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WENDY ELLIOTT: Christy Ann Conlin offers diverse stories

Christy Ann Conlin, left, is pictured with fellow Women of Wolfville (WOW) member Sarah Pound. CONTRIBUTED
Christy Ann Conlin, left, is pictured with fellow Women of Wolfville (WOW) member Sarah Pound. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
WOLFVILLE, N.S. —

Her public relations people say writer extraordinaire Christy Ann Conlin lives in Wolfville. Having shared a stage with her (we were walruses), I know Conlin as a performer and scriptwriter with the Women of Wolfville. So, locals might better note she is actually a Greenwich resident.

She and her family live in a house once occupied by a significant local character Mrs. Herbert Johnson. I do not consider that an insignificant fact, Mrs. Johnson was once profiled by Reader’s Digest.

To my mind, Conlin is super talented at bringing characters just like the eccentric Mrs. Johnson to life. She started out that way with her first novel ‘Heave’ in 2002 and continued with two more works of fiction.

So, it is not surprising at all that seats for the Kitchen Party Book Launch in Canning for her new book of short stories, Watermark, were spoken for weeks ahead of time. Canning musician and event organizer Kim Barlow has doubtless had her hands full coping with ticket requests.

It’s going to be huge fun to hear Conlin read, and then listen to Kim along with the touching Cape Breton Gaelic singer, Robyn Carrigan. Intuitive CBC Ideas producer Mary Lynk will also take part in this Aug. 17 celebration.

‘Watermark’ is due to be published on Aug. 13. The Toronto Star has already listed the 11 stories on its list of recommended summer reading. Add to that the news that CBC Books has included it on its Canadian fiction fall preview list.

Conlin, who hails from Berwick, does a fine turn at setting her tales in small-town Nova Scotia, but I was pleased to see her branching out with new locales as far flung as Vancouver and Germany. She explores home and life in exile.

In The Flying Squirrel Sermon, the old lady at the centre of the North Mountain plot says, “Some folks roam the world in search of wondrous sites, but living here there’s no need. Wonder is all about.”

Complex family relationships and haunted tales that take the reader aback, like Rest in the Sea, abound in Conlin’s collection. The tone of Dead Time, which follows a girl in something like the Waterville Youth Centre for a nasty murder, is absolutely chilling. So is the spooky Full Bleed. I quaked a little at that scenario.

One of my favourites was The Diplomat. In it a Chinese man tells Viola, a girl from Campobello Island, that, “home is something we must sometimes negotiate. But it is always worth the negotiations, no matter how complex.”

In Insomniac, a woman, who regularly cannot sleep, checks out the night sounds on Agricola St. in Halifax. “She loves the city on hot summer nights when she can’t sleep – when the night city is alive and mysterious.” Hers might be considered by some a small-scale adventure, but I loved Conlin’s details and depiction.

She has been called a master of the North Atlantic Gothic and that’s a fitting moniker. When interviewed by Tara Thorne for Quill and Quire recently, Conlin noted, “[As a teenager] I felt so oppressed by rural Nova Scotia that I went off to cities, inland, and discovered there was no place more exotic – with the best and worst of humanity – than the freakin’ Valley.”

We’re so glad she came back. After collecting two degrees in theatre and creative writing elsewhere, she has settled down in Greenwich to write and act as an online instructor with the University of Toronto. Her next publishing project will be some mystery fiction, which is underway. Meanwhile, Conlin parents three great lads with her husband, Andy Brown. They’re busy folks.

Let the ‘Watermark’ readings begin.

Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.

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