How I Wrote It

Why Natalie Appleton ended a relationship, moved from Medicine Hat to Bangkok and wrote a book about it

Natalie Appleton's memoir describes how she uprooted her life, struck a new path and found love along the way.
I Have Something To Tell You is Natalie Appleton's first book. (natalieappleton.ca)

In her memoir I Have Something To Tell YouNatalie Appleton describes how she uprooted her life — ending a long-term relationship and leaving her Alberta hometown of Medicine Hat — and started to forge a new path in Bangkok. Part love story and part coming-of-age tale, the book evolved from a Modern Love column Appleton wrote for the New York Times.

Below, Appleton, who was on the longlist for the 2016 CBC Nonfiction Prize, tells CBC Books about the seven-year process of writing I Have Something To Tell You.

Inspiration from Paul Coelho

"I always quote a line from The Alchemist that I quote in the book: 'Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams...' I think that's helpful for people who are feeling a little bit wobbly about taking a step into new paths.

"When I first was deciding to leave Medicine Hat and move briefly to Calgary and then to Thailand, I was leaving a really comfortable life. I was leaving my friends and I knew I wasn't going to be able to go back in that way. I needed something that I could tell myself to help me know that it was going to be OK when things were feeling unknowable, but that I could trust that I was going the right way."

Mining the past

"At first I wanted to leave my family out of it because I feel like family members don't ask to be a part of memoirs. I don't know if it's a role they wanted to play. But I realized the story was hollow. My editor nudged me toward figuring out how things that had happened earlier in my life were informing the choices that I was making now. I had a lot of interesting realizations about myself and my family life, and was making connections between choices that family members had made and choices that I was making — discovering ways we were similar or different, reflecting on what it all meant."

Take your time

"I started writing it when I was doing my masters degree in 2010. Shortly after I came back to Canada, I got pregnant with my first son. At the same time my husband went back to school, I started a business. Then I had another son the next year. The book more or less got shelved, except for perhaps four days over Christmas holidays. It took seven years from the day that I started writing to the day that it was published. But it was not like I was working on it consistently every day throughout that period. I was always writing it, but never writing it.

"In some ways, it was very naive of me to think that I could start writing this book so close to when the events actually happened. I benefited from the distance between my 35-year-old self versus my 26-year-old self in understanding what my choices meant, what other people's choices meant and how this was connected. I absolutely just couldn't have made those connections at the time and it otherwise would have been a very flat story."

Natalie Appleton's comments have been edited and condensed.

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