Local Author Spotlight: Michelle Grierson
Becoming Leidah is your debut novel. What was the process of this book from writing to publication?
Writing Becoming Leidah was a process that took a few years: many stops and starts, a red herring or two, and of course, difficult decisions about which story threads were the strongest, and what needed to be cut. The character of Leidah showed up first, while I was researching my family roots, perusing old photographs. Her voice was incredibly clear from the beginning, so much so, it felt like I was channeling her as I wrote. Then the other characters showed up, one by one, almost like quilt patches; the story stitched itself together (though it took years for everything to truly fall into place, including attending Humber School for Writers). Once I had a full manuscript, a friend encouraged me to enter the FOLD contest, just to see what would happen; I had never put my writing out there in the ‘real’ world, so it felt more than a little scary. Thankfully (and miraculously), this advice landed me a pitch meeting in front of an editor, and then a few weeks later, I was offered a contract with Simon and Schuster Canada. When the editing process got underway, I was even more excited, mainly because my editor, Laurie Grassi, was so amazingly talented and astute. It was incredibly satisfying to be collaborating with someone who believed in the story and characters as much as I did.
This book was inspired by your own roots and your belief in blood memory. Can you expand on this, tell us what blood memory means to you, and how this helped to inspire this story?
I have always been drawn to fairytales, myths and legends. When I was a child, my father used to tell me stories about the strength of the Norwegian women in our family, particularly related to their healing abilities. One of my favourites: my great grandmother cured herself of gangrene overnight, with faith, prayer and a bit of folk medicine. Stories like these sparked my imagination; the connection to these women felt palpable, in my blood. As an adult, I started researching the concept of ancestral memory through my training as a dancer. Modern dance pioneer Martha Graham called it ‘blood memory’, though the idea can be found in ancient cultures all over the world. Recent discoveries in epigenetics confirmed what my intuition had been telling me for so long: we carry knowledge of the past in our bodies, especially when it’s related to trauma. Ancestral inheritance became one of the main threads in the book, related to the mother-daughter relationship of Maeva and Leidah.
When I traveled to Norway with my child in 2017, it felt like coming home; the last stitches of the story truly tightened. For most of the trip, we were on or surrounded by water; this delicious fluidity informed the mood of the book, along with my lifelong fascination with magic, the relativity of time and the shapeshifting nature of reality.
Do you have plans for any future books?
Absolutely! Right now, I am working on the first draft of a story set in late 19th century Paris, exploring themes of hysteria, spiritualism and mediumship. It’s shaping up to be a bit of a ghost hunting tale, with some unusual characters. I am also plotting a third book that’s been waiting in the wings for years. The story is a little like Leidah, in that it’s rooted in ancestral knowledge (set in northern Norway this time). This one will require some deep diving into the past; it feels like it’s under my skin, close to the bone.
While writing Becoming Leidah, where did you find yourself writing most often? At what time of day?
I usually began my morning at the kitchen table, reading over edits I had made the previous day. By noon, I moved to my studio: a second story loft space with a balcony that overlooks a maple forest.
This space feels like a treehouse; the dappled light, the soft hush of the wind in the branches, sounding a little like waves crashing on a shoreline.
This is where my best thinking / writing / creating always occurs—it’s truly a sanctuary.