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Making a difference, one book at a time

by Nancy Falconer


Photograph by Nicola Davison, Snickerdoodle Photography

Graduating university with a performance degree in classical music, best-selling author Genevieve Graham had originally planned to be a professional oboist with the Montreal Symphony. However, life took a different turn when she developed an autoimmune disease and was unable to play anymore. Seeing opportunity in adversity (a personality trait that manifests to this day in her enthusiasm and positive energy) she taught herself to type over a weekend and went to work in the world of advertising, promotions, marketing and fundraising.

Marrying and raising a family, it had never dawned on her to take up writing until the book Outlander 'turned her world upside down'. Diana Gabaldon’s historical fantasy bestseller launched Graham on a path of reading as much historical fiction as she could find, ultimately inspiring her to try her own hand at writing. Up to that point, Graham claims, “I’d never written so much as a thank-you note.” Her husband gave her a laptop for Mother’s Day and at 40 she took wing. Self-taught, she joined online writing communities but ‘never paid for a single course’, and ran her own freelance editing business while writing her first novel.

Today, her books consistently sit atop bestseller lists for weeks on end. She is the USA TODAY and #1 bestselling author of The Forgotten Home Child, Letters Across the Sea, Tides of Honour, Promises to Keep, Come from Away, and At the Mountain’s Edge. Come From Away was also chosen as one of Oprah’s 24 Best Historical Romance Novels (November 2020).

Currently living in Halifax, she is passionate about breathing life back into Canadian history through tales of love and adventure.

NF: You are quoted as saying that ‘historical fiction is a very powerful tool’. What do you mean by that?

GG: I think historical fiction has a huge responsibility. We can’t just take an historical moment and then just put it on paper. It has to be something that you put inside people’s hearts through relationships.

If you take a black and white photo of a moment in history and you look at it, it’s something that’s kind of remote, something that’s cold and one-dimensional and something that’s not that important. For me, historical fiction, the details, all the teeny little things that you research while you’re researching the big things, you’re filling it in with these tiny little things and that’s what colourizes the photo, that’s what brings the black and white of history alive.

I do have a love story throughout each of my books because my feeling is that in order to remember the history at the end, when you’re finished the book to really connect to it, there has to be an emotional component that will compel you to remember it.

If you see a car crash, you’re going to remember it for a day or two. But if you know the people that are in the car, you’re never going to forget it. By touching the heart, it makes it more difficult to forget a story or a character or an event in history.

NF: Why have you chosen to base your historical fiction novels around Canadian events?

GG: I believe our country’s history is not taught nearly enough, or with enough passion. Too much of history, as we demonstrate in our high school curriculum, is left like dust and we don’t really care about it. And as a result, so many of our stories are being lost.

NF: How do you choose the historic subject matter?

GG: I have to be really hooked by it. I wanted to write a Christie Pitts riot book for a while, but I needed a story to go with it, so I needed some aspect that would hook me. The history part is central to how I choose it. It has to be Canadian. It has to be heart-wrenching. Basically, it has to affect a lot of people, but it also has to be shape-able. I have to be able to build a fictional story within it. So I think it has to be an important part of history that will affect a lot of people. But it also has to include space for me to create a fictional story.

NF: What do you find the most difficult part of the writing process?

GG: It’s actually the plot. I know the history I want to do. And the research, it just comes organically, like that’s what I need to do. And that’s what I go right into. And from the research come the characters and the characters are obviously my favourite part of all the books. I love them so much. But then I kind of run into a part where I say, ‘now what are we going to do?’

There are ‘plotters’ and ‘pants’-ers. We ‘pants’-ers write by the seat of our pants. And the ‘plotters’ have a plot. And I am a sad ‘pants’-er because I would love to be a ‘plotter’-- I’d love to have at least an idea of the plot. I never know how it’s going to end and I never know any of that until I’m deep into it. So finding the plot is the hardest part for me. My husband and I have a hot tub and we sit in it sometimes and call it the ‘Plot Tub’ because we will go over ideas together and sometimes they’re crazy and sometimes they’re actually really great. It’s good for about a glass and a half of wine, but after that it gets silly.

NF: What do you love about writing?

GG: Writing has given me a whole different energy from anything I ever had before. I love doing this. I never, ever in my wildest dreams thought I would be an author. I had planned to be principal oboe of the Montreal symphony by now and that didn’t happen. And then I did all sorts of odd jobs, and then I was a stay-at-home mom. And I read throughout but I never thought I would be a writer. And then once I committed myself to it, it’s still me, but with a whole new energy. And I love this career. I love to sit down at my desk for hours and forget what time it is and forget to eat. And I love the whole trance that I get into.

"Writing is like a meditation for me."

NF: What’s your favourite book of late?

GG: The Spoon Stealer by Leslie Crew, who’s a Cape Breton author. This is her first historic fiction and it is a delightful book.

NF: Where are you taking your future novels?

GG: I still want to write Canadian, but I want the Canadians to start showing up on the international stage. I want them to spread out, and so we can see that our stories were everywhere. So that’s why, when I go into this World War II story I’m working on now, I’m going to go into Europe sometimes with my characters more than I have before.

Genevieve Graham’s seventh Canadian historical fiction novel ~ “Bluebird” ~ will be released by Simon & Schuster April 5, 2022. She is currently working on her eighth ~ a World War II story ~ to be released in 2023.

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