Fans of Katherine Govier will easily tell you she is a sensitive storyteller. Her novels tell stories where the history books stop and imagination begins. Her latest novel –The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel – has been eagerly anticipated by those fans for years as Govier crafted out that tale set in the Rockies. Now, just before the release of the book (March 1, 2016), Govier answered a few questions for me here.
First off, could you give a bit of an outline of The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel.
The novel tells of 100 years in the life of the family of a packhorse outfitter in the Rocky Mountains. In 1911 Herbie Wishart guides a fossil-hunting expedition to a remote, mountain-side quarry, leaving the scientists and their party alone at their request. The expedition never returns. Herbie searches, nearly loses his livelihood, and then recovers to run the hotel of the title. But he and his “stubbornly female”- as the cover copy goes- descendants are drawn into this tragedy and its repercussions. The national park, meanwhile, grows and changes — the wild animals are diminished, and what are we to make of this idealized and sectioned off area of the landscape, where the creatures were meant to be free, and the people to be healed by nature?
Where did the inspiration come from for “The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel?” Did you do much research for the novel?
For years I’ve been fascinated by the characters who came to the Rockies in the early twentieth century—runaway aristocrats, hunters from Europe, miners, cowboys, Quakers, artists, guides – and the society they created. I heard about these people growing up–some of them were still walking the streets of Banff, where I spent time as a child. They never made it into the history books.
Yes, I did research. I spent time in the fabulous Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. I interviewed local people. I did the hikes, and went out in the storms. I visited the prison camp, and looked at all the national park documents.
In a Q&A you did for me a couple of years ago, you stated that:
It’s set in the Rocky Mountains, over about the past century. It has been fun to write- what a change from writing about Japan! I actually can read the language. The mountain parks in this country are a kind of black hole of human history. There is just wonderful material there and it’s very close to home for me.
Many writers complain about the editing and re-writing process being dull and tedious. Did you find that with this book or did the thrill continue with the final process?
I wouldn’t say it was thrilling all the time! I had to fit all the pieces together. At one point I went to an art store in Banff and bought great big pieces of poster paper a meter long and 2 feet across, the kind you can erase, and scribbled all over them, with arrows moving things back and forward. It was just too hard to visualize on a computer. Then I did it again and again, to get the order right. I hope in the end it feels inevitable.
In that same Q&A, I asked you if your writing had changed since your first novel. Your response was:
It has changed in that I have become more ambitious and at the same time, probably less intense and intimate.
Do you still think that is true with this novel and why or why not?
Yes I think it is true. It is a big sweeping novel. There are moments of intimacy, yes. And it’s more fun. The people have influenced me: it’s full of bravado and tall tales. But strangely, I have not regained a place in my life where I can be as candid as I was in my early stories. There has been so much to protect. But this is more personal than the last few, however. Something to look forward to as I grow older as a writer is that fearlessness you hear the old talk about.
You have started posting dates where you are going to be doing readings of The Three Sisters Bar & Hotel. Do you have an extensive tour planned for this book? If yes, where do you have planned to speak?
I am traveling quite a bit in the next few months. I’m at the Ottawa Writers Festival, the Kingston Writers Festival and the Grimsby writers’ festival. I am doing three events in Alberta in March and then going to Vancouver and Victoria and going back to Calgary in May.
One of the most talked-about questions I always ask on my blog is asking about somebody’s views on social media. You seem to be quite active on Facebook and Twitter. How do you feel about using those platforms in relation to your writing?
I’ve been on Facebook and twitter for years – I’m less active than I was once. I use twitter as a kind of index- finding and following links to news, reviews and blogs. I also like finding and meeting the younger generations of writers- there’s more than one now. Both really connect you to a community, if that’s what you want. And I keep in touch with people from Japan and India, and England- that part is great. I get very annoyed at Facebook for the usual reasons- pictures of pets and wedding anniversaries. But some people are great at it- Susan Musgrave is one I think of. She is always writing something outrageous or getting outraged herself. For the writer hanging around in front of this screen all the time it creates a break. But it is a test of your discipline, for sure.
Are you working on any new writing right now or are you taking a break from writing? (And if you are working on anything new, are there details you care to share?)
I’m not actually. I have just started to read many years of diaries into a digital transcription program so I can have a look and see what I was up to. I’m in 1972. So far, bad poetry.