Lisa Moore on The Next Chapter

Each Monday leading up to the Canada Reads debates, The Next Chapter will interview one of the authors (or, in the case of Two Solitudes, the author's friend and editor). CBC Books is replaying these interviews here for your enjoyment.

Today, we present Shelagh Rogers' conversation with Lisa Moore, author of February. Comedian Trent McClellan will defend February during the Canada Reads debates February 11-14.

This interview originally aired on January 7, 2013.

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Lisa Moore remembers the night the Ocean Ranger sank. It was Valentine's Day, 1982. She was a waitress at the Blue Door Cafe, a restaurant in downtown St. John's. They had a special holiday menu, and a storm was raging outside. "The whole city shut down," she told Shelagh Rogers. "You could hardly see the opposite side of the street. Cars had been completely enveloped in this snow."

While Lisa waited on tables and cleaned up after a night of wining and dining, 84 men lost their lives at sea. This terrible accident would haunt her, and the entire province, for a very long time. "Newfoundlanders have had that disaster, and that night, in their hearts ever since."

Lisa didn't know anyone who died on the Ocean Ranger, but when she decide to write the story of Helen O'Mara, the widow at the centre of her novel, February, she had her own devastating personal loss to turn to for inspiration: the death of her father when Lisa was just 16 years old. He died suddenly and unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. Like Helen and Cal, Lisa's parents "were madly in love with each other." And, like Helen, Lisa's mother struggled with her sorrow, which is why Lisa became interesting in writing about it. "I watched my mother come through that grief," she said. "I was interested in how you hold on to someone who's died and how you let them go."

While February focuses on Helen's individual grief, Lisa was also interested in exploring collective grief and how a community reacts to grief. Helen's role as a mother, sister and community member changes after Cal dies. "The disaster was a disaster for everyone," she said. "It took people a long time to come to terms, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially with what happened."


Part of the reason the healing process took so long, Lisa believes, is because the tragedy was so preventable. "That was is most heartbreaking about it. People on the Ocean Ranger weren't trained properly to deal with evacuation. They didn't have the proper safety survival suits. They didn't have an exit plan that was worked out. They didn't manage to communicate effectively with on-shore or with the supply vessels nearby...There were so many turns in the story of the sinking of that vessel that could have been avoided."

Working on an oil rig is a risky endeavour and Lisa wants people to understand, thoroughly, the risks of industry. People are risking their lives for oil and if they aren't properly trained or don't have the right kind of equipment, the risks grow exponentially. And too often, Lisa believes, we talk about risk solely in economic factors. We need to talk about risk in human factors as well. It's a lesson Newfoundland knows all too well. "The risk is those men," she said. "They are risking their lives. They are risking their health and they are risking their family's happiness."

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