Hatching Crow

Amy Spurway’s debut novel, Crow, published this spring to rave reviews.

Nova Scotia has a new writer bringing Cape Breton life across the causeway for all the world to read. Amy Spurway’s debut novel, Crow, published this spring to rave reviews.

Born and raised in Cape Breton, Spurway’s candid story telling comes from that sense of home that lives deep within all of us, no matter where we’re from. Mother of three daughters, she now lives in Dartmouth with her husband, and took some time to share the story of the birth and launch of her fourth-born, Crow.

Before there was Crow…

I’ve written since I was a kid, so it was natural to want a writing day job. I went to Ryerson University, thinking I’d go into television and write scripts and got married and had kids instead. One set of twin daughters later, I was a Cape Bretoner in Toronto, living in new mom isolation and anonymity, exhausted by motherhood. Off I went to a support group where I heard a heart-wrenching tale about a mom who passed away unexpectedly, when her twins were babies.

The story hit me like a ton of bricks. Bringing two human beings into the world had given life more significance, and I became terrified I was going to get a horrible disease or drop dead. Compelled to face and explore the consequences of mortality, the only way I knew how was to write my way through.

The genesis of a character…

I like to say Crow is the physical manifest of my existential crisis, post having kids. I wrote the first line when the twins were 6 months old, though it took 13 years and a move back to Nova Scotia to write the rest because writing took a backseat when the motherhood trenches intensified.

I had a third daughter, and then all three girls were diagnosed with autism. Launched into advocacy mothering, while navigating uncharted autism waters, I reentered the workforce, as an editor and corporate writer. But Crow was insistent, and visceral and powerful, and whenever I could get back to her, her voice as a central character continuted to take shape.

Painting people by memory…

I knew where Crow’s story was going from the start, but everything in between was up in the air and largely dictated by the characters. I realize the characters seem to strain the bounds of believability, but they come from the larger than life culture of Cape Breton. And while none are based on specific people, they’re borne of my experiences growing up there.

I grew up in the woods, but my people are from mining towns where struggles and hard times and finding ways to thrive and survive and laugh and live under difficult circumstances shoves living into overdrive. Action was served up daily, people coming and going constantly, lives constantly teetering on the brink.

Believing in the end game…

I always believed Crow would be published. Call it foolish confidence, but I thought it was a book people would want to read. My generation is ravenous for stories with edge and heart, and I think Crow delivers in laughter and tears and makes you feel.

Course I had regular crisis of confidence along the way. I’d log onto Career Beacon to find me a ‘real’ job and then realize I wasn’t qualified for anything. Next thing, my husband would find me sobbing in front of my computer screen and make me read my writing to remind me what I was good at. Eventually, I’d get back to work, until the next meltdown. Rinse and repeat for the next 13 years.

From manuscript to book shelf…

Four years ago, even though Crow wasn’t finished, I decided to go for ‘Pitch the Publisher.’ I wrote up a sales pitch based on a quick and dirty synopsis of story, who I was, and what I thought this book would be in the market. Pitch day, I marched to the waterfront and took my turn at the mike, flying by the seat of my pants.

And even though I don’t fit a mold, there was interest, and I admit, nothing like someone saying they’d like to see the rest of the book to light a roaring fire under the butt! Two years later, Goose Lane took a chance on me. I signed a contract and spent the next two years editing the manuscript.

Carving out the story…

Bethany Gibson was a fantastic editor. She understood what I was going for and how best the characters could serve the story. Gentle, but firm, she’d advised where “you can pull back on this a bit” or reminded me to “trust your reader.”

Editing also gave me a new appreciation on the value of my corporate career. Time was money and writing required a sharp mincing of words. You can’t be flowery. Each word must pack a punch. No getting emotionally attached. At one point, the manuscript was over 120,000 words, but I turned it in at 100,000 edited it to 80,000. Hacking and cutting was fun, harkening back to my days cutting things down to size. Where I couldn’t cut, I revised, and Bethany got a kick over my glee.

Letting a book go-live…

The book’s tone is brash and true to the Cape Breton experience, yet it’s also vulnerable, and I’m hoping it will push conversations. In some ways, it’s an embarrassment of riches, all the living I got to dig thorough and work with.

I’ve been blown away by the response to Crow, but what’s surprised me most is how it resonates across the ages and geography. A 70-year old woman told me how the story rang true to her Cape Breton experience, while at Ben McNally’s in Toronto, Ontarians told me “they’re folks like that here, too.

And the next chapter begins…

I started picking away at two stories not long after Crow was in the can, and it’s a race to see  which one will grab and stick. One is regional and the other isn’t. The former started bubbling up beneath the surface of Crow, along the same vein, while the latter is a stark departure, untied to place. It’s also a much darker story, exploring themes of rage and women being discarded from society. But there will be light because there should be no darkness without it.

 

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Karalee Clerk is a writer in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A recent graduate of the University of King's College MFA Creative Nonfiction program, she has a book of her own in the works and writes a popular blog about her life as a runaway, karaleeofnofixedaddress.com.

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