|What inspired you to write FEBRUARY?|
|Every Newfoundlander of a certain age remembers where he or she was on the night the Ocean Ranger sank. Everyone knows someone who had worked on the rig, or someone who was supposed to work the night it sank but missed the shift for one reason or another, or someone who died on the rig. It was a deeply felt tragedy that cut through the whole province. |
The rig had been considered a technological wonder. It was believed to be unsinkable. The wages on the Ocean Ranger were astronomical. And the presence of the rig suggested the untold wealth hidden beneath the sea. Finally there seemed to be a safe way to make a living on the water.
There have been lots of tragedies at sea around Newfoundland, of course, but the sinking of the Ocean Ranger was unexpected. Unexpected and inevitable: the men were not properly trained, the vessel didnít have enough survival suits, the lifeboats were not seaworthy. There was something mythic in the loss of the rig.
A couple of years before the rig sank my own father died of a cerebral aneurysm. He died very suddenly, over night. My mother and father were madly in love. I was 16 and my sister was 12. I felt how grief works its way through a family, how slow/fast it moves, how deeply it cuts, how it shapes the lives of those left behind. I imagined that when someone dies unnecessarily, as with the men who died on the Ocean Ranger, the grief must been even sharper. I wanted to write about that. I wanted the novel to be a kind of elegy to the men who died out there.
|The sinking of the rig is brilliantly and chillingly realised. Did you find the details in accounts of the event or was your creative imagination responsible for them?|
|I read the Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger Disaster. It is a clearly written and detailed account, sometimes quite technical. It is a harrowing read. There are so many ways the disaster could have been avoided if corners had not been cut. A nearby supply vessel, for instance, came upon men in the water and was close enough that the men on board the supply vessel could talk to the men in the water, close enough to reach out to them with grappling hooks. But because the men from the Ocean Ranger werenít wearing survival suits, they were too cold to raise their arms and reach for the hooks. The North Atlantic in the midst of a winter storm must be a kind of earthly hell. It was important to me to imagine it as vividly as I could.|
|Weíre guessing that Cal and Helen (although very Ďrealí and convincing) are fictional and we wondered whether you had any inhibitions about creating characters who were involved in an actual event?|
|Yes, I felt huge trepidation about this. I didnít want any one family to think that I was telling their particular story. But I wanted to write about the event. When I researched the Ocean Ranger I realized there had been very little written about the disaster, especially when I considered how deeply the loss is felt here. I think there was something kind of sacred about the story for people. But I also thought it was important to tell the story, to have it told and retold. I think itís important to recognize the repercussions of that kind of loss, especially on families left behind.|
|Did you talk to any of the families of the men who met their death on the Ocean Ranger before you wrote the novel? We also wondered whether you have had any reactions to the book from them since it was published.|
|No, I didnít speak to the families of the men who died. I read oral accounts from families, watched documentaries, and read the Royal Commission Report.|
I have had some people who worked on the Ocean Ranger, and who had lost co-workers the night it sank, tell me that they were grateful for the book.
Itís a book about the Ocean Ranger, but it is also a book about grief and itís about love and raising children and thereís humour here, I think, and (I hope) the sense that living with intensity of feeling, when youíve lost a loved one, proves to be a kind of elegy for the person who has died.
I think the most important thing Iíve learned about grief Ė and coming through it Ė is that you donít forget the person youíve lost. Rather, the memories become sharper, gather new meaning, and are richer over time. The absent become more present, not less so, as time goes on.
|What books would you like to see on the shelf next to FEBRUARY?|
|If this question also means what are my favorite books right now, at this very moment, ( because the list changes all the time of course) I would say: Anything by Anne Enright, J.M. Coetzee, Yasunari Kawabata, Michael Ondaatje, Don Delillo, Richard Ford, Petina Gappah, Zadie Smith, Helen Gardner, Lorrie Moore. Anything by the Newfoundland authors Michael Crummey and Michael Winter. Thatís just a start.|
|Are you writing anything at the moment? If so, please would you tell us a bit about it.|
|I am starting a novel that I hope will be alive and funny and fat and jammed full of characters and action and gripping and unforgettable. As you can see, I am at the beginning. In fact, I havenít actually, actually written, actually, any of it yet. But right now it seems like itís going to be really alive and funny and big and fat andÖ.|
Many thanks for these questions and for the interest in February!