A novel, Book*Hug Press, Canada, 2020
I am resigned to the fact that I must write. Often, after the last book has been written, the canvas is blank, waiting. A sentence will land, but with no follow up. An image will float by, catch my attention, but before I can understand it, it’s gone. Even so, these fleeting out-of-the-ordinary blips nag at me. The effort to follow these up with something pertinent, anything, for a good while goes nowhere.
But I’ve come to trust that these bits and pieces are marinating in the same brain, and therefore with time will pull together with meaning. Eventually, something does take hold, and a real enquiry begins.
In the case of this new story, my canvas at the time blank, I was asked by a friend to write his true-life love story, a rather creative love affair between him, a married man, and a married woman in another country, conducted clandestinely entirely by email and phone conversations. They’d met only once in real life, but then conducted this lengthy affair, and it was, believe it or not, torrid. I needed to write, and I was fascinated enough, and agreed.
Now, what on earth does that have to do with Polar Vortex you ask! Well, my friend’s story was sweet, tender and interesting, but not the kind of subject that I am normally interested in. Perhaps it was the Ontario weather on that particular day, or the side of the bed I awoke on—but quite suddenly, several chapters into my friend’s story, I could not control the perverse urge to take that same man and turn him into a kind of stalker, and have his interest-object there on the ground with him, dealing with his persistence, and her own connivances. I’d never written anything like that before, and found myself absorbed by the manipulations, contrivances, secrecies and lies that all involved were engaging in. What had seemed sweet, became menacing.
And I, a fan of Elena Ferrante and Rachel Cusk saw the psychologies at play and wanted to explore them and the consequences of devious behavior and the inevitable clashes.
Setting Polar Vortex in the wintery bucolic Southern Ontario countryside added another layer of interest for me as a writer- stories about immigrants of colour in North America tend to be set in the bustling crowded cities, where people settle in communities. I wanted the beauty and the isolation of the icy landscape—the coldness of place, land and community-- to be a mirror. More personally, having grown up in Trinidad, I have always been drawn to lush tropical landscapes—not city landscapes—and I wanted to use this novel’s opportunity to get closer to, to gain an understanding of, the land in which I live-- the Ontario small town, countryside—but I also wanted to write—in order to understand-- a season that, even after forty years of living in Canada, still baffles me.
I love it when I am surprised by the push and pull, the directions I’m taken, and the unexpected outcome of my own story. Whenever I begin with a known idea, I am quickly bored. When I let go and let the story unfold in it’s own logic, I am without fail delightfully surprised. At some pint I see what the story is, and then I take control and make it more of what it had always wanted to be.
Image of Polar Vortex cover to be added soon!
Meantime, scroll down to see more of Shani's books.
Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab
A novel, Doubleday, Canada, 2014
Longlisted for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize,
shortlisted for the Lambda Award