In October, Newfoundland author Linda Abbott released her sophomore effort, The Hull Home Fire (Flanker Press), the gripping account of the deadly 1948 inferno at a private hospital for the aged and infirm in her hometown of St. John’s. Recently AE spoke with her about the book and all things literary.
What motivated and/or inspired you to write this book?
LA: Newfoundland's history has always fascinated me as it is filled with tragic events that shaped the people. My mother witnessed the fire in 1948 and mentioned it to me. I had never heard of it and neither had anyone else I spoke to. I was quite shocked by this as thirty-four people died in the fire which took place in St. John's where I was born and raised. I felt writing a fictional story around the actual fire would bring to light one of the most devastating fires in the history of the island.
Did the work come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?
LA: Once I had researched all the facts the story fell into place very easily. My mother was a great reference for the time period which took place mere months before we joined Confederation. The characters in the novel popped into head almost as if they'd been waiting for me to do this book.
What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
LA: As the story took place before I was born, getting the way of life and conditions for the time period accurate was challenging to a degree. My mother and aunt were teenagers in 1948 and supplied much of the information. It was amazing to see their reaction as they spoke about those days with fond memories.
“The characters in the novel popped into head almost as if they'd been waiting for me to do this book.”
What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
LA: During my research I thought about the extent to which many Newfoundlanders must have been proud to be a separate country, to be a Newfoundlander. It must have been difficult to have a country you loved assimilated into another country. Born after Confederation I've always been a proud Canadian, but now understand the fear and uncertainty felt at the time.
What did you learn during the process?
LA: Writing this book gave me a clearer understanding of ordinary people and their struggle to survive in times of hardship and change. Changes occur which we may or may not agree with. We either have to accept them and move on or become lost in the past.
What has the response to the work been like so far?
What has the response to the work been like so far?
LA: Everyone is surprised and even shocked; they've never heard of the fire as it is considered one of the worst in the history of St. John's. Many are stunned, appalled, by the unsafe conditions at the home which were known by the 'People in Power' who basically did very little to remedy the situation.
“Everyone is surprised and even shocked; they've never heard of the fire as it is considered one of the worst in the history of St. John's.”
What made you want to be a writer?
LA: For as long as I can remember I've loved to read and write. In school, writing stories was the favourite part of the day for me. Writing brings me into another world where anything and everything is possible. It's a great feeling when others enjoy and get lost in a work you've created. My sister once told me after a few hours of writing to stop and relax for awhile. Picking up a pencil (I write by hand first) and filling a page with my imagination is relaxing.
LA: My reasons for writing haven't changed. Although as an adult, the challenge to produce good quality work is a more conscious effort.
Is your creative process more one of inspiration or perspiration?
LA: Definitely inspiration…An idea pops into my head and I begin to write. Of course there are times when you're not sure where to go next or there's a problem you're not sure how to solve. I've often gone to bed and woken up with the answer. It's a challenge but one that I thrive on. I have tried to outline a full story or plot and have come to realize that doesn't work for me. The ideas seem to flood in while I'm writing.
In your estimation what makes a good book?
LA: In my opinion a good book has to catch your attention and make you want to keep reading, not only for the story but for the quality of the writing itself.
“It was once stated to me that someone in British Columbia probably wouldn't want to read about an event which happened in a small town in a province on the other side of the country. I disagree.”
What are your thoughts on the current state of literature in Atlantic Canada?
LA: As a writer I'm aware there are talented writers in Atlantic Canada producing excellent work which could rival any established writer anywhere in the world. The different writing contests encourage and promote quality writing in young and older people alike, whether it be poetry, visual arts, fiction, non-fiction. It was once stated to me that someone in British Columbia probably wouldn't want to read about an event which happened in a small town in a province on the other side of the country. I disagree. People who are avid readers will enjoy a good, well written story no matter where it comes from.
What can we do better?
LA: I feel work published in Atlantic Canada should be promoted across the country, not just in the regional area. This wider spectrum will introduce the rest of the country to the talent and skills abounding in Atlantic Canada.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
LA: Keep reading and writing. Don't let anyone discourage you. If you get rejected by a publisher there is another one who will acknowledge your effort and work. I can't say it enough. Keep writing.
What's next on your creative agenda?
LA: I like to be versatile. I've just finished a fantasy novel and have begun a murder mystery. Variety is certainly the spice of life.