The microwave beeped. Anna removed the steaming lasagna, stepped into the dining room, and, plate in one hand, fork in the other, stood at the screen door that opened onto the back deck. The property was a mess. She hadn’t realized how much of a mess when she bought the place. She wanted gardens like her gran’s. Gran. She could use her help right now. Tears welled up. She wiped them away and slid open the screen door and sat on Alain’s old sling-back deck chair, the brown and beige striped one with the worn seat. Hers, next to it, was blue and white and also worn. She hadn’t been able to get rid of either of them. They’d taken up most of the balcony of their Pacific Avenue apartment but here, on her eight-by-ten-foot cedar deck, they barely made a dent.
She took a forkful of lasagna. A bird was singing. She scanned the yard. On the fence post, eight feet away. A bird with a red head. It didn’t chirp like a robin. Its song was more like a warble, with multiple notes and harmony. She squinted, tried for a better look. Its little throat vibrated as it sang. In the distance, an echo. Or a reply? Yes, there seemed to be a conversation going on. Two birds singing to each other across the treetops. Then she remembered the nightingale, the one they’d listened to together thirty-six years earlier, in Marseille.
What people are saying …
Beautifully written — I really enjoyed this book. Wonderful likable characters, strong female main character, gorgeous island setting in British Columbia that made we want to move there, and a warm-hearted, compelling story with interesting information on birds woven into its fabric. (Terry)
Complex characters with real-life issues – After the death of her husband, Anna suddenly moves to a small island in the “Salish Sea.” She may be alone but she brings her complicated relationships with her family and friends in Vancouver with her and finds that her new island friends aren’t any easier. Each character in this book is unique — no stereotypes here! — and every relationship rings true. The changes that Anna goes through and the insights she gains along the way make this book a real page turner. I really liked it! (Patricia Macdonald)
Deeply human characters and experiences — The book is set primarily on a fictitious Gulf Island off the BC coast and explores a few years in the life of Anna, a widow who moves there. The characters are beautifully constructed, the events very life-like, and the challenges both familiar and complex. The changes Anna undergoes in her new location are beautifully described and moving. A fast read, yet thoughtful and filled with unexpected turns. I loved this book. (Gary D. Prideaux)
A fast moving easy-to-read story — lots of action that made me both laugh and cry, several times! Taught me, painlessly, many things I didn’t know about and was glad to learn. On top of that, the familiarity of place and people made it especially delightful for me. What more could I ask for from a novel? Thank you!! (Heide Brown)
Having lived on a gulf island for the last 13 years, I could relate to the experiences of many of the characters in Sharon McInnes’ book “Across A Narrow Strait”, from Anna’s seemingly impetuous move from a large community to the myriad meetings on issues that never quite get resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Reminiscent of William Deverill’s Arthur Beauchamp series, which also captures the quirks of living on a fictional gulf island (albeit without any bloodshed), McInnes tells this story with a warm tone that provoked both laughter and tears in this reader. Recommended, bought 2 more copies to give as holiday gifts. (Adrienne Vance)
This is a delightful story, beautifully crafted. In much the same way that Anne Tyler has captivated millions of readers over so many years, Sharon McInnes’ heart-warming tale of the ordinary lives of ordinary people shows that no-one is really ordinary and everyone’s life is entirely their own, in big and small ways that create pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow and a multitude of other emotions that make our so-called ‘ordinary’ lives unique. The human frailties which complicate our relationships with family and friends is clearly on display here and I was surprised at how the author’s honest re-counting of things not said or done that should have been, and things said and done that should not, often brought an unexpected upswell of emotion that reminded me that I was still very much alive and had a heart. (Paul Ryan)
To purchase Across a Narrow Strait …
… in paperback from Amazon.ca, click here.
… in paperback from Amazon.com, click here.
… in ebook format for Kindle, click here. (If you don’t have Kindle, you can download it for free from the App Store or Google Play.)
… in ebook format for Kobo, click here.
Bookstores: Please order through the distributor, Red Toque Books, here.
To contact the author, please go to the Contact page
Q&A ABOUT THE NOVEL
Do you have a question for the author? Please let me know via the Contact page and I’ll do my best to answer it!
In the meantime, here are some ready-made questions:
What inspired you to write Across a Narrow Strait?
I wanted to explore the process of becoming an activist, of what pushes someone who’s had no leanings whatsoever in that direction. I wanted to see if I could put that transformation, which must be emotional at its core, on paper. Could I show how someone like Anna, an uptight apolitical high school teacher whose focus in life has always been her younger sister, Katie (who has physical and cognitive disabilities), might one day arrive at place where she feels it is her moral duty to break the law?
At the same time, I wanted that thread to be embedded in a story that everyone — not just activist-types — would enjoy. So it’s a family drama and love story too.
How long did it take to write the novel?
It’s hard to say for sure since the earliest drafts were on a computer I have since tossed, but probably 7 years.
How many drafts did you do?
That depends. What is a draft? I reworked the novel for so many years, constantly changing, editing, polishing. In the beginning, though, there were complete rewrites, starting over from a completely new beginning, for example. This happened after the first manuscript evaluation and again, years later, after working with a fiction mentor who urged me to start even later in the story (where have you heard that before?) and to give Katie more space and time. Then, as I got feedback from my beta readers, I continued to make small changes. That went on until the day I published it!
The novel has three point-of-view characters — Anna, Tim, and Sam — although it is mainly Anna’s story. Why did you give Tim and Sam their own points-of-view and voices?
At first I wanted point-of-view characters primarily to show us Anna through other characters’ eyes. But as I began writing Sam, and later Tim, they took on lives of their own, and I found myself just as interested in their stories as in Anna’s. In the end, of course, the three plot lines intersected, hopefully deepening each other’s stories.
Is Anna you in disguise?
Good heavens, NO! For one thing, I do not have red hair. And I am not tall and thin! And I was never married to a delightful French man or a pilot, both of whom had the gall to die early. However … Anna’s journey into activism is a reflection of my own in many ways. Like her, I got turned onto birds when I moved from Vancouver to a gulf island, and like her, I became an anti-pipeline activist because of my love for birds and concern for their habitat. But I haven’t sat in the middle of a highway or gone to jail. Yet.
There are scenes where Anna has almost mystical encounters with a bird — a young finch, a Bonaparte’s gull. Are these experiences taken from your own life?
Yes. Not necessarily with these particular species, but I have had moments of almost mystical connection with individual birds. I understand this as tuning into the awareness of “the other”, and it does fill me with something like awe.
Did you do much research to write the book?
I did. Even though I was involved in fighting the Enbridge Pipeline while I was writing it, so was constantly reading information about the tar sands and the effects of an oil spill on birds and the economics of pipeline development, it was important to get all that right. Plus, I had to learn about deer – about their physical characteristics, how they live, census methods – it goes on and on. My saved research files number in the hundreds.
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS
Across a Narrow Strait Book Club Discussion Questions
WARNING!!! DO NOT READ THESE IF YOU HAVEN’T YET READ THE BOOK! They’re full of information you’ll want to discover for yourself.
- When Anna is twenty, she goes to France for the summer and happens to meet Alain. Then she goes back home to Vancouver and marries her fiancé, Jim. Why doesn’t she stay in Marseilles with Alain, as he asks her to? Is the decision credible, given who Anna is?
- Who is your favourite character? Why?
- How does being Katie’s older sister change Anna’s life?
- Anna and Alain are very different people. What draws them together? How does being with Alain “change” Anna?
- After Alain dies, when Anna is 55, she starts thinking about moving to Kingfisher Island. Her biggest concern is: What about Katie? What do you make of this?
- Discuss the theme of coincidence/destiny/free will that runs throughout the novel. Do you agree with Owen Meany that coincidence is “a stupid, shallow refuge sought by stupid, shallow people who were unable to accept the fact that their lives were shaped by a terrifying and awesome design—more powerful and unstoppable than The Flying Yankee.” (John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany.)
- “Sam watched his feet move in the calm water, slowly, from side to side, creating tiny ripples that radiated out, farther and farther, until they were no more. The water was a light cerulean blue by the dock, but became much darker in the distance, with more variation, because of the impurities dissolved in the deeper water. He thought about that, about how things look different farther away.” Discuss how perspective changes things in the novel, or in your own life.
- On Kingfisher Island, Anna becomes enthralled with wild birds and has several encounters with individual birds that verge on the mystical. What do you make of these?
- How much impact does place have on who we become? How does living on Kingfisher Island change how Anna’s experiences the world?
- Ironically, Anna feels freer than she’s ever felt as she lies on her cot in the Rosetta Harbour jail cell after the GreenGate Pipeline protest. How would you describe what’s happening to her?