Same Time, Different Worlds: Alice Kuipers’ Alternate Realities

Columns

By Anita Daher

Multi-award-winning author Alice Kuipers has a knack for whisking readers into the lives and loves of her characters, who are always believable, and often with unique gifts. In her latest novel we travel even further—to a place where we not only agonize with her protagonist’s difficulties, but also explore an unexpected and fascinating elsewhere. Two of them, actually. Me and Me (HarperCollins Canada, April 2017) is a novel with a world-splintering take on the consequence of choice. While canoeing with a friend on her birthday, Lark hears a mother cry out. Her child is drowning. Lark’s friend dives in the water to save the young girl but hits his head. Lark is now faced with the choice of saving the child or the friend.

In that moment, Lark’s world is split in two parallel realities. In both timelines she is filled with regret over the life she didn’t save, while her own lives in each timeline are shaped by the one she did. We toggle chapter by chapter between these alternate lives while elements are feathered in, adding detail and filaments of plot, and we feel Lark’s growing desperation and sense of urgency, as the one she didn’t save nears certain death.

Kuipers builds each reality with dynamic characters, and a use of language breathtaking in its grace. After reading, you may forever walk into a chill evening looking for your breath to “ghost” in front of you, under the “bowl of milk” moon.

Born and raised in the UK, since 2003 Alice Kuipers has made her home in Saskatoon, with her partner, fellow author Yann Martel, and (now) four children. Though the book is set in a fictional town, those familiar with Saskatoon will delight in familiar street and place names. She also has a web home that shows a tech-savvy her characters would appreciate. Amongst usual bio and book information it includes details about a writing-tip app she co-created, a blog, and even a free online writer’s workshop.

I caught up with her shortly before her April 10 launch of Me and Me.

Events in Me and Me are triggered by a traumatic circumstance which occurs on your main character’s seventeenth birthday. Why Lark’s birthday, and why seventeen?

I like thinking about birthdays. There’s something interesting about moving into a new year of life. But for Lark it’s completely the opposite. She hates her birthday because it reminds her of the death of her mother. I wanted Lark to be at an age where she was almost an adult herself, but for her to still have that energy of being a young adult with the world at her fingertips. Seventeen seemed like the right age for a character struggling to figure out which future was the right one for her.

When you were eighteen, you spent a year travelling. How has this influenced the adult and writer you are now? 

I left the UK on my own when I was eighteen and didn’t come back for nine months. I spent a lot of that time looking out at the world. I read a lot, I wrote a journal. But after keeping the journal regularly, I found myself turning to fiction. I wrote stories and poems during the trip—somehow making stories up helps me understand my world and my place in it. The books I read and the experiences I had shaped me as an adult, absolutely. They made me recognize that I exist in a huge, complicated planet, full of stories and other lives. During the trip, I learned that everyone has a story to tell, and that if I listen carefully, those stories bloom inside me into new and wonderful ideas.

If you could time travel in a hot air balloon, and look out on all of the wheres and whens you have been, is there one you might like to revisit?

I love the idea of time travelling in a hot air balloon! I’m sure that would be dangerous, and scary. And very weird. A moment I would like to revisit in my life would be the birth of my first child. He was rushed into intensive care as a baby, and he spent the next six weeks of his life there. If I could whisper to my younger self that my son was going to be okay, it might have helped my transition into motherhood. I was so afraid for my son and so much was happening in my body at the time that a tiny reassurance from the future could have soothed me.

Your more scientifically-inclined readers may thrill on the quantum mechanic elements of Me and Me—the idea that choice can create parallel realities. Fascinating stuff, also a potential research rabbit hole. How difficult was it for you to establish the parameters of Lark’s dual realities? How fun?

 You’re right. It was a rabbit hole, but it was a lot of fun to read about Infinity Points. I enjoyed the research into parallel lives too. There are some great books and movies out there, and—as I’m sure happens to you when you’re writing—suddenly everything I heard or read seemed to connect with the theme of parallel lives. The parameters were difficult to clarify as I was writing the book and it took a long time for me to figure out how Lark should move from one life to the other. It was during a conversation with my partner, who is a writer too, that I figured out the idea of water spilling could signify the shift between lives. I loved the glitches in her phone—the idea that the other life was just there, within reach, but also terribly far away, was very appealing to me.

Do you ever ponder moments in your own life where a divergence might have occurred? Do you think moments like these must be significant, or might these splits be continuous and infinite? 

I think all of us consider what life might have been like if we’d made a different choice along the way. Our imaginations pull us to ask ‘what if’ and when we ask that, the possibilities spill open. When I was 24, I moved to Canada to live with the man who is now the father of my four children. That jump to a different country felt like a significant choice in my life. If I hadn’t come to Canada, what would my life be like? But smaller moments when life diverges happen all the time, and I think that by considering how these moments are significant we can be made to look at our lives and not take them for granted.

This novel is also about passions. In each reality, Lark is a gifted musician, but in one her pursuit is more driven, more explosively creative and satisfying than the other. Do you feel it is possible to pursue two passions at once? Why or why not?

I’m the sort of writer who writes lots of books all at once, and who teaches, and volunteers, and takes courses, etc., etc. I’m scattered, but my passion always comes back to reading and writing. Lark is fuelled by her music, but in one of her lives she makes the mistake of pushing her musical creativity to one side. Like a lot of us who have dormant creative ambitions, she neglects her ideas and doesn’t let her songwriting into her life. I do think it’s possible to pursue two passions at once, or three, but I think each passion needs time. If trying to do two things just becomes an excuse for not doing either, then it might be time to step back from one passion and focus on the other. For me, if I’m not reading enough, I’m miserable. So even if that means writing has to take a back seat, I have to make time to read. I’m the mother of four children. Like any parent, I want to spend time with my children. Juggling work and time with my children makes me ask questions about what I’m most passionate about in the limited moments I have left.

The way in which Lark refers to music might also be applied to prose: “I was working with a song, playing with it, sitting with the words, hearing the band riff on it, making it fuller.” As Lark plays, feels and hears her music, fully, completely, so does the reader. Are you also a musician? If not, did you need to spend any time “dancing” with your character and this element of her life before writing? 

I am most definitely not a musician. This question goes back to research. While I enjoyed researching parallel lives, I loved researching songwriting (and parkour!) I asked musicians about their lives, I read books about songwriting, I listened to tons of bands, went to concerts, and I wrote a lot of songs, which I asked a music-teacher friend in the UK to review. I did indeed dance with Lark in this way, and I also danced with her by discovering more about the world of parkour, which is a fascinating world.

If you and Lark were to sit in D’Lish and have a conversation about music, is there a song you might argue over? 

If Lark and I were talking about music, I would just shut up. I would feel on wobbly ground if I had to talk about music with anyone. Despite all the research, the world of music and musicians feels hallowed and very cool. So I’d listen to her. I’d ask which singers I should listen to next. Although I’d probably tell her that I just started listening to Laura Marling. I think Lark would like her stuff. Maybe.

 

View the book trailer at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhm1pA42VW0

Sign up for Alice’s newsletter and a free writing course at: www.alicekuipers.com

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Youthful Appetite

Anita Daher


Anita Daher has lived in Summerside, PEI, Yellowknife, NT, Churchill, MB, Baker Lake, NU and Sault Ste. Marie, ON, making her an expert on the geographic location of YA writers. She is a prolific and successful YA author herself and the associate teen book editor at Great Plains Publications in Winnipeg.