DEGRACE, Anne




Author Tags: Fiction

Born on January 12th, 1960 in Ottawa, Anne DeGrace came to B.C. in 1981. A librarian and journalist living in Nelson, she is the author of two photographic books of the West Kootenary region.

Her first novel, Treading Water (McArthur & Co., 2005), traces a fictional community in the B.C. interior from its first settler to the last to leave in the face of hydroelectric dam development in the 1960s. It's based on the fate of Renata, B.C., a community submerged under 35 feet of water by the erection of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam.

Her follow-up novels are Wind Tails (2007) and Sounding Line (2009). The latter is derived for a reported UFO sighting in Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia, that produced a media frenzy and the arrival of both American and Canadian military ships in the harbour. That incident has been dubbed 'Canada's Roswell.' DeGrace has fictionalized the story, concentrating on how the hoopla impacts one particular family.

Her first collection of Trans-Canada short stories is Flying with Amelia (McArthur 2011) with a variety of settings between 1901 and 1999: "A St. John’s boy learns the finer points of communication while his employer Marconi receives the first transatlantic wireless signal. A British Home Child finds sorrow and solace on an Ontario farmstead. In 1920s Montreal, a one-armed WWI veteran gambles everything for a future with a beautiful, intelligent, political young woman. In northern Manitoba, German prisoners of war find creative ways to quell boredom. RCMP officers snatch Doukhobor children in British Columbia, while a decade later U.S. draft dodgers find refuge in Canada. In the Maritimes, a young man answers a personal ad written by a Saskatchewan schoolteacher, resulting in recipes and romance set against a backdrop of unrest during the Great Depression."

BOOKS:

Treading Water (McArthur & Company 2005)
Wind Tails (McArthur 2007) / republished as Far From Home (Avon 2009) in the U.S.
Sounding Line (McArthur 2009)
Flying with Amelia (McArthur 2011 / Trade paper, Cormorant, 2014)

[Anne DeGrace’s past titles are now with Cormorant Books]

[BCBW 2015] "Fiction"

Treading Water
Press release (2005)



Anne DeGrace will launch her novel “Treading Water,” the chronicle of a fictional community on the shores of lower Arrow Lake, on Saturday, October 1st at 7:30 p.m. at the Nelson Municipal Library (Victoria Street entrance).
The voices of the Bear Creek residents surface in this first novel, among them trapper Gus Sanders, who arrives in Bear Creek to seek his fortune in 1904 and finds more than he bargained for. Others include Mennonite Jake Schroeder, suffragette Isobel Grey, Dutch war bride Aliesje Milner and young Paul Doyleis, who has a summer job demolishing houses to make way for the new dam.
The indomintable personality of Ursula Hartmann, first child born in Bear Creek and among the last of the residents to leave, threads through the stories that trace a community from its hopeful beginnings until the day the waters rise. Through these stories, told through eleven chapters covering a timespan of 63 years, the reader is able to develop a relationship with the community, and, along with its residents, grieve its demise.
DeGrace’s story of Bear Creek was inspired by the real-life chronicle of Renata, B.C., a tiny community which once flourished and was submerged under 35 feet of water to make way for hydroelectric dam development in the 1960’s. When the water from the Hugh Keenlyside dam is drawn to its lowest point each spring, it is possible to walk the original Renata townsite, accessible only by boat.
DeGrace writes, “In June, when the dam increases its flow, all this will be under water. Now, I can see the bones of tree stumps, rows traced through the sand. Here, the foundation of a house has left a depression; there, an empty stretch that may have been a road lies like a whisper. The remains of a wharf, pilings like broken teeth, stretches beneath the water from the shore.
“In exploring the fictional community of Bear Creek through the writing of this manuscript, the concept of home became more than where you hang your hat....it is the accumulation of history, the births, deaths, small rebellions and personal triumphs.”
Anne DeGrace is a Nelson librarian, columnist, writer and illustrator who has co-authored two books of photography of the West Kootenay. Her fiction has appeared in The New Quarterly, Room of One’s Own, and Wisconsin Review.
TreadingWater is published by McArthur & Co., Toronto. To promote her work, DeGrace is embarking on a five-city tour including Vancouver, Ottawa, Halifax, Montreal and Wolfville, Nova Scotia, her mother’s hometown. .
The Nelson launch, reading and book signing is co-hosted by the Nelson Fine Arts Centre and the Kootenay School of Writing and co-sponsored by the Nelson Municipal Library, the Nelson and District Arts Council and the Federation of B.C Writers.


Wind Tails (McArthur & Co. $29.95)
Review


from Cherie Thiessen
A self-described ‘story vulture,’ Anne DeGrace confesses her second novel Wind Tails (McArthur & Co. $29.95) arose from a pub night in Nelson when a friend described a hitchhiker who would only travel in the direction the wind blew.
A second friend added a true story about a driver who asked hitchhikers to send him postcards from wherever they wound up.

For Wind Tails, DeGrace turned the wind-following hitchhiker into an American draft evader named Pink—named after the group Pink Floyd—who has allowed a beautiful pair of eyes, along with a determination not to go to Vietnam, to bring him to Canada, and the postcard collector gets turned into Evelyn, an intellectually challenged housewife who strays further and further afield to pick up and drop off hitchhikers.

Most of the action occurs in an Alberta mountain pass, at the Roadside Café, circa 1977, on a day when the wind seems to be blowing in circles. Think of the comedy tv-show Corner Gas, transferred to the Purcells.

Cass, the owner of The Roadside Café, still mourns the baby she gave up, and the niece her sister spirited away from her. Archie, a truck driver, keeps coming back, and not just for the coffee.

One day Archie picks up Jo, a dispirited 19-year-old who has dropped out of university, and he brings her like a lost puppy to Cass, the nurturer of lost souls. Jo is on the run, and her distressed parents don’t know exactly why—but her mother has an inkling. It was an ill wind that brought her daughter home unexpectedly one fateful day to discover they were both sharing the same lover.
Bob, the local policeman, is too softhearted to be a cop and quite happy to pay the price by being stuck in a backwater. Not only does Bob help deliver babies whilst on duty, he joins Pink in smoking a few joints, subsequent to chasing him through the forest for trespassing in an old cabin.

Add to the mix a rich boy who may have killed his father’s partner, an angry young American who threatens Pink because he didn’t fight in Vietnam, an old woman who camps out near the café, a water witcher coming to terms with his unwanted abilities, and a dying and doughty old woman who wants to see her sons again, and you’ve got the makings of a fairly normal Kootenay town.

Along the way a tiny character appropriately called Pixie orchestrates another meeting between Jo and Pink by telling them about a campsite and handing out a map. With me so far?

Basically, what we have is a series of mini-stories whirling around a central place and a premise: if you are open to interactions with strangers and willing to let the wind take you where it will, you can find your own direction more quickly.

What these characters have in common is the road they travel on, the café where they all wind up, if only for a glass of water, and their effect on Jo, so fragile it feels as if a slight breeze will scatter her. As delicate as a dandelion gone to seed, Wind Tails feels as if a slight puff of breath will send all these characters and their stories off with her–a Kootenay-inspired fairy tale for grown-ups.

Born in 1960, DeGrace is a librarian, illustrator, photographer, volunteer and mother who made waves with her first novel, Treading Water (2005), based on the fate of Renata, a community submerged under 35 feet of water by the erection of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam.

So we have had water, and we have had wind. Fire might be next.

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-- review by Cherie Thiessen

[BCBW 2007] "fiction"


Sounding Line
Review (2010)




Review by Fiona Lehn, Room Magazine Vol 33.1, spring 2010

An unidentified flying object crashes in the water just offshore of small fishing village Perry’s harbour, Nova Scotia. Perry’s then becomes overrun with secretive government agents, alien lovers, and media. The few locals of Perry’s Harbour try to go about their business of day-to-day living but find that their lives change unalterably by the experience.

It sounds like science fiction, but Anne DeGrace based her third novel, Sounding line, on a historical incident. In 1967, a UFO was reported to have crashed off shore of Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia. A mix of science and historical fiction, Sounding Line offers the best of both subgenres in true literary fashion. DeGrace’s tale focuses on the people of Perry’s Harbour, on Pocket Snow, the teenaged artist whose mother Merle is dying of cancer. On his Uncle Scratch and his father Wilf, who are trying desperately to cope with the loss of Merle as she slips away from their realm and into the beyond. DeGrace’s tale follows the town bully and his lonely friend Ernie, Rodney the rookie journalist sent to cover the story, the storekeeper Shirley, and the psychic Wanda who come to town to communicate with the aliens.

The way in which DeGrace tells this tale is nothing short of exquisite. She begins by defining a sounding line as “a line marked at intervals of fathoms and weighted at one end, used to determine the depth of water.” Thus before the story begins, the reader has already begun to think in terms of darkness and depth, weight and the unknown. The she starts with the lights. Lights over water, movement, and incongruent silence. The crash. The witnesses. The story has begun.

The pace of the novel ambles as slowly as time passes in a small fishing village, but the story is nonetheless compelling. There is breath and breadth in the writing. The telling of the tale is full of space and silence. We feel as if we are standing at the end of the wharf right along with Pocket Snow, staring into the harbour and sounding its depths.

As we delve into the lives of the Perry’s Harbour locals, it becomes clear that DeGrace has written a novel through a perfect metaphor. Her authorial sounding line plunges into the water, into space, into life and death, alien and belonging, human and love.



Flying With Amelia
Review (2012)


from Candace Fertile

It’s not often that a book makes me late for drinks with a friend, but I was in the middle of the title chapter of Anne DeGrace’s latest novel, Flying with Amelia, and I had to find out what happens to the characters. And then I had to mop the tears off my face.

Being moved by a book is one of the great joys of my life, and Anne DeGrace never fails to deliver emotionally rich and aesthetically enticing fiction. In this fourth novel, she tackles a huge subject: the canvas of Canada over time, from 1847 to 2012. While I wanted to know more about the characters, she manages to move readers along to the next chapter, with a new time frame and new characters, in a thoroughly smooth and wise way.

The novel opens with Across the Atlantic, the story of the Murphy family, who are leaving their poverty-stricken circumstances in Ireland for the hope of a better life in Newfoundland. DeGrace describes the hellish voyage so viscerally that readers will find themselves stuck in the appalling conditions below decks with the Irish families, hoping to survive the trip and then their new home. Mary Murphy narrates the experience, a truly hideous one: “Some [biscuits] have weevils, and I tap them out so the children will not see.” Mary’s story shows the extreme lengths to which people will go to try to improve their lot in life. It also shows the power of poverty, a topic common to much of the novel.

With each chapter, DeGrace captures the voice of the characters in their time. The second chapter, Static, is set in 1901 in St John’s, when a boy named William earns some money by helping Marconi with his work. Everyone is poor, and William’s father doesn’t help the situation by drinking up any spare cash. But DeGrace manages to humanize the man while exposing his considerable failures.

The chapters are connected by fragments of family. The novel shows how spread out and broken a family can become, especially in a land as vast as Canada. The varied settings connect time and place with significant events, personal and occasionally international. For example, Angel is set in Montreal in 1929, and clearly the stock-market crash plays a devastating role. All of the Colours is set in a PoW camp in rural Manitoba in 1944. A Different Country is set in Toronto in 1967 and features James, a young American draft dodger. In every case, DeGrace makes the place and time lift off the page.

Generally in the novel, people move to find work or escape a bad situation. Life is hard, and the people that DeGrace writes about are not the wealthy. She is concerned with those whose basic needs are a challenge. And when the necessities are lacking, people respond in time-honoured ways, such as drinking and violence. But they also respond with love and care. In Home Girl, an elderly woman named Olive befriends Winnie, a young “home girl” sent from London. Winnie is in danger, and Olive does everything in her power to help her. Decency and kindness are the glue that can hold people together in the midst of appalling situations.

The title story is mainly told in letters, and it starts with a man’s newspaper advertisement for a pen pal. As the correspondence develops, so do the feelings of the writers in an utterly believable way. The book is worth it for this chapter alone, but all the others have as much resonance.

The final chapter has the same title as the first, Across the Atlantic, yet this time the travel is in the opposite direction as DeGrace embroiders the threads of family connection through time. Flying with Amelia is a beautiful achievement by a gifted writer.


Candace Fertile teaches English at Camosun College in Victoria.

Reviewed reprinted by permission, The Globe and Mail, Nov 24, 2011