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West of Wawa

West of Wawa

No relation

Inanna Publications

de Nikolits, Lisa




2013-07-12 14:38:07: Nomination was created
2013-07-12 14:46:36: payment successful from Paypal (order 92)

Luciana Ricciutelli


Inanna Publications

Feature film

Road Trip

Lisa de Nikolits's first novel, The Hungry Mirror, was awarded an IPPY Gold Medal for Literature in 2011 and long-listed for the 2011 ReLit Awards. Her second novel, West of Wawa, was one of four Chatelaine Bookclub Editor’s Picks and won the IPPY Silver Medal for Fiction in 2012.

The Novel sold extremely well and was one of four editors' book club picks for Chatelaine. Won the 2012 IPPY Silver Medal award for popular fiction.

A funny, moving, surprising Cross-Canada journey towards self-realization with Benny, its pill-popping, wise-cracking heroine having all manner of adventures.

Pill-popping, wisecracking Benny may only be 29, but she's on the run from a failed marriage, a ruined art career, and pretty much life in general. She’s not looking for salvation on this cross-Canada bus journey but simply trying to run away from all the mistakes she’s made. This is a funny, touching journey towards self-realization, and we travel alongside Benny from Toronto to Vancouver on a gritty backpacking vacation filled with friendships, bad love and adventure, complete with a fast-paced plot and characters who are complex, messy and sometimes hilarious. And the true north strong and free does hold hope for the Aussie wanderer – she arrives at the Pacific Ocean wiser, stronger, sober and empowered.

Benny: Australian immigrant to Canada, graphic artist, divorced when her husband left her for another man. Wise-cracking, funny, hurt by all the knocks that life has thrown her way, she hides behind a wall of self-prescribed drugs and alcohol. Feeling rejected by the world, she decides to off the grid. She’s hoping, to leave herself behind but she learns, en route, that she can be her own best friend and that past mistakes don’t have to leave permanent scars.

Eli: Toronto neighbor, the focus of Benny’s crush and the reason she goes west. Glass blower, drug dealer, in his early twenties, he comes from money.

Mickey; bad boy extraordinaire. Hails from the east coast, dynamite in bed, easy on the eye, a mean drunk. Benny falls for him hard and fast, they briefly live together. Mickey’s violent and nasty but he breaks Benny’s heart in a way Eli could never have. Eli had innocence, Mickey has narcissistic charm.

Sheldon White: a nasty piece of work who rapes Benny after feeding her drugs. The lowest moment of Benny’s life but leaves wiser and empowered.

This story is a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. Benny learns that failure doesn’t mean making mistakes and falling down, it means falling down and staying down — but feisty Benny doesn’t stay down. She also learns that disguising hurt, pain and anger behind a woolly wall of drugs and alcohol is no road to happiness and that no one will look out for her in this life except herself and she can choose between blaming others for the things that went wrong and accepting responsibility for her own life. She learns hollowness of charming, fickle love versus the value of true friendships forged and she learns that forgiveness is possible in every area of her life.
Loneliness, anger, solitude, drugs and isolation change into friendships, family, laughter, a home and a future.

A gritty, hardcore back-packing journey on a Greyhound bus across the vast Canadian nation of scenic beauty and majesty. From the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, from St John’s Newfoundland to Vancouver, British Columbia, via train to Churchill Manitoba and all the way to Whitehorse in the Yukon. Sleazy motels, nights spent on the bus, lodging with strangers and hostels of varying quality prove a resting place for our intrepid adventurer, as well as seeking refuge on the Alaska Marine Highway as she sails the Inner Passage from Skagway to Juneau.

Men 18–34
Women 18–34
Men 35-54
Women 35–54

Liken to: Goin’ Down The Road.
A personal journey of spiritual growth, this story is also a sociological look at the vulnerability of immigrants who leave behind their mistakes and failed dreams. The immigrant experience, naïve, hopeful, yet embittered by loss, can go either way; Canada can become home or swallow unsuspecting prey. Like Goin’ Down The Road, this is a journey of self, of strength, morality, character and fortitude, set on gritty roads travelled by those without much money or social standing.

Book Trailer

Churchill, Canada’s Real Wonderland

“The wind it was howling and the snow was outrageous.” Thus spoke Bob Dylan and he was right. The wind it was howling indeed and the sleet was outrageous. The icy downfall, sidefall, get-under-your-raincoat-fall, was all that greeted the passengers as they fell down off the train into the mud.
Benny guessed she’d been expecting something more by way of reception. Like a parade with a marching band and a round of applause. Give it up for the courageous pioneer folk for having made it all the way to this desolate place of isolation.
But all they found by way of “Welcome to Churchill” was the relentless stinging gale and two feet of mud.
Weighed down by twenty-six pounds on her front, and thirty on her back, Benny listed dangerously on the narrow train steps. At the mercy of the heavy, uneven loads and the gusty wind, she stepped down with uncertainty into the slippery clay. She carefully hitched up her cargo and looked around. Not that she could see much; it was raining too hard.
The train station was closed for renovations. There were no cabs in sight. Benny walked past her equally-hapless fellow passengers who were also milling about, wondering what to do next. This chaotic, untended arrival was all somewhat unexpected.
A presence loomed beside her; it was Simone, looking fragile and lost, with quivering lips and wet lashes. His expression implored her to save him.
“Oh, come on then,” she said brusquely. He seemed ready to collapse at her feet in a heap of wet and muddy relief, but she dragged him forward by the arm.
At Benny’s insistence, they stopped at a bakery café to ask for directions. It smelled so good inside that Benny was tempted to offload and set up camp, but she didn’t think the owners would accept her token of appreciation with the same enthusiasm with which it would be offered. They pointed the way to the b&b and ushered them out the door. Half an hour later, soaking wet and half-blinded, they found Bobbie’s b&b.
“Come in,” Bobbie said, as she opened the door. “Come in, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”
Well, as everybody knows, it was the great Bob Dylan who said that. Clearly he must have walked this Manitoba road.
Bobbie herself was less embracing and certainly less communicative than the sultry welcomer of that song. Benny introduced Simone and said there was no way, mate, that Bobbie didn’t have a bed of some kind for him. She stared Bobbie down in a way the battleship matron couldn’t refuse.
“Well, I could find him a room all right, but then you’ll have to share with Hirokio,” Bobbie told Benny, her lips thin and tight. “And that’s only if she doesn’t mind. We’ll have to see.” She called up to Hirokio and Benny got the immediate impression that the bowing Hirokio, who’d been there for a month, could do no wrong in the eyes of The Bobbie, while she would never meet her approval.
Benny thanked the smiling Hirokio. “Sharing with me, you saved his life, mate,” she said, pointing at Simone who was pestering Bobbie about polar bears. His momentary relief at having found lodging was undone by the Bobbie’s update on the polar bear situation.
“Nooooo polaaar beeers???” Simone wailed in despair. “But I did ride the train all the way, for the polaaar beeers…”
Benny viewed his pain from a distance; she was bounding up the stairs behind Hirokio who’d been instructed to show Benny the ropes. She listened to Hirokio recite the list of do’s and don’ts while she quickly unpacked and re-dressed in black leatherette trousers she’d found in a seedy fashion store near Regent Park. Who knew they’d turn out to be such perfect rain gear?
She went downstairs to find the distraught Italian had hardly moved. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said to Simone who, for a moment, had quite forgotten the beeerless state of his life. Clearly he liked Benny’s outfit. A lot.
Out of the b&b and back into the eye of the storm, they set out to explore Churchill and the first thing they found was a mangy group of skinny sled dogs chained to the rocks crying mournfully. Not sure what to do about that, they continued on their way. They wandered around the town centre, admired the Arctic Ocean, and checked out the port and grain mill, the tour centers, the Churchill River, and the Hudson Bay.
“Noooo polaaaar beeers,” Simone sighed, a lament on repeat.
“Hey, Simone, teach me to play pool,” Benny said, inside the entertainment centre, trying to distract him once again from his situation of desolate beeerlessness.
She beat him three games to nothing. It seemed she had a natural aptitude for the game. Having vanquished Simone, she took on two legendary twelve-year-old champions and beat them too. The one lost more gracefully than the other. Benny did a lot of victory dances that did nothing to elevate the mood of the players around her.
“Let’s come back tomorrow,” she said to Simone, her smile wide, “and the day after that, okay?”
“No. Tomorrow is polaaar beeers,” he insisted.
“Okay mate, whatever.”
“Has anybody ever told you that you are a leetle strange?” Simone asked when Benny stopped to take a photograph of a rusting old staircase in the middle of a field.
She looked at him through the pouring rain. “And your point would be?” she asked.
They went over to the old grain mill, half of which was still in operation.
“There must be a way in,” Benny said, frowning.
Simone, wiping rainwater off his glasses, pointed at the “No Trespassing” sign.
“They only put that there to make it more fun, mate,” she said, finally finding a way inside. Once in, she found a lot of heavy machinery and orange flashing lights in the low musty corridors. She nearly made a clean getaway but a couple of none-too-friendly men in hardhats led her out, one of them holding her firmly by the arm.
“I tell her,” Simone said to the men who glared at Benny and left.
“I got some good pics,” Benny said cheerfully. “Listen, I’m hungry. Let’s go back to that café – the one we got directions from.”
Gypsy’s Bakery and Café was no less a haven the second time around. Benny ordered a cream-filled doughnut and a latte and sat down at a table near the window.
“Good, huh?” she asked Simone, her mouth full.
He poked his Maple Dip with a cautious finger. “Too much sugar,” he said dismissively.
“No such thing, mate,” Benny said. “No such thing.”
After Gypsy’s, they went to check on the howling chained dogs and found a batch of puppies eating something that Benny thought looked like a human foot. She mentioned to this to Simone who went green.
“Only joking, mate, only joking.”
Tired out, they went back to the b&b where Benny seconded the upstairs washroom for an hour. She had a bath and the absolute pleasure brought forth by the exquisitely hot water was indescribable. Not to mention the joy that came courtesy of the freshly laundered, fluffy, Tide-scented towels in the bathroom.
“Oh, Bobbie,” Benny said, rubbing her clean, scented self dry, “ how dearly I do love you.”
She went downstairs to join the others in the common room just in time to hear Bobbie announce there would be French toast for breakfast the following morning. “Did you put your wet towels in the laundry basket?” she snapped at Benny who nodded meekly.
Benny sank into a wicker chair and closed her eyes. The common room was full. Hirokio was reading. Simone was paging through a brochure on fine dining in the area and Ambrose, the old dude with the sunken mouth, big ears, and gigantic fly eyes – Mr. Arizona 1929 – decided to engage Benny in a conversation.
Deaf as a post he was, apparently resisting hearing aids. “My wife died three years ago,” he shouted at Benny, apropos of nothing, his eyes misting over. “Breast cancer. She died in my arms. She did. How old do you think I am?”
You’re 103. “Uh ... sixty-five?” she said.
He trumpeted his life story. Ambrose was Catholic, one of sixteen children raised on a farm. He was moving to Minnesota after the Churchill trip. He’d had open-heart surgery eleven years ago, been married for thirty years. He said he wouldn’t mind marrying again and he looked at Benny meaningfully.
“Huh?” Benny jerked awake. Surely he wasn’t thinking along the lines of her as a potential future bride?
“Good luck with that, mate,” she said, thinking, men, they’re really something else.
Ambrose finally trundled off to bed at 8:00 p.m. and the quiet was like a gift.
Simone went out into the storm to find a restaurant. He was sinking into deep mournfulness. Benny wanted to tell him she was sorry it wasn’t working out for him but she didn’t care about the bears, she was simply happy to be there. She was in love with the deserted playground of Churchill and thought she could wander around contentedly for days, playing pool and taking photographs of rusted objects sprawled in the sand. Churchill, Benny’s own private Wonderland.

Definitely No Polaaar Beeers Here

It was Sunday and Benny had suffered the lack of polaaar beeers incessantly pre-, during, and post-breakfast. Following Bobbie’s delicious French toast, Benny made a hasty and solo escape to the shores of the Hudson Bay, agreeing to meet up with Ambrose later to go to the10:30 a.m. Sunday mass. She loved churches of all denominations; they reminded her of life at the all-girls school, when things were orderly and filled with promise.
The beach was spectacular. Benny discovered a configuration of boulders – pale blue with soft curved edges that had been sculpted by ten thousand years of brutal weather. Alien in their magnificence and uniqueness. She just stood and stared. Maybe they were from some other planet and had dropped by for a visit.
She also found a dead bird, stripped of flesh with one clawed foot up near its remaining eye. She spent a fair bit of time trying to get the right shot of the symmetrically fanned-out feathers on the bleached bones but she eventually admitted defeat. The perfect death composition would not translate to her camera.
She arrived at the mass just in time. Ambrose waved her over wildly and she joined him, sitting back to listen: “If you do a job well, you will be given opportunities to express your potential. Be patient; travel light; give away possessions; and be ready for God’s call.”
Benny was perturbed. She didn’t want to travel light. She wanted more possessions and nice ones too, and she certainly didn’t want to be patient. She was all for the opportunities to express her potential but she’d like them served up with a sense of immediacy.
Hey God, time marches on, I’ve waited long enough, mate.
A mural behind the altar featured Jesus preaching atop those breathtaking boulders, amid snow and ice with a First Nations fisherman nearby and a dogsled heading off into the forest. Forest? What forest? The visual made no sense. Churchill was as flat as Benny’s mood and about as forestless too.
“You want to come for a drive?” Ambrose invited her loudly after the service. He leaned toward her and bellowed before they’d even finished the part about going in peace to love and serve the Lord.
“I rented a truck!” he beamed toothlessly.
“Uh, no thanks, Ambrose. Places to go, dead things to see.”
One of Benny’s goals for the day was to escape her roomies. They’d been a family for so short a time, but she was already looking to avoid them with determination. They were all too needy. Well, apart from Hirokio.
She wandered around the quiet town for several hours, poking around to her heart’s content. She found a community cultural centre showing a film on polar bears. Her timing was good and her feet were aching, so she settled down, happy to be entertained and, what do you know, quick as a flash, Simone plopped down beside her. The Italian fridge magnet stuck like glue. Benny sighed, accepted her fate, and dozed. She couldn’t remember a single thing about the movie when she woke.
It had occurred to Benny that she was sleeping a lot more than usual, albeit intermittently. She’d always been so hyper, so driven, an insomniac. Now, given the opportunity to slow down, she appeared to be doing exactly that, to the point of snoozing whenever the opportunity arose. She had the half-formed thought that her sleepiness might be due to the increase in her meds, for surely she’d never taken this much daytime Xanax or codeine before, and never previously mixed them with alcohol either. But, she reasoned, she was on holiday. She deserved a rest, regardless of how it was achieved.
“Hey, Simone,” she said after the movie ended. “Did you see the bikes outside Bobbie’s? Do you think we could ride them?”
Simone replied that he had noticed them and had no interest in them. “I just want –” he began to wail.
“Polaaar beeers!” Benny finished for him. “Yeah, I know. Listen, I’m going to see if Bobbie will let me ride one of the bikes, see you later.”
She realized she hadn’t ridden a bike since she and Shay were kids, but she was suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to get back to the b&b and give it a whirl. She bade a hasty goodbye to the ever-wilting Simone and hotfooted it back to Bobbie’s. After checking with the old turtle that it was okay to borrow a bike, Benny made her selection – a feisty purple number.
Kind of tricky, after not having done it for so long. She got ready to board while half of macho Manitoba hydro watched from elevated cherry pickers; they were tending to some emergency. Throwing caution to the wind, Benny climbed on and pedaled off – in none too shabby form either.
Enraptured, she pedaled up hill, down dale. She was unstoppable. Gravel, railway tracks, marshlands, tarmac, graveyards, rocks and grass, she barreled over them all. Not too bad for an out-of-practice city girl. By the end of the day, it seemed most of the locals knew her well by sight, leaning out of pickup trucks and waving or raising a hand from their verandahs as she shot by. Benny, grinning madly, waved back, one hand steering.
Late that evening, she swerved up to the bike rack, arriving home as darkness was falling. She pushed the bike into place and went inside to wallow in another bath. Exhausted by the day, still exhilarated, she descended to the common room and found it empty save for Bobbie’s twelve-year-old grandson. He was covered in a painful looking rash, which was hardly surprising. Bobbie was so scary Benny thought that by the end of her week there, she might be covered in a rash too.
“Who’re ya talking to?” Bobbie yelled from the kitchen.
The grandson was explaining the controls of his video game to Benny. Bobbie knew he was talking to Benny since she’d walked past and seen them both.
“I’m talking to Jesus,” her grandson yelled back. Benny could feel Bobbie’s scowl through the wall.
“Let’s play another game,” she said to the grandson.
Benny wondered what happened to the woman from Atlanta. She’d never shown up. Simone had gone off in search of fine dining. Ambrose had gone to bed. Hirokio was upstairs, writing in her Hello Kitty diary. Benny, feeling fond of them all, hung out for a while with the grandson, admiring the cleanliness of the place – Bobbie, Super Dictator Grandma Cleaner.

A funny, moving exploration of a surprising journey towards self-realization and Benny, its pill-popping, wise-cracking heroine is a treat.

De Nikolits' book will ring true for anyone who has ever had even a moment of self-doubt."— Chatelaine Magazine

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