Books·How I Wrote It

How being a CBC Literary Prize finalist gave Christine Higdon the confidence she needed to pursue writing

The former CBC Literary Prize finalist discusses writing her debut novel, The Very Marrow of Our Bones.
Christine Higdon is the author of The Very Marrow of Our Bones. (Submitted by Christine Higdon)

Christine Higdon was shortlisted for the 2016 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize for her essay Because We're Not at the Ocean. Before that competition she had never shared her work or tried to have anything published, but with the immediate success she felt more empowered to write. Her debut novel, The Very Marrow of Our Bones, came out in 2018.

Below, Higdon tells CBC Books how she wrote The Very Marrow Of Our Boneswhich is about a daughter grappling with the sudden disappearance of her mother, decades later.

Put yourself out there

"Before the book was going to be published, I felt like, 'Oh my God I'm I'm putting my book, my life out there.' It isn't my life story but it is my thoughts and it's on something so personal. You are exposing yourself on some level and that's been an interesting part of this journey for me. 

"Even when I was shortlisted for the CBC Nonfiction Prize, I had a moment of thinking,'Oh should I put this on Facebook?' There's that direct exposure with nonfiction when you actually are telling a story, but in fiction you are telling your story too. Before the CBC Nonfiction Prize, I had never tried to get anything published. I had never sent anything out and then I sort of had this immediate success and then again with my novel as well." 

A long time coming

"I started writing this book in 2004, when I took the creative writing program at University of Toronto in the School of Continuing Studies. In one of the very first courses I took, one of the professors asked us to write a funny sex scene. I went away and wrote the story about this woman who is a musician. She goes to Tennessee for a folk festival and gets seduced by this younger guy. The character in that story became Lulu, the main character in my book. When I was graduating I had written about four or five short stories using the same character. When I gave my collection of short stories to the my adviser she came back and she said, 'Who's this Lulu character?' and I said, 'I was thinking about writing a book and a novel,' and she handed me the whole package back and said, 'Give me the novel.' In the end I was extremely grateful for that. It got me started and I worked away on it here and there while I was working until 2015 when I finally sent it to an agent."

Reflecting on her own mother

"One of the the themes of the story was about my mother. I don't even know how old I was, but she essentially said that if she was to do it again, she might not have had children. On some level, that was a pretty hard thing to hear. But at the same time, I had this compassion for her. She and my father were poor. They traveled all over the place looking for work. She had five kids and I think she was overwhelmed by the experience. And I thought about that. I understood how that might be something more than we let on, that women might feel."

It's never too late

"I was well into my 40s when I started [writing]. For me it feels like I have, and I don't want to say arrived, but its something that I have thought about and dreamed about for a long time, and I finally got to do it. To actually have this success with it is just charming and just feels like a charmed life."

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