Brenda with Maddy (photo by Darrell Neufeld)
Brenda Missen will be visiting the Owl’s Nest on Thursday, November 24th at 7:00pm with her new mystery Tell Anna She’s Safe, which is based on a real Canadian case.
Driving home alongside West Quebec’s Gatineau River one April afternoon, researcher Ellen McGinn spots a parked car that looks like it might belong to her friend and colleague, Lucy Stockman. Lucy, a freelance writer, lives in nearby Ottawa. Shortly after arriving home, Ellen receives a phone call from Lucy’s common-law partner: Lucy has disappeared. That night Ellen has an unusual dream in which she receives three clear messages: she is to search and to write everything down—and Lucy is safe. Through the intertwining stories of Ellen and Lucy and the enduring presence of the river, Tell Anna She’s Safe takes the reader below the sometimes frightening, uncontrollable surface circumstances of our lives, to reveal the steady current of power and knowing we all hold within.
Here’s a little more about Brenda:
Unlike many writers, who need to cloister themselves within four walls that offer NO distractions, I need to be in aesthetically appealing surroundings, which is to say outdoors. So my favourite place to write (which I do with fountain pen and blank notebook) is sitting on a Canadian Shield rock beside the water, preferably with a white pine or two looking over my shoulder – and in good weather of course. Thankfully I have no shortage of rocks, pines and water out my door: I live on the Madawaska River in rural central Ontario for that very reason. I’ve also been known to put my paddle down and pick up my pen while canoeing in Algonquin Provincial Park.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a very disappointing novel, which I won’t name or bother to describe, for my book club. But I just finished reading several of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Whimsey series of detective novels. I love the sparring interaction between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, whom he saves from a murder conviction in the first novel and then immediately starts asking her to marry him. Harriet hates that they are on uneven footing because she has to feel grateful to him for saving her life, and she keeps turning him down. It all makes for wonderful tension between them through the novels, and I love the way Sayers shows Harriet’s growing feelings for him. It’s all handled in a very realistic (i.e., non-typical romance-novel) way. Oh yes, and they solve crimes too. Dorothy Sayers has always been a favourite of my mother’s, and I grew up with the books on the family bookshelves, but unlike other authors that my mother got me reading (like Mary Stewart), I never picked up a D.S. novel until just recently. And wish I’d discovered her years ago! I’m delighted that the series is now continuing to be written by Jill Paton Walsh, who finished a manuscript that D.S. didn’t complete before she died, and has gone on to write two more, which are next on my list. You can’t tell where D.S. left off and J.P.W. started, so I’m sure she must be channelling her!
Do you have a pet? If so, why did you pick the name you did?
I have a 3-year-oldakita/Australian shepherd cross named Maddy, who is the best paddling (and therefore writing) partner in the world. She is named after the Madawaska River that we live on. When I told my niece that her full name was Madawaska, she said, ‘So when you get mad at her, do you say “Madawaska Missen, you get over here!’?” So I guess her full name is Madawaska Missen, but that could be my name too…
What is your favourite colour and why?
My favourite colour is blue, specifically indigo blue. Apparently blue is the colour of “clear communication” so that seems appropriate for me. The fact that it’s “mentally calming” doesn’t hurt either. I like indigo because it adds some warmth to the coolness of blue, but keeps the calming properties. Also when I wear indigo blue it makes my eyes even bluer than I think they actually have a right to call themselves.
What was your favourite childhood book?
The Year of Jubilo, by Ruth Sawyer (Dell, 1940)(sequel to the Newbery medal winner Roller Skates (1936).)
I first read The Year of Jubilo when I was maybe 11 or 12 and read it over and over again through my teens. Set in the 1890s, it’s a coming of age story of 14-year-old Lucinda, daughter of wealthy Bostonians whose life drastically changes when her father dies and leaves the family in financial straits. She and her frailmother and 3 older brothers go to live in their cottage on the Main coast and have to adjust to their reduced circumstances as well as to the harsh Atlantic winter. I loved this book for several reasons: I loved that she had older brothers since I never had any! I loved the “pioneering” life it depicted (I’m sure I was a pioneer in a previous life). I also loved the supportive community the family found in the people who had formerly only been their summer neighbours and how they helped them get through the winter. And when I reread it recently, I found something I had forgotten – which was Lucinda’s growing spiritual connection to the natural world around her. I read it at a time when “spiritual” for me would have been connected only to the church so I don’t remember being consciously struck by her perceptions in the sanctuary she finds for herself in the woods. But my path has, as it happens, taken me out of the church, and I now live in a near-wilderness area in central Ontario (though not quite like a pioneer) and find a connection with, and Presence in, the natural world around me. I’ve written a canoeing memoir called Going Solo: An Interior Journey in Algonquin Park (currently looking for a publisher), which explores the spiritual connection I – and I believe all of us – have with nature. On rereading this novel in adulthood, I do wonder if it was The Year of Jubilo that planted the seeds of that awareness in me.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
It may not be exotic but I’ve been wanting to get to Ireland (andto return to Scotland, if I’m allowed two places). I have English/Scottish/Irish ancestry and have always been drawn to Celtic culture. If I’m allowed three places, I’d include Newfoundland on the list – for the same reason. I was there when I was 15 but I have this yearning to go back and join in a kitchen party…
The inevitable desert island question: what book would you take with you?
Jane Austen’s Persuasion. J.A. is my all-time favourite author – I love the nuanced interactions of her characters within the very rigid social structure of the time, the often witty repartee and her sense of irony. I love Persuasion the most because it portrays the most mature love of all of the characters in her novels – since Anne and Captain Wentworth already know each other intimately from a previous courtship that got aborted many years before and now have to suffer the awkwardness of meeting again and disentangling the misunderstandings about each other’s feelings from the truth. I could read Persuasion over and over on a desert island both for the story and for the joy of J.A.’s voice and her wonderful sentences.
Be sure to join Brenda and the Owl’s Nest staff on Thursday, November 24th, at 7:00pm to hear more about Tell Anna She’s Safe.