Q and A with One Book Nova Scotia author

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This year’s book for the One Book Nova Scotia is “Fauna,” by Alissa York, who will be reading in New Glasgow.

This year’s book for the One Book Nova Scotia is “Fauna,” by Alissa York. York will be coming to Pictou County on Oct. 9 and will speak at 7 p.m. at the New Glasgow Library about her book. She took some time to answer some questions for The News. Submitted

Can you tell me a little about your writing process? Where and when do you write?


AY: I do almost all my writing at my own desk, surrounded by my books and files. I can do research and revision any time, but the scary first-draft writing requires that I wake up early, get caffeine and go to the desk – otherwise it’s just too easy to gravitate to other tasks.


How does it feel to have Fauna selected for One Book Nova Scotia?


AY: It’s both an honour and a thrill. I love the idea of a whole province of readers sharing a single narrative; what’s more, it’s great therapy for the author! It can be a wrench to separate from your characters when you finish writing a novel. Sharing them with readers is the only thing that helps – suddenly there are other people who know and care about these fictional people too. 


What inspired you to write this particular book?


AY: Fauna has its roots in the Don Valley, a wide ravine that cuts down through the centre of Toronto. The valley is home to a highway, a couple of roads and some train-tracks, but more importantly, it harbours a river and an urban forest. 

Even before I moved to Toronto in 2005, I used to visit friends in the east-end neighbourhood of Riverdale, so I was always taking the subway across the Bloor Street Viaduct and looking down into the Don Valley. Over time I began to wonder about what (and who) lived down there, and about how they survived. It wasn’t long before a host of strays, both animal and human, began to populate my mind. 

Each character had his or her own origins; Edal grew out of stories my brother (a B.C. Conservation Officer) told me about the illegal trade in endangered species; Darius came about in response to violent anti-coyote websites I came across in the course of my research; Lily began with a glimpse of a homeless person's tent down in the valley, and so on.

As these human characters took shape, the "life in the undergrowth" began to insist upon a narrative thread of its own. The more I thought about urban fauna, the more the city around me seemed to rustle with hidden life: raccoons on the fence rails, coyotes in the parks, skunks under porches, deer in the downtown core. I've always written about our fellow creatures – domestic and wild, living and dead – but Fauna required a whole new level of imaginative endeavour. I watched, I listened and I read. When I was working on the "mammal-vision" scenes, I asked myself repeatedly, "Where is this creature directing its attention? What does it need?"  


How does the final copy compare with what you first envisioned when you started writing it?


AY: It’s always a translation of sorts. The “inner novel” exists in a language only the writer understands – it has yet to come into its own on the page. It’s a mysterious process: there comes a time – or, more accurately, many times – when the writer must “give the narrative its head.” Just as when you ride a horse home at night, this is how you get through the tricky bits: trust the intelligence that’s beyond your own, ease up on the reins and go along for the ride.


What do you hope that Nova Scotians take from this book?


AY: I hope readers come away from reading Fauna with an indelible impression of our fundamental interconnectedness with our fellow beings, human and otherwise.


Are you working on any other books right now? If so can you tell me a little about that?


AY:  I’m currently writing a novel centred on a fictional 19th-century naturalist expedition to the Amazon. True to form, the new book features both humans and a fair selection of wildlife (heavy on the reptiles).   


Is there anything else you'd like people to know?


AY: This is my first trip to Nova Scotia, and I’ve been wanting to visit for years!

Organizations: B.C. Conservation Officer, Amazon

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Don Valley, Toronto

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