Book club is aways a great evening, sharing books with a great group of friends but this month we were lucky to have a special guest join us. After enjoying The Clay Girl, one of our members (thank you Shannon) arranged a fantastic evening and Heather Tucker joined us to talk about her amazing, first book.
An avid fan of book clubs, we were the 80th group that she had joined. Always a storyteller, she had been an avid journal writer and hone her writing craft writing policy. Turning 50 was a transition, leading her to write fiction, after “half a century of research”.
“The problem with writing non-fiction is that you are not supposed to lie and I wanted to change the endings”.
Although Heather touched on personal research from the book, we focused on the professional experiences that influenced The Clay Girl. She worked as a public health nurse for many years, working in social housing units before leading the night shift on a psychogeriatric unit. These diverse experiences were rich in stories. She also worked with bereaved families and as an addiction counsellor during her eclectic career. Being a registered nurse myself, I have always appreciated the range of opportunities and how each nurse has had a range of unique roles which enrich experiences and impact patient experiences. These roles tend to leave a legacy of patient stories that change and stay with you.
“It is never too late to reach a goal”.
It was important for Heather to impart a sense of hope and resilience in The Clay Girl. Despite statistics that many abused children become abusers, Heather got to choose the ending and wrote the story she needed to tell. She wanted to write about amazing kids – those that survive and help others, kids that become rescuers like Ari. Her writing has clearly struck a chord with many readers and she even received a thank you email from a step dad who appreciated her making Len, Ari’s stepdad, a hero in the book.
We loved that Heather shared her journals. They are beautiful mixed media projects full of her own zentangle art, calendars, meaningful quotations and pictures. She gave permission to take pictures and for her creative pages to be shared in this post.
Heather told the story of her epiphany, realizing that her previous journals no longer reflected who she was. As she prepared for a trip, she realized that she would not want to share these thoughts with her family should the plane crash. Before her trip, she left a note saying that if the plane goes down to burn the books. After arriving home, she drove them to her farm and released her old thoughts into a winter fire.
After 50 years of working with words, she said she was ready to spend the next 50 playing with words (and laughed that if she had more time, she would like another 50 years to to be a potter). She realizes the huge value in writing to work out issues and had shared this advice when counselling others. Heather took some writing courses including one taught by Michael Redhill (we enjoyed meeting him and he won the 2017 Giller Prize with his book Bellevue Square). She started writing short-stories and between the ages of 50 and 60, wrote 6 or 7 novels. An agent connected with her after the recommendation of a contest judge. The Clay Girl grew from a short story called On the Way to Sydenham I Met a Walrus.
We were curious about the possibility of a sequel to The Clay Girl and Heather reassured the group that she is working on Cracked Pots. Originally The Clay Girl had been too long for a first book. Bookstores generally devote one inch of space or 350 pages to new authors so The Clay Girl was only part of her story. The remainder will form Cracked Pots and she gave us a few hints about what is to come. She described the inspiration for the title, sharing the Japanese art of Kintsugi where broken pots are more valuable than perfect pots when they are pieced together with gold.
We had ample time for questions and learned that she had a great story about submitting her work, expecting to wait for up to 6 months for an answer and being signed within 2 days! The Clay Girl is now in its’ tenth printing!
When asking for more details about Jasper (the imaginary seahorse), we learned that Heather had written about resiliency in her professional capacity and that in this resource for parents had suggested that children need someone in their life who is there for them, creative outlets and a positive voice. Being fascinated by children who coped with challenges by hearing voices inspired Jasper. Specific to seahorses, she had wondered how they stay up right? Seahorses have an air bubble for a bladder and in rough seas use their tales to grab onto something which spoke to Ari who has a spark inside and takes hold of supports. She likened the character Mikey to a dragonfly – fascinating, beautiful with an art for self-preservation and survival knowing that they have been found in fossils.
Like all of us around the table, Heather loves to read. She acknowledged that she had limited access to books (the bible and encyclopedias) as a child but she had vivid memories of waiting for the book mobile. She reminisced about when she “met” Pippi Longstocking and Nancy Drew as reading was an escape.
“I loved not only reading them but becoming part of their world”
Now, Heather always has an audio, paper and e-book in progress. When asked about some book recommendations she suggested Homegoing, The Underground Railroad, Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, anything by Barbara Kingsolver and poetry by Mary Oliver. She also gushed about The Humans by Matt Haig and Tim Winton’s Cloud Street and The Riders.
The entire evening was a great deal of fun and we appreciated talking about The Clay Girl and having our books signed! Thanks to Heather for sharing her love of reading, writing process, inside details on the characters of The Clay Girl and her beautiful journals. She was inspiring, engaging and an amazing storyteller! We are looking forward to her next novel and hope to enjoy her company in the future!