The Next Chapter

Michael Redhill on writing mysteries under a pseudonym

Michael Redhill says he regrets inadvertently creating a "circus" of speculation around his secret writing identity.
Literary author Michael Redhill started writing mysteries under the pseudonym Inger Ash Wolfe a decade ago. (McClelland & Stewart)

When the mystery novel The Calling was first published 10 years ago, the publisher described the book's author, Inger Ash Wolfe, as "the pseudonym for a well-known and well-regarded North American literary novelist." This set the rumour mill on fire — some reviewers suggested the real author might be Jane Urquhart, while others thought it was Margaret Atwood, or possibly Linda Spalding. In the end, it was Michael Redhill — a poet, playwright and, yes, literary novelist — who stepped forward to claim the pen name when the third book in the series came out. 

The Night Bell, the new Inger Ash Wolfe novel, is out now. Shelagh Rogers spoke to Michael Redhill a few years ago.


I wanted to do something different. I wanted to change, but I wanted to be the only one who knew that I had changed. I wanted to live another life, see what it would feel like, experiment with myself even from an identity point of view, feel what it would be like to start over again. [The speculation] made me nervous. I didn't want bars to be rattled because I was doing something that was all about my own experience as a writer. I didn't talk to everybody who was affected, but I know Jane [Urquhart] didn't enjoy it that much. I didn't do this because I wanted to create a circus, but I did create a circus in an ancillary kind of way, which wasn't that enjoyable to live through.


[Main character Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef] is becoming increasingly aware of the fact that she's getting older, coming to the end of her world. There's so much to explore with her in terms of how she does her job and who she is as a person, and I just feel like there's so much for her to discover, and I have to come up with plots that she can operate within. I think Hazel's good at her job but I also think she has poor impulse control. When she finds herself in situations that require quick thinking, she often comes up with a solution that works, but it's not necessarily one that you would read in the guidebook. 


I have a place [in the Muskokas] that we've gone to for 35 years, and it's the only place I know that hasn't changed in 35 years, although now everything around it is changing. There's a certain amount of decay and predation that we think about in the context of crimes committed by human beings against each other, but it happens in the landscape as well — it happens in the places people live in and the things they build. And in this way, these books are very much tied to my main obsessions in my writing outside of the genre. Disappearance is one of those obsessions — the pseudonym was a form of disappearance, and that was a conscious thing when I did it. The fact that people become attached to places and love them and then destroy them... it's just what we do now. I liked the possibility of having a series where I had eight or nine or ten books to develop the idea, to tie human depravity to organizational depravity, and the depravity of living in nature the way that we do.

Michael Redhill's comments have been edited and condensed.