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Behind the Page: Sharron Arksey on The Waiting Place

I am a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife. If our children hadn’t opted for other careers, I might have been a farmer’s mother, too. Except for a few years in my late teens and early 20s, I have always lived in the community I still call home. There are many people like me in rural areas, but we are a minority in the larger world.

The family farm still exists; it is not extinct. But gone are the days when the majority of urban dwellers were only a generation or two away from their agrarian roots, going home to the farm for holidays and special family events.

I have been writing about farm life for a long time, but most of what I have written has been non-fiction. The column I wrote for 25 years could be classified as creative non-fiction. I wanted now to address the same topic in a different genre. I wanted to take readers to a world that exists not so far from home and yet may feel every bit as foreign as more distant destinations.

I often answer flippantly when people ask me what The Waiting Place is about. “Cows,” I say. That answer tends to be a conversation stopper, although it always gets a laugh.

The book is not about cows, although since it takes place on a mixed grain and cattle farm there are plenty of those in the background. It is a work of fiction about a young farm wife in labour with her first child. It is the story of that dilation, centimetre by centimetre. It is the story of that pregnancy, month by month. It is a story about relationships and secrets. And along the way it captures memories from the perspective of other female family members. There is evidence-based brain research to suggest that babies arrive biologically wired with the experiences of their ancestors. We add our personal experiences to the mix and then pass everything on to our own children. I find that fascinating. How complex we are before our own stories even begin.

For all farm families there is a close link to the cycle of life and the changing seasons: spring the season of birth and planting; summer the time for growth; autumn the harvest and the weaning; winter the season for rest and preparation. Particularly for those who raise livestock of any kind there is a link to sex since reproduction is how producers make their living. I wanted to use farm animals—specifically cattleas a metaphor for human beings following that path from birth to death. But not heavy-handedly so, because there is a limit to how far the analogy can be stretched. Obviously.

Originally, The Waiting Place was a collection of short stories, each focusing on a separate biological aspect of female life. Pregnancy and child birth, for example. Menstruation. Menopause. (I find it interesting that both the latter words include the syllable ‘men’.) Eventually, each story became part of a larger story, showcasing complex interpersonal relationships and family obligations. The story of a nine-month pregnancy became a slice-of-life portrait, full of messy colour and fuzzy lines, much bigger in scope than originally envisioned. The big picture framed by the front and back covers of a small book.

No matter where we live, no matter how we make a living, no matter what the genetics and environment that have shaped us, we are biologically the same. We are born. We need to eat and drink; we need shelter for our heads and covering for our bodies. We need human touch. We live and then we die. That’s part of what I wanted to say in The Waiting Place.

Last modified onFriday, 02 September 2016 11:06

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Turnstone Press acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund, and the Province of Manitoba through Manitoba Culture Heritage, Tourism and Sport.

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