04-16-2013 10:10 AM
Above All Things is based on George & Ruth Mallory, George Mallory is best known for his part in the British expeditions to climb Mount Everest and his unsuccessful last climb and resulting death. And his emphatic saying when asked why he waned to climb Mount Everest “Because It’s There.” Ruth was his wife.
Above All Things was first published in Canada in June of 2012 and made both Amazon.ca’s, The Globe and Mail’s best books of 2012.
Tell us about the novel Above All Things.
Above All Things is based loosely on the 1924 British expedition to Mt. Everest. It is split into two storylines. One follows George Mallory, Sandy Irvine and the other explorers as they attempt to be the first ever to summit the world’s highest mountain. The other storyline follows a single day in the life of Ruth, George’s wife, waiting for word from him back home in Cambridge.
Tanis, what made you choose this for your debut?
You know, I’m not entirely sure that I get to choose what I write about. It takes me a long time to complete a project, so it has to be something – a character, an idea, a story – that really gets under my skin, that I know I can live with day in and day out for years. I think I had to write about George and Ruth and Everest in order to get them out of my head.
That being said – there’s a lot in the story and characters and setting that, to me, was interesting. I was fascinated by George – by the kind of man who would go and do what he did – sacrifice so much for Everest. I was fascinated by the brutal conditions on Everest. I was fascinated by the kind of woman who would love a man that was driven to put himself at such risk over and over again.
I think when I start writing, I write from not understanding something, from a question – and this was Everest in spades. I couldn’t, and I’m still not sure that I can, understand why someone goes there, or how to support someone who does.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research for the novel?
So many things – one of the particularly interesting things I learned at the Royal Geographical Society was that there was such keen interest in Everest and in reaching the summit in the early 1920s that hundreds of letters were sent to the Everest Committee recommending different approaches and ideas. If I remember correctly, one man suggested that they fly across the summit and that someone could be on a rope ladder and could jump on to the summit and then make their way down from there.
Needless to say, the Committee didn’t take him up on his suggestion.
You’ve received much praise for your novel.
Is there one review/accolade that shines above all the others?
It is so incredibly stunning to know that anyone even reads your book, let alone that they enjoyed it or had nice things to say about it. I am always endlessly gratified to meet people who tell me how much they enjoyed it – how angry or sad it made them. I’ve received a few fantastic emails from actual climbers who have been complimentary and that’s particularly amazing to me.
Above All Things is your debut novel. Is there another one on the horizon?
Yes! I’m just starting to scratch the surface of it. It’s at that wonderful point where it is all possibility and potential and excitement. I think there will be an historical element and a present day element to it. Now I’m just trying to figure out how those times and places relate to each other.
Even though this is your debut novel, you are a published author of poetry.
Can you tell us how you transitioned from poetry to literature?
Is there more poetry in your future?
I have a collection of poetry coming out next week here in Canada called Arguments with the Lake. They’re poems based on Marilyn Bell’s swim across Lake Ontario in the 1950s.
I started out writing poems. I haven’t mastered short stories, and I think writers often cut their teeth on smaller works. For me, that was poems. They’re more contained, you can work it until every word (hopefully) is exactly the word that you want or need. I’m not sure that I transitioned from poetry to fiction. I still really love both and want to work in both.
I don’t have a new poetry project in mind at the moment, but I do hope to return to it.
What’s the biggest difference between writing poetry and writing a novel?
I think the biggest difference is the sheer scope of the work. Poems are these tiny, small, possibly perfect things, that you can work on a micro level. That is much harder to do with a novel, there are, frankly, just so many more words. There are different kinds of freedoms in both, and restrictions to both.
For the most part, I’ve always gone back and forth between the two, so that when I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer size of a novel, I can focus on the tiny lace-like detail of poetry, and when that gets overwhelming I can return to the stretching, expansive room of a novel.
I think my fiction and poetry (and reading both) inform each other a great deal. I love poetic novels. The language of a novel is hugely important to me, as a reader and as a writer.
What do you enjoy reading?
As I mentioned above I do love poetic novels. I love Alessandro Barrico and Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. I’m terrible at remembering books that I read though!
Recently I have put myself on a poetry and short story reading regimen. One short story and at least two poems a day – so I’m bouncing between collections. It’s a great way to get a sense of what’s out there. Like a wonderful Scotch or wine flight.
I’m also a sucker for research, so I’m reading a lot of books for my next novel.
Will it be released in other countries, languages?
Yes! I’m so lucky!
Above All Things is currently out in the US, Canada, the UK and Norway – with a few more still to come. What a thrill to see different editions – even ones, like the Norwegian, that I can’t read.
Thank you for stopping by and letting us get to know you just a little bit better.
Good luck with the novel and your future endeavors.
Thanks for having me!