Rachael Preston has written several detailed and wonderful novels, including The Fishers of Paradise. Now released under Wolsak and Wynn’s new imprint – James Street North Books – the book highlights life in on the marshy edges of the city of Hamilton, Ontario in the 1930s. Preston was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
1) First off, could you give an outline of The Fishers of Paradise?
It’s the story of Egypt Fisher and her family, who live in the boathouse community, a
collection of squatters’ shacks that line the shores of Cootes Paradise, a marshy
wetland at the head of Lake Ontario and the city limits of Hamilton, and what happens
when politicians try to drive them out to make way for a new bridge. And then a
handsome drifter settles in the community, as handsome drifters do, and Egypt and her
mother both fall under his spell. As if this wasn’t trouble enough, Egypt’s gambling con-
man father, Ray, suddenly returns after a mysterious six-year absence. Ray sorts by
self, the kind of man whom trouble follows. Unhinged by jealousy and a harrowing brush
with the local mafia at a cockfight, he reveals a family secret that sets Egypt’s world off-
kilter and poisons her relationship with her mother. When Egypt tries to turn the
situation to her own advantage, her lies set in motion a series of events with devastating
2) How long did it take you to write The Fishers of Paradise? Is it a work of pure imagination for you or did you include any real-life events into the story?
A long time. Eight years from start to finish. Not that I was writing every day during this
time. Far from it. Several times months would go by when I felt unable to move forward.
Partly because I felt hamstrung by real-life events. With the exception of politician
Thomas McQuesten and his family, all the characters are fictional. But the boathouse
community did exist and the city did eventually drive them out. Without giving anything
away, one of the big turning points in the plot is based on a real event. But I struggled
with deciding who in my story was ultimately responsible. I used a lot of real settings—
industries, stores and cafes that existed at the time my novel is set—1930-1. Laura
works at Hand & Company Fireworks, another character at Greening Wire. The normal
and model schools feature prominently.
3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
My favourite writers change all the time. A novel I read in the last year or so that is still
with me is Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager. I read a lot of Canadian authors,
and I love big sweeping historical novels: Three Day Road, The Last Crossing, What the
Body Remembers. And novels about relationships: Bitter Lake, All Times Have Been
Modern, Annabelle, The Girls. I’m currently reading Helen Humphreys. I love her work.
Such powerful books.
4) Your biography has this book listed as your third novel. Has your writing changed since you started publishing? If yes, how so?
My writing process has certainly changed. I trust story more, trust the process. And I
can juggle more storylines now. Writing when you haven’t been published is very
different to writing once you have. I think every writer experiences this—the
expectations are different. What you expect from yourself and what others expect—or
what you believe they expect from you. That can mess with your head. My head,
5) Are there any plans for a book tour for The Fishers of Paradise? If yes, are there any events you are excited to partake in? Are public readings/discussions of your books something you enjoy?
I just returned from Hamilton where I took part in gritLIT, Hamilton Writers Festival, a
festival I actually chaired for two years, many moons ago. I also had a library event in
Burlington. I love reading from and discussing my books. I tend to freeze in front of the
camera, but I spent over twenty years teaching, so once my hands stop shaking, I warm
to the audience and take my cues from the energy they bring. gritLIT was exciting too,
because I haven’t read at any public events in ten years—if you don’t count Talent
Nights and Choir Concerts (on Saturna Island where I took the opportunity to read from
I’m scheduled to return to Hamilton in June for what is the biggest moment in my career
—The Fishers of Paradise has been chosen by Miranda Hill’s Project Bookmark
Canada to be Bookmark #16. The plaque will be unveiled June 10th along the
Desjardins Waterfront Trail. Other events are to be rolled out during this time, including
a Hamilton Public Library event, the official launch for Fishers and a new imprint launch
—James Street North Books—by Wolsak & Wynn. Fishers is actually the first book
published under this imprint.
6) You seem to be an active participant on Facebook and The Fishers of Paradise is part of a giveaway promotion on Goodreads. How do you feel about using the internet as a means of promoting your works? Will you be expanding your social-media presence to other sites (i.e. Twitter) soon?
I’ve had a Twitter account for years but don’t use it. I think I’m frightened of being
swallowed up by it. I have an addictive personality and can get slightly manic about
things. I think the internet and social media are a great way to interact with writers and
readers, but I can spend too much time there. Writers love Facebook. I could be accused
of having a borderline unhealthy relationship with it. Being busy is better for me.
7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you can share?
I am. And no, not really. I usually have no compunction sharing what I’m writing about.
This time I’m telling no one.
8) Your bios. have you listed as: being raised and educated in Ontario, traveled around the world for work and now living in British Columbia. How do you like living in B.C. ? Does living there help your writing in any way?
I love living in BC because I struggle with the harsh winters and dry air. My breathing is
better by the ocean. I don’t know that living here has had any particular impact on my
writing, but I would say having lived in a lot of places affects what I write about, and the
kinds of stories I’m drawn to: displaced people, the marginalized, those who don’t quite
fit it. Being an immigrant always leaves you between two worlds and never quite fully
belonging to either.