Author Eleanor Albanese takes us under the cover of her debut novel
If Tenderness Be Gold (Latitude 46), describing the deep importance of oral history in passing down her family stories. Through these memories, the novel's characters and its main setting—a tiny Hamlet called Hurkett where her mother grew up—come alive.
If Tenderness Be Gold, is fashioned from the ancestral lineage on my maternal side. For years, I collected the morning dew of oral history, hoping it would result in the alchemically produced flavours of the tiny hamlet of Hurkett where my mother grew up, and where much of the novel is set. As well as the many occasions I meandered along the roads and shoreline of this hidden place, I would not have understood the richness of Hurkett had I not also absorbed the family stories.
To my delight, a cassette recording from the 1980s emerges with recordings of my mother, my aunts and uncles sitting around the table, reminiscing on Hurkett. As I listen repeatedly to each of the siblings taking turns, I notice how each one describes a different reality. For my uncles, Hurkett revolves around Black Bay and the bush camps—stories of frostbite and the pickerel run and miles of cords of pulpwood. My mother’s patchwork memories of childhood, on the other hand, are painted with the hues of community and the magical elements of the outdoors. I learn how she and her sister visited a woman in a “humble home” who kept a wild owl as a pet. In her wispy voice, my mother describes setting out to buy milk from a farmer a mile or two away. She and her sister watch as the farmer, with his “dependable” hands, milks the cow by lantern light. Many of her memories revolve around dusk and the night sky. “To me, the creek looked like a mirror, as it reflected the moonlight.”
Though memories are rarely shaped into perfectly formed nuggets of history, listening to the family lore leaves me to wonder, “How did living on the north shore of Lake Superior in a small community with no road access, mold and shape my characters, both in reality and in the fictional world of my novel?” The answer is, of course, it varies. Some are deeply affected by their environment, while others see it as a place of sustenance and survival. In my novel, the character, Primrose, finds comfort not in people, but in the natural world. “As we wandered, we stopped to look at this and that―fiddlehead ferns, which Coreen said looked like little dragons, and Wood Nymph wildflowers with their wispy petals. Everything I saw brought him back to me.” Primrose’s husband, Faolan, feels warned by the Lake itself when he sets out with his dog team to cross Black Bay. “We'd had a wet snowfall the night before, and when I got to the bay, the tree limbs were heavily coated with ice. A breeze knocked the icy branches into each other setting off an eerie tinkling sound, like fine china cups in a haunted house.”
Though my novel is now published by Latitude 46 Publishing, I continue to visit Hurkett often, looking through the mists of time to see what else might emerge. Because, as a writer, I know that the story never ends.
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Award winning artist Eleanor Albanese has spent her life immersed in literary arts through playwriting, screenwriting, creative non-fiction, and short stories. Her numerous plays for young audiences have toured nationally from coast to coast. She the 2014 recipient of the Sybil Cooke Award for her play Night Wings, the inaugural production for Superior Theatre Festival. Her play The Novena Sisters aired nationally on CBC radio's Sunday Showcase Series and her film, Under the Pearl Moon, won the 2014 People’s Choice award at the Bay Street Film Festival. She lives in Thunder Bay.
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