Chiwid - Collected by Sage Birchwater
New Star Books, 1995. From the back cover: "For half of this century,Chiwid lived out in the forests, lakes and bush of the west Chilcotin plateau, 'the way the old people lived,' moving her solitary camp with the seasons. Said to have special spiritual powers, she kept to herself and chose to live outdoors." Chiwid is "told in the vibrant voices of Chilcotin oldtimers, both native and non-native. An almost unbelievable story of a remarkable woman, Chiwid is also a vivid portrait of the Chilcotin during a time of great change."
Driftwood Valley - by Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher
Little, Brown and Co., 1946 (out of print)
Set in a valley north of where Shelter takes place, Driftwood Valley is the book Rita tells Maggie about and that she says inspired her to make the move away from the city and to a more self-reliant life. It's a beautiful and gripping account of a woman building a cabin with her husband in the wilds of British Columbia in the period from 1937-1941.
Curve of Time - by M. Wylie Blanchet
Whitecap Books, 1968. (30th anniversary edition)
In the 1930s, after Muriel Wylie Blanchet is left a widow, she packs her five children onto a 25-foot boat and explores the mysterious and sometimes perilous coastal inlets and islands of British Columbia.
Bella Coola - by Cliff Kopas
The ultimate authority on all things Bella Coola,Cliff Kopas' book was published in 1970 and tells the stories of white settlement from 1793 to the mid-20th century.
Bella Coola Man - by Clayton Mack
Clayton Mack, "descended from a long line of Indian chiefs," lived a life of adventure, guiding grizzly bear hunts and telling stories of his life. Funny and informative.
Grizzlies and White Guys - by Clayton Mack
More stories by a wonderful storyteller.
Chilcotin Holiday - by Paul St. Pierre
A collection of pieces from St. Pierre's years as Vancouver Sun columnist, the stories capture the spirit and the magic of the Chilcotin and its people.
Global Citizen - by Stan Chung
Stan writes a regular well-loved column for Okanagan Sunday. He grew up in Williams Lake, where Maggie and Jenny billet with the Edwards. His book of stories and essays include some intimate insights into life in small town BC in the 1970s.
These non-fiction books influenced the writing of Shelter, either as reference or as inspiration. The books helped me understand the spirit, the history, the flora and fauna, and the people of the Chilcotin region and the BC coast.
The songs that appear in Shelter are as familiar to me as the sounds of crickets, lawnmowers and mourning doves. They still drop me right back into the 60s and 70s, the time when Maggie and Jenny and I were all growing up. These are not all 60s and 70s songs, but they were on the radio or in the air in those years. I've included here the performances that I was thinking of, rather than the original composers.
Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
I Feel the Earth Move by Carole King
I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher
Goodnight Irene by Leadbelly
I'll Have Another Cup of Coffee by Conway Twitty
Crocodile Rock by Elton John
Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin
Heartaches By the Number by Ray Price
Dreamer by Supertramp
Bloody Well Right by Supertramp
Break on Through to the Other Side by The Doors
White Room by Cream
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn
A Horse with No Name by America
I'll Tell Me Ma (traditional)
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra (An Irish Lullaby) by Bing Crosby
I've Been Everywhere by Hank Snow
My Shelter playlist
I occasionally listen to music when I write, because it can transport me immediately into the world of the story. These songs were on my playlist. I've given the performance here, not necessarily the composer.
Ramblin' Round by The Indigo Girls with Ani Difranco (on "Til We Outnumber 'Em)
Bird on a Wire by Johnny Cash
Drifting Too Far From the Shore by The Stanley Brothers
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child by Sarah Vaughan
Unchained by Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash
Wayfaring Stranger by Johnny Cash
Green-Eyed Girl by Ted Hawkins
Greenville by Lucinda Williams
The Rocky Road to Dublin by The Chieftains and The Rolling Stones
In a Town This Size by John Prine and Delores Keane
Mozart's Piano Concerto # 17
Discussion questions from the author
Or what I’d love to talk about if I was at your book club. Please feel free to contact me by email or on my blog if you'd like to discuss Shelter with me.
1. When Shelter was making the rounds of US publishers, a debate began among editors about whether Irene was a good mother or not. Clearly, the choice she makes to leave the girls alone is not something I’d associate with good mothering, but what about before she leaves?
2. In a similar vein, some readers see Irene as strong and independent and others don’t. What do you think?
3. At one point in Shelter, Maggie says, “I had the image of Mom as a lake, with Jenny and me bobbing around on her surface, never dreaming, never even wondering about the green depths beneath us.” This sentiment comes partly from my own experience. When my mother died, I felt as if I’d never really known who she was as a woman. Did your experience with your mother differ? What about your experience as a mother (if you are one)?
4. Why do so many women write novels that involve orphan children and/or lost mothers? (eg. The Virgin Cure by Ami MacKay; The Girls by Lori Lansens; The Diviners by Margaret Laurence) By the way, if you have an answer, please email me!
5. What do you think made Irene leave? What emotion ruled her actions? Do you think she planned to return?
6. Maggie is fascinated by Chiwid, the almost-mythological woman who survives outside in any weather. But she can’t decide if she pities or envies her. What do you think she pitied and what did she envy?
7. I wanted to write a novel where the Canadian landscape was almost exotic – sometimes strange, sometimes deeply familiar, and sometimes slightly threatening. Some reviewers have said that the landscape is almost like a character in Shelter. If that’s so, what role does it play in Maggie and Jenny’s life? And how did it correspond to or differ from your own experience?
8. What was your reaction to what happens to Jenny? Do you think she made the right choice?
9. The men in Shelter are often absent, emotionally or literally. Far from stereotypes, these were the kind of men that peopled my world growing up in the 60s and 70s. They held the power in the family, but they were often on the periphery of family life. What was your experience?
10. Vern and Uncle Leslie become two of the most important people in Maggie’s life. They’re based roughly on people I once knew. How did you respond to them? Did anything surprise you about them?
11. Maggie is the narrator, but as a first-person narrator, the story she tells may not always be completely trustworthy. Were there places in Shelter where you felt like Maggie might not be a reliable narrator?
12. The characters in Shelter became very real to me as I wrote. I still think about them and wonder what they’re doing. Who was your favourite character or who did you identify with most?
CBC Radio interview. Play below.