Get to Know Them First: Pedal and Chelsea Rooney

October 17, 2014

We're cycling to feature the next book in our  Get to Know Them First series,  Pedal, by Chelsea Rooney. Quill & Quire's Steven Beattie calls Pedal "simultaneously lacerating and deeply empathetic. It confronts difficult material in a frank and unflinching manner, yet remains grounded in an abiding authorial intelligence. Pedal marks the debut of a hugely promising writer."

Read more about this dark, introspective novel, and Chelsea Rooney, the author behind it.

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We're cycling to feature the next book in our Get to Know Them First series,  Pedal, by Chelsea Rooney. Quill & Quire's Steven Beattie calls Pedal "simultaneously lacerating and deeply empathetic. It confronts difficult material in a frank and unflinching manner, yet remains grounded in an abiding authorial intelligence. Pedal marks the debut of a hugely promising writer."

Read more about this dark, introspective novel, and Chelsea Rooney, the author behind it.

The Book


"Julia, the protagonist of this intense first novel, is a psychology grad student who risks everything to pursue scientific research in truly forbidden territory: sexual attraction between adults and children. She persists in her quest in spite of skeptical friends, fragile relatives, a squeamish thesis advisor, an enigmatic bike-tour companion, severe social taboos, and her own painful memories of a birth father she calls Dirtbag – not to prove any point but to find out what lies beyond the conventional wisdom. This is an unsettling novel – smart, fierce, confident, funny, and full of surprises – with an unforgettable young woman at the heart of the storm."

–Mary Schendlinger, Senior Editor, Geist

Julia Hoop, a twenty-five-year-old counselling psych student, is working on her thesis, exploring an idea which makes her graduate supervisor squirm. She is conducting interview after interview with a group of women she affectionately calls the Molestas—women whose experience of childhood sexual abuse did not cause physical trauma. Julia is the expert, she claims, because she has the experience; her own father, Dirtbag, disappeared when she was eight leaving behind nothing but a legacy of addiction and violence.

When both her boyfriend and her graduate advisor break up with her on the same day, Julia leaves her city of Vancouver on a bicycle for a cross-Canada trip in search of her father, or so she tells people. Her unexpected travel partner is Smirks, a handsome athlete who also has a complicated history. Their travel days are marked by peaks of ecstatic physical exertion, and their nights by frustrated drinking and drugs. After an unsettling incident in rural Saskatchewan involving a trio of aggressive children, Julie wakes up in the morning to discover Smirks has disappeared. Everything, once again, falls apart.

Sometimes shocking in its candour, yet charmed with enigmatic characters, Pedal explores how we are shaped by accidents of timing—trauma and sex, brain chemistry and the landscape of our country—and challenges beliefs we hold dear about the nature of pedophilia, the essence of innocence and the idea that the past is something one runs from.

The Author

Chelsea Rooney is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s MFA program in creative writing. She is a host of The Storytelling Show on Vancouver Co-op Radio, and has been a regular contributor to Project Space’s artist-publishing web series ( since spring 2013. Her work has been published and performed across Canada.

Tell us about the first time you realized you wanted to be a writer.

I’m 14-years-old, wearing a dry bathing suit, at a pool party that I’m supposed to be hosting. I read the last page of I Know this Much is True by Wally Lamb, and then I flip the book over and start it again. My friend splashes me, cajoling me to jump in. But I can’t put down the book. I have to figure out how Lamb did it. How did he bring me somewhere I’d never been, and make me feel grief for people who weren’t real? The splintery porch wood under my legs. Smell of chlorine. Overcast sky. I remember thinking: I want to create worlds with words!

Tell us a little bit about the experience of writing your first book. 

It’s a blur. The first draft of Pedal poured out of me in six months, after a three-year dry spell that had me terrified and close to dropping out of my MFA program. I’d been doing personal research on the western history of childhood sexual abuse, possessed by a need to understand how we’ve arrived at the current victim/survivor/trauma theories that prevail throughout abuse discourse. And then, bam! The shape of Pedal came to me. A woman on a bicycle looks for her father who’d molested her when she was young. I started writing five hours a day. I got stuck for a few days in the middle when I started to feel like a puppet master. My thesis advisor, Keith Maillard, told me to close my eyes and mediate on my characters until the next step revealed itself to me. It worked.

What was your first job? Was it anything close to writing?

At sixteen I worked as a cashier at the drugstore in my hometown. I grew up in a rural, agricultural community of 2,000 people where everyone literally knows everyone else. I rang through condoms for my teachers, hemorrhoid cream for my friend’s parents, and cigarettes for my underage friends. The job wasn’t close to writing, but it certainly taught me a lot about intrigue, shame and risk, which are crucial elements of any worthy novel. 

Was there something from the first draft of your book that got left out of the final book?

Over one hundred pages of nonfiction research! Difficult, but necessary, to part with. A mentor and non-fiction professor Deborah Campbell once told me that the tip of the iceberg is the final piece, and the research that went into it is the massive body invisible beneath the water. You can’t write the piece without the research. Though the reader doesn’t see it, they still get it, through story.

What was your first pet?

My first pets were a cat named Taffy and a dog named Tug. I was five years old. We’d wanted to name the dog Yabba Dabba Doo, but my father said there was no way in hell he’d yell “Yabba dabba doo!” to fetch the dog in the middle of the night. Fair enough. One day, both Tug and Taffy were gone. Mom told us they’d run away together. I found out years later that Tug had actually eaten Taffy. So Mom had him put down.

(Guess he had a sweet tooth.)

When was the first time you were on an airplane? Where were you going?

I was nine-years-old, flying from Nova Scotia to Vancouver to visit my aunt, the sister to my MIA father. I was terrified because Mom had told me that the only time she’d flown (at eighteen years old) her ears had popped so painfully that she’d thought her brain was bleeding. She gave me a pack of peach gum and told me to never stop chewing. The plane took off, and the pain never came. It’s my first memory of a relief so intense it felt physical.

The Publisher

Why do you feel it’s important to publish works by new authors?

It's vital to publish new authors because they are the next generation. As it turns out, we will be reading a new Margaret Atwood novel in one hundred years, but for the most part, writers are mortal and so we must nurture the next generation. Going through the process of publishing also helps develop a writer – getting that level editorial attention, receiving critical feedback from reviews and other responses – writers learn and grow from this experience.

Tell/show us the first cover concept for the book and how it differs from the final look.

Initially, we had a very simple cover: a dark blue background with a chalk outline of a bicycle. But there was something flat about this image that didn't match Pedal, which is such a provocative and thoughtful story. We decided this cover needed the talents of Sheryl McDougald who painted this arresting image. 

When did you first know you were going to publish this book?

Pedal was brought to us by an agent about a year and half ago. It was apparent on the first reading that Chelsea was an incredible talent and that this was an exceptional. The manuscript explored a challenging subject to say the least, so it required some thoughtful deliberation. But boundary-pushing fiction is what we like to publish. Chelsea has been fantastic to work with and we are so excited to get this book to her new readers.


See still more debut writers to watch with the rest of our Get to Know Them First series.


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