September 7, 2018 - 4:15pm
Award-winning author Kathy Page, whose work has been nominated twice for the Scotiabank Giller Prize amongst other accolades, enjoys mentoring emerging writers as a Professor with the Creative Writing and Journalism department at VIU. As Chair of her department, she’s organized several events on campus that highlight the literary accomplishments of both her colleagues and students.
On September 4, she celebrated the release of her eighth novel, Dear Evelyn, published by Biblioasis in Canada and the US, and with And Other Stories in the UK. Page is presenting her new book this October at both the Vancouver Writer’s Festival and the Birmingham Literature Festival in the UK. Look for Dear Evelyn on bookshelves in VIU’s Campus Store the week of September 24. Page was happy to answer a few questions about her new book, how she ended up on Vancouver Island and what she would do if she wasn’t writing.
Why did you first start writing?
In childhood, I was the kid who filled several exercise books with her story in class, and I also wrote for fun at home. I did it because I enjoyed making things up and putting words on the page. That’s still true now, but I am aware that my books are motivated by a sense that I have a question to explore and a story that needs to be told in some way. I don’t think I would write without that. My first novel was about a rape trial. My most recent, Dear Evelyn, looks at the complexities of a difficult and unequal but enduring relationship, one that lasts for 70 years.
How did you end up teaching at VIU?
I’m one of three sisters and was born in a London suburb (very like the one that features in some parts of Dear Evelyn). I went to school and university in the UK and published my first novel in 1986; shortly thereafter, I began teaching creative writing part-time. Several books later and by now in middle age, I moved to Salt Spring Island with my husband and young family in 2001. I saw an advertisement for a sessional instructor and applied. I remember that the interview panel seemed enormous, and that it included Marilyn Bowering, whose novel, Visible Worlds, I had recently read and admired. Eventually I graduated to a regular position.
If you could do anything else, what would you do?
I am very happy with what I do, but I have often thought that it must be wonderful to be a speech-language pathologist. Working towards the best-possible communication might be the common thread there, I guess.
What trait do you most admire about yourself?
Persistence, combined with open-mindedness.
One of VIU’s core values is encouraging global citizenship. What does this mean to you?
I’m glad it is one of our core values because it seems to me that thinking and action, rooted in both the local and the global, are needed more than ever now if we are to in any way deal with or mitigate the impacts of ongoing climate change and slow the alarming warming trend that is already affecting people all over the world, including, now, us in BC.
Bonus Question: Tell us about Dear Evelyn and what prompted this particular storyline?
Dear Evelyn follows a long marriage between incompatibles, set against world events and social changes that happen over seven decades. Its origins are more personal than is usual for me. At the end of their lives, as my father’s health failed, my parents’ relationship, always fairly argumentative, became outright antagonistic. It was upsetting to witness, yet there was nothing I or my sisters could do to improve it.
At the same time, my mother was clearing out the house, and she unearthed a set of love letters written to her by my father during the Second World War. We all read them. The contrast between the beginning and the end of the relationship was both shocking and very compelling, and curiosity about the journey from one state to the other is what started me on this project. I wanted to look at a long marriage like theirs, to examine its dynamics, and follow it as it slowly became something neither of them would have predicted or chosen.
This is my eighth novel, and I’ve never written something inspired by material that is so close to home. The major challenge was how to make characters out of real people. I wanted to keep a close connection with the source, but also to feel free from it. And of course, because part of the novel integrates some of the letters my father wrote, I asked his permission — and then, later on, I had to run the manuscript past my sisters. This was all very nerve-wracking, but worth it — I have a real feeling of having made something new.