The blog tour that ran itself

The blog tour that ran itself: this is ‘the next big thing’ interview that writers in the blogosphere are passing, hand to hand, like a baton. What’s the next big thing we’re working on?

Thanks to the talented novelist and short story writer Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, whose short works have recently appeared in Granta and The Walrus, and whose new novel All the Broken Things will be out in early 2014. Lovely to be part of this chain.

What is the working title of your book?

My debut novel, set in Moose Factory, Ontario, is called The Umbrella Mender.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

In September 2002, I began work on a PhD. For years, my great uncle had been pressing his memoirs on me and that term I accepted them. I spent far too long trying to figure out what he wanted from me: An edit? Help finding it a publishing home? I finally asked him straight out. Dr Barclay McKone, a pioneer in tuberculosis treatment in Canada and known in the family as Uncle Barc, said, I just want you to read it.

I was no more than a few pages into the memoir when I knew I’d leave the program at the end of the term. I didn’t know that another five years would pass before The Umbrella Mender would separate fully from the memoir and gain traction in my own imagination, but I did know it was an idea big enough for a novel, the one I’d been waiting for.

What genre does your book fall under?

The Umbrella Mender is primarily set in 1950, but I don’t think of it as historical fiction because it also takes place in 2006. I’m not crazy about the ‘literary fiction’ label, but it’s a story told with attention to language and image.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, this is fun. I have actually thought about this, and it’s mainly because of the beauty of the north. Here’s a view from my window while researching there:


I can picture Sarah Polley as the young, searching, and conflicted Hazel, opposite Jay Baruchel as quirky, dark, and complicated Gideon and, even though he’s Salteaux and not Cree, Adam Beach as the sardonic, watchful Henry.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The Umbrella Mender is a novel of reckoning: eighty-year-old Hazel MacPherson, once a nurse in the north during the TB epidemic and now silenced by a stroke, finds that she must make peace with the secret she’s kept for almost sixty years.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Shaun Bradley at the Transatlantic Literary Agency, who has contracted with Wolsak and Wynn to publish the book in fall 2014.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I had the first 40 pages of my novel by my 40th birthday. A friend said it would make a good t-shirt: 40 by 40. I reached the end of the story for the first time a year later.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Some novels that mine would love to keep company with: Alissa York’s Effigy* and Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses. My agent compares my work to Wayne Johnson’s (Colony of Unrequited Dreams) and Stef Penny’s (The Tenderness of Wolves) in its evocation of wilderness.

(* This is a novel I wouldn’t stop talking about, so my dear friend Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer suggested I interview Alissa for the online magazine she was curating. I did, here.)

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

There were false starts and blind corners to the story inspired by my great uncle’s memoir until I discovered hobo symbols on t-shirts at the Junction Arts Fest late one summer in Toronto. I bought one and asked the artist for a legend. Here’s what he wrote:

This coded system of communication among hobos, begun in the 30s and sketched in dirt and on barn boards for each other, wouldn’t let me go until it gave me Gideon, a beat-generation hobo in the tradition of Kerouac. That’s where my novel really started.

There were serendipitous discoveries along the way that opened the story in ways I didn’t expect, such as the fact that the curious, beautiful lichen I’d photographed while in Moose Factory, usnea, known locally as Old Man’s Beard, was effective against gram positive bacteria including TB, and was a traditional native remedy for it. I love it when that happens.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The story of tuberculosis is a fascinating one. Part of human existence from time immemorial (there is evidence of the disease in Egyptian mummies), it had dramatic effects on society. Ancient Greeks coined a term for the creative fecundity it seemed to visit on sufferers, spes pthisica. During the TB epidemic in 1800s North America, young men in the eastern US colleges were routinely encouraged to leave their studies and take up the farmer/rancher lifestyle, thought to promote health and offer a cure. Pasteurization of milk came about because of bovine TB, which could pass to humans.

So 1951 was an exciting, optimistic time to be a medic: for the first time in the disease’s long history, they could speak of a cure. Streptomycin, discovered in the late 1940s, arrested the disease. Health Canada undertook summer surveys of northern communities, where tuberculosis had begun to decimate native populations: in some communities, the rate of infection was nine in ten. The imperative to find and heal indigenous sufferers was intense, and the young, idealistic Hazel goes north to be part of that pioneering force, but her year on Moose Factory leaves her with secrets she keeps for almost sixty years.

Here’s a short excerpt from the opening chapter of The Umbrella Mender:

My mind starts down a known pathway. He is there, as always. For the first time in all the years since, I’m charged with the certainty that more time wouldn’t have bought greater happiness. We couldn’t have expected more of each other. It would be untrue to say that I never raged against the injustice of it all, that I never wished that things could have been different, that I never tried to close myself against the million natural shocks that repeated exposure brought. But these were momentary lapses in faith and nothing more; even in the depths of my misery I never tried to bargain away the fact of his existence and will not do so now. I remain unrepentant for all that happened.


And now over to my dear writer friends, who will tell you about their Next Big Thing. I hope you’ll visit their sites, too.

Terri Favro

Wayne K Spear

Claire Cameron

Diana Fitzgerald Bryden

Eva Stachniak


Message for tagged authors:
Rules of the Next Big Thing

***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.
Be sure to line up your five people in advance.




  1. I accidentally came across your blog today while looking for pictures of MoCreebec, my current employer. Your book sounds intriguing to say the least because I’ve lived in Moose Factory most of my life, having come here with my mom and siblings so we could be close to our dad who was in the Moose Factory TB hospital in the early 60’s. We originally came from Quebec, and because my dad was a trapper, he got recruited by MNR to trap in Ontario so we ended up staying in Moose Factory, in what was once called “Tent City.” Our dad passed away in January 2014 at the age of 102 and was a well-known, and respected boat taxi driver.
    I would love to read your book, where can I find it?
    PS: I’m guessing the picture of your view was taken from the Cree Village Ecolodge, owned and operated by MoCreebec, right?

    1. Hi Juliet! Lovely to hear from you. There are more photos on another blog entry titled “Moose Factory, six years on.” I kicked off my book tour in Moose Factory in September 2014. Yes, the photo you mention was taken from the Ecolodge! I met Randy Kapeshesit, former chief of the MoCreebec, while I was there researching the book in 2008 and was very sorry to hear of his passing. I liked him very much. Everyone there was generous with time and hospitality while I researched.

      You can buy a copy of the book if you visit the “Novel” tab of my website (there are links there). I brought copies of the book to many people who helped with the research in 2008 when I returned for the book tour in 2014, so I’m sure that there are copies on the island if you ask around. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a copy in the library at the Ecolodge.

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