Cece chats with Katherine Ashenburg, whose newest book HER TURN is On Sale July 27th
Cece chats with Katherine Ashenburg, whose newest book HER TURN is On Sale July 27th
“I do some of my best thinking on trains. I really need to get on more trains.”
“Because I love reading so much it never occurred to me that I could actually write a book. I thought that process involved some kind of magical thing,” says Katherine Ashenburg, whose newest book Her Turn comes out today. (Tuesday, July 27, Penguin Random House Canada).
In fact, Katherine’s interview with cecescott.com was her first interview for Her Turn– which proves to you, Dear Readers, that you can always find out about the Hottest new book releases and the most exciting breaking book news by reading this blog!
An author, newspaper journalist, and an academic specializing in Dickens, Katherine’s career has been a collection of ten-year tenures.
She was also a CBC radio producer for ten years and then the Globe and Mail books editor for – you guessed it – ten years.
“Until recently, I had a ten-year attention span as far as jobs go,” Katherine says laughingly. “But what I loved about being the books editor was having a chance to have the couch in my office covered in books, along with the opportunity to make so many wonderful choices around the books that would be reviewed. We had so many more [newspaper] pages in those days which allowed us to review a greater number of books. That was a wonderful job.”
Since leaving the Globe and Mail to freelance 20 years ago, and before the writing of her first book of fiction – Sofie & Cecilia – Katherine wrote four books of non-fiction, covering a gamut of topics from travel to mourning customs to architecture.
Her skills of observation and the valuable experience of having written over 100 articles for the preeminent New York Times, trained Katherine to not only look at things more closely, but also to describe them in lively and robust detail.
“I wrote a book about southern Ontario towns called Going to Town: Architectural Walking Tours in Southern Ontario, [which won the Ontario Historical Society’s award for best regional history], and that helped me to be observant as well. I am also very fascinated by human psychology and what motivates people to do what they do,” Katherine says.
Interesting observations that Katherine garnered in the research and writing of that book was the cross-stitched fealty to the English Crown that so many of Ontario’s towns had in the naming of their streets: Queen Street; King Street, Princess Street. As well she found that so many of the towns were tiny little miniatures of larger societies.
“There would be Catholic sections or Presbyterian sections or Anglican sections in these small towns,” Katherine says. “The country was carved out in miniature and I found that very interesting.”
Another of Katherine’s non-fiction books, one that will be explored in Creative Aging Books & Ideas Free Virtual Event on Thursday, August 26th, is The Mourner’s Dance: What We Do When People Die. In this book, Katherine explores the traditions and rituals, the purpose and processes around the honouring and practicing of grief across a diverse spectrum of religions and cultures.
Sign up for this AUGUST 26TH FREE VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB EVENT HERE
Although she had had vast experience in the newspaper world, and had written her thesis on Dickens, it had never occurred to Katherine to write a book of fiction until much later in her life. The idea for her first novel, Sofie & Cecilia, was a gift from her good friend, novelist Jane Urquhart. On a trip to Sweden to visit her daughter, Katherine became fascinated by Swedish painter Carl Larsson.
“When I visited Carl Larsson’s house, I became enthralled not only with his work but also the work of his wife, Karin Bergöö Larsson, who became Sofie in the book,” Katherine says. “The couple both attended the Royal Academy of Painting and had the same training, but when they got engaged Carl told Karin that once they were married, she wasn’t allowed to paint, which spurred a whole other interest in the couple’s relationship. I had never thought of writing a novel until Jane encouraged me to do so.”
The embedded culture of the newsroom and Katherine’s experience as the editor for the Globe and Mail’s Facts & Arguments page is what inspired the narrative for Katherine’s latest novel, Her Turn.
Set in the newsroom of a fictional Washington newspaper- one whose backdrop is modeled on Katherine’s old alma mater – the main protagonist, Liz, literally has Katherine’s old job.
“I would get submissions from people I knew when I was the Facts & Arguments editor, but they had no idea that they were sending their personal essays to me. A lot of times people sent things to me that could never be published because they were so revealing that they didn’t want their name on the piece. I had to explain to them that the power of the column included having their name on the essay. As you can imagine, I got to read about all kinds of things that people were hiding. I was thinking about this whole situation when I was on a train one day and it gave me the idea for Her Turn. I do some of my best thinking on trains. I really need to get on more trains,” Katherine says laughingly. “I used to say that the person behind columns like these could be a Carol Shield heroine because the whole country is coming to them with their problems.”
Serendipitously, two ideas clicked for Katherine as she began the writing of Her Turn. A divorced woman comes to terms with the end of her marriage – and while doing her job as the anonymous ‘Dear Editor’ she receives a personal essay from her ex’s new wife, (wife #2, Nicole), opining on the state of said marriage to Liz’s ex.
“The newsroom is a place for so many eccentric characters; it is pretty easy to be comical about them,” Katherine says.
And that is when the fun begins as things for Liz quickly devolve and she begins publishing provocative columns that are so concerning to readers that Liz is told by her boss that if she doesn’t mute herself she is going to be reassigned to the religious beat, which is “akin to being sent to Siberia” within the newsroom culture.
“I thought I was writing a book about forgiveness but then my editor started talking about it as a romantic comedy and I came to like the idea,” Katherine says laughingly. “There is a certain amount of comedy in the novel and I never knew there were so many sides to forgiveness.”
As many of my loyal readers know, I am a huge fan of metaphors and phrases steeped in imagery and Her Turn does not disappoint.
“Nicole was like a dress skulking at the outmost edge of her closet. But since the arrival of Nicole’s submission, the dress was what Liz saw first thing in the morning when she opened the closet- it probably glowed in the dark.” (Page 51)
Or “Having Nicole settle down in her email was distressing but there was something illicit and exciting about it too. As if Liz wanted to know a kitten better and was bringing out a ball of yarn.” (Page 52)
Now that Katherine has broken the fear around writing in the fiction genre, she says that she can’t imagine anything more delightful.
“It took me until I was almost 73 years of age to figure that out,” she says. “No matter what a person looks like on the outside, we all have stories within us.”
Get a copy of Katherine’s witty and wonderful HER TURN here
Katherine will be sharing her experiences around the writing of both Her Turn and The Mourner’s Dance, a book that examines mourning and the grieving customs within different cultures, (a journey inspired by the death of her daughter’s fiancée), on August 26th, at Creative Aging Books & Ideas (hosted by Jen Tindall and Cece), FREE Virtual Book Club Event.
“Time doesn’t heal; grieving does,” Katherine’s daughter told her mother at the time.
To Register for the August 26th Book Club email email@example.com, and include Book Club Event in the subject line.
Cece is the feature cover writer for several prestigious publications and is an informed, connected and enthusiastic book blogger at cecescott.com. Her first book, The Love Story, was published in 2019. Her second book will be coming out in the spring of 2021.
Cece is also working on a book of Daily Reflections for Auto Immune Condition Warriors.
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