Emma Hooper’s debut novel proves she’s the real deal.
emma Hooper dedicated her first novel to her grandparents, but it’s also a love letter to her homeland: the Canadian Prairies. The Alberta-raised author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James lives in England, where she teaches commercial music at Bath Spa University. She also plays in a number of bands and has her own solo act: Waitress for the Bees. Her novel, which tells the tale of an elderly woman’s pilgrimage from Saskatchewan to the Atlantic Ocean, is a charming and magical story about fulfilling lifelong promises. Oh, and there’s a talking coyote too. Released in January, the book sparked a five-way publisher bidding war and eventually landed Hooper a six-figure deal. Not bad for a first-timer.
You earned a doctorate in musicoliterary studies and toured with Peter Gabriel and Toni Braxton. Why did you transition to writing? “Because I had this wealth of family stories I wanted to share. This book is very
loosely based on my maternal grandparents, from Davidson, Sask. My grandmother was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, and my grandfather came from a big farming family. I also had a great-aunt who was burned at the stake in New England for being a witch, but that’s another story.” Why did you choose a coyote to be your talking animal? “They’re not wolves or bears or cougars, which can be very scary. But they’re not squirrels or bunnies, which are not scary. So they’re a little bit scary.” Did the magical realism of Gabríel Garcia Márquez
influence you? “Yes, I like Márquez and that whole lineage. I’m a little bit weary of hard-core realism. I mean, it’s well written and terribly evocative, but I just love a guy like filmmaker Wes Anderson. I want to live in his world.”
Will your book make it to the big screen? “Oh, my God, that would be amazing!” Who would play the main character? “It’s hard not to say my grandfather, but either Gordon Pinsent or Christopher Plummer would be perfect.” If your grandmother were alive and read this book, what would she think? “It’s a love song about Saskatchewan, so she would enjoy that.” Your book is published in more than 15 languages. Did anything get lost in translation? “A Hebrew translator contacted me and asked about the dedication to my grandparents, ‘C and T.’ He asked ‘Is it a “CH” sound or a “K” sound?’ And a German translator wanted to know what kind of gun one character was carrying because there’s no German word for ‘gun,’ only specific makes.”
What has promoting the book been like for you? “For so many writers, as you can imagine, this is their only gig. They are alone in their basement, writing for eight years, and then their book comes out and they are told ‘Smile and be funny’ and they freeze up. Not me! I get sad living all by myself. I am definitely a highfunctioning extrovert.” When you’re not writing novels, you’re penning songs about dinosaurs and insects. What are you working on now? “I love social bugs, like bees and ants. They are fascinating. They are one organism, with a dominant female in the centre of it all. Is she empowered or is she enslaved?”