A few weeks ago, I shared Anne Logan’s blog review about Pam Clark’s Kalyna. (Click this link for that review) That action caused not only a number of retweets/shares on my social-media sites but also garnished some anecdotal conversations about the book in real life. I reached out to Clark for a Q&A and she graciously agreed. Her comments will no doubt continue even more interest in her book to my followers.
1) Could you give a bit of an outline of Kalyna?
Kalyna is a novel about our collective history as Albertans. It explores the story of one family’s journey from Galicia, Ukraine who settle in the developing bloc settlement of Edna Star, but I hope it will resonate with the thousands of families whose ancestors undertook similar journeys from a multitude of countries. “We are all settlers” was a prevalent thought as I was writing Kalyna. Themes of love, forgiveness, injustice and belonging are woven throughout this novel which seeks to share the little known history of Ukrainian Canadians’ internment in Banff National Park in World War 1. The novel is an ambitious work, spanning over seven decades in Alberta. I hope readers will see their own histories whether their families came in the first wave of settlement or their families have just settled here.
The story begins in Ukraine in the early 1900’s, a time of changing borders and conflict; a time of collective farms under controlling owners, a time of poverty and fear. A young couple is wooed by Clifford Sifton’s promise of land and freedom in the “last best west” and embark upon the journey to Canada’s prairie land. The bulk of the story takes place in Edna-Star, a bloc community of settlers, banded together by culture and determination to prosper in the new land. Banff, Alberta figures prominently as the setting of the internment camp becomes like one of the main characters, Wasyl Federchuk, is interned in Castle Mountain camp in the summer months and Cave and Basin camp in the winter months during WW1 – 1915 – 1917 and his family’s life is thrown into turmoil.
Which character do you most identify with and why?
I most identified with the strength and courage of Katja. She is a complex and complicated character, radiating charm and humility coupled with fierce determination and fear at times. She makes mistakes, is a great friend, moves forward with calm serenity and loves her family very much. I was inspired to write the character of Katja as a tribute to my Grandma Olga. Many readers have told me I’m like Kalyna though. I keep looking for resemblances.
How did this novel compare with your own family’s story of settlement?
My Great Grandparents came to Canada in the second wave of Ukrainian immigration in the 1890’s and my Grandma Olga was born in 1905 in Edna Star Alberta. Growing up, there was not a great deal of talk about the past, my family seeming to prefer thinking about the future. I remember meeting Great Aunts and Uncles and hushed conversations about the “Old Country”. It was when I was an adult that I began to ask my Grandma more about her life: her childhood, her memories and her home.
What relevance do you feel this novel has with present day immigration to Canada and our role as a society?
One of the reviews of Kalyna stated that, “ it is a timely novel,” as we face ongoing immigration to Canada. I believe that our wonderful country has tolerance, peace and security for all citizens as its foundation and as we welcome refugee families from Syria and other countries, I trust that Canada will continue to be as welcoming as we can be. Our quality of life and freedom from tyranny has such a base in history and that is why Kalyna is an important story to share. When we understand our collective history as a nation such as reconciliation in the First Nations communities, there is great opportunity for communication and progress.
Were you surprised about anything in the novel? If yes, what was it and why were you surprised about it?
Surprise is a part of the process of writing for me. Sometimes, as I was writing Kalyna, there were two or three paths I had ruminated about and then I had to decide which path the novel would follow. At the time, I would ask myself, “Really? This is going to happen to Ivan or Katja or Wasyl?” and on I would write. This is the element of surprise in the writing process as a whole. I am also surprised how much I still think of Aya left alone in Montreal when Katja, Ivan and Wasyl make the trek out West. I have had readers ask my about her and she must have resonated with them too.
2) The Stonehouse website states that ‘Kalyna was inside of you for many years.’ Is this a story based on memories, anecdotes, research or a combination of factors? How long did it take you to write Kalyna?
Kalyna was written with my passion of Ukrainian culture and Canadian history, family memories, and from research. I first heard of the Ukrainian Internment in 2000, on CBC Radio. My research led me to uncover the brilliant book by Lubomyr Luciuk entitled, In Fear of the Barbed Wire Fence. This book led to other archival sources and journals, thus the story began to unfold. Although I told the story out loud to my family and began to write it many times, the novel finally unfolded in 2012/13 while I was living in Newfoundland.
3) How did you get involved with Stonehouse Publishing?
I found out about Stonehouse through the Alberta Writer’s Guild. I knew I wanted Kalyna to be published locally as that is where I felt it’s initial audience would be. Stonehouse was a wonderful fit for Kalyna, a maverick publishing house supporting historical fiction. I am thrilled to be one of their inaugural five authors this year.
4) I see by your website you have a list of dates already set for readings and discussions of Kalyna. Are public events something you enjoy doing?
Absolutely! I love meeting the readers and setting in motion a discussion about the characters and sharing the readers’ own settlement stories. I believe that everyone is a storyteller and this comes out at readings, book clubs and events!
5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I have so many and often say, “ This is my favourite book,” for the time. I revel in Canadian literature and my go to author of fiction and poetry is Michael Crummey, whose writing style is very engaging and inspiring to me. I have just finished Katherine Govier’s, The Three Sister’s Hotel which featured my favourite place of Banff and showcased her historical research. (Link to my Q&A with Katherine Govier: For years I’ve been fascinated by the characters who came to the Rockies in the early twentieth century . . .(t)hey never made it into the history books) I am currently reading A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler and next up is Elizabeth Hay’s His Whole Life.
6) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
I am….it is a departure from historical fiction that takes place in Japan. Perhaps, I’ve been inspired by all the thrillers I’ve been reading the past year.
7) You seem to be active on Twitter quite a bit? How do you feel about using it in relation to your book?
I see Twitter as a platform for finding out lots of information in a short time and letting users delve deeply if they choose, sort of like reading the headlines and then following up on the stories that interest them the best.
8) The biographical description on you on the Stonehouse websites says you are currently living in Calgary. How do you like living there right now? Does the city’s cultural scene inspire you in any special way?
Calgary is such a vibrant city with a maverick spirit that radiates unity in community. I treasure the natural beauty of the city and it’s incredible proximity to Kananaskis, Canmore and Banff and am inspired by the people around me everyday. I love the theatre, music and art exhibitions here and, of course, love to attend readings by fellow authors at Owl’s Nest and Shelf Life in town!
Again, thank you for answering these questions. I am looking forward to reading Kalyna and telling my fellow book-fans about it!
Thank you for sharing the story of Kalyna with your readers! I’d love to hear what they think of the novel!