It was 2005. I was living in London when a friend sent me a book called The Nettle Spinner by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer. It tells the story of Alma, a filthy, fly-bitten treeplanter who faces down her peril in the bush of northern Ontario.
As a former treeplanter, I loved Kathyrn's take on the darkness of the job and the way she wove the mundane and the mythic together.The book gave me confidence to write. Before reading it, I wasn't sure what in my experience was interesting enough to commit to paper.The Nettle Spinner
showed me an inspiring way of answering that question.
The glory days of treeplanting.
Part of the job of treeplanting is learning to work around bears. During those years, Kathryn and I both read a book called Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance
. The book gives a good grounding in bear behaviour. I read it cover-to-cover, twice.
Another part of treeplanting is coping with boredom. The job is mundane and the hours are long. For the future writer, there is plenty of time for the mind to drift. I often thought about bears as I shoved trees into the ground (sometimes 3,000 a day).Years pass and minds do wander. Kathryn and I both have books that feature bears coming out in 2014.We both, also, had a moment of alarm when we wondered if we'd written the same book. As it turns out, our novels couldn't be more different.Kathryn's tells the story of Bo, a fourteen-year-old boy who has come to Canada in 1979 as a boat-boy, and his sister, who is born severely disabled as a result of her parents’ exposure to Agent Orange.She goes into more detail on her blog
I discovered two normally unrelated facts that came together into one story in my mind. One was that during the 1970s there was a bear wrestling circuit throughout Southern Ontario in Canada. A modern bearward held wrestling matches, which pitted young men against his bear. The other fact was that Agent Orange was manufactured in Elmira, Ontario and sold under contract to the US military during the Vietnam war years.
My novel is based on a bear attack that took place in Algonquin Park in 1991. A couple was killed during the attack. I imagined what might have happened if the couple had brought small children with them. The novel is an examination of how children help each other and themselves in such circumstances – a sort of rebuttal to Lord of the Flies.You can read more about it on my agent's website.Not much overlap, huh? It never ceases to amaze me how different the expression of similar influences and interests can be.There is one striking similiarty, though. Our books both have working titles at the moment. Bear is already taken, so stay tuned.