How Claire Cameron wrote a book set 40,000 years ago
Claire Cameron's latest novel, The Last Neanderthal, is an examination of what it means to be female and human. It connects a Neanderthal named Girl who lived 40,000 years ago and a pregnant modern-day archaeologist named Rosamund Gale who finds Girl's remains.
Seeing others, not just yourself
I think we, as a storytelling species, have a habit of treating groups of people as the "other." In both science and popular stories, we looked at [Neanderthals] as a way to define why we are special: why we're so intelligent or what makes us different from animals. When you're looking at another group to actually see yourself, I think you can fail to see what might be true about that other group.
The modern connection
I kept writing about Neanderthals and I thought, "Well, I'll just write a story set 40,000 years ago and that will be a lot more simple and straightforward. I can handle that." But the modern story kept coming in. I couldn't figure out why until I was giving birth to my second son. It was a difficult birth. I realized how many women before me had gone through the same thing and somehow, against what I felt like were all odds at the time, may have lived and their babies have lived. It felt like a connection to my past. That is one thing that hasn't changed very much in 40,000 years. If you're delivering a baby through a birth canal, there's only one way to do it. Our bodies really haven't changed that much. I found this channel back.
Waking up the senses
I used to be an Outward Bound instructor and I've done a lot of climbing and canoeing. I noticed that if I'm outside for a month, my senses really wake up. I live in Toronto. I spend a lot of my time in the city actually trying not to smell things. But when I'm outside I noticed that I have a tuned-in ability to smell a bear. I was sitting on a porch at a cottage in Georgian Bay and I smelled a bear before I saw it move or heard it. I exaggerate that in Girl, but it's that idea that if you're really tuned in and you live in the moment, you sense a lot more things.
Claire Cameron's comments have been edited and condensed.