Interview with Author J. A. Gibbens
I had the pleasure of meeting Canadian author J. A. Gibbens of The Awen Chronicles, a cross-genre trilogy of mystery and suspense, involving themes often associated with literary novels. The talented writer published two novels and has started on the third during the pandemic; it was hard to keep up with her! Here's a quick look at these exciting stories:
Book 1, L’Orté Point, published in 2021, was inspired by conflicting family secrets which surrounded her during her formative years in Southern Ontario. Although a fictionalized accounting, it represents an emotional truth. A tale of murder, deception, and greed, L’Orté Point is full of thrills and intrigue.
Book 2, Cow on the Ice–ko på isen, published in 2022, was inspired by observations made of people and places she experienced during her travels abroad and involves some new characters, and some that readers already met in L’Orté Point. Cow on the Ice is full of love and loss, violence and beauty, intrigue, and world travels so vividly described you'll feel you're right there. Its danger speaks to the adventurer in us all, its beauty to the romantic, and its suspense to that frightened part of us that knows just how fragile life can be, no matter how well or how poorly it is lived.
Book 3, Epitaph: Full Circle is still a secret—to be revealed next year.
When did you begin writing?
I would have to say I started back in high school. I didn't write frequently, nor did I produce much product, but I did write. School and life got in the way for many years, and more recently, I felt pressure to formalize the process. The isolation of the pandemic provided that opportunity, and my increasingly advanced age provided an urgency to finally do it before I run out of time.
What have you written?
During a low period in my life, I threw out everything I had written up to that point. Since that time, I produced only short pieces as events, interactions and characters occurred to me, but I wasn't certain where that was headed. I became a diarist of sorts. Further, most of my writing since then had been job-focused, dealing with matters in science and finance—until the pandemic.
Tell us about The Awen Chronicles.
My family was very secretive and controlling. The true nature of life at home would not have been apparent to others, save for fleeting indications of "that's odd." It scarred me and much of my life involved overcoming those early years.
In the first book, I attempt to make my way through the conflicting stories I heard, the things I saw and experienced. I fictionalized the story in order to provide myself with a greater freedom of expression. Some events I recall only in part, so I needed to give them some form, some context.
I grew fond of certain of the characters I'd created and the second book of the series is the result. I continue to look at relationships and those values I hold dear, but again, set within a bit of a mystery.
In life, all things end. There were matters which needed to be resolved and that's what I'm working toward as I complete the final book.
The trilogy overall is the story of the main character, Lucy Gillespie, who discovers that her family history is far more complex than she could ever have imagined. The revelation provides an opportunity for her to grow beyond the life carved out for herself. She is able to define her life and deal with its challenges based upon the values and relationships she holds dear.
What was the first book you read that had an impact on you? In what way?
Dick and Jane. Oh, you probably didn't want me to go that far back. Then again, this was significant to me because when I was introduced to books, the whole world and an eternity of time opened before me. I wasn't born into a reading household and wasn't taught to read by my parents. I began to read only in Grade One since I hadn't attended kindergarten. Therefore, my learning was "from scratch," with no support from home. Dick and Jane was rapidly replaced by Nancy Drew. If we discount this very early reading, then I offer something that may sound equally strange. It was a translation of Plato's Republic. Later, at sixteen, I discovered Dostoevsky and Letters from the Underground. The rather depressive moodiness of Dostoevsky spoke to me as a rather depressed teen, though I can't recall what it was about? And, I refuse to look it up to refresh my memory as that would be cheating. Besides, I don't want to go back there!
What is your favourite thing about writing?
God-like power. Just kidding, perhaps. The true god-like power would come from writing fantasy because you get to break many laws of physics, so that can't be my favourite thing. I guess it's giving birth to a creation which will exist after I'm gone, and which is a part of me so encompasses many of my observations, thoughts, emotions . . . I don't have children so the writing is my substitute.
What is the least favourite thing about writing?
I dislike what is involved in establishing consistency of style—all the technical issues involved. It's annoying. Do I use Canadian spelling or American—and what is Canadian anyway, must it match British? There is also the consideration of archaic elements juxtaposed with current phraseology. This is a distinctly Canadian problem. Really, I just want to tell a story here!
Where do your ideas come from?
My ideas come from observations I've made and experiences I've had. Sometimes a news story may provide a minor contribution but, oddly enough, I've found that tends to occur after I've written about it. It's a weird coincidence and has happened numerous times. I list my experiences and those of which I have first-hand knowledge, devising a collection of ideas. Using a "Degrees of Kevin Bacon" approach, it seems that my life has provided plenty of material: murder, incest, sexual assault, fraud, buried treasure, mob . . .
When you create characters, are they completely made up or do they resemble people you know?
Both. Certain characters have characteristics of personality or physical attributes that have been drawn from people I've seen or known. Others exist to move the plot along. Any additional characteristics they possess come from somewhere, but I don't know where. They're much like children—a part of you, yet themselves.
If you aren't writing (or doing anything associated with writing), what are you doing?
Exercising in our home gym or travelling. Our financial services business is still active, though because of hearing problems, I only do back office tasks now.
Who is the one person who has influenced your personal life the most and why?
My husband. It IS possible to fall in love at first sight. It's a gut reaction. We met twice before our first date. Both encounters were at a gym. The first time, he was doing a posing exercise in front of a mirror to prepare for a body-building contest. I was the only other person in the room, stretching. I just thought that this person seemed to display such a fun attitude to what he was doing as he practised his moonwalk to music. Sometime later, he commented about a skeleton T-shirt I wore: he told me I'd lost too much weight. We laughed and chatted, and I would have followed him anywhere right then and there. We were married about a year later and only then did I realize he was the same guy I'd seen practising his moonwalk. We later discovered that our paths had crossed on many occasions when we were children. Though we likely hadn't spoken to one another, we had seen one another frequently. I resigned from a tenured teaching position, retrained and together, we established a financial services business. Growth requires support, and he has provided unconditional support for the past 35-plus years.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
Write, experience, write, observe, then continue to write. Sometimes I wish that my area of study at university had been creative arts because I love to paint, but I'm self-taught. Other times I wish it had been English Lit with a focus on creative writing because I would have learned things that might have facilitated my writing now. But, no, my studies were in the sciences. I wish I'd started earlier in life; I feel pressured now, as if there's not enough time.