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Reader Resources for Flying Time


1. Flying Time begins with nineteen-year-old Kay Jeynes in the year 1939. What drew you to this time period?

I was born and grew up in Calgary, and, as a child, spent a great deal of time in the Rocky Mountains and their foothills. Perhaps people are prone to be attached to the place where they spent their childhood—imprinted on a geography, as it were. I know I am, and I have used Calgary and its surroundings in all of my books.

Although I did not arrive on the scene until well after the period in which Flying Time is set, my English immigrant parents had lived in Calgary for many years before I was born. Kay’s Calgary is the city of their youth, and I remember many of their stories about their lives and adventures in the 1920s and 1930s.

Mostly I remember small things—how they dressed for the bitterly cold days of a prairie winter; how, with no car and very little money, they walked everywhere in all seasons; how their social life centered around the Anglican church. The things that remain most vivid in my memory, however, are very particular things that I was told about particular people. For instance, my auntie Nora once cleaned an old alarm clock that had stopped working by tying a string to it and dipping it in a pot of boiling water. Apparently, that clock ticked happily and accurately for years after its heated baptism. Then there was the story of my auntie Peggy, the athletic one, who on a whim danced the Charleston from downtown all the way home to Forest Lawn. There were many tales of my eccentric uncle Kenny, who wore spats in the winter that Sterling Shoes brought in for him on special order. Why I remember such tiny, specific things I do not know, but these and other stories like them are woven into my second-hand memories of pre-war Calgary.

The Second World War also had a huge impact on my parents’ world. From them and their friends and my aunts and uncles, I learned that it was possible for a war waged far from home to have an enormous impact on the residents of a small, out-of-the-way prairie city, thousands of miles away from the fighting. Several of my uncles were absent from home for years soldiering in that war. Fortunately, all of them returned. Many of my parents’ friends had husbands and brothers and sons who went too, and some of them did not return. Even well after the war, when I was a child in the fifties, there were still reminders of the fighting. We all knew wounded veterans, some of them our own suburban neighbours. One of my best friends when I was a child was an adult neighbour who had lost an arm during the war and wore a prosthesis with a hook when he worked in his garden. The gardening arm was his second-best. He reserved the best one, the one with the gloved wooden hand, for wearing to his office job at City Hall. Sometimes, if his stump was feeling sore while he was out gardening, he’d take off the prosthesis and pin his shirt sleeve over it. One time, he showed me the stump. I can’t say that it brought home the brutality of war to my nine-year-old self, but I do remember being fascinated by it, and sad for him. I loved Mr. P. back then, and looking back today, I find that I still do.

So, I guess I could say that all of these elements from my own background came together to draw me to the world of Flying Time and the era in which it is set.

2. You’ve had an eclectic career as a mystery author, a high school teacher, a television announcer, and a pianist, among other things, but this is your first literary novel. What made you decide you wanted to write in this form? Why did you choose this story?

I believe “eclectic career” is a polite phrase for “lots of jobs,” and yes, I have worked at many things, all of which taught me something even if it was only that I should look for a better job. I think I found one in writing. I like writing novels because I get to do it alone, in a comfortable room, on my own schedule. From time to time, I meet some interesting people who stroll in from my subconscious mind for a visit.

Which brings me to “why did you choose this story?” I had major elements of Flying Time in mind, specific things that particularly interested me, long before I began writing. Unfortunately, major elements do not a novel make, and how to weave these together into a coherent whole eluded me. Eventually, I gave up and stopped trying. Then one morning a couple of years later, as I was sitting on the edge of the bed putting on my shoes, the story simply appeared in my mind. I guess that somewhere in my subconscious, the entities Stephen King refers to as “the boys in the basement” had been working overtime because that morning they presented me with the main characters and a plot outline. This had never happened to me before, and I doubt that it ever will again.

So, to answer your question, I really don’t know if I “chose” this story. Sometimes I suspect it chose me.

3. One of your characters is an elderly Japanese businessman named Hero Miyashita. Can you tell us more about him? What drew you to his character?

Mr. Miyashita simply appeared. He was one of the characters that popped into my mind on that marvellous morning of shoes and revelations. He is a fictional character grounded in the grand tradition of real life prairie eccentrics. And, believe me, plenty of eccentrics found a home in Canada’s “last, best west.”

Mr. Miyashita is Japanese, and it is through him that the book explores one of the most disturbing and shameful episodes in Canadian history. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the government interned all people of Japanese ancestry then living in Canada in hastily built camps, and confiscated their property, including homes and businesses. These were subsequently sold at knock-down prices. Prior to this, the RCMP had kept a covert watch on Vancouver’s Japanese community for several years. During that time, the Mounties never discovered a single Japanese person living in Canada to be involved in subversive activities of any kind. According to the RCMP, Canada’s own Japanese did not pose any threat to national security whatsoever. Nevertheless, it was not until 1988 that the Canadian government moved to apologize and pay compensation to Canada’s Japanese citizens for their unjust incarceration and loss of property. By that time, many of those deserving both moral and monetary redress had died.

As were the lives of many other Japanese Canadians, Mr. Miyashita’s life is devastated by the government of a country he has come to love and trust and regard as his own. This is a central element of Flying Time.

4. Your book opens in a memoir-writing class, with Kay, the narrator, as an old woman. What were the benefits of using this point of view?

I wrote Flying Time as a first person narrative, in this case a memoir, because it felt right. I wish I could tell you more, but that’s the truth. It just felt like that’s the way the story wanted to be told. The best I can do is tell you why I think it felt right.

The obvious and overwhelming advantage of a first person narrative is that it provides a direct, unfiltered connection between the reader and the narrator. In first person narrative, “me” the character tells “you” the reader a story. Of course, the first person does have an equally big disadvantage in that the narrator cannot tell about what she did not witness first hand except by speculation or hearsay. Despite this, I think that in the case of Flying Time, having the narrator’s immediate and intimate point of view far outweighs this negative.

5. Tell us about the paper cranes on the cover.

Generally, publishers get a designer to do the covers for their books, and Flying Time’s cover is no exception. Although writers are sometimes asked for suggestions, the final cover decision rests with the publisher. In this case, the people at Brindle & Glass did ask for my input, and I told them that I thought a design that made use of an origami crane might work. After all, cranes are flying things themselves, and thus would connect with some of the literal and figurative flights in the story. For instance, Kay’s brother, Charlie, joins the war time air force and learns to fly. Kay’s own life is changed when she goes to work for Mr. Miyashita, so perhaps it is not too fanciful to say that her life takes flight. She flies literally when she boards the Pan American flying boat in San Francisco and embarks on a journey across the Pacific. I also thought that origami cranes would be evocative of the Japanese elements of the book.

At the time I made my suggestion, I was unaware that Ruth Linka, then the head of Brindle & Glass, was something of an expert at folding origami cranes, although she hadn’t done one for years. The morning she received the email containing my suggestion, she made a few cranes just for fun, and also taught the people at the Brindle & Glass office how to fold them. Together, they produced the flock of white cranes that grace the cover of my book.

I think that the designer who put all the cover elements together has done an excellent job, and that the images of the Brindle & Glass staff’s origami cranes that he incorporated so cleverly serve Flying Time well.

6. What are you working on next?

My golf game. And perhaps another mystery novel. Maybe. On rainy days.

7. Where can fans find out more about your work?

You can find information about each of my books on my website: www.suzannenorth.net.

BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS

1. Is the casual racism prevalent during Kay’s youth still around today? Could the same hate and fear that was directed at the Japanese before and during the Second World War be aimed against an ethnic or racial group in Canada today?

2. Why do you think the author chose to write Flying Time as a memoir rather than as a third-person narrative?

3. Flying Time is set in both the past and the present. In the past, the narrator is a young woman in the early days of the Second World War. In the present, she is an old woman in a rehab home recovering from a fall. What do the scenes in the rehab home add to the story? Do they make it more or less believable?

4. How does the author attempt to convince the reader that Kay is a believable narrator? Do you think readers can trust that Kay is telling them the truth?

5. Had you heard of the Pan American flying boat before you read Flying Time? Do you agree with Claire Booth Luce’s assessment that a flight in the Clipper flying boat would come to be regarded as “the most romantic voyage of history”?

6. Why do you think that Kay, a lively and ambitious young woman who had some very exciting and adventurous experiences, eventually settled into such an ordinary life? Do you think she has any regrets about this?

7. Is Flying Time a good title for this novel?

8. Meggie, the narrator’s pal in the rehab home, says that “a tourist goes on trips and returns home the same person, but a traveller is forever and fundamentally changed by the journey.” Do you agree with this? Have you ever been a traveller by Meggie’s definition?

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