Books·How I Wrote It

Aviaq Johnston continues the adventures of Pitu the shaman in Those Who Dwell Below

Aviaq Johnston's latest fantasy novel is a sequel to her award-winning debut Those Who Run in the Sky.
Those Who Dwell Below is a fantasy YA novel by Aviaq Johnston. (Inhabit Media)

Nunavut writer Aviaq Johnston had a breakout year with her debut novel, Those Who Run in the SkyThe YA fantasy follows a young shaman named Pitu who finds himself lost in the spirit world amidst dangerous creatures. The book won the Indigenous Voices Award and was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature ⁠— text.

The Inuk author's new book, Those Who Dwell Belowfollows Pitu's latest adventures to the bottom of the ocean where he'll face the sea goddess Nuliajuk.

Johnston spoke to CBC Books about how she wrote Those Who Dwell Below.

Key inspirations

"For Those Who Run in the Sky, I was watching this circus we have back in Nunavut called Artcirq. They did a show about two boys getting lost in the spirit world and did circus acts with all these creatures.

"This time around, I wanted to develop the characters' relationships. On top of that, a lot of my friends and I were going through some traumatic types of events. I wanted that to be an underlying theme in the story — how to deal with trauma as a helper and to do it in a way that's respectful.

I wanted that to be an underlying theme in the story — how to deal with trauma as a helper and to do it in a way that's respectful.

"I outlined the whole book before I even proposed it to Inhabit Media. I came up with all the chapters. Then I wrote parts that were big to me — I think I wrote chapter 11 before I wrote the whole book. Then I started to go through it. When I got stuck, I had to reread the whole thing to get back into the motivation to finish the next chapter."

Sourcing traditional Inuit names

"I wrote a Facebook post asking if anyone had recommendations for names. People sent me a lot of traditional Inuit names. A lot of our names now sound traditional, but are actually biblical names that have been translated to be able to be written in Inuktitut. Rebecca, for example, is Ooleepeeka. People were excited to share their own names with me.

'I wanted people from Nunavut to see these names and recognize them."

Honouring ancestors

"The story is set so far in the past, before there was contact with explorers and Europeans and non-Inuit. I wanted it to be super authentic with my culture because I grew up in a town where we're well known for storytelling. I grew up in a community that uses our culture to express ourselves. I wanted to respect our ancestors.

I wanted people from Nunavut to see these names and recognize them.

"I wanted to show our Inuit names are important to us because you're carrying the spirit of that person into the next person that you give the name to. One of my middle names is Akumalik. The name has been passed down from generation to generation. The spirit of the first-ever Akumalik has been carried on throughout all of us."

Writing in the sky

"I love writing the most when I'm on planes. Luckily, I travel a lot. I usually get a cup of coffee or tea on the flight and put on some music and then just write the whole flight. The flight between Ottawa and Iqaluit is three hours and that's where I wrote most of my second book. I travel back and forth so often.

"If I'm not travelling, I love to go to coffee shops and write there. I find that when it's busier around me, I'm more productive. I have a hard time writing at home." 

Aviaq Johnston's comments have been edited for length and clarity. You can see more interviews in the How I Wrote It series here.

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