Author FAQs

 I’d like to share some of the interesting questions that book bloggers and reviewers have posed about Perdita….

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1. How did you come to write “Perdita”? 

Hilary: OVER TEN YEARS AGO I found myself at a lighthouse on Georgian Bay (near Lake Huron.) My husband, Stephen, had arranged it for our summer vacation. I was so fascinated by the lighthouse that I began to do some research and found some old photographs.

One photograph from 1900, in particular, caught my attention.

history_cabot_head_light_11_20110727_1966984813 In it a young woman is standing in the doorway of the lighthouse, looking out into a wild and windy landscape. Somehow she reminded me of myself. There I was—over 100 years later—also at the same lighthouse. Although I was there for a summer vacation, like her I was also looking out at a windy landscape. Unknown to each other, separated by over a century, both of us were in a similar situation. No doubt the woman in the photograph had tons of work to do: cooking, laundry, cleaning the (light)house, tending children. So did I. Work for my job plus all those domestic chores. Over 100 years later, I was in the same “boat”—or should I say lighthouse? (!)

Yet the wind had not abandoned either of us—even as we stood in our doorways looking out—it still invited us to step out into the “wild.”

I have often wondered what the woman in the photograph did. In deciding to write a novel, I made my choice and stepped out into the “wild”….

 2. For this novel, did you do any research into the interesting history of those who have lived a long time? What is it about longevity, long life, that makes them such a recurrent theme in our legends, myths, tall tales? 

Hilary: I DID QUITE A BIT OF RESEARCH on “longevity” and became fascinated by our own cultural obession with it. Longevity and mortality are closely related, and this might partially explain why it draws so much attention. I also became intrigued by the whole “dating game” that goes on in longevity research: that is, how can age be proven? Age-related documentation (birth certificates, census data, etc.) is of fairly recent vintage and covers most of us, but there are still people around who cannot establish their age beyond a shadow of a doubt.

In January 2015, USA Today posted a wonderful story about several “still-living” persons who were born in the 1800s (read it here). All five are women and the eldest (127 years old) cannot “prove” her age. But why should she have to? She knows how old she is!

I laughed when I read it, because this is exactly the dynamic that the 134-year-old Marged Brice faces in my novel….

3. What inspired the idea for this story? 

Hilary: THERE WERE SEVERAL SOURCES of literary inspiration for the novel. One was certainly Greek mythology. (I’ve always been fascinated by it.) I’m also very partial to Shakespeare and take great delight in how he incorporated mythological characters and meanings into his plays. I was particularly intrigued by the character of “Perdita” in his The Winter’s Tale.

Perdita means “the lost one” and, in my novel, she also represents the possibility of “being found” (and thus of “being reconciled.”) In Shakespeare’s play, Perdita is a child who is “lost” owing to the blind and cruel jealousy of her father. Yet she is also “found” through loving acts of rescue, forgiveness and ultimately self-realization. In order to lose and find “a Perdita,” then, one must first become aware of who or what is lost (including the possibility of being lost yourself).

Ultimately this is the problem for my character, Garth Hellyer.He is a jaded professor and a longevity researcher who thinks that it is the 134-year-old and abandoned Marged Brice who is the “lost one.” Marged, however, is wisely aware that Garth is also a “lost one”—and therefore also “a Perdita” (although he doesn’t recognize this at first.) This is why Marged insists that Garth stick with the question he asks her at their first meeting: who is Perdita?

So the novel is inspired by a figure from both Greek mythology and a Shakepearean play. Perdita is a mythological character, but she is also a symbolic category inviting us to explore what is “lost”and potentially “to-be-found” in our own lives.

4. There are parts of Perdita that reminded me of L.L. Mongomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Avonlea. Was this intentional on your part?  

Hilary: A NUMBER OF PERDITA READERS have made reference to the beautiful prose and evocative style of Anne of Green Gables. (In fact, one fan referred to the novel as the “love-child” of Charles Dickens and L. M. Montgomery—much to my delight!) Although Montgomery was not explicitly in my mind as I wrote the novel, I think there are certainly some parallels: for example, the characters of Anne and Marged certainly share a deep and unusual love for trees!

Needless to say, I am very pleased and humbly honored to have my work connected to Avonlea. Interestingly, both the setting for Perdita and Avonlea is a world defined by a large body of beautiful, wild and unpredictable water….

5. As a writer, how do you straddle the line between historical fact and creating fictional elements that will enliven  a story?

Hilary: THE WORD “STRADDLE” is exactly right. In “Perdita” I aspire to create a convincing and well-reseached voice from “the past,” but I also want to include a compelling supernatural or paranormal element.

There’s one literary genre that unabashedly celebrates a skilfull “tumbling” of writing genres: it’s the “gothic.” (For me, it’s especially late 19th-century gothic.) Given that Nature plays such a central role in my novel (in both historical and supernatural ways), I decided to coin a new literary genre: the Eco-Gothic. It is meant to reflect the “straddle” you describe above. “Perdita” is certainly historical, but it is “enlivened” by the paranormal and reflects the gothic aesthetic of “mixing” genres. As a result—apologies in advance for a bad pun!—the results are literarily (not literally) mixed.

…more to come….

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