What's Here So Far Away about?
Tough girl George Warren has never let life get too serious. Now that she’s about to be a senior, her plans include partying with her tight-knit group of friends and then getting the heck out of town after graduation. But a fight with her best friend has her on the outs of their social circle, and George’s father, a police sergeant, might not be able to return to work after a serious injury, which puts George’s college plans in jeopardy. So when George meets Francis, an older guy who shares her affinity for sarcastic banter, she’s thrown. If she lets herself, she’ll fall recklessly, hopelessly in love. But because of Francis’s age, she tells no one — and ends up losing almost everything, including herself.
What inspired the novel?
Over the years, I'd heard a lot of stories about secret relationships, including a few that took an unexpected turn like the one in the novel. I became interested in what keeping such a big secret could cost you, especially if you're young and inexperienced and if that relationship might be considered inappropriate or even taboo.
Is this a true story? Are you George?
It was loosely inspired by true stories, and the rural valley where George lives is similar to the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, where I grew up; however, all of the people, locations, and events in the novel are fictional, and George is different from me in many ways. For example, I made her a person of supreme confidence. She not only has the advantage of fitting into a very homogeneous place, she's also popular, tough, and quick-witted. I wanted her to seem like an unlikely person to find herself on the outside, to being taken advantage of, and to potentially get her heart broken.
Is Francis a good guy?
That's for you to judge. There were other ways I could have written Francis that might have been more straightforward, but as with George, I didn't want him to be quite who you'd expect. Besides, she's too savvy to fall for someone who’s sending up obvious red flags. It's because he seems self-aware, has genuine feelings for her, and is appalled by his own behaviour that she gets drawn in. The tricky business was that I had to portray Francis as George would see and understand him, not as I do.
What's the message of the story?
As a writer of realistic fiction, my job isn't to present the world as I wish it could be or to teach readers a lesson but to explore life's complexities. That's why I decided that George and Francis wouldn't have a conventional predator-prey dynamic, as risky as that might seem. Certainly, it was more challenging to write. There were so many questions I had to work through in order to avoid a simplistic or overly familiar portrayal of such a relationship. How do two people who know better talk themselves into it? What's going on at this particular juncture in their lives that might be throwing fuel on the fire? How is George an unreliable narrator? That said, no matter how sympathetically the characters may be portrayed, there's no question their decisions have real consequences. So if there are moments in the story that make you feel conflicted or a bit uncomfortable, the author has done her job. (But know she also shares your feelings.)
Did anything significant change while you were writing the book?
I always imagined the final quarter of the story would be most of the novel. Somehow it became the ending, not the story itself.
Why did you set it in the early 1990s?
Events would have played out much differently if the characters had been able to communicate through cell phones and social media. If you wanted to talk to someone in 1992, you had to call the family landline and deal with whoever might pick up the phone. If you took a photo, you had to bring it to a lab to be developed. That made a real difference to the plot. As a side note, it was also a time when people still felt pretty comfortable saying things that aren't so tolerated now, although that was beginning to change. At my high school, you had maybe a fifty-fifty chance of being called out for an offensive joke. So there are a few examples of that, just to be realistic about the time and place, which I hope aren't too jarring.
What was the hardest part to write?
From a technical standpoint, bringing all those plot threads together at the end. From a creative standpoint, probably the more romantic stuff. My writing group told me that any time I felt a scene was too schmaltzy, I should make it 200% schmaltzier. Apparently, I have a lower than average threshold for schmaltz.
What does Bobby's band sound like?
Not quite like anything you've heard before, but they're definitely trying to be the Tragically Hip.