You probably know Laura. She has lived in Revelstoke all her life. Born in 1962 and raised on CPR Hill, she’s one of those local-locals who can say they were born in the Save-On. She’s a writer, so she’s usually the one doing the interview. But right now she’s steeping mint tea picked from her garden, roasting a pumpkin in the oven, and sharing some of her immense accumulated knowledge from her life of writing.
She’s currently pounding away on a new work, digging through hundreds of records from the late-1800s on the social history of the Columbia River. Did you know, for example, that Hawaiians played a role in the area’s fur trade? Or that David Thompson wasn’t the first white explorer in this neck of the woods? The history of this place has been greatly over-simplified, she says: “We’ve really dumbed it down.”
RQ—What would you say has been your proudest accomplishment thus far as a writer?
LS—I’m very proud of my Long Road Home (Building Reconciliation and Trust in Post-war Sierra Leone). I don’t think I’m proud of how I marketed it, because it isn’t widely available, nor sold at a point that was affordable to people. (NB: It retails on Amazon for about $115.) But of the book itself I’m very proud because I think it was a useful book for history and insights into how people felt after the war. (NB: The Sierra Leone Civil War lasted 11 years, from 1991 to 2002, and left over 50,000 dead.) How were people trying to build a society in that community once the combatants started to come home—the same ones that attacked the villagers. That, I think, was useful. But I think when this book’s done (about the history of the Columbia) it will be my proudest accomplishment.
RQ—When did you first start writing, like, for money?
LS—After university. I went to Kenya for a year. My boyfriend was a writer. I began to think writing was an interesting profession to see the world … I came back and worked for a former paper in Revelstoke called Front-Row Centre, covering school board meetings. I thought that journalism was a way of paying for my writing habit.”
RQ—You returned to Revelstoke in 2010. What do you make of your hometown as a place for writing?
LS—I’ve lived in places that were much easier to write because things are happening around you. It’s easy to write because you’re observing things and you’re an outsider. So you’re able to describe this world and interesting things happen to you.
RQ—You lost your good friend David Rooney earlier this year.
LS—He was always a good person to bounce ideas off. He gave good advice. That was important. We’d always go for coffee and discuss it and he’d give suggestions, but he actually never edited my work. He was always open to ideas. (NB: Laura saved every letter. See: Goodbye, David, page 8.)
RQ—Where does the darkness that David talks about in his letter come from?
LS—I think we are so privileged here and we don’t seem to see that our actions have repercussions on people much less advantaged than us. Whether it’s what we buy when we always buy the cheapest things, or how we pollute, we just don’t make that connection or we really don’t care. I think he was talking about that—our selfishness.
“…To make the world a better place, you have to be
optimistic even if all the evidence is to the contrary..”
RQ—It’s a pessimism he and I both share. Do you, too?
(There’s a long pause and Laura smiles.)
LS—Let me tell you a story. I was in Sarajevo and I was interviewing people in human rights organizations about their work. I was hearing so many sad stories. I remember once I looked at this worker and I said, “From what you tell me, everything is hopeless, so why are you doing what you do?” And she said to work in human rights you have to be an optimist. If you think it’s futile, it doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s soul destroying. To make the world a better place, you have to be optimistic even if all the evidence is to the contrary.
…Sierra Leonians could teach the world a lot. Their generosity of spirit—which partly came from being powerless—just welcomed people back. It’s pretty astounding. But I think people were too generous and there were things they could have done to hold perpetrators responsible. To make a constructive suggestion is an act of optimism, right?
RQ—Will your latest book have similar suggestions?
LS—No, my latest book is a suggestion. It’s an invitation to look at our land differently. Think differently about who belongs here. Everything around us is an economic resource or a playground and nothing else. But when the river’s out, you see these stumps of huge cedar that stick out of the river. You see their roots intertwinded and you know that there were people here. It’s an invitation to look at it that way.
RQ—Are there things in your research that you would suggest we do right now?
LS—You can be thoughtful with your interaction with the bush. Don’t just see it as a resource or a playground, but see the needs of the plants and the animals. I wish people would think more holistically as us as part of Nature, not the Masters of Nature.
RQ—May I also get some advice about writing?
LS—One thing I didn’t do with my PhD but I do now is identify when I have energy; I never write when I don’t have energy because I usually delete all of it. So, I think best in the morning so it’s very hard to get an appointment with me in the morning because that’s my writing time. Go with your energy. And read. Reading inspires writing, especially beautiful literature.
Laura’s writing is varied. She’s the author of three books: First Tracks: The History of Skiing in Revelstoke; Long Road Home: Building Reconciliation and Trust in Post-war Sierra Leone (her Ph.D. Oh yah, she also has a Ph.D.); and Mountain Harvest, about local master gardeners.