30 Novels, day 16: Where the rivers begin


30 Novels, day 16: Icefields by Thomas Wharton

It occurred to me that if I’m going to devote this blog all November to the novels that shaped me as a writer, I shouldn’t forget this book.

This was my own first novel, and it was important to me as a writer because, by writing it, I proved to myself that I actually could write a novel.

As I mentioned in my earlier post on Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook, I had a difficult time figuring out how to write a novel, let alone figuring out what to write about. Creating an outline and working through it in linear fashion didn’t work for me at all. I had to discover my own method of putting a novel together. It was a messy, trial-and-error method, with a lot of dead ends and blind alleys.

Sharon and I were living in the small northern Alberta town of Peace River at the time I was writing this book. Sharon was working at the hospital and I was an unemployed at-home Dad, looking after our baby daughter and trying to finish my Master’s degree (my thesis was the novel). From my little upstairs office in our house I had a view of the local ski hill across the river, known as Misery Mountain. It seemed an aptly-named landmark to write a novel in front of.

The book is set in Jasper, Alberta, the mountain resort town that I lived in as a teenager. I was already a big reader in those days, and my favourite reading was fantasy. The forested hills and valleys around the townsite became a canvas on which I could imagine the fantastical worlds I loved to read about, like Tolkien’s Middle Earth. 

It was in Jasper that I began to imagine I might write my own fantasy novels some day. I didn’t think at the time that I would ever write about Jasper itself, the actual town and wilderness around it. But when I was working on the short fictions that eventually became my first novel, that’s what began to emerge: stories about bears, mountaineers, explorers. And glaciers.

The fantasy novels had to wait until years later. 

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