Due to a successful partnership with Creative Edge of Saskatchewan in 2020, the Scribbler played host to accomplished authors selected by CE. It was so much fun for all involved, we are doing it again in 2021. Watch the last Saturday of each coming month for authors under the CE banner.
This month, you will meet Canadian author C P Hoff.
While researching Ms. Hoff’s body of work, I was excited to discover her novel – West of Ireland – which I ordered recently and am looking forward to reading as soon as I can.
She has graciously agreed to a Branching Out Interview and is offering us an Excerpt from West of Ireland.
C.P. Hoff lives in southern Alberta with her husband, and children. She has written for the local paper, which might be impressive if she lived in New York, and if anyone read the local paper. Hoff is a founding member of WordBridge – Lethbridge Writers’ Conference.
Her first novel, A Town Called Forget, was longlisted for the Stephen Leacock Medal For humour. Her second novel, West of Ireland, received a Kirkus star and was featured in Kirkus Best Indie Fiction & Literature 2020. Her third book, Canterberry Tales, also received a Kirkus star.
So, let’s have chat with Ms. Hoff.
Allan: I’ve read that you grew up as a gypsy, but you’re not a real gypsy. Care to explain?
Connie: Yes. We moved a lot, which made it hard to make friends. I’ve lived in all three prairie provinces, in the far north, and close to the 49th parallel—from hills and trees to the badlands. I lived in thirteen different houses before I was eighteen. On the one hand it was impossible to lay down roots, but on the other, it makes it easy to pin down the date of a memory. I just have to envision the house I lived in at the time.
Allan: Before we chat about writing, can you tell us about your family and Mrs. Beasley and her dubious reputation.
Connie: My family is huddled down, quietly waiting out Covid. It is a different time and takes some getting used to. We are all healthy and content, which is all I can ask for. As for Mrs. Beasley, I’m sad to say she is no longer with us. She developed Cushing’s and subsequently died of cancer.
Allan: You write under a pseudonym. Is there a story behind this?
Connie: There is not much of a story there. Hoff is my maiden name.
Allan: I’m looking forward to reading your novel – West of Ireland. What can I expect when I get my copy?
Connie: Oh! You get to meet the O’Briens. They are glorious in their dysfunction. Like many families, they poke and prod each other at the most inopportune times. Unfortunately for the O’Briens though, their foibles come to life on the page. They can’t be hidden and hushed away. And you, as a reader, will get to chuckle at their absurdities and scowl at their vices—which is not always appreciated by the characters. As Mr. O’Brien quips on the back cover of the book, “A piece of literary fiction my arse!” West of Ireland was one of Kirkus Review’ Best Books Of 2020.
Allan: What can you tell our readers about your Picaresque Chronicles?
Connie: The Picaresque Chronicles are full of offbeat characters who share the same longings and desires that make us all human. Examining their quirky lives allows me to step back and chuckle at my own peculiarities, ones I tend not to give voice to. I hope in meeting this motley crew, readers will find the same enjoyment, and that this strange bunch will give them a laugh when it is most needed.
Allan: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.
Connie: I was a reluctant reader. The summer I was supposed to head into the sixth grade, I was told if I didn’t read twenty books I’d be held back. To encourage me, my mother read me the first half of each book, thinking that if I was well into the story my curiosity would drive me forward. That was not the case. I spent the summer making up a myriad of endings. And as a bonus, I didn’t fail, and was well on my way to becoming a storyteller.
Allan: Do you have a process you follow from idea to finished novel? Panster or Plotter?
Connie: I’m on the fence on that one. Sometimes I’m a pantster through and through, and other times a slip of a plot guides my way. It really depends on how well the story is flowing, and whether or not I’m lost in the weeds. When lost, I turn to plotting. When it feels like I’m skipping through the tale on a sunny afternoon, being a pantster is the way to go.
Allan: Do you have a mentor or has anyone influenced your work?
Connie: As a child I was bombarded by stories. My mother read to me, and my uncle made up heroic tales in which he always saved the day. I was encouraged to revel in my imagination, and that has an impact on a child. This was coupled with the books that were lying around the house—The Spider King, The Captain from Castile, Our John Willie; and the ones I chose as an adult—Anam Cara, The Amulet of Samerkand, Furiously Happy, and the Chief Inspector Gamache books, to name a few. I can’t pin down any one influence. There has been a lifetime of amazing storytellers who have informed me. Naming just one would be a disservice to the rest.
Allan: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Connie: I have another book coming out this May, Canterberry Tales.
The blurb reads, “Pull up your knee socks and buckle your pinchy shoes, your childhood is calling. Celia Canterberry, a precocious seven-year-old, hell bent on saving earthworms, is about to drag you down memory lane and remind you what it was like to look at a careworn world with wide-eyed bemusement. Now take a deep breath. Smell that? Nostalgia.
Celia flits through the streets of Happy Valley to her Nan’s chagrin, causing havoc wherever she goes. She’s so infamous, she’s got her own comic strip in the local paper, and Old Lady Griggs, her babysitter, is only too happy to read it with her. But what Celia secretly wants to know is where she came from. You see, Celia was abandoned at the hospital by her should-have-been parents, and her Nan won’t explain how or why…”
Kirkus reviews writes, Hoff is always ready with well-executed humor: “[Nan] never wears her teeth when she’s gardening,” Celia tells Old Lady Griggs at one point. “She thinks it’s best not to let the plants know her true intentions.” The combination of warm nostalgia and a sharp, modern sensibility is perfectly managed, and the promise of future volumes will please readers who want to spend more time in Happy Valley.
A well-crafted tale of a precocious child. ——Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An Excerpt from West of Ireland.
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission.)
Mr. O’Brien banged his walking stick against the side of the banister and called up the stairs, “Don’t be troubling yourself, Mary-Kate O’Brien. It’s not like I don’t have all day.”
There was no response from the upstairs bedroom, and Mr. O’Brien could feel his temper rise. “Can’t a man see his own daughter’s shining face in the morning? Is that too much to ask? I feed you, I clothe you for nigh on twenty years, and my pocketbook has grown rather light because of it. To relieve me suffering, I’ve asked around and there is not a soul in the world willing to take you off me hands. Yet you don’t hear me complaining, do you?”
The sound of his daughter opening and closing her dresser drawers drifted down to him. It was as if he spoke to the wind. All Mr. O’Brien wanted was for Mary-Kate to hurry her pace, skip down the stairs and merrily link her arm in his. However, Mary-Kate never skipped, and arm-linking was something she seemed to have an aversion to. The last time he insisted she take his arm, Mary-Kate went limp at the knees, and he ended up dragging her down the street. The great oaf and his rag doll.
He closed his eyes and leaned against the banister. She was up to something; he was convinced of it. The thought of not knowing what mischief she was entertaining irritated him like nothing else. If there was mischief to be had, it should be had together. It had been that way since she was a babe, and he saw no sense in changing their ways now. It was what steadied their rudder, kept them from going adrift when storms threatened. Pulled him back when he forgot his place and lost sight of the one he chose to be tethered to.
“Are you well?”
Mr. O’Brien opened his eyes. His wife stood in front of him with a cup and saucer in hand. As fetching a woman as he could have hoped for, she even rivalled some that plied their trade on the street. Though he’d never found an opportune time for telling her so. His Mary-Kate had inherited her mother’s mass of red hair and, sadly, much of her attitude. “Why would you ask me such a thing?” he frowned, puffing out his chest. “Am I not as robust this morning as I was last evening?”
“Keep your voice down,” Mrs. O’Brien snapped, roses blooming on her cheeks. “Or you’ll not see the inside of me bedroom for a month.”
“Oh, I don’t have to see the inside of yours, you could cross the hall to mine.” Mr. O’Brien stepped into his wife. He looked down at her and waited for her to lean her ample waist against him. Her breathing changed, but Mr. O’Brien wasn’t sure if she were inclined or annoyed. He gave her a seductive wink, or it would have been, had an eyelash not worked itself free and blurred his vision.
A look of disgust crossed his wife’s face. “You’re making a nuisance of yourself, Mr. O’Brien,” she said thumping him in the chest with her free hand.
Ah, now he knew. She was annoyed. The thump was too hard; there might even be a bruise. The morning was not going as he hoped. There was no tenderness in it, no cooperation. “What’d you do that for?”
Mrs. O’Brien turned her face away. But before she did, he caught a flicker of something unfamiliar in her visage, in the corner of her eye, the shape of her mouth. He wasn’t sure what it was, but there was a darkness to it. “In all our years together, you’ve not done such a thing to me,” he said rubbing his chest. “What’s got into you?”
Instead of answering his question, Mrs. O’Brien handed Mr. O’Brien her empty cup and saucer before heading up the stairs.
“What’ll I be needing these for?” he asked looking down at the cup and saucer.
“For a happy marriage.”
“A happy marriage? Never heard of such a thing.”
“I heard that Mr. O’Brien,” she said without turning around. “Don’t be acting like I’ve given you a snake. Just take them to the kitchen.”
“Don’t be acting like I’ve given you a snake,” Mr. O’Brien mimicked softly. He pulled back the leaves of a nearby fern and carefully set the dishes on top of those his wife had given him the day before. Forgetting his daughter, he picked up his bowler and stepped out the front door into the chilly April air.
Thank you, Connie, for being our featured gust this week. Wishing you continued success with your stories.
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