On Wednesday night last week (October 20th)—the second day of the Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival— I headed down to Granville Island to see four authors discuss writing about the parent/child relationship.

Vancouver International Writers Festival banner 2010

The complex love between parent and child provides ample ground for novelists. Four Canadian writers have each taken a different tack on this theme in their new works. Emma Donoghue’s five-year-old narrator is trapped in a single room with his mother, while Kathleen Winter’s subject is trapped in a body that is neither fully male nor female. Pascale Quiviger and Robert J. Wiersema approach the theme of the parent-child bond by taking forays into the worlds of the fantastic and the imagination. But all four paint compelling portraits that show us the inescapable truth that who you are depends largely on how you were raised.

Hosted by Shaena Lambert, Suffer The Little Children was an excellent panel. The authors each had their own chance to shine, a chance to read, and also discuss and comment upon the other authors’ works. It even seemed, judging by the comments from the authors, that they had read each others’ books.

I had wanted to attend this VIWF event because I’d already read both Kathleen Winter’s novel Annabel and Emma Donoghue’s, Room. As you can probably tell by now, I enjoyed both books immensely. It’s difficult for me to comment on Robert J. Wiersema’s book and Pascale Quiviger’s novel because I haven’t read them. Robert J. Wiersema I am familiar with through work because he is a local BC author (from Victoria). However I hadn’t read either Bedtime Story or The Breakwater House, but I certainly am itching to now!

The talk started with Kathleen Winter telling the audience a little bit about the novel Annabel and the relationship Wayne has with both his mother and his father. It was interesting to hear Kathleen speak about how she altered the characters histories and futures. In the first draft she had Wayne’s mother end up in a mental insitution, which she later removed because she felt it was too harsh.

Robert J. Wiersema was next in line. He wrote Bedtime Story, which tells two tales concurrently: the first of a recluse-writer and father, the second of the book his son becomes (literally) absorbed in. It was interesting to have a male’s opinion on the panel, and to hear Robert discuss fatherhood as a father, and being a child and father within his book. He said one of the most illuminating things: “Books provide just joy, such comfort, such escape” and that was why he loved books as a child.

Pascale wrote The Breakwater House, the story of a woman seeking solice in a little house by the sea, who becomes lost in time within the house and it’s past. One interesting question the moderator asked was about the translation of Pascale Quiviger’s book from French. Pascale said that it was odd to read a passage in English, which she had written in French, but mentioned that the translation was done so well she felt absolutely happy with it. It was translated by Lazer Lederhendler (who also translated Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner) and Pascale said Lazer Lederhendler brought her into the process of the translation. She mentioned that at times, Lazer knew her voice better than her! She would suggest a word or phrase for a passage, and Lazer would balk, “you wouldn’t say that!”

The final introduction and interview was with Emma Donoghue. One of the pertinent questions was where Emma got the idea for Room. She had gotten the idea after the Friztl abduction was uncovered, but thought she would place the story in an ordinary town in USA, with blue-collar, white male, and a plain unassuming shed in the backyard. It was after she had delivered the manuscript to her editor that Jaycee Dugard was discovered, whose abduction took place in an ordinary town with a plain ol’ garage in the back garden. Ironic coincidence, but Emma stressed that she didn’t want the story to be about the captor, Old Nick. She very much wanted to tell Ma and Jack’s story, how Ma coped, and how she raised Jack.

Then the readings began. I think my favourite was Emma’s selection from Room. All of the authors were fantastic readers, but I loved how Emma brought Jack alive with her tone and expression. This was such an interesting theme to hear discussed, and something I would not have initially identified myself. It’s always great to broaden your horizons, perspective, scope and outlook on novels and the world around you. Fantastic event!