The Find is one of ten titles short-listed for the 2011 Relit Award (Novel):
The Find is one of ten titles short-listed for the 2011 Relit Award (Novel):
It’s with some trepidation that I stuff my suitcase with copies of my latest novel and set out for Lost and Found: In Search of Extinct Species, an Explora International Conference at the Toulouse Natural History Museum.
The last time I attended an academic conference was during my research for The Find. The 2005 Symposium on Dinosaur Park at the Royal Tyrell Museum turned out to be both useful fascinating, but since I was the only non-palaeontologist there (and almost the only person not wearing dusty boots and brown, technical clothes), the initial experience was disorientating. It was as if I had been dropped into another culture – or even onto another planet – an impression compounded by the arid, fantastically eroded landscape surrounding the museum, so very different to the lush temperate rainforest I inhabit. Until I made a friend who could help me translate the dense, polysyllabic language spoken, I understood only about one word in five, and my brain wound itself into knots as a result of the sheer effort expended in connecting those one-in-five words with assorted guesses at other words and with the often baffling visual imagery presented, in order to form some semblance of coherent thought. I was asleep by 8:30pm, utterly exhausted, and fully aware that I could blame no-one but myself. Now, that same self has gone and signed me up for Lost and Found…
A day’s prospecting leads palaeontologist Anna Silowski to make an extraordinary discovery in a remote part of British Columbia. At the same time, the tensions below the surface of her successful career are exposed. Pushed towards breakdown, she finds herself unexpectedly dependent on high-school drop out Scott Macleod, and recruits him to help on the excavation of her find. Scott the excavation itself teeters on the edge of disaster. The Find is a compelling story about discovery, inheritance and fate, and a moving exploration of the possibilities that hide within a seemingly impossible relationship.
“Kathy Page is one of our most daring writers. Once again she delivers a riveting, superbly paced novel of great complexity. Like a palaeontologist herself, she chisels away at the layers of a story that initially reads as a thriller, meticulously and precisely laying bare the tender love story underneath. If you don’t know Page’s work yet, she’s a find.” Caroline Adderson, winner of the 2006 Marion Engel Award, author of Pleased to Meet You, Sitting Practice and A History of Forgetting.
“Kathy Page reminds us what a novel can do that almost nothing else can: take elements as different as dinosaur hunting, landclaims, inherited disease, and abuse of power, and link them with grace and necessity. Above all, this is a love story of the rarest kind: one with something new to say.” Fred Stenson, Giller-nominated, award-winning author of eight novels, including The Trade & The Great Karoo.
Playing with genre is a feature of Page’s writing. Of Alphabet, she said: “Most crime stories are full of suspense, and end with the criminal being caught and incarcerated. Alphabet is about what happens after the sentence – no crimes, no chases – and I wanted it to be just as gripping.” In The Find she has combined an adventure story with a novel of ideas, and created something new: “What is the ‘real’ story here?” she asks. “Some readers may prefer one or the other aspect of the book, or think they do – and then be drawn into unexpected territory. For me, it’s a story about discovery, and all that means.”
“The Find offers the best of all worlds: descriptions that draw you in without distracting from the story, realistic characters who face difficult choices, and a complex plot that keeps you turning the pages until the very end—with the added bonus that it’s published on one of the greenest types of text paper available…” Full review at:
“The clash of conflicting desires, subterfuge, uncomfortable triangling and a profound difference in values with regard to the past, all keep us turning the pages… And the abundance of information about pterosaurs, archeology, native political struggles, academic rivalry, alcoholism and Huntington’s disease is woven into the story seamlessly, only adding to the pleasure of its satisfying, un-clichéd conclusion.” The Globe & Mail review of The Find
It’s unsettling when life imitates art, and a story you have written starts to happen around you. For example, shortly after I finished the Story of My Face, I met the teenage version of my character, Natalie, in a motel swimming pool near Vancouver airport. She was called something else and she was in the wrong part of the world, but she was the right age looked exactly as I had imagined her: wild auburn hair, a milky, freckled complexion. It was baking hot afternoon. She was on her own in the pool, trying to learn to swim. She waded over and started asking the kind of questions Natalie would ask – about our family and what we were doing there, and what it was like where we came from. Her father was busy, she told us, waving at one of the poolside rooms, its door closed, its curtains closed against the sun… We went for dinner and came back, and Natalie was still there in the pool, in the dark, half an hour before it closed.
Planes roared through the indigo sky above our heads as my character’s doppelganger and I sank up to our necks in the water so to avoid the mosquitoes that had gathered above the pool. How old was my daughter? Natalie wanted to know. Where did she go to school? It was as if I’d stepped into my own book. Just as the other (I nearly typed real) Natalie does in The Story of My Face, the pool Natalie seemed to desperately want to become part of someone else’s family, and I felt terrible, leaving her.
Recently, I contacted a local palaeontologist in the hopes of borrowing a photograph for a presentation about The Find that I’m giving later this year. Did I realise, he asked, that here had been a recent discovery on Hornby Island, very like the one in the novel? I did not, so I looked it up. It was clear that although the news about the pterosaur discovered, Gwawinapterus beardi, had come out in January 2011, following the publication of the official description, the discovery itself had taken place back in 2004, while I was writing my book. Ironically, I was at the time trying very hard to avoid imitating life , and so not writing about the local discoveries, or the real palaeontologists, about which I knew. Despite these valiant efforts to keep fiction and fact apart, ‘my’ find had been taking place for real only two hours drive from where I sat, typing away, and just few miles from the novel’s (fictional) setting. Naturally enough, both discoveries were made in the same geological formation. As in The Find, the story of the real discovery involved a female palaeontologist and, I realised as I read further, there was controversy as to exactly who had found the specimen.
There (I hope) the similarities end, but even so, for an hour or two, the world about me felt subtly different, somehow less certain.
It’s probably as simple as this: life is so prolific, that anything you can invent will happen, somewhere and probably more than once. Another interpretation might be that all the stories ever written do exist, in a multitude of almost parallel but sometimes touching universes. In every story there are seams between it the real world. As I writer I work very hard on my seams, but somehow they are fraying, and coming undone…
The Story of My Face McArthur & Co are re-issuing The Story of My Face in April 2011
Thinking ahead to an illustrated talk I’ll give in March, I was leafing through a box of research materials for The Find, and came across this image, a detail From The Story of Life by Lorraine Malach. The post card was pinned to my office wall for at least two years while I wrote the book; the original work is an enormous relief that runs along the entrance wall in the Royal Tyrell Museum: ten adjacent clay panels, each one four feet wide by eight feet high. Using human-like figures as actors/storytellers, it tells the story of life from the Precambrian to the Cretaceous era.
I fell in love with The Story of Life at first sight. I was overwhelmed by sheer ambition of the idea, and the beauty of its execution: this is a sculpture that you walk alongside and take in slowly, as a sequence, then step back from and try to absorb as a whole. It’s impossible for an image of the entire work to do justice to its scale, to the tenderness of the details, or to the tactile qualities of the clay, but it can give you a sense of the flow from one panel to the next: Story-of-life_mural.jpg. You’ll see that it’s a pattern, but also a narrative. Certain shapes – arms, hands, heads – are repeated throughout, but in each panel they arrange themselves in different configurations and become – or are in the process of becoming – something else. In this way the various body parts/visual elements seems to be working just as genetic materials do, combining and recombining, repeating and varying. These panels ressemble fossils, and also something you might see under a microscope: cells growing and dividing, specialising, massing together. And at the same time, they look like a flattened-out cathedral, and they look like snapshots of a dance, like movement frozen in time. The Story of Life is modern and simple. The repeated figures are abstracted, but when you look closely, you see that they are also subtly individualized. A hand touches a face or a head, one face tilts towards another: they’re part of a long, very slow process, but they also have an existence in the moment. Something is writing itself through them, and it also connects them, each to the other. You can see a mother and child in the third panel from the left, and you can call it a Madonna and Child, if you so wish.
There’s little information readily available about the artist, who died shortly before the work was complete, but one thing that’s clear is that Lorraine Malach was a deeply spiritual woman. The Story of Life has a kinship with other great works of public art that are both secular and spiritual – Diego Riviera’s murals, some Hindu temple sculptures, some First Nations art.
When I saw Lorraine Malach’s mural for the first time, I was, to use that 70’s phrase, blown away. I stood there, my eyes moving from one part to another just as they do when I’m out on the beach or in the woods – noticing both similarities, and variation in the forms around me.I’d felt for years that art and science need to merge, rather than polarize, so it was thrilling to find a huge and brilliant work of art with spiritual undertones given pride of place in the entrance way of a scientific institution – and it was doubly thrilling because I knew already that one the main characters in my as- yet-untitled novel would be a palaeontologist, that her mother was an artist, and that the scientific discovery that began the story would soon broaden out into a far larger one… For years, this picture reminded me of something I was interested to explore in my writing. It kept me company, served as both inspiration and talisman.
Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books…
A great review that does not give the story away:
It was because of a woman I met while accompanying some guests on a sailboat tour that I became anxious about the local book club visit I’d agreed to. I started to think how the noun club has two meanings. A group, yes… but also a weapon.
I’ll call her Jen: fiftyish, fit, designer spectacles, retired. She was one of those people who had something (though nothing substantial) to say about everything, and she very much enjoyed doing so. Friendly, you might say. Or then again… Her husband was quiet, and only brightened up when the conversation turned to high-performance outdoor clothing. What did everyone do, Jen wanted to know, and then to comment and pronounce upon; my nephew, a statistician, stumped her somewhat. I considered pretending to be one, too, but knew he would give me away.
“A writer?” she said. “We had a local writer visit our book club last month. Her book was awful, and she did say to be honest, so we told her so. I thought it was – well, boring. And there were just far too many adjectives!” She paused for breath, beaming at the memory, and waiting, it seemed, for congratulation. “Well, “ she continued, “I guess she got a free meal out of it! “
“Did she cry?” I asked. If she did not, I thought, the nameless local author would have had to laugh hysterically, and thank them profusely for their hospitality. Whoever she was, and however many flabby adjectives she had used, I hated to think of her just sitting there, a fake smile pinned her face. Continue reading Book Club
I’m sitting in the shade of a Garry oak tree with a group of other parental units, as our children call us these days. Clare, the grandmother of one of my son’s friends, (one of those fresh-faced grandmothers who look five years younger than I do), looks up from her book and turns to me.
“I’ve been meaning to say how much I enjoyed The Find…” she says, “and actually, it’s because of your book that I’m going in for surgery next week.”
How come? In any case, no! I’m thinking. Surgery? Please, don’t… She must have seen my jaw drop.
“I don’t mean that, exactly,” she says, looping her hair behind her ears. “Well, I’ve had this thing going on with a man ten years younger than me. It’s lasted for years – hit and run, no demands. Though he’s a nice guy. Very nice: I’ve gained weight these last few years, and when it began, he said: “I don’t know how I’ll handle this, Clare. I’ve never been out with a fat girl before.” But after a while, he said, “It’s okay, I love you, you can be as fat as you want.” And from the start he’s always wanted it to progress into something more… but I always say no, it works this way… And then I read your book. And it happens I have this surgery needs that doing, and then I’ll need a few weeks recuperating, and I suddenly thought, Okay, Clare, this is it. So I asked him: May I come stay with you and you feed me soup while I convalesce? And he said, of course, I’d love that…. So that’s where I’ll be next week. It’s all your fault!” She breaks into a smile, manages, somehow, to look seventeen.
Readers often ask about imagery: is it consciously or unconsciously created – and the answer is both. For example, the idea of flight, of leaving the ground and swimming in the air is a recurring one in The Find, and in writing the novel I was aware of it, but I was certainly not aware of the extent of it.
Anna was, until her move to the museum, a specialist in flight, and the fossil she discovers at the beginning of the book is that of a huge, winged lizard. Other winged creatures – ravens, hummingbirds, insects, etc. populate the book, and mechanical flight features too – helicopters and float planes, airports… Here, Anna is flying back from the site in a float plane:
“The roar of the engine was both deafening and soothing and the vibration and noise together seemed to scour her mind clean. The ocean below looked more than anything like the skin of some enormous animal, though as they progressed its appearance became more complex. Huge quantities of deep green algae formed viridian clouds, shifting and billowing beneath the surface. A school of thirty or so porpoises, dwarfed by distance, leapt and sank back into the water in apparent unison, sewing their path through the sea. The plane passed over forested and rocky islands, harbours cluttered with yachts and docks, and then they were approaching the delta, the water suddenly smooth, shallow, and heavy with reddish sediments.
For a moment Anna let her eyes close, and allowed herself to imagine a huge winged creature, downy with brownish hair, its legs tucked up, its neck folded down, slowly beating its way through the air and tracked by its shadow on the water below. Its sight, far more acute than human vision, allowed it to see beneath the water — warmer back then and far more profuse with life, home to car-sized turtles, enormous squid. For a moment, she saw what it saw — and then the floatplane, rejoining the water with a bounce, jolted her back into the now…”
Even before he meets Anna, the other protagonist, Scott, has an emotional, rather than an intellectual interest in flight. He yearns to soar away from his life as it is. The base jumpers he thinks of on page 88 were inspired by this clip, sent to me by a student of mine.
I’ll admit there is something personal in all this. Flying – specifically, the human experience of it – has always fascinated me. I still recall the full page reproduction of Draper’s Lament for Icarus (the son of Daedelus, who flew too close to the sun and melted his man-made wings) in the twenty volume encyclopaedia kept in the study of my childhood home. I studied it many times and at length. I enjoyed the lushness of the picture, the vast feathery wings, the beautiful naked, sun-burned youth, the pale nymphs – but the myth was so tragic (think how Daedelus must have felt!) that it made me cry, and it seemed to be some kind of warning against trying to be more than you were… I still do not really like the story, even when it is told so that Icarus makes a choice, rather than a mistake. I like to think that not all flights will end this way, that it is possible to go almost as close to the sun as he did, survive, and bring back the story, too.
When you live in a vast country – and on a small island which you only leave once in a while – it is hard to tell whether or not your book has reached the bookstores. All I know is that The Find is in my nearest city, Victoria, turned outwards on the shelf, with ‘signed by author’ stickers top right. One friend emailed me to announce its arrival in Indigo, Montreal; another spotted it in Costco, Barrie, Ontario – several stacks, nicely placed, she said (but deeply discounted, too, I bet). You can’t miss it in the local bookstore… Actually, there are four independent bookstores here, as well as a gourmet coffee shop that is gradually turning into one. Each bookstore carries different stock, and they’re all good, but Salt Spring Books is, yet again, heading for the Kathy Page Bookseller of the Year Award.
Adina Hildebrandt, the co-owner, is also an actress, drama teacher, theatre director, and mother of two. She sat behind us in the theatre the other night, gasping at the sensual drama and emotional honesty of Wen Wei’s Cockpit. In just the same way, when Adina is reading, the expression on her face shifts from moment to moment as a scene unfolds: it’s just as if she’s listening to someone talk, intimately, about their life and what it all adds up to. What Adina wants from a book is emotional engagement, feeling – artful storytelling and intellectual pyrotechnics too, but above all, feeling: words that stir, disturb, excite, transport. When she has just read a book that touched her, she’s illuminated. Radiant. Every cell seems energized. Adina is not sleepwalking through life and she doesn’t read that way either. It matters. Or it doesn’t – in which case she bails out.
“I’ve just read the most amazing thing,” she’ll say, taking your arm, and lead you through the stacks to the book on the shelf. “A-mazing:” her eyes, always bright, widen as she says that word. “Here.” She puts it in your hand, tells you exactly what she thinks the writer has done, watching your face the whole time. It’s pretty much impossible to resist, because even if you don’t love that book as unconditionally as she does, there will be something there – a daring use of point of view, a character you can’t forget, an unexpected ending.
Another thing Adina at Salt Spring Books excels at is book launches with wonderful, impassioned author introductions, and I’d like to thank her here for mine (other people made the launch happen, too, but it’s Adina I’m talking of here). The room was full: a great, question-asking audience – willing, at the end, to buy books.
What many people may not realize is that these events are rarely cost effective for the bookseller. There’s the time – at least one person for the evening, often the proprietor – not actually paying herself for the hours spent lugging books to the venue, selling them and then lugging them back. There’s the advertising, the drinks and snacks and the serving thereof, the liquor licence if you can get one. Publishers may or may not chip in (thank you, McArthur & Co!). At about ten dollars profit on a hardback or trade (large format) paperback book, 20 copies sold is not going to cover it. Fifty is getting there. there are before and after sales, of course. I think we made it.
“There’s goodwill, of course. But I do it because I want to,” Adina says. “I want to celebrate the book and the writer, reading itself.”
Writing is solitary pursuit. The words murmur, sing or shout themselves in your head; sometimes you speak them to an empty room, test them. But when the book is complete, you get the chance to read them aloud to an audience, to feel and hear the reaction.
Thank you, Adina!
Choices, choices: the writer’s life is full of them. Current example: do I stick with the third person, limited omniscient point of view which should ideally offer me some flexibility in telling the story, or, since I don’t seem to be actually using that flexibility, rewrite the pages I have in the first person, from Anna’s point of view?
She is in an extraordinary situation, so it would open things up immeasurably if I could get right inside her… And why stop there with one first person? What about two ‘first people’? What about Scott? Could I filter one character’s take on things through the other’s first person point of view or – since they are sometimes not in the same place as each other – would it be better to separate them out? Probably. But how will I deal with that long gap when one of them is out of the story? And suppose I find, later on, when the different strands of the story come together and everyone including all the extras are on set, that I want to use the view points of yet further characters in the same way?
Anything is possible, of course. To pick just a couple of examples: Matthew Kneale in English Passengers makes use of a huge succession of ‘first people’ to tell the story, each picking the baton up from the last; Andrea Levy in Small Island works fluidly with a smaller cast of first person narrators… But the question is, what do I need to do in this novel?
The only way to discover whether a first person narrator(s) will actually work, is to try it out – and that of course, does not mean simply substituting ‘I’ for ‘she’ in 120 pages of text. It means re-imagining the story as told by my character(s) and discovering her/their relationship(s) to it, which inevitably will affect the story itself and even its final outcome. It means an entirely different novel….
As genetic tests are developed, more and more of us are being offered knowledge about our medical futures.
In The Find, Anna Silowski, an intense, ambitious paleontologist at the peak of her career struggles with that choice, and in the process finds herself inextricably involved in an ‘impossible’ relationship with school-drop out Scott MacLeod – a relationship which, against all odds, transforms both their lives.
Would you chose to know your medical future, the possibly devastating information coded in your genes?
Many of us assume that if we were at risk we would like to know the facts. Yet most people in this situation still chose not to test. Since there is no cure – and very little treatment – knowledge, here, is of dubious value, and that value depends on both circumstances and personality. Here, Charlotte Raven writes with great clarity about her own experience of testing for Huntingdon’s Disease.
Here is another account:
About one in 10,000 people in the US, Canada and UK have HD, a disease which affects not only the sufferer, but also his or her entire family. HD research is ongoing, and at a crucial stage. For further information, and if you wish to donate, here are links the HD Societies in Canada, the UK and the US
Huntington’s is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder. The child of a person with Huntington’s has a fifty percent chance of inheriting the disease.
The gene for Huntington disease is found on the fourth chromosome. A chromosome is composed of genes, and each gene is composed of a string of molecules called nucleotides. The nucleotides are adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). The gene is made up of a series of three nucleotides which form the structure of DNA in the gene. Each gene has its own unique sequence of base pairs. In Huntington disease, the DNA sequence, CAG (cytosine-adenine-guanine), is part of this sequence. This sequence (called a “trinucleotide repeat”) may be duplicated up to 26 times in the general population. People with Huntington’s Disease may have from 40 to over 100 repeated CAG segments.
The increase in the size of the CAG segment leads to the production of an abnormally long version of the huntingtin protein. The elongated protein is cut into smaller, toxic fragments that bind together and accumulate in neurons, disrupting the normal functions of these cells. The dysfunction and eventual death of neurons in certain areas of the brain underlie the signs and symptoms of Huntington disease.
We do not know exactly how the repeated sequence causes Huntington disease, but research to develop therapies to treat Huntington disease is ongoing.
Research for my novel The Find included visits to clinics, hospitals, museums, and paleontological sites. I love research, but sometimes I hate it too. Here’s an extract from a notebook I kept during one of my trips to the Royal Tyrell Museum.
Suspended forty thousand feet above the Rockies I absolutely knew that I would die. Probably not soon, not this trip, but some time. It was not anxiety, not terror that the plane would crash, nothing panic-stricken or urgent like that. I simply sat there in the sky and thought: the fact is, I can’t avoid this thing.
It will happen – and very likely before I’m ready for it, since I can’t see myself ever not wanting to know and see what’s happening with the children and their lives and to be there to help as required… They will grow up and away and there will be so much of interest – no doubt problems too sometimes – but whatever happens it will be utterly compelling – and so, of course, I continued, beginning to feel now as well as think, how hard it will be to go when the time comes, how sad it will be to have to let go of them, not to see all of it, for ever…
I sat there in the sky and remembered how tears came to my mother in law’s eyes as she passed. I wished my husband and I had met and had children earlier, so that then I would (with luck, though you never know) have been with them longer. I sipped my iceless tomato juice and hated being away from my family and wondered why on earth I have involved myself to be drawn into this strange profession that takes me on bizarre trips like this one…. Research, for Heaven’s sake! Hopefully, I thought, when you get closer still to death, philosophy does eventually console, but hell, I really don’t want to go there. I wondered: Does everyone think this when they get middle-aged, or is it just morbid old me? I didn’t feel I could ask the very large, short-of-breath man sitting next to me, so there was nothing for it to distract myself with a book.
An hour later, I was sitting in a hire car trying to work out what all the dials and buttons could achieve. It seemed more like a space ship than a car. I could heat the seats but there was no obvious way to turn on the inside lights. I spent another half hour circling the tangle of highways that surrounds the airport before I found the road I wanted and soon enough, left the outskirts of the city behind. So now, I’m on the road and should reach Drumheller in a couple of hours.
Last time I was here I found this landscape dull and ugly, but under a bright, pale blue sky it is transformed. The sun is low behind me. To the left the huge shorn fields, bordered here and there by the suggestion of a hedge, are all of different textures and shades of straw and yellow, some almost buff, some greyish, some buttery with hints of marigold. The land undulates more than I remembered – or perhaps, simplified like this, it just seems to do so. Here and there are the patchy remnants of the some snowfall, a scraping or a dusting of white, a half frozen creek. Towards the horizon, the land grows paler and is tinged with lilac and mauve. The ghost of a three–quarter moon hangs in the sky directly ahead of me and to my right is a ditch and then a bank where the snow is a little thicker; it is in shadow, and glows with an almost ultraviolet tinge.
A few cattle stand in these fields, or the occasional horse. The road vanishes suddenly at the top of a small rise, or disappears into an equally minor dip and it too is less absolutely straight than I remember it. The feeling in the plane is fading, changing. It is becoming a memory, something to tell people about. I’m on my way to the Badlands, almost there. And yet part of me just wants to turn around and go straight home…