Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Ann Towell

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Ten Questions with Ann Towell

Ann Towell’s most recent book, Grease Town (Tundra Books) is “a heartbreaking history of prejudice, family ties and the loss of innocence.” Open Book speaks with her about Grease Town, reading and writing.
 

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, Grease Town.

Ann Towell:

I live very close to the oil heritage district of Ontario and have been fascinated with this area since I was a teenager. It wasn’t until recently I heard about the race riot that occurred in Oil Springs in 1863. There was definitely a story there and my imagination took root. The narrator is a twelve-year-old boy who talks too much. Even my editor found this to be so and we were able to cut out at least 40 pages of this young boy’s ramblings. He befriends a child of ex-slaves who came through the under ground railroad. It is really a tale about loss of innocence and about responsibility. One is never too young to shoulder the responsibility of doing what is right in any given situation. That being said, it is not a didactic novel at all.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

AT:

Yes, of course. I was writing for children who like to read. I was writing the kind of book I would have enjoyed as a child.

OBT:

How did you research Grease Town?

AT:

I spent time walking through the oil fields of the Fairbank family. The sound of the jerker lines squeaking amidst the hush of the countryside was very inspirational. The method of drawing the oil out of the ground that this family uses is virtually the same as the one their ancestors used in the 1800s. I also pored over local history books of the oil heritage district in Lambton County. The fact that my twenty-year-old son worked there, pulling wells, brought the smell and mess of oil into the house every night after work. That gave me a concrete appreciation for those who worked there in the 1860s without the modern conveniences for cleanliness.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

AT:

My room upstairs in our old farmhouse – I can look out over the tall prairie grass field beyond the way. Sometimes deer and coyotes come across the road to roam in our yard. A bald eagle has been around for the last few weeks – truly magical.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

AT:

The Hollow Locust Trees by Black Moss Press.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

AT:

Emancipation Day at Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Dresden) this past summer. So much of black history has not been taught in our schools.

 

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

AT:

I recommend these three right now though my choice may change by next week.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie Macdonald
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

 

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

AT:

I just finished reading Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak and Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy. These three books cover a wide range of societal ills: war, suicide, rape, racism, fratricide etc.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

AT:

The same advice virtually every writer gives – keep at it and keep sending off your work. Almost every writer has a folder with rejections.

 

OBT:

What is your next project? 

AT:

A children’s novel entitled Jigging Down. When the men were working the spring poles on the oil rigs during the 1800s it looked like they were dancing a jig – hence the name. The story will unfold against the backdrop of Petrolia, a Victorian oil town.

 

 Ann Towell was born in Chatham, Ontario, and grew up in Wallaceburg. She was co-finalist, with her husband, world-renowned photographer Larry Towell, for the Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor Award for work on the Mennonites, a segment that appeared in the 1994 summer edition of Descant magazine. She has four children: Moses, Naomi, Noah, and Issac and a granddaughter, River Annabelle. She lives near Shetland, Ontario, on at 75-acre farm.


For more information on Grease Town, please visit the Tundra Books website.


Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.
 

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