Chapters' Ten: Charleen Hurtubise
When Charleen came to sign her first book, 'The Polite Act of Drowning', she made quite the impression in the store! "Beautiful energy!", "Great laugh!", "Fantastic story about how she lives in Ireland"; I was really sorry I had missed her and more than a little intimidated when I googled her.
She is very modest when she says only her own tweets come up on a search - teacher, writer, artist, mother, lifelong learner - there is strong sense that this is a woman who has not tread water in life but has been constantly moving ... if her legs aren't, her brain certainly always is.
And this energy translates into her really impressive debut novel, the exhaustion of treading water as opposed to floating along on top. Even though it is written in the first person present, and the story is liner, it is not a straightforward, direct narrative, everything seems to be moving slowly and quietly, but a bit like a swan gliding on the lake, there is a lot going on below the surface.
Reading the reviews, the words 'luminous' and 'evocative' came up quite a few times and it is definitely both of those; it is also emotional and lyrical, claustrophobic, tense, stressful, a little heartbreaking and very accomplished.
I haven't given a precis of the book, you really have to discover it for yourself, suffice to say, although written from the perspective of a 16 year old girl, isolated and not worldly wise, it could have only been created by a writer with a level of sophistication that belies her debut status; who doesn't spoon feed her reader and treats their mind and comprehension with respect.
Also, if you want to check out her tweets, she is @CharlieSolo and on Instagram at @Charleen_hurtubise and if you want a Signed First Edition for posterity, we have some in store!!
What is the first book you bought yourself?
My elementary school was part of the Scholastic Book Club. Every month we were given a leaflet full of age-specific books to order. I went through the list, reading the blurbs, and circling nearly every book, though I think I was ever only allowed to buy one or possibly two over the course of the years. There were some families who could afford to order three or four books per month, and I was so jealous the day their books were delivered to their desks! I can’t remember what I bought but it was probably a Judy Bloom book or Beverly Clear’s Ramona the Brave series. Otherwise, we lived at the library, and yard sales were a great source of used books.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Forget the MFA. Read. Write. Read. Write. Read. Write. Edit. Submit.
Did publishing your first book change your writing process?
No, I have the same process: Read. Write. Read. Write. Edit. I’m still fighting for time to write. I’m still fighting for time to read. Now I have more structured deadlines, which I thrive under.
What were you most wrong about when you imagined being a writer?
I am an introvert and it scared me a little to think of anything media related: speaking with journalists, radio folks, or going into bookshops and having to interact with real people, get my photo taken, all of that! But I am actually finding it a delight: everyone has made it so easy and I’m sure this is because we all have a love of books. (But I still hate having my photo taken.)
Which 3 books do you think everyone should read?
Our tastes, as readers, are so varied and broad, I could never prescribe any 3 books. I think, though, it would be deadly if someone developed a dating app around book data: matching people around our favourite books, books we loathe, books we want to discuss with someone else. In this case, you might ask which 3 favourite books I would put on my profile page? I would answer: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo and and our faces, my heart, brief as photos by John Berger. And then I would love to tell you why!
Do you have a favourite book to gift and if so, what is it?
The Shirley Hughes Collection. Me and my children give this book to every family with a newborn baby since we discovered its simple every-day magic. It is amazing to see how clean and new this book looks to us before we send it out. Our own copy, loved since 2004, has been without a dust jacket for years and the blue binding is held together by electric tape.
What song always gets you on the dance floor?
The Cure – Just Like Heaven
Tea or Coffee?
It depends on the venue (I’m a coffee snob.) It must be strong and rich and taken with a little piece of chocolate, otherwise tea, please! Most big chains, imo, don’t get it right. I am sure I will love the coffee in the new shop at Chapters upstairs. xx
Do you Google yourself?
Of course, but, sadly, no one is gossiping about me! It’s an echo chamber – my own tweets come back to me, and nowadays a few articles folks have written about my book. I guess you have really only made it when Google shows you someone has written about your preferences for tea or coffee. Here’s to seeing that day sometime in the near future!
Why do you love Chapters?!
Used books, stationery, classics in fabulous covers, children’s section, and now, meeting and chatting with fabulous booksellers! The coffee remains to be seen – but I have high hopes! x