Saturday 7 October 2023

The Story Behind the Story with Anna Dowdall of Toronto, ON, Canada.


The Scribbler is pleased to have Anna back.

A dynamic storyteller, you can’t help but be entertained by her stories. 

If you missed her earlier visit, please go HERE.

Read on my friends.




Anna: I’ve lived all over Canada and the US, and now I can't seem to decide between Toronto and Montreal.  (Right now it’s the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto.)  I’ve been a reporter, a college lecturer, a translator, a nurse’s aide, a pilot, an urban shepherd, and we’ll forget the rest.  My work has been nominated for the US Katherine Paterson YA prize and for Canada’s Arthur Ellis.  I’m the author of the well-reviewed Ashley Smeeton Files:  After The Winter (2017), The Au Pair (2018), April On Paris Street (2021).  My new mystery, The Suspension Bridge, (Radiant Press, September 2024) has been called "an irreverent and immersive post-war fairy tale."



Working Title: The Suspension Bridge: A Fable



Synopsis: A literary whodunit set in an unreliable 1962, The Suspension Bridge features a reluctant young nun sleuth, a boarding school where girls go missing, a small Canadian city dreaming too big for its britches, and a sentient bridge with ideas of its own on stairways to heaven and highways to hell.

Sister Harriet always means well, but her first year of teaching at swanky Saint Reginald’s Academy is a chaotic mix of scrapes she precipitates herself and the brisk unfolding of external events.  These include the disappearance of the school’s star students and an industrial espionage role foisted on her by an engaging crackpot bishop.  As for the bridge, it’s meant to usher in a new dispensation for Bothonville (pronounced Buttonville), but it has its own sinister agenda. 



The Story Behind the Story: After writing three books about a Montreal-based private eye named Ashley Smeeton, I felt it was time for a change.  I just love the brilliant mysteries of Russian writer Boris Akunin featuring the nineteenth-century sleuth Sister Pelagia, and I thought, why don’t I try my version of these?  I was raised—steeped to the gills—in an atmosphere of Irish/French Canadian Catholicism and I soon realized I wanted to recreate a whole world and time.  Readers comment on the scene setting and world building in my other books, and I was eager to go in deep here too.

Themes emerge as you plan a book, and mine were big and serious: contagion, extinction, doubt.  So I read some very depressing books around those topics, delaying the book by at least a couple of years in my procrastinating way.  When I began to write, at the height of the pandemic, the narrative voice emerged as comic right away.  This light and playful tone, with its accompanying underlay of darkness, persists throughout. 

There are a few of different ways to read The Suspension Bridge, I guess.  It’s a whodunit, although not a straightforward or realistic one.  But still, there is a story about the mysterious disappearance of girls from a Catholic boarding school, and a rather hapless police detective makes several appearances.  It’s a darkly humorous pilgrim’s progress of a young religious sister with an identity crisis.  It’s to some extent a parable about small city life, group think and the overreaching optimism of the post-war period.  And it has elements of memoir:  to this day I have great fondness and admiration for that community of practical mystics, the nuns who taught me. 

Since it doesn’t easily fit into any one literary category, I’m absolutely over the moon that the award-winning, small but mighty Radiant Press took a chance on it.






A couple questions before you go, Anna:


Scribbler: 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?


Anna: Oh so boring: my thirty-year-old little desk, an ergonomic chair, every morning from nine to lunch time, more or less, and of course I take the weekends off--what am I, some kind of workaholic? 

I write voluminous notes in the thinking and planning phases, then a sort of chapter plan online, that I can keep adding to.  I write plans on plan on plans.  But by the time I’m composing a chapter at the computer, I’m working off a short series of prompts really, with the actual scene I’m working on taking its own shape as I type. 


Scribbler: What’s next for Anna Dowdall, the Author?

Anna: I do like series of three.  I think the many-layered Sister Harriet could very well go on to have further adventures throughout the sixties.  Hints of interest were recently made, but I already had ideas for two sequels.  One idea involves two linked stories, one of them historical, a spot of heresy, and the Berrigan brothers.  Another has Harriet in California navigating the summer of love as she continues to try to find herself.  You can imagine the lure, to a thirty-something religious sister in need of quick cash, of the glamorous and high-powered world of movie extras.  I’ve already said too much.




Thank you for being our guest this week, Anna. 

Sounds like a tremendous story. 

Wising you continued success with your writing.

 And a Grand Canyon Thank You to our visitors and readers.


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