Books·How I Wrote It

Aimee Wall explores care for women by women and rural access to abortion in her debut novel We, Jane

Aimee Wall is a writer and translator from Newfoundland who now lives in Montreal. We, Jane is her debut novel.
Aimee Wall is a writer and translator from Newfoundland. We, Jane is her debut novel. (Richmond Lam, Book*Hug Press)

Aimee Wall is a writer and translator from Newfoundland, currently living in Montreal. Her translations include Vickie Gendreau's novels Testament and Drama Queens and Jean-Philippe Baril Guérard's Sports and Pastimes. We, Jane is her first novel. 

In We, Jane, Wall explores rural existence, access to abortion, care work for women by women and the complex emotions of deciding to go home. 

The story follows a young woman named Marthe as she befriends an older woman, Jane, while living in Montreal. They begin an intense and complex friendship which leads them back to Newfoundland, where both women are originally from, to continue the cause of helping young women in rural areas access abortions. 

Wall spoke to CBC Books about how she wrote We, Jane and her journey from translation to writing her first novel. 

The Jane Collective

"Sometime around 2015, I heard about the Jane Collective — an underground movement in 1960s Chicago where abortion services were performed by women, who were referred to as 'Jane.' 

"I was curious, so I looked it up. It got me thinking, 'What if now, and in rural Newfoundland?' I had always been interested in reproductive justice and ways that people have variously fought to make advancements on that front, but even more curious about people who did it on the margins.

There was something about living here, while writing about there, that made some places easier to go.

"I always knew that I was going to write about Newfoundland. It feels, even after 10 years in Montreal, my imagination still lives there. Living away was helpful in getting a bit of perspective that comes with the distance — there was something about living here, while writing about there, that made some places easier to go."

A contemporary account of abortion

"I wanted to write about abortion, and I wanted to write about it from several angles. From the character having this experience, but also, in a more zoomed out way, the larger question of access and thinking of it as work — and who does that work and how. 

"When I was first thinking about writing We, Jane, I started to think about what kinds of abortion novels are out there. I had always been disappointed that what I was encountering was either something set in the past, where the narrative tension was built in because it was difficult to access, or we are in the near-future, where all reproductive rights are being threatened. I was always frustrated that there weren't as many contemporary accounts of abortion.

I knew there was going to be actual abortion in the book but I wanted them to be threads, rather than the one narrative drive.

"It was a conscious decision to not have the plot turn on an abortion. I knew there was going to be actual abortion in the book, but I wanted them to be threads, rather than the one narrative drive."

Being part of something bigger

"I wrote the first 80 pages of We, Jane and I was stuck and I re-wrote those several times. I had initially written them in the first person — from Marthe's perspective — and I couldn't make that work, it wasn't giving me the distance that I wanted, so then I rewrote it in the third person. We are still with Marthe, but we can see her as ridiculous and naive sometimes. That was important to me for the story, that we see her naivety just as clearly.

"She wants to be part of this bigger thing — to fit her own experience into a larger story. She wants to have a duty. Sometimes you're going to pull up and question yourself: 'Am I in this because I believe in the mission of what we are doing, or am I in this because I wanted to be in something?' I feel tenderly about that, because it is such a human urge."

Exploring friendship dynamics

"I was interested that, starting off, the dynamic in the intergenerational friendship has that element of Marthe putting Jane on a pedestal — it's an interesting dynamic to me, especially when you are younger and you are seeking, you latch onto people. You hear a lot about that in romantic relationships, but that does happen in friendships too. I wanted to see what happens in a friendship after that, once reality hits.

I was interested in this group of women who were going to do this thing together, but they aren't all best friends — some of them don't get along at all.

"In a larger sense I was interested in this group of women who were going to do this thing together, but they aren't all best friends — some of them don't get along at all. Part of it is that they still come together to do the work, but part of it is that life is kind of like that. They form this little family and that is what it is like in a family."

From translation to writing a novel

"When I'm translating, I do the work of the translating by myself, but it's inherently a collaboration. I'm in conversation in some way or another with the author. You're not quite as on your own. One of the beautiful things about translating is that you are writing, but you never have a blank page.

"When it was my own book, it felt like I was alone on stage. But that said, I wasn't alone in the process. I had a great editor, Malcolm Sutton, and I was pleasantly surprised by how fun and gratifying it was to work with an editor. I'm used to being the one closely-reading somebody else's book when I'm translating it, so to have somebody reading my manuscript and asking interesting questions — it was such a thrill."

Aimee Wall's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now