Kathy-Diane Leveille is a former broadcast journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation who discovered the only thing more thrilling than reading a wonderful story is harnessing the power of the imagination to write one. Her short story collection Roads Unravelling was published to critical acclaim after a selection from its pages Learning to Spin was adapted to radio drama for CBC’s Summer Drama Festival. The tale Showdown at the Four Corner’s Corral was revised for the stage and performed by New City Theater in Saint John.
Kathy-Diane is a member of the Writers Union of Canada, Writers Union of Nova Scotia and Writers Union of New Brunswick.
SYNOPSIS of LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU:
On a grey morning in Northern Ontario in 1978, when the first fat snowflakes drifted down erasing all the familiar landmarks, Nikolai Mirsky headed out the door of the haunted cabin he shared with his lover, Brannagh Maloney. And disappeared…
Brannagh, a Natural Science Illustrator, struggled to collate the data from their bird count through the long winter. By the time the icicles began to melt, she was filled with a growing dread that the infamous wilderness preservationist wasn’t returning.
When Brannagh left New Brunswick, ten years ago, she swore it was for good. But now her best friend, Annie, won’t stop worrying about her, and won’t stop hounding her to come back for a reunion of their childhood all-girls club The Tuatha-de-Dannans. Brannagh finally relents, but she refuses to go to her childhood home and face her irascible Grandfather. Instead, she hides out at her Grandmother’s summer cottage, even though it is far too close to the woods where her mother was murdered.
As Brannagh struggles to put to rest the questions surrounding Nikki’s disappearance, she finds it impossible to ignore the family secrets circling the most tragic disappearance of all. Brannagh learns that nothing magical will ever change her past, but the fierce love of friends holds the power to transform the future.
If you had to put the theme of Shadows into one sentence what would it be?
ANSWER: It’s about the redeeming power of love and friendship. None of us escapes pain and our human connections are our saving grace. Brannagh has to learn acceptance and letting go. There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to go back and revisit the past in different ways, or not; but certainly need to lay it to rest. This is part of Brannagh’s journey. She’s kind of stuck, I think, because she really just wants to avoid it all and get on with life. But, as is often the case, it won’t let her go. We are often drawn back, again and again, to the very thing we want to shy away from. Luckily, Brannagh has these loyal childhood friends who won’t let her drift away. They pull her back.
2. And of course the catalyst that sends Brannagh back home is Nikki’s mysterious disappearance while they’re on a bird count in Northern Ontario. Have you ever had someone disappear from your life like that?
ANSWER: Not literally. But figuratively, yes. And I think we all have at one time or another. Someone close to us becomes emotionally cold or distant, or drifts away for some reason we don’t understand, but we tend to blame ourselves for. And then, of course, there are all the people who cross our paths during a lifetime, who we never see again. For Brannagh, unfortunately, Nikki’s disappearance has a sinister dark side because she doesn’t know if he voluntarily left because of something she did or didn’t do, or if there’s been foul play.
3. His work as a wild life preservationist links into that fear. Did big business try to harm him and stop him from doing his work? The bird count in the novel takes place in 1978 before a large dam is going to be built in Lake of the Woods. Is this based on a true event?
ANSWER: No. It is completely fictitious. However, the Canadian Wildlife Service did do bird counts in that area and also in New Brunswick in the 1970’s. I researched those for the novel. I also belong to the Saint John Naturalist’s club so am aware of various bird counts being carried out across Canada. Today, of course, there’s a huge concern with global warming. We’re changing the habitat and migration patterns of wildlife, and the fear is that it is to the point of no return. Studying animals, tells us a lot. I’m just an amateur birder though, no expert, but like many people I’m very concerned. I created the fictitious story in the 1970’s because I remember the passion for issues that existed back then and the mistrust of government and big business. But I doubt that anyone dreamed in the 1970’s that we actually would be in the environmental situation that we are in today.
4. Besides being set in Northern Ontario, the novel takes place in New Brunswick on the Kennebecasis River. Why that setting?
ANSWER: It’s where I live, and so naturally it infuses my creative work. I love the river. Something inside me expands when I look at. I don’t think you can be beside a body of water and not have that happen. So, bringing Brannagh to the cottage by the river, to come to terms with her past, just seemed right. It also ties into the theme of nature, how close we are to it, how we need to be still sometimes to absorb the rhythms and beauty of nature to get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves. You see that as well with Nikki and Brannagh in the flashback scenes when they are on the actual bird count. They are both very cerebral, but as they get in tune with the heartbeat of the wild surrounding them in the Lake of the Woods, their bodies and senses awaken.
5. You mentioned the theme earlier of the redeeming power of friendship and love. Why did you choose to write about that theme?
ANSWER: I never choose to write about a theme; it chooses me. I find that when I write I’m often exploring, subconsciously, many things in my own life, and my friends lives, my community, my world, all this stimulation/information/experience I’m exposed to. I rarely see a theme, and how it might relate to my own life, until a few years after a project is finished. When I reflect on “Shadows,” I can see that after my first book was published, I was grappling with the solitary aspect of being a writer. On the one hand it is my passion in life, and of course there is the fear of having it taken away if I don’t tie myself to a chair everyday and scribble away; but on the other I need my friends, all the relationships in my life to sustain me. Otherwise the well would run dry and there would be nothing to put on the page. But relationships are such strange creatures. We love them and hate them. We want to be close and we want to be apart. There is always this push and push, this mystery. Things said and left unsaid. This has always fascinated me.
6. Brannagh’s family is Irish. With a name like Leveille, you aren’t Irish are you?
ANSWER: No, I’m actually a Finlander. My grandparents came from Finland on both sides. Finlanders are a very quiet, staid, private people. I think that’s why I’ve always loved the Irish, their country, folklore, passion for life. It fascinated me from day one. When I moved to Saint John almost twenty years ago, I learned that there was a huge population of Irish here. The presence is very strong. It’s wonderful. So, naturally, it is rich for research. Because this city is one of the earliest settled in Canada, the library has detailed books, diaries, histories on the Loyalists, Irish and Acadians. It’s every writers dream. But, I would have to say, it’s the Irish folklore that I’ve always loved, the idea of magic and faeries and secret rituals taking place around a circle of stones. I tried to illustrate that passion through Brannagh and her own love for her grandmother’s stories and creating her own myths that she passes along to Annie, Tish and Diane in their club Tuatha-de-Dannans when they’re growing up. I’ve always had a vivid imagination and I wove those same kinds of fabrications as a child.
7. Is there really something called Tuatha-de-Dannans?
ANSWER: They are an ancient Irish people, one, according to legend, that the fairy mythology sprang from. Unfortunately, the people who wrote down the legends of the Irish people so many years ago were Christian missionaries and they really wanted to obliterate the ancient forms of faith. So we may never know the truth about these things. But according to legend the Tuatha-de-Dannans were large warriors and poets, musical, skilled in the healing arts (as is Brannagh’s grandmother if you recall the ritual with the stones in the cottage when Brannagh is ill. Most of the people who live on Argyle with Brannagh and her family think the Grandmother is dotty, but of course Brannagh adores her). The Tuatha-de-Dannans were noted for their magical skills. They had fair hair and were believed they migrated from the Scandinavian regions. Being a Finlander, this idea appeals to me very much. They were the builders of some of the great Cahirs, Duns, Cashels and caves, the great stone circles I’ve seen pictured in the fields. I’d love to go to Ireland some day and see them all.
8. You’ve mentioned the eccentric grandmother. What about the Grandfather? He’s an entirely different character: Intellectual, controlling, cold. Why would someone with that kind of personality become a psychiatrist?
ANSWER: He’s very old fashioned, Edwardian. I think he has bottled up his emotions completely, and his work allows him to project them onto his patients, and experience them at a distance, vicariously that way. His work in psychiatry fills a deep emotional need by, ironically, allowing him to remain unemotional. He intellectualizes emotion. This way he can always maintain control. That is the crux of his personality, maintaining control, and why Brannagh has always upset him so much. She will not ‘get with the program’ if you will. As a child she’s far too curious and rebellious, and when she gets older she just reminds him too much of all the things he lost control over: Brannagh’s mother, the murders, Aunt Thelma. Brannagh brings him face to face with family secrets that he’d rather keep tucked into a box and sitting high on a shelf out of sight.
9. Ever belong to a girls club growing up?
ANSWER: My best friend, Thelma (no relation to the character in the book; but I do love the name, she was little Thelma and her mother was Big Thelma), when we were growing up, her brother and some of the other boys built a kind of fort in the back yard. We used to meet. I don’t recall specific rituals or anything. But I’m sure we had them. I seem to remember someone taking notes in a book each meeting. Thelma and I are still friends. She lives in Thunder Bay and I pop in to see her and her mother when I’m home visiting family. I don’t think she’s ever forgiven me for telling her that little people lived in the garden behind my house. I went to elaborate lengths to get her to believe this fantasy. I just loved the idea. They wore snap dragon flowers for hats if I recall.
10. The novel ends rather quickly, and you don’t really tell us what happens to Brannagh, her friends or Nikki…why is that?
ANSWER: Well, partly, because I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but also because I think leaving a blank page filled with possibilities is the right note, the true note. Anything is possible. Isn’t life like that? Things don’t get tied up in a neat bow. The only certainty in life is change. I love my characters, like my children, and wish I could orchestrate their lives and have everything come out perfectly for them. But, life never unfolds according to plan. Wouldn’t it be boring if it did?