Today in honour of Canadian Historical Fiction Month I have the lovely Tanis Rideout here to talk about her book ABOVE ALL THINGS (review here) and what went into making this story possible. Welcome Tanis!
Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
I’m not sure that I chose to write historical fiction, in so much as the story, the character of George in particular grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I had to write about the story and him to get it out of my head, I think.
That having been said I love reading historical fiction – plunging in to different eras. I love history in general, so I find it’s a different way to get at an era or at its people. I don’t think it’s all I’ll ever write, but I think I’ll always be drawn to it.
What drew you specifically to George Mallory and his climb of Mount Everest?
I saw a clip of some of the original film footage of the early expeditions years ago while working at an outdoor equipment store. I was struck by the image – a massive white cliff, these tiny men in black and white with their enormous packs and outdated and rather unsuitable clothing! I started to read everything I could get my hands on.
I was stunned by the sheer ambition and scope of those early attempts and how insane it all seemed. And then as I started to read specifically about George I was star struck. I fell in love. He was so charismatic, so good looking. Perhaps one of the last great English gentlemen explorers.
The story raised so many questions for me. I had to write it.
I researched a lot. I love research. If I could just do research I think I’d be very happy! I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on about Everest, about the physiology of high altitude and cold, about George and Sandy.
And then I was lucky enough to go to England and get a chance to read letters and documents in the archives at Cambridge and the Royal Geographical Society. At some point in time though, you have to walk away from the research and tell the story that is there, that is, hopefully, coming alive on the pages in front of you.
Did you find it difficult writing many perspectives?
I found it difficult at different times. Interestingly, I thought Ruth would be the easy one to write – but she ended up being the most difficult, I think – perhaps because of the smallness of her world, her story, when contrasted with George and Sandy’s. But perspective is part of what is so interesting about story telling. And I knew I wanted to hear Ruth’s version of George – I knew it would be different than everyone else’s. I quite enjoyed being able to go back and forth from one to the other. Sometimes scenes got shifted from one person to another, just because it allowed the reader to understand so much more.
Who was your favourite character to write? Who was the most difficult?
This changed over time. As I mentioned – I thought Ruth would be easy when I started, I thought I had more inherently in common with her than I did with George or Sandy. But when I got down to it, she was a challenge. Once I found her voice though, her landscape, she became easier.
Sandy moved in and out of the book a few times – but in the end I think he really found his own footing and I quite enjoyed being in his shoes for a while.
And George – well, as I said, I loved him. Though I think perhaps that waned through the writing.
TANIS RIDEOUT received her MFA from the University of Guelph-Humber, and she has been a finalist for the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and the CBC Literary Awards. In 2006, she was named Poet Laureate for Lake Ontario by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and joined Gord Downie on a tour to promote environmental justice on the lake. Sometimes referred to as the Poet Laureate of CanRock, Tanis joined Sarah Harmer’s I Love the Escarpment Tour to read a commissioned poem. She was born in Belgium, grew up in Bermuda and in Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Toronto.