I’m Montréalaise by birth and identity, although I’ve called other parts of Canada and the United States my home: Ontario, Nova Scotia, the Yukon and, yes, New Jersey.
I’ve always loved to write. I have a vivid memory, during an unremarkable working class upbringing, of writing a story about Gwendolyn, Marigold and Ali, and their adventures in and out of a gated city redolent of the mysterious East. Gwendolyn had eyes like twin sapphire pools, I recollect. The girls got over the wall—which was the whole point. Ahem—I might not have strayed too far from that genre, except that now I drop in references to Charlotte Brontë and Bertrand Russell. When you hit on something that speaks to the inner you, I guess you can’t escape.
Well, I grew up, and life seized me. I was a nurse’s aide and a graphic artist for a while, then a journalist with United Press International. I translated romance novels, the shirtless laird type, and was in and out of school like a repeat offender. I ended up studying for a doctoral degree at Princeton, where I specialized in long bicycle rides and watching Oprah, but did enjoy writing academic satires involving my profs in the style of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. I still remember you, Madame Belladonna.
I couldn’t stay at Princeton or Castle Gormenghast forever, so I returned to Canada to face the music. I taught in Halifax for a bit, then lit out for the Yukon territory, where it’s so cold people drop the minuses when they talk about winter: thus, 35 would be a good day, whereas 42 would be a bit much. In the frozen North I tried dogsledding and cross-country skiing but preferred extreme gardening—the things you can grow with 20 hours of sunlight in summer. I’ve had a few jobs in government along the way. When I worked in Toronto, my employer decided I was an Indigenous policy specialist so I worked in that area and certainly learned a lot. One fine day at the office, my boss said, you’ve led such an interesting life, Anna. I figured I wasn’t long for government after that.
During this time I began to write again—young adult fantasy. I have two unpublished books in this genre. Book one was a semi-finalist for the American Katherine Paterson Prize, and book two, in a mystery vein, made the long list for Canada’s Unhanged Arthur, the unpublished novel category of the Arthur Ellis Awards. I shifted to romantic suspense and domestic suspense, in part because of market practicalities, but also undoubtedly because Fate Had Other Things In Store For Me, as foreshadowed above.
AFTER THE WINTER is my first published novel. Its sequel, THE AU PAIR, was released in October 2017. I’m currently writing book 3, APRIL ON PARIS STREET. All three are set in Montreal and the surrounding countryside, although in book 3 private investigator Ashley Smeeton heads for Paris to “rescue” a young woman in distress. I don’t know why Quebec isn’t more often a mise en scène for romantic suspense.
AFTER THE WINTER is a story about women in danger, and what they do about it. I hope readers will recognize and love the classic romantic suspense elements. I spiked the ending though, and it’s meant to shock. How much it shocks is up to you. But the wintry landscape, the secrets, the slightly Gothic house on a hill, they’re all there. And of course the intrepid heroine herself. Sally Ryder’s irresistible curiosity is the small bright flame that drives the plot. In AFTER THE WINTER, you’ll also meet Ashley Arabella Smeeton for the first time. She’s a pigtailed nine-year-old back then, with an addiction to Nancy Drew and an inability to mind her own business. Grown up in THE AU PAIR, Ashley is a down-to-earth and unsentimental PI, with a taste for Whippets (Dare, I am open to corporate sponsorships) and, despite her emotional aloofness, a strange propensity for entanglement in romantic suspense plots.
I plan to write more books. I think of myself as a writer. But reading might actually be more important to me than writing. Libraries are among my favourite places, with bookstores a close second. Since I read so much and so widely, I can’t possibly tell you what my favourite book is. At this very moment, though, I’m flipflopping among these: the Quebecois mystery writer Jacques Côté, Canada’s own queen of domestic suspense, Margaret Millar, the Minnesota Anishinaabe storyteller and poet, Jim Northrup, and P.G. Wodehouse. So you see my problem.