Tell us more about yourself and the book “The Tender Birds”.
How long have you been writing?
Since I could hold a pencil. Seriously. As a kid, I wrote all over everything (including my desk at school, until I got caught). I also wrote on the fridge door. Gradually I used more legitimate writing media, and did well in English. In high school, I wrote poetry and essays, some of them quite surreal. I started my career as a radio broadcast journalist, and found my way to fiction and recently, back to poetry. My first kids’ book features a bear who doesn’t want to hibernate. I can’t imagine not writing something.
How did you do research for The Tender Birds?
Most of it was hands-on. I’d lived in the Boston area and I now live in Toronto — the two locales where the story is set. Wherever I go, my eyes and ears are always open to interesting sights and local speech. So I made use of the Boston Common area which figures in the novel. In Toronto, I hiked the ravines, as the character of Alison does while a homeless teenager. I made notes and took pictures. One of my characters is a peregrine falcon named Daisy, and in order to research her, I went to a conservation area north of Toronto, learning how to “walk the hawk” and observing the habits and behaviour of these beautiful birds.
What made you write a book about two lonely people and an injured falcon?
It happened that I stumbled upon a New York webcam showing a pair of red-tailed hawks nesting on a ledge outside the NYU president’s office! I couldn’t take my eyes off the birds as they laid and hatched their eggs, cared for their adorable chicks and fed them until they fledged and left the nest. The human chat was just as fascinating, as if the group were creating a virtual nest to hold and protect these vulnerable creatures. Then my inner novelist kicked in, as I wondered what sort of people would attend to these birds with such affection, and perhaps a trace of loneliness. So the characters started talking to me, and the novel began.
Apart from that example, where do get inspiration for your novels?
Ideas come from everywhere, and you never know when a good one is going to hit. Newspaper articles, street scenes, dreams, snippets of conversation, online chat – I make note of anything that grabs me, but an idea for a novel never comes to me whole. There’s always something at the core of those observations that nags at me and begs to be explored through characters and their relationships, so that over time the characters come to life and the plot develops.
There are many books out there about lonely people and strange animals. What makes yours different?
We’re living in a period of time when we’re very concerned about the future of our planet, and while the characters in this novel never address this directly, they do something better. Their actions embody our relationship to nonhuman life and the power it has to give solace and to heal us. Over time, they grow and change, revealing how their interactions with fellow-creatures have
opened their hearts. I think that readers will relate to this at a personal level, but they will also appreciate its implications for the environment.
If you could become a character in your book, who would you be?
Daisy the falcon. Love her cool feathers and amazing eyesight.
What is your next project?
I’m hard at work on my first poetry manuscript.
Thank you Carole.