3 Questions with Winter Willow Author Deborah-Anne Tunney

Winter Willow is Deborah-Anne Tunney’s second book published by Great Plains Publications under the Enfield & Wizenty imprint. Her first, A View from the Lane, was published in 2016. We caught up with her to chat about her writing process, book inspirations, and her advice for aspiring writers.

How did your writing process for Winter Willow differ from The View from the Lane?

For each story in The View from the Lane there is a distinct narrative arc, as there are also various points of view, treatments of time and characters (although many of these characters appear in other stories in the collection). Because the stories are linked, they exist in relation to each other, much how a mosaic, with its distinct stones together create a whole while depending on its parts for clarity.

The novel, Winter Willow, in contrast is fiction on a larger canvas, and therefore the narrative arc is broader, despite there being a series of “fortunes” and “reverse-fortunes” that happens to the protagonist and gives energy to the plot. In short, the novel does not depend on the variety of voices and points of view, but instead draws some of its narrative power from the consistency of voice and time. Each chapter needs to feed the heightened tension demanded by the plot, while also providing a sense of the contained movement that allows it to be exist as a discrete chapter. And so, the challenge for me as the writer was to sustain the vision, that spark that was the impetuses of the work, to keep the writing continually interesting and fresh.

What are some stories you drew inspiration from when writing Winter Willow?

As a young girl I loved the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the idea of the young protagonist alone in a castle exploring, and yet feeling that her true life existed beyond the walls of that palace; this story and others like it held a deep fascination for me. I am reminded also of books I read when I was older, such novels as Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, where we see the protagonist trapped in a mansion which is at its heart a mystery, or Charlotte Bronte’s  Jane Eyre. The form is well known and can even be distinguished in movies such as Sunset Boulevard, where the protagonist is a man, but this shift in power makes it no less compelling. 

What I was attempting to accomplish by using the device of the mysterious mansion was to show how a place and a specific time (or in the case of my novel, a specific season) can be looked back upon as the moment the trajectory of a life is known. To see in that moment the time and place when a character – for lack of a better term – grows up and becomes the person they were meant to be. In this way the mystery extends so that is not merely concerned with revealing the secrets of the house, but also with revealing the way character is defined, and can be altered by experience.

What advice can you provide to emerging CanLit writers who are interested in publishing a novel? 

I would say to such a writer that your aim should not be to get published, but to create something of value that bridges your humanity to that of your reader. Nothing less. As Kafka said, a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. You should be that ambitious. And if you are successful in this (and also lucky), publishing will be the reward.

That said, I would also tell this writer you need to read, and you need to think while you read how the writer was able to accomplish what they did with only words at their disposal. I’d also suggest they find other writers, people who know the frustrations and the joy of the writing life. This will be your community and a great comfort. You will need them if for no other reason than to know people with whom you can commiserate.