In Somewhere I Belong, we meet young P.J. Kavanaugh at North Boston Station. His father has died, the Depression is on, and his mother is moving them back home. They settle in, and P.J. makes new friends. But the P.E.I. winter is harsh, the farm chores endless, and his teacher a drunken bully. He soon wants to go home; the problem is how.
A letter arrives from Aunt Mayme announcing a Babe Ruth charity baseball game in the old neighbourhood. But Ma won’t let him go. P.J is devastated. The weeks pass, then there is an accident on the farm. P.J. becomes a hero and Ma changes her mind. He travels to Boston, sees his friends, watches Babe Ruth hit a home run, and renews his attachment to the place. But his eagerness to return to the Island makes him wonder where he really belongs.
Interview with the Author
1) Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in Nova Scotia and have strong family roots in Prince Edward Island and New England. I am a writer and editor of fiction and non-fiction. As storytelling runs deep in my family, most of my fiction is set on PEI and in New England and is gleaned from the real-life experiences of older family members who lived there during the Great Depression and World War II.
2) Where and when did your writing journey begin?
I took up fiction writing in earnest in the 1990s. I began by studying the short story form and published my first story in 1998. Since then, I have continued to hone my craft. When I was researching my novel, my aim was to write one that was based on a particular family story that connects my grandmother to Babe Ruth. “Somewhere I Belong” is based on the true story of how this baseball great helped her after she was widowed, in 1928, with four young children and one of the way. It was published in 2014.
3) Who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced your writing?
There are so many great writers, it’s difficult to say who my favorite ones are, so there would have to be a list. Early on, I read just about everything Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote and historical fiction by Antonia Fraser. In my teenage years I became a great fan of Tolstoy, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. In university I read and studied the classics and favoured the Bronte sisters, George Elliot, and Jane Austen. But these days, I like to read Canadian authors. Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro and William Kowalski top the list. Guy Vanderhaeghe, Wayne Johnston, Fred Stenson, Donna Morrisey, David Adams Richards, and Lisa Moore are also terrific writers. Some of my favorite non-Canadian authors include Ian McEwan, Colm Toibin, Jonathan Franzen, and Saul Bellow.
I like to think no one particular author influences my writing; their influences are mainly in terms of what I wonder at and aspire to. Canadian writers tell me so much about my own country and instruct me on how I can do the same for the small corner of Prince Edward Island I write about. Guy Vanderhaeghe and David Adams Richards are particularly good at this.
4) What does a typical day in your life look like? And how does your writing routine fit into your day?
Writing and freelance editing takes a lot of discipline in terms on how you structure your day. My typical day begins with me talking myself into getting organized, and ignoring the myriad distractions that come with working from home. The telephone, for instance, rings a lot and is hardly ever for me. Then there’s the laundry and other housework, and dog-walking duties. At some time in the morning, my daughter will need a ride to work. So, I try to walk the dogs, throw on a load of laundry, and clean up the kitchen before I get to my desk at 9 am. If I don’t, then the Labrador retriever comes sauntering into my study and stares at me, and the laundry beckons from down the hall. But, I’m sure this never happens in the corporate world.
I structure my day between my fiction writing and freelance editing work. I edit academic papers, which takes a lot of concentration, so, I try to carve out two or three hours each morning for fiction writing. If I do this in reverse, I find that I’m too tired to get to the creative mental state I need to get back into the story. Sometimes this means working late to meet deadlines, and sometimes a tight deadline will mean that I have to forgo fiction writing until the next day or later in the week. I have to strike a balance between the two types of work and concentration and also respect deadlines. At the end of the day, I always sketch out what I plan to accomplish the next day. This might be jotting down the remaining word count of a manuscript I am editing for a client or writing a brief synopsis of the next scene I am going to write for a short story or a chapter of the sequel to “Somewhere I Belong.”
5) How did you come up with the idea for your novel?
The idea for “Somewhere I Belong” came from a family story my father told me one summer when we were staying at the cottage on Prince Edward Island. I was curious about my grandmother. As she died shortly after I was born, I never got the chance to know her. I knew tidbits of her life, such as the fact she moved from PEI to New England in the early 1900s and returned to the Island after she was widowed. I also knew she raised five children, alone, during the Great Depression, and they all turned out to have successful lives. That’s quite a feat. Nevertheless, there were a lot of gaps in the story I wanted my father to fill. So, I asked a few questions. This lead to him telling me about the industrial accident my grandfather died in, about the bad safety record of the oil refinery he had worked in. When I asked Dad what his mother did for money, he told me Babe Ruth played in a charity ballgame that raised funds for the families of the men who died in the explosion that killed my grandfather. My grandmother received a thousand dollars from the proceeds. That was a lot of money those days; it allowed her to buy a farm and some livestock and equipment. It set her up as a farmer and entrepreneur. My father always maintained that if it weren’t for Babe Ruth’s generosity, my grandmother would not have been able to keep her family together. Now, that made for a great story. And I spent the next two decades researching the story and my grandmother’s life, and studying the craft of fiction.
6) What do you think sets your novel apart from others current on the shelves?
The thing that sets my novel apart is that it is based on a true story. It also spans two genres: young adult and adult fiction. This mean both teenagers and adult readers will enjoy it. Also, there’s a lot of history blended into the story. So, while readers are enjoying the novel, they will also learn a little about what it was like to live in Greater Boston and rural Prince Edward Island during the Great Depression. And the research is solid because I have a strong background in social science.
There are a lot of terrific novels out there. This is because the publishing industry is experiencing difficult times, these days, in a fickle market and a declining readership. So, publishers have to be very careful about the books they decide to invest in. The feedback I have been receiving is that my writing is very good, the story is compelling and believable, and the plot flows along a well-conceived story arc to a final and believable conclusion.
7) Which character in your book is your favorite and how much of yourself is reflected in that character?
Alfred is my favourite character. In the story, he is four years old going on five, and he wants to do everything the big kids do. But he is a bit of a runt and can’t always manage to keep up or fit in, particularly when the neighbourhood bully, Patrick Daley, shows up. I based Alfred on my younger brother, Robbie, who passed away seven years ago. When I am writing Alfred into a scene, I picture my brother, Robbie, at four years of age, scrambling after us and hollering, “I’m comin’ too, Ma thed.” He had a distinct lisp that stayed with him through adulthood. And he was so cute.
8) Which scenes in your book did you have the most fun writing?
The scene I had the most fun writing was the hockey game on the Giddingses’ pond next door to Granny’s house. This was a farm community and everyone was poor, so they had to improvise. Kids those days used frozen horse turds for pucks. Naturally, they would disintegrate when they got slapped with a stick and skipped across the mottled ice. My dad told me the best thing about those turd pucks was that they were free, so if you lost one or it fell apart, all you had to do was go out into the barnyard to find a few more—they were all over the place and they were free. All you had to do was wait for the steam to blow off before you stomped them into a hockey puck shape. But you sure didn’t want to play nets.
9) What do you hope for your readers to take away after reading your book?
I hope readers gain an understanding of the difficulties inherent in farm life and life in general. I hope they see how important it is to understand other people’s predicaments and how necessary it is to be kind to each other. Even though the novel focuses on PJ’s plight and what he wants to accomplish, every character in the novel has his or her own story; they all have their own hopes and dreams the same way people in real life do. Two examples are Patrick Daley and Mr. Dunphy. These characters are particularly mean. However, their individual stories are just as difficult as PJ’s, though in different ways. Uncle Jim does a great job of pointing this out to PJ. In the novel, there’s a conversation between Uncle Jim and PJ where Uncle Jim points out that if people aren’t behaving the way we think they should, maybe they are going through a particularly difficult part of their own life story; maybe their struggle has become too much for them. This doesn’t mean that we have to accept this behavior. But understanding where it is coming from might change our response to it.
10) What are your hopes for this novel?
Like any writer, I hope my readers enjoy the story. I hope they share it around and encourage others to read it too. I also hope it opens up conversations about the difficulties people face in this world and how we can respond to them and help out, even if it means just being a friend.
11) What do you have in store next for your readers?
Some of my readers have become particularly attached to PJ, Alfred, and Larry. When they finished reading “Somewhere I Belong,” they felt there were a few lose threads and they wanted to know what happens next. I am presently working on the sequel, which I hope to finish next year (2016). So readers will be able to follow PJ’s quest further into his adolescent life and see what happens to him as things change at Northbridge Road School and in the community as the world moves toward another world war and Canada’s smallest province becomes involved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a writer, editor and indexer who lives in historic Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. A true Maritimer, I was born and raised in Nova Scotia and my Prince Edward Island roots hail back to 1830. My short stories have been published in Jilted Angels: A Collection of Short Stories (Broad Street Press), and Riptides: New Island Fiction (Acorn Press Canada), the latter which was nominated for best Atlantic book of 2012 and won the 2013 Prince Edward Island Book Award. In addition to placing first in the 2014 Atlantic Writing Competition’s literary non-fiction category, I received a mentorship from the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia to study under award-winning writer, William Kowalski. I am also a graduate of the Humber School for Writers, where I studied novel writing under two-time Governor General Award winner, David Adams Richards. My first novel, Somewhere I Belong, is based on a true story and was released on November 1, 2014 by Acorn Press Canada.
As a published author and fiction writer, I offer developmental writing services, coaching, and copy editing, structural editing to emerging writers of fiction and non-fiction in short-story, novel or book format. As an editor, I revise scholarly works written by academics whose first language is not English and who wish to complete their master’s theses, PhD dissertations, or publish in English-language academic journals. I also completed an indexing course at the University of California at Berkeley and index books on economics, politics, history, and topics of general interest.
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