B.C. author explores outer and inner space in new novel

NELSON, B.C. - What was once a distant dream for Anne DeGrace is now almost a surety.

When she moved to Nelson as a single mother in 1981, books and literature were important and writing was a hobby. A career as a novelist was somewhere amongst the stars.

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But now, with the release of her acclaimed third novel, Sounding Line - recently chosen by bookseller giant Chapters-Indigo CEO, Heather Reisman as one of her favourite new books - DeGrace's literary fate seems sealed.

Based around a UFO incident that happened in the community of Shag Harbour on Nova Scotia's South Shore in 1967, DeGrace's latest effort charts the media and military vortex that followed the event and the coinciding maelstrom taking place in the life of her 16-year-old protagonist.

Pocket Snow is not only watching his mother edge closer and closer to death from cancer and his father as he tries to cope, but he's also caught up in the flurry of activity surrounding the UFO event happening in his isolated rural community.

"The reason it attracted so much international attention was because there was a Russian sub offshore," DeGrace said of the Cold War incident, considered Canada's most significant UFO event. "Something came down offshore but it was taken away and nobody even spoke to anyone in the village."

An Ottawa reporter, a psychic UFO chaser, a town bully and the indomitable Shirley who runs the general store round out the books cast of characters.

Fictionalized as a town called Parry's Harbour in Sounding Line, Shag Harbour holds a great significance for DeGrace as the place where she spent many summers as a youth.

And since her own mother recently died of cancer, DeGrace said the book is very much a product of her own experience and thoughts, along with the stories she was told by Shag Harbour residents.

DeGrace said the UFO incident and its aftermath provided opportunity for exploration into depth and space on many levels.

"It was an opportunity to consider what's out there - outside ourselves and outside the world we know and to better understand what lies inside the human heart," she said.

"The book doesn't come to any conclusions but I don't think there are any."

But using the UFO incident and the subsequent confusion caused by it as a metaphor for Pocket Snow's own internal conflict, DeGrace said readers will easily identify with.

"I think it tells a story people can relate to," she said. "The story transcends location. It has the fundamental stories of life and loss. And the themes are universal - the kinds of things that are in the human heart."

And since Maritimers are known for their colourful accents and obscure dialects, particularly those who live in outports like Shag Harbour, DeGrace put a lot of work into researching the facts and mastering the language of the people she was writing about.

"Getting that right; to be authentic without being condescending, was probably the biggest challenge," DeGrace said. "There's lots of folklore in this and lots of Maritime-isms."

She said her favourite expression came from a man who described a ghost as "something soft knocking on nothing."

DeGrace's previous two novels include Wind Tails in 2007 and Treading Water in 2005, both published by McArthur and Company Publishing.

She has co-authored two photographic coffee table books, Nelson in Photographs and The West Kootenay in Photographs with photographers Steve Thornton and Dave Gluns

DeGrace has also illustrated six children's books and had short stories published in The New Quarterly, Room of One's Own, and Wascana Review.

DeGrace is a librarian at the Nelson Municipal Library.

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