The Waiting Hours: a book about ‘the storms of life’

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Acclaimed author and filmmaker Shandi Mitchell</p>
  • <p>Shandi Mitchell&#8217;s <em>The Waiting Hours</em><span id="_mce_caret"> follows the lives of three first responders, on and off the job.</span></p>

Acclaimed author and filmmaker Shandi Mitchell is launching her latest book in Lunenburg on May 6 in an event that promises to anchor her firmly into the town's artistic community.

She moved to Lunenburg from Halifax last September, and has chosen to launch The Waiting Hours at the Lunenburg School of Arts in an event sponsored by the Lunenburg Bound bookstore and Viking Press.

"And then I head to the big city," Mitchell told LighthouseNOW, allocating Halifax to second spot on the book's promotional schedule.

It's perhaps no surprise Mitchell's life journey has landed her back in Lunenburg.

Her 2012 feature film The Disappeared, which was nominated for two Canadian Screen Awards, was shot off of Lunenburg.

"It was one of the great adventures of my life to be out there," she told LighthouseNOW recently in an interview.

The film, about six fishermen lost at sea in the North Atlantic, spoke to Mitchell's fascination with human fortitude.

Born in New Brunswick and raised in Alberta, Mitchell describes herself as an "East Coast prairie girl."

After moving to Alberta when she was two, Mitchell grew up straddling a life in Edmonton as "a military kid," where her father was with the armed forces, and one on her uncle's and aunt's farm about 200 miles east of the city.

An avid reader, she remembers dragging a chair into a field to write her own "great novel."

Upon her father's retirement, the family returned to the East Coast and Mitchell went on to earn degrees in English and Theatre from Dalhousie University.

She was making her way as a filmmaker when she turned to writing seriously.

It dawned on her that in film, "you have to wait for money to create. It's a long, arduous process," she says.

Mitchell had been craving "a place to create for myself," where she didn't need anyone's permission and could create anything.

There were stories calling her from the West. "There were whispers of things I had heard," she says.

As a Ukrainian on her paternal side, she was drawn to the experiences of the early settlers in western Canada, which lead her to create her award-winning novel Under This Unbroken Sky.

"I was very curious about survival, and I questioned, could I have managed? Would I have been strong enough?" Mitchell recalls.

The debut novel was simultaneously published in 2009 by Penguin Canada, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (UK) and Harper Collins (US).

It has sold in nine countries, including translation rights for Chinese, Hebrew, Dutch and Italian.

Under This Unbroken Sky won the 2010 Commonwealth regional Prize for First Book (Canada/Caribbean), the Thomas Head Raddall Fiction Award, and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award.

According to Mitchell, her feature film and book of the same title, The Disappeared, were written concurrently at a "enlivened creative period," when she was ill.

"The Disappeared was holding some of my own questions at the time about who you are, where you are, what do you become when you're between worlds?

"You know, you're not the living, you're not the dead. And who are you then, when you're standing in this new place?"

Mitchell's award-winning short films and The Disappeared have played worldwide and garnered awards in cinematography, design, sound, performance, and direction.

Mitchell says she was struck during the filming by how people were drawn to her to tell their own stories of family members lost at sea, and how The Disappeared connected people on a number of different levels.

"Not just on a literal, as a Maritime story, but a metaphorical story."

She described how one man told her he was sitting with other patients in a room waiting for chemotherapy.

"'I was in that boat. We were all in that boat,'" he told her.

The Waiting Hours, published by Viking, is a book "about now," says Mitchell.

The story follows the lives of three first responders, on and off the job.

"I think at its core, I was looking at the cost and the accumulation of tragedy. The storms of life and how we try to cope with the good and the bad.

While the responders' jobs are to save lives, Mitchell explores "how they save themselves."

To research the book she rode along in police cars responding to 911 calls, and did a lot of one-on-one interviews for first accounts.

"I tried to feel the hearts of my characters as I tipped them in."

At the launch, which starts at 7 p.m., Mitchell intends to do short readings and talk about the creative process of writing the book.

"It's always an interesting time to release your work," says the author.

"It's no longer yours. You're giving it to readers now to bring these characters alive.

"Which is interesting. I'm in my own waiting hours right now," said Mitchell.

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