The Shuswap is full of tales.
Sometimes, these tales spark an idea for a novel.
Gail Anderson-Dargatz grew up with Shuswap legends and European folklore. With her latest novel, The Spawning Grounds, she ties these stories together.
“My parents, when they drove me around this region, would tell me about very specific places. They were a mix of tall tales, Shuswap stories, ghost stories, a real blend of stories about the region. So I grew up feeling that this landscape was story,” she said.
She’s jump-starting the release of the novel with a reading and signing at the Okanagan College in Salmon Arm, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.
The novel, released on Sept. 6, follows the Robertson family, focusing on teenagers Hannah and Brandon Robertson, who live on the edge of a dying river and its salmon in the Thompson-Shuswap. Their friend, Alex, leads a native protest against further development on the river.
The novel blends cultural tales of European and First Nations with the water mystery, or spirit of the landscape.
“In this book I wanted to manifest this spirit in a very physical way,” she said.
As a storyteller, Anderson-Dargatz found it necessary to blend culture together with her story, describing it as a chef who blends ingredients or to a musician who blends traditional music to create new music.
“Writing is a place where stories blend. We (as authors) blend different cultural backgrounds. It was a real blend of story and culture that I grew up with myself.”
When growing up in Salmon Arm, there wasn’t a divided First Nations community, she said.
“We’re in a time now where we’re finally talking about these issues. I grew up in a community where it wasn’t First Nations on one side and us on the other, there was just us.”
The salmon concept came from the landscape and its relationship with the salmon, adding another element to Anderson-Dargatz’ story.
“The salmon are part of B.C. psyche in a way that perhaps, other parts of the country wouldn’t understand. We have a hugely famous spawning grounds. Salmon almost have this spiritual quality. Our ecology is quite literally built on the salmon.”
The 52-year-old grew up around rivers. As a child she had a stream running outside of her house.
“A great many of us live close to salmon-bearing rivers,” she said.
She focuses on telling stories of the rural communities, finding it easier to write about a connection to the land in a rural area, than in an urban setting.
“In a small community, there’s more at stake. The relationship to the natural world is more immediate. I write about our relationship, that boundary line,” she said.
But, to write the novel, the Sorrento resident found she had to get away to find the imaginative land of the Thompson-Shuswap.
Her husband, Mitch Krupp, helped her see the landscape in a new way with his photos of the Shuswap, hung in their summer home in Ontario, on Manitoulin Island.
“Even when I leave it, I can’t leave it,” she said.
The home even has a dedicated salmon room, painted a pale orange, like a salmon egg, with photos of salmon on the walls.
“For many writers we have to leave our home in order to write about it. I felt (free) to imagine a fictional landscape.”
The novel took nine years to write but over a decade for the ideas to flourish.
As a mentor, Anderson-Dargatz teaches online creative writing classes and English literacy classes. She taught at UBC in Vancouver for nine years, before deciding to go private.
“I’ve got students all over the world,” she said.
She holds writer’s camps in Ontario during the summer.
Her first writing job was at The Observer in the 80s and has written two other novels, both finalists for the Giller Prize.
For more about the author and The Spawning Grounds visit www.gailanderson-dargatz.ca/cms/.