28 Works of Canadian Fiction to Watch for in Spring 2019 (CBC Books, 23/01/2019)
On Writing the Novel…
The Spaniards have a derogatory word for tourist, guiri, which is used mainly to describe the crowds who come surging off the cruise ships in their socks and sandals.
The first time a Spaniard called me a guiri, I was crushed. I’d been in Spain for over a month and was trying my best to fit in.
“How long do you think I’m going to look like a guiri?” I asked.
“Forever,” he said. “You will always be a guiri here.”
This was a depressing thought, and one that I internalized in my writing for quite some time. I was living in Barcelona, my favourite city in the world - a city I found incredibly inspiring - but for some reason, I was still writing about Canada. Outside my window, I could see palm trees and wild parrots, but on the page, I was still stuck on a Toronto streetcar staring out at the dirty snow.
A year passed, which included a moment when I threw my tattered map of the city into the garbage, a day when I knew where to buy a hammer, a month when I could suddenly speak Spanish, and a season when I stopped complaining about the heat.
One night, a local stopped to ask me for directions. When I told him I didn’t know the place he was looking for, he apologized, explaining that he’d thought I was from the neighbourhood. “You have a cara del barrio,” he told me. A neighbourhood face. I started writing a story about Barcelona the very next day and Proof I Was Here (formerly titled Scratch and formerly-formerly titled Yours to Keep) is the novel that resulted.
Proof I Was Here takes place on the streets of Barcelona and includes many of the things that intrigued me most about the city as I got to know it: the pick-pockets, the graffiti artists, the squatters, the Catalan separatists. Told through the eyes of a Canadian woman who is recovering from a loss by apprenticing as a thief, Proof I Was Here is about two Barcelonas: the beautiful tourist destination, and the less photogenic reality underneath.