KAGAWONG—When the ceiling fans are working overtime with no discernible impact on the heat wave, many people retreat to the cool shores of Lake Huron. This summer many of those refugees from the torrid temperatures have a novel entitled ‘Watermark’ packed with their picnic. This tale is designed to send chills up your spine to relieve the July drought.
Author Jennifer Farquhar visited Kagawong last Thursday to sign copies for close relatives and tourists alike. One of the joys of having Farquhar as a last name is a chance to reunite with seldom seen cousins on Manitoulin and meet summer travellers as well. Despite the humid conditions, Ms. Farquhar graciously shared an excerpt from her novel and openly responded to questions from her audience.
It was amusing for those in attendance to meet another young woman who shares the same name as Jennifer Farquhar. She had journeyed to the island from London, Ontario. The two Jennifers spent some quality time getting acquainted.
The event at Storyopolis was part of a swing through Northern Ontario organized by her Sudbury publishers Latitude 46. Ms. Farquhar grew up on Manitoulin but went on to live in such far flung places as France, Japan and Montreal. Currently, she lives in Kitchener where she works as an elementary teacher. Maternity leave is allowing her to write, travel and promote her first book. Before reading an early climactic scene, she pointed out that the story takes place in the 1970s on an island that is very similar to Manitoulin. The main character returns to her childhood home to examine past trauma and come to terms with family disintegration.
Ms. Farquhar adds many familiar Manitoulin rituals and scenes to the plot including ice fishing, smelt fishing, morel hunting, skidoo trips etc. She is comfortable with giving Islanders a thinly veiled geography of their home.
Certain elements of Indigenous lore are woven into the plot since Manitoulin is home to both First Nations and settler communities. Indigenous readers were consulted during the drafting process to ensure that cultural sensitivity was top of mind.
‘Watermark’ appeals to a broad cross-section of readers since it is billed as literacy fiction. “Some call it a literary thriller,” she noted. “It has some creepiness and some scariness in it.”
Aspiring writers can learn some practical tips from Ms. Farquhar’s self-discipline, concentrated focus and determination. “All my life I have loved books and reading and writing,” she said. “It has always been my passion. I kept notebooks for years on what the characters would be like and I plotted the whole thing out.” She acknowledges that some writers prefer to let a story evolve organically, but that is not her way. She believes in labour intensive architectural structuring of a book; in fact, she might take up to five months to craft the foundation for the novel. For people who claim they have no time to write, she advises them to avoid the “vortex of social media.” Because she has a busy family life, she writes when the children are sleeping and chooses to be productive late at night or early in the morning.
The publishing industry in North America is very much a closed shop for new writers, Ms. Farquhar confirms, unless you find a hard working agent. “Getting an agent is like winning the lottery,” she said. “It’s like being drafted into the NHL.” She also emphasizes the importance of using a professional editor. The task of revising is no hardship for her as she enjoys turning her work into a polished form.
Fiction fans will be grateful for her work ethic and her attention to detail as they follow heroine Mina McInnis on her Mikinaak Island quest.
‘Watermark’ is available at Storyopolis, The Manitoulin Expositor book shop and online.