Nik is an eccentric art student obsessed with painting his dancer girlfriend, Jennifer,” begins the Dundurn Publishing overview of Campbell River’s own Suzanne Alyssa Andrew’s first novel, Circle of Stones.
“When one day she inexplicably disappears, Nik’s world is shattered. Determined to find her, he embarks on a cross-country journey following a scant trail of clues.
“Nik and Jennifer fade into the background of their own tale, surfacing now and again like ghosts as the rest of their mysterious story unfolds through a series of chance encounters with intricately linked strangers. An English professor coping with a dying mother, a rebellious teenage girl, a debt-ridden civil servant, a disillusioned ex-anarchist documentary filmmaker, and other disparate characters who encounter the separate couple as they circle one another in a tentative dance.”
No, Circle of Stones is definitely not what you would call a traditional narrative.
“Each chapter is told from the perspective of someone they’ve met along the way,” Andrew says. “I’ve always been fascinated with the interconnections between people, and this was another way for me to explore that.”
Which is maybe why the book took her six years of conceptualization, research and writing to complete.
“I had to put myself in the place of all these people,” Andrew says, and since some of those people are far removed from her own life experience, that endeavour became difficult at times.
“One chapter is from the perspective of a teenage girl, and then another is from the perspective of an elderly woman. I really had to change my perspective on things and immerse myself in those characters so I could tell the story from their point of view.”
Not only that, but the story is, as Andrew puts it, “an action-adventure-romance,” that sees an idealistic artist chase the love of his life across the country, so while the characters are all of her own invention, the places had to be real. That took a fair amount of research, as well.
And after those six years of conceptualization and writing, becoming different characters and exploring many places, Andrew then had to find someone to buy it.
Not an easy feat for a work that is so complex and non-traditional in form.
But it all came together at Dundurn, and she’s been putting her all into getting people to read it since its launch this past March.
And read it they have.
The Georgia Strait has called Circle of Stones, “a promising debut containing familiar settings, a damaged cast, and tight, realistic dialogue … (which) leaves us to ponder the pursuit of our own happiness,” and 49th Shelf, an online project by the Association of Canadian Publishers and the Canadian Publishers’ Council recently proclaimed it one of their “2015 Books of the Year.”
“It’s been one of the busiest years of my life,” Andrew says, and that year culminates with the last stop on her book tour in support of Circle of Stones, next Tuesday (Dec. 8) at the Campbell River Library. That event will cap off the tour, after which she will try to find some downtime to recover – and work on her next book, which she hopes won’t take quite as long to write.
“I’ve learned so much from this one,” she says. “A lot of what you do when you’re writing your first novel is learn how to write your first novel,” she laughs.
And she’s looking forward to sharing all that work with the people of Campbell River.
“I spent my entire childhood and teenage years in Campbell River, and I still come back once a year, at least,” she says. “I still consider it my home, even though I live in Toronto now.”
So it makes sense that Circle of Stones opens right here, where her love of words began, on the shores of the Strait of Georgia, before her characters take off on their respective journeys.
Join Andrew and her guest Jennifer Manuel, author of The Heaviness of Things That Float at the Campbell River Library on Tuesday (Dec. 8) from 6 to 7:45 p.m for a reading of a scene from Circle of Stones which takes place at the Campbell River Seawalk, followed by a Q&A hosted by local librarian Patrick Siebold.
Copies of Circle of Stones for sale and signing will also be available at the event.