Disappearing people push suspenseful story 

Author Michael Redhill brings his new novel Bellevue Square to the Whistler Writers Festival

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Taking time Michael Redhill's first literary novel in 11 years is the suspenseful, dark comedy, Bellevue Square.
  • PHOTO submitted
  • Taking time Michael Redhill's first literary novel in 11 years is the suspenseful, dark comedy, Bellevue Square.

Toronto author Michael Redhill describes the process of having three incomplete novels vying for attention in his mind.

Two were at different stages in the writing process; the third crept in.

"By 2014, the whole triptych was active in my imagination, and I was firing on all cylinders," he says.

He agrees that while it's not a huge problem for an experienced writer, it could be characterized as a form of insanity.

"Oh yeah. Totally crazy," he laughs.

"If I wasn't a writer, I'd be sitting on a (street) corner somewhere, drumming with a pencil."

The resulting first book to be published of the three is darkly comic and suspenseful. Bellevue Square is the story of Jean Mason, a woman who fears for her sanity when people who live in the community around her in Toronto begin to disappear.

Redhill is bringing it to the Whistler Writers Festival (WWF), which takes place from Oct. 12 to 15.

"I've always had an affinity for women characters. I find that the longer you spend with a character the more you realize that the gender stuff, fashion and sexuality, is on top of the animal part (of the character), which we all share," Redhill says.

He says he didn't choose Jean immediately; when he formulated the idea of Bellevue Square, the story went immediately to a female character.

"Basic humanity-uniting things, like wanting comfort and love, what you're really afraid of, what death is. All that stuff. Once I feel as though I've tapped into a character at that level, it doesn't matter if it is male or female. I was very comfortable writing Jean," he says.

"The person with the existential problem (in novels) is almost always a man. He's the one struggling through what it means to be him, and I can't think of that many female characters who have to struggle with their basic 'themness.' It felt a little uncharted."

He doesn't see Bellevue Square as a thriller per se ("That's more marketing than anything").

"Sure, there are thriller elements to it, because there are genre elements to it that I wanted to play with, but I don't think the primary experience of the reader is that they are reading a heart-pounding thriller," he says.

"It is something that is quite frightening in places, but it is also off-putting in a weird way."

The journey Giller-nominee Redhill went on to get to the publication of Bellevue Square is almost as interesting as the book itself.

It was his first novel under his own name in 11 years, after its release in mid-September. In between, he published a series of crime novels under the name Inger Ash Wolfe.

"The decade started with my living in France with my family for two years, and coincided with the release of the first couple of Inger books," he says.

"There was a seismic change in life around the age of 40, after I released (his last work of literary fiction) Consolation (in 2006). The day we got to France we got the news that it had made the Man Booker long list.

"It was a wonderful and strange time."

While in France, Redhill started a new novel, one that has not yet been published, but it is now the book that comes after Bellevue Square, and part of the series of three. He had to start the first novel to realize it would sit between two others, he says.

"Behind the scenes there was a lot of activity. I started working on Bellevue Square in 2010. Although it kind of looks like I went into the wilderness for 10 years — and I did in some ways — I was always working on this project," he says.

"It took a long time for it to gel and for things to bubble up from my unconscious in a form I could use."

Redhill is taking part in the Crime Writers Lunch on Saturday, Oct. 14, at 1 p.m., alongside John MacLachlan Gray, Sheena Kamal, Alisa Smith and Jenny D. Williams. The panel is moderated by Feet Banks.

To purchase tickets for this event and any others at WWF, visit www.whistlerwritersfestival.com.


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