Over the next few weeks, we are very excited to introduce some of our alumni who are making waves in the world of writing. Stay tuned to learn about some budding (or established!) authors who launched their writing careers with their Arts education.
With files from Donna McKinnon, Curious Arts and Abrams/Amulet.
Kate Boorman’s (’00 BA, ’04 MA, Drama) first novel, Winterkill (Abrams/Amulet, 2014) was born during National Novel Writing Month in November 2012. Boorman powered through her initial vision of a young adult thriller told in the context of an alternate history of the settlement of the West. By the end of the month, she had written a 70,000-word manuscript, but it wasn’t exactly refined yet.
“I mean, it was a steaming trash pile, don’t get me wrong,” she laughs. But a little over a year and many revisions later, it grabbed the attention of publishers in the UK and North America, and was picked up as the first book of a future trilogy. Since then, it was named one of five finalists for the 2015 Alberta Readers’ Choice Awards and recently won the 2016 Alberta Writers’ Guild award for Children’s Lit (R. Ross Annett award).
The book’s website expertly teases the reader:
In the woods outside Emmeline’s isolated settlement, a powerful enemy lurks, one that wiped out much of the population generations ago. Inside the settlement’s walls, Emmeline is watched for Waywardness: the rule-breaking behavior that sent her grandmother to her death. She knows she shouldn’t go out into the trees or seek answers to questions no one dares ask.
When one of the settlement leaders asks for her hand, Emmeline has the opportunity to wipe the slate clean, ridding herself and her family of the Stain of her grandmother’s crimes, even if her heart belongs to another. But before she’s forced into an impossible decision, her dreams urge her into the woods, where dangerous secrets lurk.
Her grandmother went down that path and paid the price.
If Emmeline isn’t careful, she will be next.
Read an excerpt from Winterkill:
There’s a jumble of logs inside this line of trees: four crumbling walls caked with lichen and dirt. A left-behind from the first generation. There are a few messes like this in the woods outside the fortification; soggy ruins after years of the woods creeping mossy fingers around them, pulling them into the soil. Some of the first settlers must’ve lived out here. Before they shored up inside the fort.
Before they knew about the malmaci.
Heart beating fast, I push into the woods, putting the ghostly jumble to my back and out of mind. I push deep and deeper until the brush gives way once more—this time to a grove. It’s small; looks about thirty strides by twenty. The trees around it reach tall to the sky, and end in a circle of bright blue. The scrubby brush in the middle is scarce ankle-high.
I pause and listen hard. A white-throated sparrow trills in the bush and its mate answers. The breeze tinkles through the treetops, soft and sure. The woods around me teem with life I can’t see, which is right skittering if I think on it too hard, but this . . .
This is a little secret haven tucked away from those unknowns.
My shame and anger drift away. Moving into the center, I close my eyes and breathe the earthy air.
Nobody has been out here in years—decades. Mayhap I’m the very first person to find this grove.
I like that. I like that it’s just me out here. No wary eyes, no Pa, no shame.
Deep down in my secret heart, I’ve always felt their absence as though it were a presence. As though they’re still here, somehow—just . . . lost. -from Kate Boorman’s Winterkill
A strange kind of peace fills me. Les trembles whisper with their tinkling voices, and both my feet feel solid, rooted into the forest floor like I’m a part of this grove, these woods. I breathe deep again. The Lost People are looking on me without judging. I can feel it on my skin.
The little voice in my head reminds me I’m addled. The Lost People were First Peoples, and they were Taken by the malmaci before our ancestors even arrived. The stories tell it that way, and Tom and I find their ancient traces—tools, bones—along the riverbank all the time. Only . . .
Only, deep down in my secret heart, I’ve always felt their absence as though it were a presence. As though they’re still here, somehow—just . . . lost. Tom’s the only one who knows I call them the Lost People, but he doesn’t tease me about it.
Course, I don’t tell him they call to me.
My eyes snap open.
A piece of sky is hanging from the brush on the far side. I squint.
No. A scrap of something.
I cross the grove to pull it from the tree. The cloth that comes off in my hands is beautiful, the color of an autumn sky. I turn it over, running my fingers along its strange smooth surface. And then my thoughts catch up to my hands.
Someone has been out here. I grip the scrap real tight. Who? When? A heady rush washes over me. The last Taking happened before I was born. It was an old man from the south quarter; could this be what was left of him? Was he Taken in the night? Or in the day?
Suddenly the possibility of not returning to the fortification—ever—crashes into me. My throat gets tight and I need to take a few deep breaths to stop my head from spinning.
Think. Keep your head. Look around.
Beyond the tree I spot a broken branch, as though an animal has crashed through. Further on are more branches that look disturbed, but not recent. They aren’t bleeding sap; they were broken long ago. I look off through the brush, following the swept-aside branches.
It’s a path.
The grasses underfoot are tamped down by . . . footsteps?
But it can’t be a trail. Gatherers and trappers don’t come out this far anymore, haven’t for years. Any trails made by the first or second generation would be long overgrown.
My heart races, but the little voice in my head slows me up. Could be an old trail, still used by animals. Deer? No. The branches are broken off too high for deer.
Looks as though a person’s been through.
All right. Think.
The right thing to do would be to return and tell Council. They might send a group of armed Watchers to come explore.
But I can’t. I’m out too far: it’s Wayward, plain and simple. After last night, there’s no telling what Brother Stockham might decide about me. I have to turn around right now and keep quiet, or risk it alone.
Takings in the daytime are rare.
I listen to the woods again. There’s nothing but the tinkling of les trembles and the sparrow trill. But underneath it all the Lost People are calling to me, urging me forward.
I’ll just follow it a little ways.