I met Sonia on Twitter when I was drawn to the beautiful cover on her debut novel and she kindly accepted my offer to be our guest this week.
When you visit her website you will read,
“Using my words for good.”
I like that.
Let’s go meet Sonia.
Sonia Nicholson has worked in archives for fifteen years. A first generation Canadian who grew up in a Portuguese immigrant family in Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada, she went on to study French and Spanish at the University of Victoria. She remained in Victoria and lives there with her husband, two children, and two rescue dogs. She's been to France several times, and just might be a bit obsessed with the country and culture. Her work has appeared most recently in Inspirelle, Literary Heist, Pinhole Poetry, Heimat Review, and Rivanna Review.
Working Title: Provenance Unknown
Synopsis: An archivist without a past of her own doesn't expect her profession to get personal. Thirty-year-old single mom Michele Norman has finally found her dream job at the city archives in her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. But while she does a deep dive into every inquiry that comes in, there’s one past she won’t touch: her own. After all, she doesn’t need to know why she grew up with her best friend, Amanda. If Michele’s family didn’t want her, then good riddance to them. Besides, with a son starting kindergarten, a stack of unpaid bills, and the possibility of her work hours being cut back, she has enough to worry about. When she discovers a forgotten French diary from WWII in the vault, the treasure hunt for information is on; she’s drawn to the notebook more than anything before. Written by a local woman, it tells a story of love, loss, second chances, and an injustice that leaves Michele livid. In her obsessive quest to make things right, Michele makes questionable choices that jeopardize not only her fledgling career and her already precarious living situation but her relationships too. Soon she uncovers the shocking truth about the mystery writer and, even more determined, embarks on a journey from the west coast of Canada all the way to Paris, France. On route, she meets Sébastien, a Parisian workaholic who is full of surprises. It's not long before she's fully swept up by City of Light's charms—and by his. Will Michele be distracted from her mission by the intriguing and maddening lawyer? Or will she finally find answers to the family questions she has never been ready to ask?
The Story behind the Story: When the idea for PROVENANCE UNKNOWN first came to me, I myself was a young mother and working in a municipal archive—just like Michele.
Before landing at the archives, I’d spent months racking my brains trying to “come up” with a new career. As if I could conjure up the right profession by thinking about it hard enough. I may have become fixated on this quest for fulfilment. I didn’t want to go back to my retail job but had no idea what to do next. And although I wasn’t a single mom like Michele, my husband was away frequently for work. Looking back, I think I was lonely and lost.
It sounds cheesy, or maybe anti-climactic. But when a certain movie showed me that archives were a thing, that was it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How had I not thought of archives sooner? Once the notion planted itself, it made perfect sense for my skill set and personality.
Off I went. I stepped into the field as a volunteer when I was still on maternity leave and worked my way into a staff position. I was lucky to have the best mentor anyone could ever ask for, and she taught me everything I know. All the roles. All the tasks. Over time, I tried my hand at everything.
Equally important, I learned the stories. Behind every document, every photo, every piece of ephemera, there was a story. Some longer than others. Some that made me smile. Some that broke my heart.
Whenever I held these records, I felt privileged. Wanted to know more. It was easy to go down a rabbit hole.
My husband lovingly teased me about making friends with dead people. He wasn’t wrong. I got to know them. See how their lives unfolded. How they ended. These connections were as real as the ones I formed with the living, breathing humans around me.
Out of this experience came a question: Wouldn’t it be interesting to have an archives professional who was obsessed with everyone else’s history, but didn’t know (and didn’t want to know) their own?
Running parallel to this thread was my nostalgia for Paris. I’d visited three times: the first on a high school trip at age 16, the second between graduation and university, and the third with my husband. (For more, read my essay at Inspirelle: https://inspirelle.com/memories-of-paris-by-seasons-how-the-city-of-light-is-a-city-of-life/ ) Over that fifteen year span, I’d created stories of my own in the City of Light. Romantic, funny, and even wacky memories that had stayed with me, begging to be shared.
Between work, and wrangling a preschooler, and everything else I had going on, I managed to somehow plot out Provenance Unknown. Genealogical charts, character profiles, chapter outlines, research—the works. By the time I finished, though, I’d run out of gas. My notebooks disappeared into a cupboard, where they would remain for ten (!) years.
Life can get in the way like that.
When circumstances changed and I could go down to part-time work—and my now two children were that much older—I was finally ready to finish the darn thing. Since childhood, I’d always been a storyteller at heart. Poetry, mainly. Now I could write my first-ever book.
Definitely not my last.
Provenance Unknown is near and dear to my heart, for obvious reasons. And here we are, the release date about a month or so away.
I’m nervous and excited and all the feelings. But I move forward. I’m still learning.
A question before you go, Sonia:
Can you tell us about the perfect setting you have, or desire, for your writing? Music or quiet? Coffee or tequila? Neat or notes everywhere?
I generally need quiet to write. White noise is good, too, so even airports and ferries have been productive locations for me. The sounds blend into the background. Family chaos? Less conducive to the writing process.
Most times, I have an oversized mug of green tea with lemon to keep me company, though I’ve been known to occasionally swap that out for a good scotch.
An organized environment is a must! I don’t do paper notes anymore, but a handy tote keeps any hard copies of things nicely contained.
If I could wave a magic wand, I would love to go to Europe for a writers’ retreat. Bonus points if I was invited as a guest and it was paid for. But failing that, I would take a weekend alone in a beachfront hotel in Parksville, here on Vancouver Island.
Thank you for being our guest this week, Sonia. Best of luck with the novel and wishing you continued success with your writing.
And a big thank you to our visitors and readers.
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