Linda has graciously answered a few questions for us and I hope you enjoy the interview...
First, can you please tell us a little about yourself?
I live outside the village of River John on Nova Scotia’s north shore in an old farm house. Grist is my third novel.
What was the inspiration behind writing Grist?
I used to work as a tour guide at the Balmoral Grist Mill which is part of the Nova Scotia Museum. This was a working mill so I did not just stand in a building, I know the aromas, the sounds, the low, steady vibration of the grinding. I know what the brook sounds like in spring when it roars over the dam and what the mill pond looks like on still, sunny days when the mill is reflected in the water and I know the vibrant colours of fall. I used to help grind the oats: shovelling, hauling bags on the rope elevator, and bagging. I used to mind the kiln when we were drying oats. I showed a good many people around that mill and I had many solitary hours there with my thoughts. It was only natural to fill the empty spaces of the job with a story of my own. I began with a few basic facts (which I have lifted for my story) and then overlaid something that could have happened.
What do you want readers to take away from your book?
What little documentation is left to us by history does not begin to address the many stories that “could have been.” This is particularly true of women’s stories. Women are underrepresented in history. Their opinions were seldom sought, their experience was marginalized, their concerns diminished, and their work disregarded. If a woman ran a business in her husband’s stead, history would not have recorded it. Also I would like people to remember that there are some advantages to moving against societal expectations but there are also huge costs. Not everyone who finds themselves outside normal roles wants to be there. Not only loneliness, but also shame, could accompany those did not, or could not, comply with expectations. Until very recently in our history women had very few options.
Did you come across anything in your research that surprised you or caused you to re-write a particular scene?
Night milling and winter milling. Most old mills burnt down and were simply not rebuilt because economic situations changed. They burnt because flour dust is flammable. I used to think that millers never lit lanterns in their mills. But from my research I learned that many did work after dark. They would take lanterns into their mills just as they did into their barns. My miller wanted so badly to work at night he was willing to take the risk of a flame among the dust. Lots of millers did this. I also learned that milling went on long into the winter. Just because surface water freezes doesn’t mean that ground water freezes! Water continues to run underground all year and it can run under ice.
What was the hardest scene to write?
The ending. How much? How little? I had an earlier version of this novel that brought the family up to the end of the twentieth century but ultimately I decided to let this go and end the book with Penelope’s death. Much gnashing of teeth went into this decision. In the long version Grist joined up with my previous novel, Scotch River. In this shorter, published version a reader would need to make this connection themselves. (Or not.) If you haven’t read Scotch River I recommend you start with Grist. Then you will probably recognize quite easily how it links with the later story. But the two novels are completely separate—you don’t need one to understand the other. And they are very different sorts of stories. (If you have read Scotch River—Rachel becomes Pipe’s “Nan.”)
What was your favorite scene to write?
There is a harangue when Penelope finally loses patience with her son-in-law and comes aboard him in a great streaming lecture. She tells him what’s what in no uncertain terms. It becomes clear that the boy had barely given her a thought before despite the huge load she carried. Penelope is ordinarily so restrained, controlled, and sensible that it was great to hear her let loose.
Also there are three chapters that tell Ewan’s story. These chapters are in third person rather than in Penelope’s voice and bring us into the mind a man who was probably somewhere on the autism scale or had Asperger’s. This was long before these conditions were recognized. To move into a mind that is bound by different rules, triggers, compulsions and understandings I find compelling and enlightening. In this new territory I was always hitting upon new truths.
What challenges did you face in writing this book?
This was a difficult book for me to write. And over the past 8 years since the release of my last book, I have had many occasions to wonder why this was. There are two important reasons, I think. First, I knew the major elements of the plot of Grist before I began. This story came out of my previous novel, Scotch River. It is the story of the young artist’s (Pipe’s) great-great-grandmother which she paints on her house. So I was building up the characters around the plot, not the other way around. This is not a process I would recommend. It requires much more back and forth than when the story arises from the characters. There were many false starts and double takes.
Secondly, this is my first attempt at a female protagonist. It has been interesting (and often infuriating) to experience just how deeply, broadly, and profoundly gender affects a story. My first two books have male protagonists who speak very little. The distance between what a character experiences, feels, believes, wants and what he says is the space where a story happens for me. My “muse” lives in this space. In our society silence in men has vastly different meanings and perceptions than silence in women. Quiet men may be seen “the strong silent type” but quiet women are more likely not to be seen at all. My protagonist, Penelope, is not naturally silent and does not use silence to understand and come to terms with herself. In my earlier books silence was profoundly linked to loneliness and to managing solitude. Penelope is not naturally drawn to solitude or loneliness. Her circumstances make her lonely, not her personality. Her silence is enforced. Penelope is a woman trying to speak, trying to build a family and a community and being cut off at every turn. The emotional power of silence (which is what drove my previous stories) was not applicable to Penelope. It was much easier for me to write Ewan’s story. It was a struggle to find Penelope’s voice and particularly sweet when I did.
When did you know you wanted to write?
Back around 1990 I was reading Inside Memory by Timothy Findley which I loved. But I was not entirely satisfied because I wanted to know the story between the chapters—the stories that had been omitted. When I finished that book I was ready to create stories.
What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?
I read all kinds of fiction. My taste is not guided by era. As far as historical fiction goes, I am a big fan of Hilary Mantel’s books on Thomas Cromwell and I’m anticipating installment number three! David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet was also fabulous.
What do you like to do when you aren't writing?
I live in the country and in the summer raise a few turkeys and pigs and keep a big garden. During the fall term I teach at Dalhousie Agricultural campus in Truro and during the winter term I’ve started going into Halifax a couple of days a week to take some courses and re-experience life from the other side of the desk. This is giving my life a lovely balance right now. I also volunteer on the committee that presents our local literary festival in River John, Read by the Sea.
Who are your writing inspirations?
I can hardly begin. Here are a few I grasped at: David Adams Richards for his view of rural characters, Roddy Doyle for brilliantly revealing dialogue, Reginald Hill for endearing characters, Guy Vanderhaeghe for cowboys, Hilary Mantel for penetrating insight into historical possibility, Shakespeare for challenge of interpretation.
What was the first historical novel you read?
Mutiny on the Bounty. I was twelve and I can still remember some of those scenes.
What is the last historical novel you read?
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. But do not be concerned—his book is absolutely nothing like mine.
If there was a soundtrack for your novel, what songs would we find on it?
Flying on Your Own (Rita MacNeil)
Turn, turn, turn (The Byrds)
Teach Your Children Well (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya
Short Native Grasses (Corb Lund)
The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness (John Prine)
Wood River (Connie Kaldor)
Publication Date: April 15, 2014 Roseway Publishing
ISBN 13: 9781552665992
“This is the story of how you were loved,” Penelope MacLaughlin whispers to her granddaughter.
Penelope MacLaughlin marries a miller and gradually discovers he is not as she imagined. Nonetheless she remains determined to make the best of life at the lonely mill up the Gunn Brook as she struggles to build a home around her husband’s eccentricities. His increasing absence leaves Penelope to run the mill herself, providing her with a living but also destroying the people she loves most. Penelope struggles with loss and isolation, and suffers the gradual erosion of her sense of self. A series of betrayals leaves her with nothing but the mill and her determination to save her grandchildren from their disturbed father. While she can prepare her grandsons for independence, her granddaughter is too young and so receives the greater gift: the story that made them all.
Praise for Grist“An epic story by a gifted writer. There are moments in Linda Little’s Grist that are breathtaking in both thought and lyricism.” — Donna Morrissey, author of The Deception of Livvy Higgs
"Linda Little lays bare the hard joys, grit and heartache of women’s lives in the rural Maritimes before and during the Great War. Her writing is exquisite. Gripping, gorgeously imagined and positively haunting, Grist is a tour de force—a novel not just to like but to love. I couldn’t put it down." — Carol Bruneau, author of Glass Voices and Purple for Sky
Buy the BookFernwood Publishing
About the AuthorLinda Little lives and writes in the north shore village of River John. Originally from the Ottawa Valley mill town of Hawkesbury, she lived in Kingston and St. John's before moving to Nova Scotia in 1987.
Linda has two award-winning novels, Strong Hollow and Scotch River. She has published short stories in many reviews and anthologies, including The Antigonish Review, Descant, Matrix, The Journey Prize Anthology, and The Penguin Book of Short Stories by Canadian Women.
In addition to writing, Linda teaches at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and is also involved with River John's annual literary festival, Read by the Sea.
For more information visit Linda Little's website.
Virtual Book Tour ScheduleMonday, April 14
Interview & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, April 15
Review at Reading the Past
Guest Post at Closed the Cover
Wednesday, April 16
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, April 17
Guest Post & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Friday, April 18
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Monday, April 21
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, April 22
Review at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, April 23
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, April 24
Review at CelticLady's Reviews
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Friday, April 25
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
GiveawayTo win one copy of Grist please complete the form below. Giveaway is open to US & Canada only and ends on April 24. Good Luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway