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Reading Widely, Like a Scavenger

Books that inspired as Rideout wrote her latest novel, The Sea Between Two Shores.

Book Cover The Sea Between Two Shores

I secretly started writing the manuscript that became The Sea Between Two Shores while I was supposed to be editing another novel. The core of the new story, inspired by a snippet of local history I read while travelling, showed up all in one burst. That had never happened to me before and the first draft came quickly. But when I sat down to start the second draft, I realised just how much I had to learn.

I love research and read widely, like a scavenger—picking up interesting bits and bobs from everything I take in over the course of a writing project—it all becomes grist for the mill.

The following books played roles in the writing of The Sea Between Two Shores—some in ways that will be immediately obvious while others had more subtle effects.


Book Cover No Longer Captives of the Past

No Longer Captives of the Past, by Carol E. Mayer, Anna Naupa and Vanessa Warri

This book, co-written by a Canadian and two ni-Vanuatu women, discusses the reconciliation ceremony that partially inspired my novel. It tells the historical story of missionaries from Nova Scotia who went to Erromango in the 1800s and explores the many complicated issues and feelings that the reconciliation ceremony created for people from all over the islands as well as the missionaries’ descendants.


Book Cover Five Wives

Five Wives, by Joan Thomas

I’m always interested in how other writers approach the same subjects I’m writing about. I want to know what literary conversation is already happening—what I agree with, what I don’t, the questions that other writers pose and the way they might try to answer them. The Governor General Award-winning Five Wives tells a fictionalised version of missionaries in Ecuador and the generational consequences for all involved.


Book Cover Elements of Indigenous Style

Elements of Indigenous Style, by Gregory Younging

Over and over again during the writing of The Sea Between Two Shores, I questioned what I was writing—as well as how and why I was writing it. I searched for advice and challenges to my preconceptions wherever I could. This brilliant book bills itself as a “guide for writing by and about indigenous people” but is really a guide for anyone writing or reading in a hopefully decolonising world. I am sure I will turn to this book often.


Book Cover Fast Commute

Fast Commute, by Laurie Graham

Reading poetry simply makes me a better writer, my mind moves faster, makes more interesting leaps when I’m reading poetry, even if it’s not directly connected to what I am writing. Graham’s book-length poem examines both environmental destruction and Canadian colonialism with moving poeticism. I always find her work inspiring.


Book Cover Five Little Indians

Five Little Indians, by Michelle Good

Good’s novel doesn’t focus on the actions of past, but rather, through the stories of five young people, elucidates how trauma is carried forward. Her writing illuminates not only the damage that was caused by the violence of colonialism, but also the resilience and resistance of those it tried, and continues to try, to destroy.


Book Cover Nocturne

Nocturne, by Helen Humphries

So much of The Sea Between Two Shores is about grief, and I read numerous memoirs, novels, and poems about death and how those left behind deal with it. This book, about the loss of a brother, was perhaps one of the most elegant ones that I read, confronting how both the world and the mourner must move on.


Book Cover Distant Relations

Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America, by Victoria Freeman

In this readable and compelling history, Freeman attempts to trace her own family’s pathway in North America from the mid 1600s through to present day and makes clear that colonization is not something that occurred once in the past but is a continuing and ongoing process.


Book Cover MY Conversations With Canadians

My Conversations with Canadians, by Lee Maracle

I will admit that this was a difficult read, making me examine my own role in colonialism and returning again and again to the question at the core of The Sea Between Two Shores—how do I make good? This is another book I will return to throughout my life and Maracle’s challenge to all of those in settler societies, myself included, should be required reading for Canadians.


Learn more about The Sea Between Two Shores:

From the bestselling author of Above All Things and inspired by real events, this powerful novel follows two families brought together to reckon with what it means to make amends—for historic wrongs and the wrongs we commit against the ones we love.

In the early 1800s, a Nova Scotian couple arrives on the shores of an island in the Oceanic archipelago of what is now known as Vanuatu to convert the local Indigenous peoples. The arrival of these strangers leads to exchange and friction, cooperation and violence, culminating in a catastrophe the missionaries unwittingly unleash on the island.

Two hundred years later in Toronto, the Stewarts are a family locked in mourning after the accidental drowning of their youngest son. When Michelle Stewart receives an unexpected call from the island of Iparei inviting the Stewarts to participate in a reconciliation ceremony for their respective ancestors, she accepts in a desperate effort to save herself and her family.

On Iparei, we meet the Tabés, a ni-Vanuatu family who are themselves mourning the death of a child in the aftermath of a devastating cyclone, while worrying over the looming departure of another. As the ceremony approaches, the Tabés and the Stewarts will uncover their shared losses and failings, their fragile hopes for what a better future might hold, and the wounds that stand in the way of freeing themselves from the legacy of past betrayals.
immerses us in the lives of two families connected as much by their desire for healing as by the actions of their ancestors. It is an extraordinary meditation on the complications of history, the possibilities for redemption, and the meaning of the stories we tell ourselves.


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