’s drum group also performed wonderfully as opening act for special guest Cole during his visit to campus last year. 

The title of Lawrence’s speaking event “Faction: Merging history and fiction in The Book of Negroes and The Illegal” hints that the author will dissect the intersection where fact meets fiction in his literature. Arrive at the October 19th event early to get the best seats in the Auditorium for an evening with special guest Lawrence Hill.


Sarah Mian Interview


Staff Writer Addy Strickland and Co-Editor-In-Chief Yanik Gallie interviewed novelist Sarah Mian at Trellis Cafe on Tuesday 24th of July. Sarah is writing the script for a film adaptation of When The Saints. Sarah is also in the process of writing her second novel, The World in Awful Sleep.

Photographer: Shaun Simpson

Photographer: Shaun Simpson

Sarah Mian's debut novel, When the Saints, won the Jim Connors Book Award, the Margaret & John Savage First Book Award and was a finalist for the 2016 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. The book has just been optioned for a feature film and she is writing the screenplay.  


AS: You recently left your day job with the RCMP to become a full-time writer. What does a typical day of work look like for you now?

SM: I wish I could say that I had a routine that I stick to everyday. It’s more random than that, because I never know what project is inspiring me on a particular day. I am working simultaneously on my second novel, the screenplay for When The Saints, and a few other freelance projects. I try to get the tight deadlines out of the way first. Generally speaking, I write better at night, and now that I don’t have to get up everyday and go to a day job, I can write all night. I find that I think much more clearly in the evening, so I usually start writing on the heavy stuff after 7pm, go till about 2am or so, and then I wake when I wake. I try to get some exercise in there. I find that when I do something repetitive like running, walking or paddling, a different part of my consciousness can come forward and I’m better able to work out all of the plot points that weren’t coming to me when I was typing. 

AS: When The Saints is your first novel, correct?

SM: I wrote what I call a starter novel in my 20s, and I highly recommend it because it taught me how to be a better writer. When I read it back, not only is it a capsule of the way that I thought in my 20s – my gosh, I’d be mortified if it would ever be published because it’s so saccharine, idealistic, naïve --but when I read it back, it I can see that the writing gets better halfway through. All that consistent writing really paid off. The beginning is weak, and the ending is so strong, I can see the transformation of myself as a writer through that manuscript. It was absolutely worth doing. 

I teach writing classes now at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia and I always tell students, “never throw anything away.” If I had thrown that manuscript in the wood stove once I realized it wasn’t going to get published, I would have lost some really poetic descriptions of weather, landscapes and the ocean. I’m pulling those out and using them now in my second novel. It’s like a gift from my former self.

AS: What was the process of writing When The Saints like compared to your first novel?

SM: It started out as a flash fiction exercise I was doing with my writing group. I just kept adding to it, and it became a short story. Then, it was longer than a short story and I was still working on it. I had no intention to write a novel based on it – but the voice was so compelling and urgent. So, I wrote the whole thing from start to finish. Then, I went back to the beginning and made every line lead up to that ending. It felt like with this particular story, like it wanted to exist, or it already existed, and it chose me to take it down like a scribe which makes it sounds easier than it is. My second novel is not going down that path at all. It’s a completely different beast. I really value the fact that When The Saints came to me so fully formed.

AS: When the Saints took home the notable Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award and Margaret and John Savage First Book Award in 2016. As a debut author, how were these awards significant to you?

SM: Because those awards are judged by other writers in the Maritimes it felt really good to be recognized by my peers. It meant a lot to me while I was writing the book, and after I wrote the book, that people here embraced the book. It is such a Nova Scotia story. It was also shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and there were only three finalists - the other two well established with many novels under their belts and had been shortlisted or won the thing before, and me. And, this is a big event where it’s black tie and they sing the national anthem. That was kind of surreal for a kid who grew up in the hood in Dartmouth on social assistance.  

YG: What did you take away from working with the major publisher, HarperCollins?

SM: I had no idea there were so many layers to the editing process. There’s an editor, and there’s a copywriter, and then there’s a proof-reader. I was getting emails like, “hey, you have someone drinking a pineapple cooler, and the book takes place roughly around 1996. I don’t think those were invented yet, here’s a list of coolers that you can choose from.” So, I think I changed it to Calypso Berry. I was thrilled that somebody is actually like, “hey if they drive to the stop sign and turn left, wouldn’t they be going the wrong way?” They’re actually paying attention to my imaginary town. 

Then there’s a jacket designer. I sent them a photo of something that I had in mind, and then they had their artist create this cover. I’m so happy with what she did. When it was published, HarperCollins gave me a publicist. It felt like I had a whole team. Through it all, I had a say in everything. My contract stated that I am the top authority over my creation, and HarperCollins stuck by that.

YG: It sounds like you had a lot of creative liberty to make the book’s aesthetic and content exactly to your liking, which is awesome.

SM: Yes, but when it comes to the screenplay, it’s going to be completely opposite. Having had this experience, I really need to brace myself for the fact that I’ll have little control over the decisions. But hey, Hemingway famously said that if anyone ever options your book, you should drive to Hollywood, throw your manuscript over the fence, wait for the bag of money to come back and then drive away as fast as you can. It’s just a totally different medium and the book will be completely unrecognizable. It will be a good challenge for me to think through how we can lose the flashbacks or condense characters or eliminate scenes and still retain the information that those scenes conveyed. I’m excited about that, and not excited about that at the same time. Hopefully it will still retain its flavor, tone, and characters. If they find really good actors and nothing else – even if the budget is small and the set is tiny – I think they can pull it off. 

YG: The title When the Saints alludes to the familiar lyric, “when the saints go marching in.” An acute reader could anticipate the reuniting of the Saint family. Was this planned foreshadowing?

SM: I can’t recall at what stage of writing the novel the title came into play. The name Saint came from the RCMP. There had been a woman in a small town who had committed countless petty crimes with the last name Saint. I felt there was great irony. In other police files, there were whole families who were the shit disturbers in the town. So, I put those two together and formed the Saint family. It seemed to me the most logical title because it works in that your mind automatically connects with the rest of the sentence. As soon as you start reading or even read the back you’re going to see that they’re the kind of people who take no prisoners.

Photographer: Darren Schrader

Photographer: Darren Schrader

YG: Many reviewers on Goodreads mention that they connect with Tabby on a deep level. How did this brave character come to be?

SM: She, I would say, is a composite of people I grew up with in a rough neighbourhood, in Dartmouth. There are elements of family members, elements of myself, but then some of her was always her own person who kept talking to me and I kept listening. I also feel quite an affinity for her. I don’t know how we met, but I’m glad we did.

YG: Literary critic Laura Eggertson from The Star praised your exceptionally-developed characters. What is your process for developing characters?

SM: I think with the Saint family, they are all very strong personalities, and their motivations are overt. They’re very outspoken, which kind of made them easier to know. Once they knew who they were, and what their motivations were, all of the plot lines evolved very organically out of themselves. They drove the whole thing, just being who they are. They are all sort of characters from my upbringing. They’re all mish-mashes of many different people. 

I spend a lot of time musing about characters when I’m not writing. Like if I’m watching a concert, I would try to put myself into that person’s body and mind, and think to myself how would Jackie react to this right now? Would he be patient? Would he be secretly really moved by it? I try to inhabit them outside of the writing process on occasion and sometimes that leads to some really cool insights. 

I take a minute to check in with them. Even if I’m just camping with friends, I kind of go off in my head, often, and my friends are used to that - where I’m thinking about the people who don’t exist while hanging out with people who do exist.

YG: I would argue that it’s a reason why your fictional world comes to life so much. 

SM: I think it’s important not to treat them like your Barbie dolls where you just tell them what to say. If they start to live and breathe on their own, they’ll resist that anyway. You tell them they want to go this way and they won’t. So, you trust them, and you follow them. You don’t steer them to places where they wouldn’t go. 

YG: You wrote the book in 1st person narration and present tense, which are interesting choices for style - why did you choose this style of narration?

SM: I think because it’s all filtered through Tabby and she’s just come back to this world, she’s the outsider now. Like us, the reader, she knows nothing. I wanted us to learn things as she learned them. I wanted to be inside her head, hearing only her thoughts and feelings the entire story, because it really is her journey. When the Saints is the story of Tabby's transformation from rejecting her family to accepting her family. 

AS: Would you ever consider writing a sequel, or will you leave the story as is?

SM: I never want to write anything twice. As much as I’ve been asked that a lot, I’m always trying to express myself in new ways. I kind of like the idea of people who read my second novel for the first time, never in a million years would they think that it’s the same writer. I want to lose myself in each new story so completely that I don’t have a consistent voice because the story is the voice. I wouldn’t want to revisit because I’m excited to see what I’m capable of next.

YG: In what ways do your Nova Scotian roots manifest themselves in your writing and vocabulary?

SM: There’s been a lot of mention in reviews about the language, because it is rather extreme, however that’s the way people talk here, especially in the world I grew in, and especially in Nova Scotia. When I tried to tone the language down in certain places, I couldn’t and still feel true to the characters. I let the characters express themselves according to their upbringing. There’s a certain poetry to it, I think it wasn’t peppering it with expletives for shock value, it was very controlled. It’s just the way that people talk around here. I eavesdrop on conversations all the time and make notes in my writing journal if a turn of phrase catches my ear.

YG: Did Jim Lahey inspire your use of the word “shitstorm”? 

SM: No, but after the book was published , John Dunsworth, the actor who played him, gave me his Dicshitnary. I said, “man, I wish I had this as one of my reference books when I was writing the book When The Saints.” The book has been described as Winter’s Bone meets Trailer Park Boys, which I’m not against. I’m hoping the movie version will be more like Winter’s Bone because while it is a funny novel, it’s also a very serious story and a very heartfelt story. I don’t want it to end up a parody. It’s important to me that this screenplay is not just entertainment. It has to show that these people aren’t to be taken lightly. This is a real true experience. This same cast of characters in another neighbourhood would probably flourish. We don’t always get to transcend our upbringing, not everybody does. When your soil has no nutrients, it’s hard to grow. I think that was the big question I was trying to answer when I wrote this book: Can we do better than our parents? I taught adults in a program designed for people who had been out of the workforce for a very long time or never had a job either because they had addiction issues, some had been prostitutes, some of them had been incarcerated. The historical damage within those bloodlines – they didn’t stand a chance. We all are presented with similar opportunities in a way but if you have no self-esteem left, you’re not going to pursue them. I wrote this book to honor that experience. 

YG: You mention Alistair MacLeod’s short stories as a source of inspiration in your interview with Shannon Webb-Campbell. How did Alistair influence your style of storytelling?

SM: I remember the curriculum in junior high, elementary, even high school, there were very few Nova Scotian writers. So, it was exciting to read one whose writing was so nuanced, had a tinge of darkness.  It was our experience reflected back. I was very moved by his work, I still am, and I am now a fan of his son’s, Alexander MacLeod, works. 

Alistair did a lot for the literary community in Nova Scotia. I feel like he’s one of the last of the old-school writers who wrote by hand. I like the idea of being on a windswept, rocky coast someday writing by candlelight, by hand. It’s hard to reconcile what I thought a novelist’s experience would be with the reality in 2018 where with social media, it’s hard to be mysterious. I always liked being mysterious. You always secretly want the author of our favorite book to be their character, then we’re disappointed when they’re not. It’s better to just keep the shade down. It was really hard for me when the book came out. My publicist at HarperCollins sent me a social media audit in which he had taken screenshots of everything I was not doing, or doing wrong, or could do better. It was like, you should have a Facebook page, and you should have a website, look these people are commenting on Goodreads so you should talk to them. I didn’t want to do it, and I still don’t want to do any of that. I joined Twitter for five minutes and was like, “I can’t, I’m out.” I’m a luddite who listens to only vinyl records and just got a cellphone at forty. I don’t like the idea of being that connected, but because the book industry is not as lucrative as it once was, there’s an expectation that you fulfil some of the marketing requirements yourself. I do have an author Facebook page, but I don’t think I’ve updated it in a year. I do have a website, and I’ll say, “post to come!” 

I do love reading to people, but I don’t love talking about myself as a writer. I’ve done acting and I perform music sometimes, and that’s different because I’m being somebody else when I do that. When I’m me, at my most authentic self as a writer, I feel so naked. That’s been a learning curve about how to get used to the spotlight on me personally and not me as a character. I’ve had other writers recommend that I create Sarah the writer as a character but that feels wrong because I don’t want to separate myself from my writing life in that way. 

AS: Are there any other books or authors that are always on your reading list, or that you’ve enjoyed recently?

SM: I don’t know that I have authors that I revisit again and again, because I’m always trying to learn from new voices. I’ve been reading a lot of ghost stories because my new novel is a bit of a scary suspense story, and I’m trying to deconstruct what works and what doesn’t. Everything from the classics like The Haunting of Hill House or Edgar Allan Poe. I’m reading Elizabeth de Miriaffi’s Hysteria right now. A lot of what I read in fiction is in service to my own fiction, depending on what it is I’m trying to get better at myself. For pure love of reading, I love short stories. I appreciate that art-form and would love to get to the point where people would want to read my short stories, which usually happens after you’ve developed a following. I just read a collection called I am, I am, I am by a writer named Maggie O’Farrell, an Irish writer, and each of the stories details a time she almost died. Within those stories, she kind of gives us a whole narrative of their life and I thought they were perfect. 

AS: You’re working on a new book, The World in Awful Sleep. Can you tell us about where you’re hoping to go with this new project?

SM: The first draft of this book is not coming as easily as When the Saints did. It’s a very complex story with characters who don’t reveal themselves easily. It’s like starting over and learning from scratch how to be a writer. I tried to write it the same way as I did with When the Saints from beginning to end and it would not comply so I’m building it very slowly from the ground up.  It’s a lot more fleshed out, but slower moving. I’m hoping to have a full first draft ready to show my editor by next spring. 

AS: Is there any advice you would give to an aspiring writer who wants to write a novel?

SM: There is so much advice that I wish someone had told me fifteen years ago. I’ll narrow it down to my top 5. Number one: Start a writing group. That feedback is invaluable, and that support system is invaluable. It’s a really lonely and difficult job. Your family or partner, they don’t always necessarily understand that part of you, so to connect with other people who do, and people that you trust and give you knowledge and feedback, you start to become this family in which success for one of you is a success for all of you.

We used to workshop each other’s work. If it were your turn you would email or send us what they’re working on in advance. We all will have read it and have feedback prepared and would discuss it at length. We’d have a short little exercise at the start and then we just drink and gossip. It’s now at the point where we’ll meet up on a long weekend and go to a cabin and spend three days together. It’s motivating because if you know you’re going to meet up with your writing group, you need something to show. It gives you a deadline. So, start a writing group, or join an existing writing group. Sometimes you don’t gel, you have to find the right people, but I feel like when it’s fate, the wrong people will fall away and the ones who are supposed to be there will find you. Number two: Keep learning. I still take writing workshops. I read books about writing all the time. I tap other writers for advice. I would never presume to think that I know anything about writing. Having written one novel, I discovered that all of the techniques I used in the first one are not working in the second one. It’s like I’m starting from scratch. I’ve been talking to a lot of writers about second novel syndrome. Number three: Keep a journal and never throw anything away. You may use it later. It’s really hard to cut passages from your writing that are so eloquent, or a really precise thought that you had in your head, and you’re proud to have put on paper, but if it doesn’t move the story forward, it has to go. To temper that loss, put it in a safe place and keep it., I have used many things that I have thrown away. Number four: Keep your rejection letters. Send things out all the time. Keep a spreadsheet of where you sent them, and when you get feedback write down what it was. Was it a personal note? Was it a form letter? Write the dates down and send it everywhere often. It’s so hard not to get lost in the shuffle. Send your work everywhere, often, and keep your rejection letters to tell the story of how you made it. I read that in Stephen King’s On Writing autobiography and I started doing that. Now when I go talk to kids who want to be writers in schools, I bring this giant binder and say, “this is what it takes to be a writer.” I never doubted that I would become a novelist. I knew I would and I knew I would because I knew I would never give up. That’s the only difference between a non-successful writer and a successful writer. Number five: Get an agent. It’s almost as hard to get an agent as it is to get a publisher, but it’s well worth it. I highly recommend finding out what the agencies are in Canada, find out who the agents are and which writers they represent. Find one that you think would be a good fit for you. When you have something to show them, write them a letter about why you’d be a good match. Include why you’ve written this book, why only you could write this book, and why it has to be written now in your letter. Try to give them a sense of your writing voice so they’re intrigued enough to want to read more. Don’t send them a book in the mail. Ask them if they would be interested; make them interested. The agents have all their editors in their pockets that they can call, and then that agent is almost guaranteed to read it as opposed to you mailing it to Penguin or Random House where it sits in a slush pile for who knows how long. 

What happened with me is that I sort of blindly applied for my first grant to go and I got it and went to the Writing Studio at the Banff Centre for the Arts. One of the writing mentors I was paired with loved my book so much, she offered to work together long distance after the program had ended - which is rare, and so generous. After I had finished the next draft, she gave me a little more feedback and said, “when you’re done with those few things, send it to my agent.” The agent loved it and signed me right away, and a month later, I had a book deal with HarperCollins. It felt like a complete fairy-tale and a fluke, except I had thirty-year apprenticeship of writing behind that. Since I was a little kid I’ve been honing, and honing, and honing my craft. I would never have wanted to be published anything that I didn’t feel was necessary to other people.I want what I write to be important so I must dedicate my life to mastering my craft. Taking this step and quitting my day job to do this even more deliberately, I feel that I will get better and that I will learn more.


Lawrence Hill Interview


The senior English class of 2017-2018 at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Jenn Priddle and Yanik Gallie interviewed Lawrence Hill during the afternoon of May 10th, 2018. Seniors of the English class are Gabby Abaunza, Samuel Anthony, Lauren Breen, Bobby Burke, Ruby Cameron, Kara Christensen, Colton Coughlin, Danielle Elliott, Lucas Fabijancic, Peter Kopf, Emily MacEachern, Breanna MacInnis, Mya Mackenzie, Calum MacPherson, Timothy Matthews, Robbie Miller, Kendra Myatt, Jack Pittman, Michael Stevanovic, Kaitlyn Teasdale, Rory Teasdale, Carter van de Wiel, Emily and Laura Walker. 

Photographer: Lisa Sakulensky

Photographer: Lisa Sakulensky

Lawrence Hill, a professor of creative writing at the University of Guelph, is the author of ten books, including The Illegal, The Book of Negroes, Any Known Blood, and Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada. He is the winner of various awards including The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and two-time winner of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. Hill delivered the 2013 Massey Lectures, based on his non-fiction book Blood: The Stuff of Life. He co-wrote the adaptation for the six-part television miniseries The Book of Negroes, which attracted millions of viewers in the United States and Canada and won eleven Canadian Screen Awards. The recipient of seven honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, as well as the 2017 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize, Hill served as chair of the jury of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize. He is a volunteer with Book Clubs for Inmates and the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and is an honorary patron of Crossroads International, for which he has volunteered for more than 35 years and with which he has travelled to the African nations of Niger, Cameroon, Mali and Swaziland. He is the grandson and son of African-American soldiers who served with the American Army during WW I and WW II, respectively, and is working on a new novel about the African-American soldiers who helped build the Alaska Highway in northern BC and Yukon in 1942-43. He is a Member of the Order of Canada, and lives with his family in Hamilton, Ontario and in Woody Point, Newfoundland. 


CW: Having written your first story with your mother’s C. Smith typewriter at the age of 14, can you speak on how your mother influenced your style of storytelling?

LH: My mother was as much an influence as my father, they just had different influences. My mother was a very sharp, astute, editorial-type person who would leap in and say, “That sentence is slack.” Or, “that sentence is weak.” Or, “it’s ungrammatical and not clearly expressed.” So, she pushed me towards clarity of expression. She also encouraged me to imagine playfulness with language. If you don’t like to play with language, there’s no hope for you as a writer. My mother read to us, us being my brother and sister and me, regularly. She read non-sense poetry, very funny poems that played with language in silly and absurd ways. The kind of ways that children love to see language turned inside out and upside down. My mother was very influential to push me towards critical thinking. She pushed me towards editing my own work more sharply and towards imagining the playful use of language. 

SA: Referring to The Book of Negroes, what sources did you consult to inform your writing about Nova Scotia?

LH: If you combine the A word about history, For further reading, and Acknowledgements sections, you get a sense of the art of the research. In short, the research had several components. One was to re-read or to read for the first time in some cases, the major books describing the overall arc of the transatlantic slave trade. Just to make sure that I had the fundamentals of how the trade worked when it happened, where it took place, and who was involved. Where were the key places in Africa from which humans were stolen? Where were they taken in the Americas and Canada? Then, of course, I started drilling down at much more specific things. Looking at letters, diaries and first-person accounts by men and women, African and European, that describe their interactions with the slave trade or slavery. I read slave narratives and documents such as the Book of Negroes ledger. Some of the research was looking at primary materials, not just published books and articles. And then, research involved interviewing experts who knew more about specific things than I can ever know. Another part of the research, a fourth part, involved going to the places where the novel is set, that would include Shelburne and Halifax. I did many trips to Shelburne and Halifax to visualize the story and where it would unfold. Research relating specifically to Nova Scotia involved going to the Black Loyalist Heritage Society many times to look at their documents. In fact, it was at the Black Loyalist Heritage Society that I first saw a copy of the Book of Negroes. That’s in Birchtown, Nova Scotia near Shelburne. Interviewing people who knew about it, meeting members of that Society, looking at their documentation, walking the streets of Shelburne and Halifax trying to reimagine the story that I was creating. Those were some of the forms of research that I conducted in Nova Scotia.

LB: How much did you fictionalize the narrative when representing historical events like the Shelburne riots?

LH: I fictionalized them a lot. It’s first and foremost a novel. I gave myself every liberty to play with or exaggerate or contort minor details for the purposes of dramatic effect. I didn’t make what I would consider to be any major deviations from my understanding of the grand lines of the transatlantic slave trade. But I was happy to make all sorts of little changes to improve the drama of the story. For example, no woman, no African woman, no woman at all helped to write the Book of Negroes. The ledger was written by an assistant to the Deputy Quartermaster in the British Navy. I had Aminata write the document because it made for a great story. I was happy to change that little bit of history because it improved the quality of the story. As for Nova Scotia, I moved the date of the Shelburne riots slightly because it was more convenient for me to move them. I think I changed the date by a year. I don’t think that’s very significant in the overall scheme of things to move the riots by a year or so to suit the purposes of the novel. I had some people killed in the Shelburne riots, also for dramatic effect. I don’t know personally, factually, I don’t know 100% that anybody was killed in the Shelburne riots. I took the liberty of writing that into the story without knowing that it actually happened. There are lots of little details that I changed, but nothing that I would consider to be profoundly significant.

Every novelist has their own notion of how closely they want to stick to historical accuracy. Not every book has the same answer. Some books may require you to stick very, very close to the truth and not even change the weather on a certain date in 1783; Other books allow you some latitude. I thought that my reader would go with me if I made small adjustments as long as I acknowledged them in the back of the book. For a keen reader, a reader can see where I’ve bent history a little bit to suit the novel. As long as I was clear about what I was doing and saying when I changed things a little bit, I felt free to use my role as a novelist to make the best story I could. Let’s face it, the facts are supposed to serve the story. So, you use the facts, and play with them, and maybe modify them a bit in order to create a good story. 

Photographer: Jenn Priddle

Photographer: Jenn Priddle

CC: During your research, what did you discover about the Mi’kmaq people and their relations with the Black Loyalists?

LH: I didn’t discover much. I know the Mi’kmaq people were around. For example, this is outside the scope of the novel, but I know that the first black person to be documented in Canada was a guy named Mathieu de Costa. Mathieu de Costa was employed by Samuel de Champlain to act as an interpreter between the French and the Mi’kmaq people in Nouvelle France, New France, which is now, of course, Nova Scotia. We know factually that this first black person in Canada was free and working as an interpreter between the French and the Mi’kmaq. The Mi’kmaq, as you know, don’t enter merely into the story. I don’t want to claim anything that goes beyond the reach of the story. It was already a huge stretch for me to write the novel, and the novel doesn’t really explore the experiences of the Mi’kmaq people in Nova Scotia or their interactions with the Black Loyalists. That would be a great story, and perhaps you or somebody else should write that one.

CM: Few Canadian authors, one of them being Alistair MacLeod, have a clear sense of the story’s conclusion before they put pen to paper. Did you know how your story would end before you wrote it?

LH: I thought I knew how my story would end before I wrote it. I like to think I know how things are going to end when I start to write. I like to think that I’m sort of standing on the mountain top and looking at another mountain top in the distance. My job is to walk from the mountain I’m standing on to the mountain top I see in the far distance. But the distance between the two is in a valley covered by fog and mist. I have no idea how I’m going to walk through that valley, but I’m heading to that other mountain top. I don’t quite know how I’m going to get there, but that’s where I’m heading. That’s how I like to feel when I start. It’s a bit of an illusion. It’s a bit of self-deception to make me feel comfortable because really, I don’t know what I’m doing. The proof is that you see huge changes between my first drafts and my tenth draft. I like to think I know what I’m doing. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I write to find out. Yes, I try to have an idea of where I’m going, and I write towards that imagined ending, but it always changes.

RT: Is there historical or fictional content you wanted to include in the book but did not end up publishing?

LH: Oh, yeah! There’s tons of stuff. Usually I come up with a very messy, very long, first draft which might be twice as long as the finished product. Part of the process of rewriting and editing myself is to strip out everything that’s not essential to what I think is the core of the story. Part of being a good writer, an experienced writer, is to cut fat, and cut fat, and cut fat until you get to the very bone of your story without any fat around it. You really want to focus on the core of your story, and not get too loused with other things. There are other things that I didn’t write about that I might have liked to write about or that I did have written about and have them cut out. For example, there is reference to Aminata and other people working on an indigo plantation in St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Those references to indigo and to working in the indigo plantations were probably five times longer with five times more information in the first draft. I decided that it was too laborious, too much detail that sort of killed the momentum of the story. So, I reduced the amount of details massively. I cut it down by 80% in terms of how much I write. I wrote much more about New York City, what happened between George Washington and Sir Guy Carleton, and the movement of the loyalists out of New York City into Nova Scotia. I wrote much more about historical details than I ended up using. Again, because I was concerned that I was providing so much detail that it was going to kill the momentum of the story.

Every time I write, I end up hacking out things that I decide I just can’t use because they’re in the way of the story. That is what writers do. Part of the discipline of being an artist is to have the courage and vision to say no. Even though I love this page or chapter, if it doesn’t really serve its purpose, it’s got to go. We have an expression it’s kind or rude and violent, but writers like to talk about this hacking out as “Killing your babies” because we love those pieces so much that we don’t want to get rid of them. It feels like we’re “killing our babies” and I know it’s an awful expression, but that’s a term writers use so you might hear that again someday. 

RC: Which part of the novel did you find most difficult to write?

LH: I’m going to interpret difficult as most emotionally painful. There are different kinds of difficulty. There’s creative, technical, and emotional difficulty. I’m going to focus on the issue of emotional difficulty, and say the hardest part was the first hundred pages when Aminata’s life ends as she knows it in West Africa. She is stolen from her village and sees her parents die. She is stripped of her clothes and made to walk to the ocean. That was by far the hardest, most difficult part for me to write. That, and of course what happened on the slave vessel. It was very hard. But let’s face it, it’s not a happy story. I didn’t want to sugarcoat history. I didn’t want to make an incredibly awful and violent, harmful segment of history seem like some sweet happy story. To me, that would be an insult to humanity and what we’ve been through. I wanted to write about it honestly, without sugarcoating it or making it look all happy. But at the same time, I couldn’t make it so painful that people would stop reading. I couldn’t make it such a bitter pill that nobody would want to open the book. When you’re writing about very sad or tragic things, you have to find ways to let shine some light on the story. You have to find something to give the reader some hope. We need hope to get up in the morning. We also need hope to turn the pages of a book. We hope that our lives will be better one day, if our lives are not so good now. We hope that whatever awful things are happening to a character on page 10 maybe will be better by page 50. You need to give the reader hope if you’re writing a very sad story, which I was doing. What was the hardest part for you to read?

RC: The hardest part for me to read was her encounter with Robinson Appleby.

LH: The encounter with Robinson Appleby was very hard. There’s something interesting about when Robinson Appleby shaves her head to punish her. I feel that in that moment she gained some emotional power over him. He thinks he’s going to destroy her by shaving her head to humiliate her, but he doesn’t destroy her. She walks away and basically, it’s just hair. Her attitude is you can’t destroy me, it’s just hair. I feel that in some subtle way, that moment of silence and of oppression actually allows Aminata to rise above him. Maybe not in sheer physical power, but she rises above him in their relationship. She transcends that moment. I didn’t write that scene in order to discourage the reader. I wrote that scene to show Aminata in a subtle way gaining power over Robinson Appleby. That scene gave me some hope about her own courage and resilience. That was my favorite scene in the mini-series, but I had to fight really hard to have it kept. It almost got pulled out of the mini-series. I was very partial to that scene so I’m glad it stayed in. 

LW: Who or what inspired the mood of the conclusion?

LH: I’ve never been asked who or what influenced the development of the conclusion. I guess it was my own personal longing. Basically, Aminata’s been to hell and back about five times and she keeps surviving. She’s lost just about everything one can lose in this life short of being murdered herself. I wanted to give her something beautiful. I wanted to give her a happy moment. I wanted to reunite her with her daughter, and I felt like she deserved that after everything she’s been through. Some people I’ve met don’t like that ending, they find it a little too sweet for their liking. I felt that it was realistic historically. If her daughter was stolen from her and ended up in London, they would probably meet again because London had a small black community. Everybody knew everybody in the black community in London. If they ended up there together, I believe they would find each other. They did end up there together, as did many Black Loyalists. I guess I was motivated by a desire mostly within myself, not by a certain person, to give her a moment of happiness. Also, there is a slave narrative by Olaudah Equiano. He wrote a slave narrative which was published in London around the time Aminata is going to parliament. I was influenced a little bit by his resilience and his movements all around the world. The slave narrative he wrote was one of the first and most famous slave narratives of all, that influenced my ideas for her ending too. 

EW: Was there a specific reason why you decided not to mention who May’s husband was at the end?

LH: Yes, he wasn’t important. One of the things that novelists have to do over and over is ask themselves: What am I going to write about? What am I not going to write about? I was focused on Aminata and her reunion with May at the end. I was focused on Aminata’s life and the things that happen to her. May’s husband wasn’t really in any way central or important to the story. I wanted to show that May had a husband and was probably going to have a child. I wanted to show the notion of continuity in the life of Aminata after she dies. It wasn’t really important to that story who her husband was. That would be a very concrete example of a pretty hard decision on my part about what I would and what I would not write about. Already, it’s a very long novel. I wouldn’t have had my editor too happy if I kept going on. I’m being a bit playful, but my editor would not have been too happy, and I wouldn’t have been too happy either, if I kept going on tangents that were removed from the core of the story. 

PK: Did you face adversity growing up? 

LH: Sure, I did. Few people in this world get to grow up and live and die without adversity. At the very least, they’re going to die. I think, to be clear because I don’t want to sing the blues and complain, I had a very fortunate and privileged life. My parents loved me. I loved my parents. I was raised with enough food and shelter. I had a good education. Most of all, I have the incredible fortune to do what I love to do in life. Not everybody gets to do what they love to do. Not everybody even finds what they love to do. I’m not going to sit here and complain about what a hard life I’ve had because I need to answer your question with the beginning part which is that I’ve had a very, very fortunate life. Have I met with adversity? Of course. Who hasn’t? I was called racial slurs from time to time when I was a child. I certainly knew that I faced moments of racial hostility or discrimination here and there in various encounters of my early life especially. For sure I’ve met with some moments of adversity. Also, it was very, very hard to start getting published and to begin my career as a published writer. It’s not easy to get going in the arts and make a life at it. You're going to meet with a lot of rejection and sometimes downright hostility. People will often say no. One of the things that is important is not to take somebody else’s no as a reflection of you. It’s a reflection of them. If someone is being hateful towards you, whether it’s sexism, racism, any other form of hostility or oppression, it’s not a reflection of you. It’s a reflection of them and their character flaws. You have to dig down and find the strength to keep going and not to be destroyed by other people’s negativity. Artists and others have to be resilient and need a thick skin not to be discouraged when people say no, when people don’t like who they are or what they’re doing. Have I faced moments of adversity in my life? Yes, I have. I don’t think I have faced any more adversity than any of you will face or than any other average person faces. 

PK: What kept you going forward in your profession as an author? 

LH: What kept me going is passion. You don’t become an author unless you’re just passionate about it. There’s so much insecurity. Will you be paid? Will you make any money? Will you be published? Will anybody read you? You have to labor for years with great insecurity about the outcome of your work. So, the only thing that keeps you going is passion. You have to want it so bad that you’re willing to deal with and put up with all that insecurity. Any normal person would have the brains to say, "Forget that. I’m going to be a dentist, stock broker, bus driver or a teacher. At least I know I’ll get a salary and I’ll be able to take care of myself." Most ordinary people wouldn’t put up with the insecurity of being an artist. The thing that carries you through those years of insecurity is passion. You have to really be burning with desire to be a painter, dancer, violinist, film maker or a novelist. Without that desire, it just won’t happen. Frankly, you shouldn’t do it unless you’re burning with desire. 

JP&KT: What challenges did you encounter and overcome in writing a character from childhood to womanhood?

LH: It was a big challenge because I was writing in the voice of a woman and I was writing a whole life. I wasn’t just writing about a year in somebody’s life, but I was trying to cover her whole life from earliest childhood to deathbed. In the course of her life, as you know, she moves in six key locations: West Africa, rural and urban places in South Carolina, New York City, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, and London. There are a lot of places in which to locate our novel and a lot of sections of life to write about. It’s not easy to create a life on the page and to imagine a whole life. My biggest challenge was trying to understand a woman’s whole life and then finding a way to represent that in just under five hundred pages. 

MS: The narrator begins sentences with conjunctions and writes one-word sentences. What is the function of this narration style?

LH: You sound like a grade five teacher, that’s funny. That’s a good question. When you are in grade three, four, or five, you learn all the rules about how you are supposed to write. You’re not supposed to start a sentence with the word “and” or “but”. You’re not supposed to write a one-word sentence. You’re supposed to use lots of adverbs and adjectives and be all hyperbolic or fancy with your language and prove that you have a big vocabulary. You learn all of this stuff when you’re going to school and they’re good things to learn because you’re learning how to use the English language on paper. Then when you start to write fiction, you have to unlearn every rule. Throw them out. There are rules that don’t apply to the creation of fiction, at least they don’t apply very fully. And then you have to learn to bend and use language in ways that suit the purposes of your story. One of the things that novelists do is to approximate human speech. Human speech isn’t always perfect or clear. Sometimes people do start sentences with conjunctions. Sometimes people do utter one-word sentences. I’m not too worried about the rules of grammar as long as the grammar that I employ suits the purposes of the novel. If I use an unclear sentence and the grammar was confusing the reader, of course I’d want to fix that, or my editor would tell me to fix it. If I’m bending the rules of grammar intentionally in order to capture a voice and the sound of a voice that moves with a kind of lyricism and character, then I’m happy to bend any rule of grammar as long as it suits the novel. That’s probably not what grade five teachers would want to hear when they’re teaching you how to write.

Every novelist must learn to throw out all of the teachings and learn to write all over again. For example, when you go to school and you’re little, you’re told that every story has a beginning, middle and an end. That’s complete nonsense. First of all, it’s not true that every story has a beginning, middle and an end. Some stories end at the beginning or conclude somewhere else. Not every story moves chronologically. Not every story works in that way. As you noticed, I began my story at the ending of her life. I also end the story at the ending of her life. I didn’t follow the rule that every story has a beginning, middle and end because it’s too basic for what the novelist is trying to accomplish. You have to create your own set of rules and be clear. Communicate effectively with the reader. Use grammar to do that, and then bend the rules of grammar when you need to bend them. 

TM: How did you come up with imagery for all the different settings?

Photographer: Jenn Priddle

Photographer: Jenn Priddle

LH: It’s really hard to write about a place, isn’t it? Let’s think about the ways you might write about a place and the kind of images you might use. It might be the image of a tree or nature. It might be the image of sound. What is Aminata hearing? What kind of language is being used around her? It might be the image of history, the social or historical setting of the place. There are so many ways to construct a scene. Every time I set a scene or had a place where Aminata was going to be, I had to find a way to make that place seem real to the reader. Some of it might be how Aminata thinks and feels. When she’s stuck on Sullivan’s Island off the coast of South Carolina waiting to be sold into slavery she sees her breath and she thinks her face is on fire. She’s never seen her breath before since she’s never been to a place where the air is that cold. She thinks that she’s on fire, but she’s not. She’s just seeing her breath because it’s so cold. That’s a kind of imagery. I didn’t try to describe Sullivan’s Island by describing the kind of trees there were. I was more interested in describing the way she sees her own breath. To me, that was more interesting than describing an oak tree. Part of the decision about creating setting is what kind of detail will be most interesting. You know you can’t use five thousand details or the reader will be bored and fall asleep. Pick a few details for each place. Details that you hope will capture the imagination in the eye of the reader. It’s very hard to create a scene. You have to use a few details. Not too many, but not too few. Not too detailed, but enough detail that you give the reader something to hang on to. Preferably something surprising and unexpected. One of the hardest challenges in writing is to create a memorable scene in a place that seems real, and decide what ingredients you will use to make that place real. Will it be sound? Will it be nature? Will it be politics? Will it be blood? What do you use to make a place come off the page and seem real? That’s one of the hardest challenges in writing. Of course, not every scene has the same answer. Not every scene should have the same answer. If you took the same approach with every scene, the novel would soon be very boring and seem formulaic. It has to feel natural and it has to be evolving. You can’t just be doing the same thing. You need to have a lot of tools in your bag and you have to keep pulling out different tools in order to create those scenes.

LF&MM: Who inspired you to write the hilarious and strong character Georgia?

LH: Aminata is going to have a lot of problems in her life. She’s going to have a lot of suffering. She also needs a little love. She needs some people in her corner. Some people who will prop her up, help her and take care of her. She lost one mother while she is still very young. She is barely pubescent when she arrives as a girl almost dead in South Carolina. She needs somebody to take care of her. Basically, she needs a second mother. Georgia fills that role. Aminata is going to meet terrible people like Robinson Appleby, but she also needs to meet loving people to balance off her story and keep her alive. I have to be very careful to add enough beauty and hope in support of the novel that the reader would keep reading and Aminata would keep wanting to live. I imagine some of my own African American women in my own family, their voices and how strong they were. They didn’t put up with nonsense. They were determined, focused and fiercely loyal to the people they loved. Georgia treats Aminata like her own daughter. I think she’s a really great character because Aminata needs some good people in her corner. 

KT: What role do you think literature plays in activism for racial inclusion and human rights? 

LH: Not every book has to do the same thing. Some books will have nothing whatsoever to do with those issues and that’s okay. There’s room in this world for every book imaginable just like there’s room in this world for every person imaginable. Not every person is going to do the same thing in their life. Not every book should be asked to do the same either. I guess I would play with the question a little bit and rephrase it so that I can answer it because I don’t think there’s a uniform answer for every book. What am I trying to do in these areas with my literature? What I am trying to do is ask my readers to stop and think about the humanity of people whose humanity is often neglected, forgotten, denied or swept under the rug. We have forgotten, denied or ignored the plight of African peoples in the diaspora, including Canada. Unfortunately, Canadians still don’t know very much about black history. They know more about African American history than they do about African Canadian history, and that’s a problem for me. I guess I want to illuminate forgotten corners of Canadian history. I want to get people to think about people whose humanity might have been denied or forgotten such as people who were enslaved or people who became refugees. I want to give readers cause to rethink unexamined assumptions and to imagine their own history and their own people more deeply. 

EM: What social change do you envision in Canada and the rest of the world for the year 2020?

LH: Your guess is as good as mine. Unfortunately, two years before Donald Trump was elected, if you had said on national television that Donald Trump would be the next president in the United States, you would have been laughed at out of the room. Also, two years before Barrack Obama was elected president, no one would have believed you either if you said that Barrack Obama would have been the first black president of the United States. Nobody would have believed you because everybody assumed that Hillary Clinton would be the next president or that she would be the democratic candidate for the presidential elections. I’m only saying that because honestly, I do not know what is going to happen in 2020. It’s so hard to tell. Are we going to shift towards hatred? Are we going to shift towards being a more inclusive, loving and generous society that believes in equality of all human beings? I hope that we’re going to move towards a place of more generosity of spirit. We have much abundance of evil and hatred in the world today and I worry about that. It could be that hatred is on the rise for a little while before evil is vanquished and love gets the better hand. I don’t know where we’ll be in two years, I really don’t. I worry about the rise of intolerance towards undocumented refugees and other refugees in the world. I worry about people wanting to solidify their own wealth to the exclusion of others who are poor. I worry about nations becoming entrenched in their enmity, hatred and violence towards each other. I’m just not sure where we’re going. 

I encourage every one of you and myself to do everything we can in our lives to be just and kind, to insist on fairness and equality for all, to stand up against and oppose injustice, and to fight in our own ways. In our own backyards, in our schools, in our neighborhoods and our places of worship, to fight for what we know is right wherever we can. That really is the best we can do. We cannot let up. We are at risk of seeing democracy perverted. We are at risk of letting hatred ascend as it did in Nazi Germany. It is important to remember that Hitler was a democratically elected leader of Germany and we see what became of Hitler. We have to go to the poles and vote. Exercise our values and insist on a political leadership in Canada, in our cities, our provinces, our country, and around the world that reflects our own values. If we let up, then we will let others dominate and assert values inimical to ours. I do have faith in humanity, and I do believe that we will rise up against hatred. But, it seems to swing around over time and right now is a pretty dark time if you look at the world. 

There are many people who are doing fantastic things. People who are taking sometimes great risk around the world and in Canada to assert their freedom and human justice on the treatment and respect for all, across lines of gender, race, orientation, ableism and everything. There are people who show incredible vision in encouraging young people and older people. Without them and that kind of effort, we would be lost. Also, our politically elected leaders are sometimes influenced from the margins and when the margins become loud, vocal and insistent, when history is on their side, eventually leaders will listen. We need people jumping up and down, causing commotion and fighting for what they believe and what they know is right. Eventually, the rightness of their cause will seep through and affect decisions made by political leaders of Canada and the world. 

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