Home Creative writing The first novel by a local author in the running for 2 prizes

The first novel by a local author in the running for 2 prizes

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AM Mawhiney must have found something that wasn’t the global pandemic.

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In the hazy early months of 2020, the retired college professor was consuming the ongoing newsfeed of the coronavirus pandemic. Then there was the murder of George Floyd. Then there was the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

She also had a hunch that the pandemic wasn’t going to end any time soon.

Opening her laptop for the first time in two years since retiring from teaching social work, Mawhiney thought she would keep a journal to keep the outside world at bay.

Then she wrote: “’When she awoke that morning, it was with such joy in her heart.’

That opening line became Spindrifts, the debut novel by retired Laurentian University professor Mawhiney. The novel was published at the end of 2021.

This spring, Spindrifts was shortlisted for the Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writers Prize in Literary Fiction and the Whistler Independent Book Award in Fiction. The Whistler Prize will be announced on July 15.

Spindrifts takes the reader to a future, yet familiar, world some 50-60 years old. Fania, the protagonist, struggles to find her place in the Earth Project after decades of global rehabilitation efforts led by her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents. Their stories are traced in conversations with Fania. The construction of the world creates hope but the outcome is not yet certain.

From this first line, the story took over.

Mawhiney decided to follow the flow and see where the next sentence would take her. “Then it became almost an emotional thing that I had to do. I became so focused on it and lived and breathed that story.

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She and her partner Dave McGill were having dinner, and she fell silent, her mind returning to her story. McGill would start clearing the table and say, “Are you writing?”

She wrote more than 10 hours a day. She wrote in their friends’ dormitory on Panache Lake. When she walked the dog, scenes appeared. “It was not planned at all. I was flying by the seat of my pants.

At the start of the pandemic, people were writing to decipher the pandemic. But Mawhiney felt that this hopeful first sentence was unlike a diary.

“That first chapter has obviously been tweaked, but it hasn’t changed much,” she said. “Things just started slipping out of my fingers. Sometimes I imagined a scene, but when I started writing it, the characters would veto it and take me in a different direction. It was kind of a surreal experience, but it was captivating and I had no choice.

She completed her first draft this summer. She took a summer course at the Humber School for Writers. Colleagues, family and friends provided critical, honest and encouraging feedback.

It was, however, disheartening to learn that it could take five to ten years for her novel to be published by a traditional publishing house. She turned to Friesen Press, the Canadian company that guides authors in self-publishing, and signed the contract in February 2021.

“I can’t explain what happened,” she said. “I had this story inside and I had to tell it.”

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Sometimes she struggled with some of the themes. She decided she would write the story anyway and if she didn’t want to publish, she wouldn’t.

“But I wanted to tell the story the way I thought it should be (told).”

She doesn’t think she could have written her first book if the pandemic hadn’t happened.

In 2018, she was looking forward to retirement. She didn’t want her days to be scheduled and, although she loved teaching, she didn’t want to go back to teaching on occasion. She was up for other things, but creative writing wasn’t on her radar.

Part of their retirement included basketball. She and McGill are big fans of college basketball — they met at a Laurentian Voyageurs game. They had traveled to attend the 2019-20 USport National Championships, just before the pandemic. As they sat in the stands, she wondered if they should even be at the tournament.

Then the pandemic hit.

As Mawhiney works on the sequel to Spindrifts and ponders the third book in a possible series, she feels a sense of accomplishment.

“Some people think that books published by independents are like the old vanity books,” she said. “But the fact that one of the shortlists was for traditional (editing) made me feel like it was an affirmation that I’ve accomplished something that some people love.”

Visit bit.ly/3bIXzQN for a trailer for the book. You can also check Mawhiney’s website at ammawhiney.caor follow her via Twitter or Instagram at @ammawhiney.

Pick up a copy by visiting bit.ly/3R5iUniI.

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