09 Jan What Ms. Winter Said
Kathleen Winter…as gracious as she is talented.
Well, here it is! Or at least here part of it is…My interview with internationally acclaimed Canadian author of Annabel, Kathleen Winter.
I say part because, I just can’t give it all away here on the LOL Blog. I simply have to save some for my upcoming article on Kathleen, coming your way in the next issue of Okanagan Woman. (www.okanaganwoman.com). Pick up the mag or read it online (I’ll blog the link) this March.
When I discovered (with great glee) that Kathleen was following LOL on Twitter, I sent her a message, requesting an interview. In all honesty, I didn’t have high hopes of attaining a chat with her. She is, after all, a very busy, successful writer, answering to emails and reporters and magazines and literary folks all over the place. Imagine my delight when she not only promptly returned my message but said she loved my blog! Oh, joy. And then, she said she would be honored to talk. Well….
Over the course of the last month, as I’ve blogged about Annabel, I’ve encouraged readers to pick up the book, and now, having chatted with Kathleen, I have an even deeper appreciation for the brilliance behind this book, but moreover, for the lovely lady of literature who penned it. Generous with her time, gracious with her answers, this is a woman whose work you will want to follow and with whom I’d love to have a glass of wine. Cheers! and a heartfelt thank-you, Kathleen, for your literary contribution to the world and your thoughtful responses to the LOL’s questions.
Please, check out, Kathleen’s own blog, kathleenwinter.livejournal.com and now, read on to learn more about her and her incredible work.
1) Probably the most commonly asked question, and certainly one each of the LOL had, was, “What prompted you to write about an inter-sex character?” Why did you become so personally passionate about the subject?
I don’t really know, but I think it might have something to do with my own deep sense that we are neither male nor female – a realization that I’m comfortable with only after years of personal discomfort. I think every society has its own projections about how to look and behave and be, in terms of gender, and as a child I emigrated from the industrial north of England to North America, and those two societies are very different. I have a feeling that gender eccentricity and androgyny are or used to be more a part of the fabric of British life, whereas North American culture dictates a more bipolar version of gender. When I learned about intersex children I felt, instantly, that I knew something about it already, though I hasten to add that I did not really know a thing, in many senses.
2) As a group of women, we were deeply affected by Jacinta’s guilt and grief over her lost “daughter”, yet we were disturbed by her inability to express her feelings truthfully, out loud, to her husband. We wanted her to fight for Annabel and we cringed at the patriarchy that guided so many of the decisions made by families in Labrador. Was Jacinta willingly submissive to her husband’s decision or did she believe, like him, the “easiest” thing to do was to raise the child as a boy? That being a boy was better than being a girl in Labrador? How much of that had to do with the era the book is set in versus the place? Does modern-day Labrador still favor men?
Labrador has extremely strong women, and my portrayal of Jacinta has more to do with my own family history than with the history of Labrador. Jacinta’s actions were all about submission, yes – she was not from Labrador but from Newfoundland, and she was from a small city originally. She did not have the background of a strong Labrador woman of the land, but had been indoctrinated into the kind of role I associate with my mother’s generation who came of age in the postwar 1950s when women lost a great deal of the autonomy and money their mothers had temporarily acquired. With Jacinta, I wanted to explore how being submissive destroys the psyche.
3) In keeping with the above, much discussion at our meeting revolved around the roles of men and women and the expectations placed upon us by society. Was that something you were trying to explore through Wayne?
Yes, that really is what a lot of the book is about, in my mind. It’s also about loneliness, but I think that loneliness comes about, in part, because of the crevasse society imposes between the genders.
4) Was your decision to create a character that embodied both a male and female persona indicative of your belief we all have a little of both in us? Did being the mother of two daughters influence your decision to honor the feminine side of Wayne?
I think that being the mother of two daughters may have sensitized me to questions of power, autonomy and action and how these manifest in the lives of women, yes – but I also think the book is, in part, a look at how polarizing gender adds to the human tragedy. Annabel is about the suppressed feminine inside a masculine framework, and I’m very interested in that tension in and outside of the book.
5) The LOL agreed, one of the most brilliant testaments to your literary talent, lay in the growth of Treadway. You mentioned in your Globe interview, he is your favorite character, yet many of us despised him for a long time, particularly after he destroys Wayne and Wally’s world, not just physically, but entirely emotionally, spiritually, etc. Some of the members said they forgave him; that they knew he did it out of love, while some of us just couldn’t allow him that grace. Yet you develop him so fully, when you have him slowly acknowledge Wayne’s feminine side and as his acts of tenderness and compassion and generosity are revealed, we forgave him, even cheered for him. Why is he your favorite character and does that make Jacinta your least liked?
He became my favourite character because he taught me that he was not as one-dimensional as I had planned to write him. He became more important as the story developed. With each draft – and there were many – Treadway made me think more about the beauty of his kind of man. I became less judgmental myself through the writing of Treadway. He changed my mind and that is why I had a special feeling for him. I had not expected to feel this way about him. But that doesn’t mean Jacinta is my least favourite–I feel extremely protective of her and I feel sad that she subjugated herself, her own wisdom about her child, and I wish women would not do this. I wish humans would not do it, but we do it – we subject ourselves and our own wisdom to others. If I had to pick my least favourite character, and this feels very odd, it might be Thomasina, because she is perhaps overly rational and she is the most consciously constructed character – I had her in the book for specific reasons and she performed these for the story and I was not surprised by her. But I certainly needed her in the novel, because without her Wayne/Annabel might have been doomed.
6) One of our members is a physician and she, along with a few others, was very curious about the “self-fertilization” aspect of an inter-sex person? Is this medically documented or was it an example of “artistic license”. Did you delve into this to further complicate Wayne’s pain and to illustrate all that was lost when he was raised a boy?
I was told anecdotally that this had happened to someone. However, when I researched intersex conditions I learned that it is not supposed to be possible. I thought about leaving it out, but I decided not to do so because lots of things happen in life that we believe should not happen, and because I wanted a catalyst to action that would get Wayne out of Labrador and into the city. It was not so much to illustrate pain or things lost, as it was to give him a real reason to re-think his future.
7) We found the description of the sparkling white stag, “poured from light itself” absolutely beautiful. As Vikki, said, “I was so mesmerized, I’d have stood up in the canoe too.” What is the significance of the white stag?
The white caribou is a dream figure. To me it represents a yearned-for fragment of eternity or immortality. I think we are all born knowing we are part of some hidden glory. The white caribou has broken off from the herd – it is alone, and wandering. I think it means something different to different people. It came out of my subconscious.
8) And finally, we are all aching to know, what are you working on next?
I was invited to the North on expeditions with Adventure Canada, an educational touring company that charters vessels to places like the Arctic. While in the North, I had transformative experiences that have caused me to go deeper into the kind of writing terrain I touched on with the Labrador landscape in Annabel. The North, and other places in our endangered planet, are what I’d like to write about next, and I’ll be working out just what the shape of this writing might be in the next few months, during my time as the Mordecai Richler Writer-in Residence at McGill here in Montreal.
Want to know what else Kathleen is writing in her spare time (I was totally surprised!)? Want to know where her faith lies? Want to know the sentence she feels best sums up her novel? Want to know more? Find it in the next Okanagan Woman!(www.okanaganwoman.com)
Check in again on Wednesday to find out what the LOL is reading next!