Rachel Hartman’s Governor General award-nominated debut novel, Seraphina, is filled with rich prose and exquisite storytelling that holds the rare magic of a timeless tale between its pages. The scope of the world in Seraphina is dazzling, earthy and medieval, with a freshness that is transformative. This is an old world touched by new magic, whose heroine is called to find a place for herself in a homeland that may not welcome her.
We have the pleasure of presenting a guest post from Rachel Hartman. And, as you will see, the landscape of Canada had a hand in the shaping of this wonderful novel.
The Hon. David Johnston became Governor General of Canada in October of 2010, just a week or two before our Canadian citizenship test. My husband and I had been studying; we joked that it was fiendishly sneaky of Immigration Canada to change one of the answers at the last minute. I repeated the new name to myself, however, as we drove through the drizzle to our testing site, half convinced I was going to choke.
Being named one of the GG Literary Award finalists almost exactly two years later holds a certain poignancy for me, therefore. It has me remembering my Canadian as well as my literary journey, two paths I’d never seen as parallel until now.
I began writing Seraphina when I moved to Canada. Coming from the States, I had not anticipated culture shock, but Canada is more complicated than her southern neighbours believe. I was learning to navigate new motherhood and a new country all at once, living far from family and friends. I squeezed writing into the cracks and crannies of my day, like a glimpse of sunshine amongst Vancouver’s clouds. Writing makes great therapy, but my theraputic writing made for a sorrowful and lonely book.
Once I finished that first draft, however, something changed. My self-pity was spent; I began to look around me. It felt like climbing out of a hole, blinking at the unfamiliar light and stretching my unused limbs. I had landed someplace beautiful without really appreciating that fact, but it wasn’t until I finished that first, myopic draft that I really began to feel like I lived here.
I rewrote the novel for a prospective agent; it came out brighter the second time. Beautiful bits of Canada began working their way into the text: the fierce, mist-breathing mountains; the moody, textured sky; the ubiquitous Vancouver crows in shrill rookeries. I drew strength from nature and inspiration from the friends I was beginning to find.
The book went through two more iterations for different editors. I wrote much of the final version while studying for my citizenship exam; subconsciously, I began to weave in civic themes, justice and fairness, began to give my fantasy world more subtle and complicated politics. I had created a world where dragons can take human form; this raised all kind of questions about tolerance, prejudice, and even multiculturalism.
I can’t pretend everyone is good in my novel; there is bigotry, misunderstanding, and unhappiness, alas. Stories require conflict. But the underlying tone is hopeful and reflects what is, to me, the spirit of Canada: the idea that well-intentioned people of good will can find a way to work together, to draw strength from their differences, and to leave the world a better place than they found it.
I am moved and humbled to think that this country I have grown to love, my home if not exactly native land, loves me back, even a little. Thank you Canada. I wrote this book for you.