Lawrence Hill reveals his favourite family story
The moment is here: author and Massey Lecturer Lawrence Hill has read the family stories on the BloodLines shortlist and picked the one that most resonated for him. And that story is
“Pig (for Oma)” by Alix Hawley of Kelowna, BC
Here's what Lawrence had to say about Alix's story:
Like many of the stories submitted for the Bloodlines contest, "Pig (For Oma)" concerns itself with the survival of an ancestor. "Pig (for Oma)" employs a confident, subtle second-person narration to tell the story of a young Dutch girl who risks her life during the time of Nazi occupation in World War II to travel to her aunt's farm on an urgent errand. The narrative voice is restrained, but the details are sharp and fresh. At one point in the story, the protagonist finds herself hiding a piglet from two Nazi soldiers who are travelling with her on a train. "All Dutch pigs belong to them. All the pigs of the world, all pinkness, all squeals, all flesh." "Pig (for Oma)" is beautifully rendered, from the first sentence to the last.
Alix Hawley is no stranger to the Canada Writes community. She has twice been shortlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize, most recently in 2012 for her story “Tentcity”.
Read our interview with her below.
Congratulations, Alix! We remember you—you were shortlisted twice for the CBC Short Story Prize. Can you remind our readers about yourself?
Thanks for remembering. I'm a novelist and short-story writer in Kelowna, B.C., where I teach at Okanagan College and wrangle my two young children.
What have you been working on since being shortlisted?
Wrangling, mainly. I've also been completing a novel, All True Not a Lie In It, which will be out with Knopf/ Random House Canada in early 2015. It’s a first-person story of Daniel Boone’s captivity and adoption by the Shawnee after the murder of his son and the kidnap of his daughter. You can read an excerpt in the November 2013 issue of The Walrus magazine. I hope you like it.
You have participated in our writing competitions, you have written a collection of short stories, and are currently working on your first novel. What do you normally write about?
I love writing short fiction. Love it. Writing a novel—trying to keep all the threads from snarling—has been a challenge. This was my first real piece of creative nonfiction, but I liked doing it. I love writing about the past in any genre, so that helped.
Your BloodLines story was about your grandmother smuggling a pig under her dress during the war. What made you decide to tell this story?
My Oma, Gerarda Boerboom Bunyan, has had a pretty dramatic life, and the past is alive to her. The war didn't just go away, and that’s always been clear from her need to tell stories, the most memorable of which is this one. I remember her sending some wooden clogs and a Dutch dress to Canada for me when I was about six. I wanted to pass the story on in a similar way.
What made you decide to write this in the second person?
I remember Oma telling me about the pig when I was little; she seemed almost amazed by the story herself, as if it had happened to someone else. The second person, “you,” seemed right for that combination of distance and intimacy.
Did you share this story with your family? How did they react?
My dad, Oma’s son, is a WWII history buff and liked it, so I passed that test! Oma read it too, and from what I hear, she is pleased that so many people can read it. And that so many people can see the beautiful photograph of her in the army truck.
Alix Hawley studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Oxford University, the University of East Anglia, and the University of British Columbia. She is the author of The Old Familiar, a short-story collection (Thistledown, 2008), which was longlisted for the ReLit Award. She has also been shortlisted twice for the CBC Literary Awards for her short stories. Her first novel, All True Not a Lie In It, will be published in early 2015 (Knopf / Random House Canada). She teaches at Okanagan College in Kelowna, B.C., where she lives with her family.