I was born and raised as an only child in Montreal. Always an avid reader, when I was fourteen I discovered two authors—James Agee and Graham Greene. In Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men he wrote about sharecroppers during the Great Depression. His desperation to make the reader understand their plight, and the intensity of his prose, inspired me to be a writer. With Greene it was his compassion and his understanding of the human heart.
During my teens and twenties, I turned my hand to poetry, inspired by too much wine, Sylvia Plath and Anaïs Nin. My poems were exceedingly bad and were wisely rejected by the best literary magazines.
Eventually I moved to Toronto, and it was there that I met my husband, Ron. In 1994 we relocated to France and stayed for ten years, living first in the Alps and then in Paris. In France, liberated for the first time from working for the rent money, I concentrated on writing and realized just how much I had to learn. I enrolled in a distance education program with Indiana University and after that in Humber College’s Mentor Program, where I worked with Timothy Findley. He and his partner, Bill Whitehead, were incredibly generous, and we became friends. They helped me wrangle my short stories into something readable, and in 2000 I published a collection called Rat Medicine & Other Unlikely Curatives (Mosaic Press). The novel The Stubborn Season (HarperCollins Canada, 2002) came next.
It was also during this period I realized I had inherited the family disease of alcoholism and needed to get sober. I now believe that had I not stopped drinking when I did, I wouldn’t be alive today, let alone writing.
I was living in Paris, working on The Radiant City on September 11, 2001. As a result of that day’s terrible events, what had begun as a book about wanderers and dreamers in Paris took on a new direction and the character of Matthew Bowles was born.
Ron and I moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in 2004. I love living here, even with the rather strident political posturing. Best of all, I have a room of my own to work in, overlooking our pond and garden. I write daily, with occasional interruptions from deer, rabbits, owls, squirrels, mice, frogs and snakes. I teach writing at a men’s prison in New Jersey, and leading monthly writing workshops, called SHARPENING THE QUILL.
In 2011 I published my third novel, Our Daily Bread, inspired by the infamous Goler Clan of Nova Scotia. It’s just out, so I don’t have much more to say about it, except that I’d delighted it’s received some early critical acclaim.
I’m a fairly early riser for a writer, at about seven o’clock. Then it’s out to walk Bailey, our dog (known around the house as The Rescuepoo). He’d sleep longer if I let him, and some days, I admit, we both do. I’ve also taken up an hour of exercise in the morning, since I’m told that sort of thing is good for you. Thus, whereas I used to be at my desk at 8:30 a.m., between the dog and the elliptical machine, it’s now more like 9:30. But cup of coffee in hand, I start work. I work a regular “business” day; a discipline which I suspect is the result of many years spent as an office worker. If I’m writing a novel it must go forward by 500 words each day. Often, of course, I write more than that, and since I start every day rereading previous sections and deleting a great deal of it, it’s probably more like 1,500 words each day.
Writing is a practice, like meditation or prayer. You have to keep at it, day after day, even when it seems like absolutely nothing good is happening. Perhaps especially then.