At the age of seventy-five, my grandmother died on the way to her second wedding.
Although shocking at the time, I now think of her death as beautifully poignant. For years, I imagined writing a story with this as the ending but the hurly-burly of family life and demanding careers combined with the certainty that I could never be a writer meant that this notion collected nothing but dust like university mementos tucked away in the attic. However, in 2004, fate intervened with a move to Hong Kong.
Living as an expat is both exhilarating and depressing. My husband traveled constantly throughout Asia. I knew no one and had no job; our children – one working, one in university – remained in Canada. For several months I flapped about like a bird with broken wings until one day Grandma’s story beckoned. What if I could write it? I thought. At the very least, the effort would keep me busy.
I bought a book titled The Writer’s Book of Wisdom: 101 Rules by Steven Taylor Goldsberry (difficult to find books about writing in a city where Cantonese dominates). I reread the notes my mother had drafted about her family. On a trip home, I found old family photos and information about my grandfather’s WWI war service. And with no idea what I was doing, I plunged right in.
Writing gave me a sense of purpose. Every morning, armed with a cup of coffee, I fired up my computer. Some days were filled with research, on other days I crafted sentences, struggling to make the words convey what my senses imagined and to flow with enticing rhythm. Looking back, these early efforts remind me of a child’s crude stick drawings produced with great concentration and displayed at home with pride. When I needed a break, I walked the streets of Hong Kong through wet markets and crowded corners, past the flower sellers and lunch-time noodle shops, through antique stores and galleries dominating an area called Soho, up the hill to the top of Victoria Peak where stunning views of the harbour surrounded by skyscrapers reminded me of my good fortune to be in Asia at a time of incredible change.
That was eight years ago and now I write full time. Unravelled is the product of those early efforts and along the way I wrote Lies Told in Silence (a WWI story set in France that is currently with my agent) and Blind Regret ( a dual time period novel with a hint of mystery). I’ve also become obsessed not only with writing but also with exploring the consequences of war.
By the way, Unravelled ends before my grandmother dies. Perhaps there’ll be a sequel?