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Local author’s first novel shortlisted for 2 prizes


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A-M Mawhiney had to find something that wasn’t the global pandemic.

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In the early, blurry months of 2020, the retired university professor was consuming the continuous newsfeed of the coronavirus pandemic. Then there was the murder of George Floyd. Then there was the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

She also had a sinking feeling that the pandemic wasn’t going to end anytime soon.

Opening her laptop for the first time in two years since she’d retired from teaching social work, Mawhiney thought she’d journal to keep the outside world at bay.

Then she wrote: “‘When she awoke that morning it was with such joy in her heart.”

That opening line became Spindrifts, the first novel for Mawhiney, a retired professor from Laurentian University. The novel was published late in 2021.

This spring, Spindrifts was shortlisted for the Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writers Prize in Literary Fiction and the Whistler Independent Book Award in Fiction. The Whistler prize will be announced July 15. 

Spindrifts takes the reader to a future, yet familiar, world about 50-60 years from now. Fania, the protagonist, struggles to find her place in the Earth Project after decades of global rehabilitative actions led by her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents. Their stories are traced in conversations with Fania. The world building creates hope but the outcome is not yet secure.

From that first line, the story took over.

Mawhiney decided to follow the flow and see where the next sentence would take her. “Then it became almost a soulful thing that I had to do. I just became so focused on it and I lived and breathed this story.”

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She and her partner Dave McGill would be eating dinner, and she would grow quiet, her mind drifting back to her story. McGill would start to clear the table and say, “Are you writing?”

She wrote upwards of 10 hours a day. She wrote in their friends’ bunkhouse cabin on Panache Lake. When she walked the dog, scenes would appear. “It wasn’t planned at all. I was flying by the seat of my pants.” 

In the early days of the pandemic, people were writing to decipher the pandemic. But Mawhiney felt that this first, hopeful sentence was different from a journal.

“That first chapter obviously got polished but it didn’t change a lot,” she said. “Things just started to come out of my fingers. Sometimes I would picture a scene but when I got to writing it, the characters vetoed that and took me in a different direction. It was kind of a surreal experience but it was compelling and I didn’t have a choice with it.”

She completed her first draft in the summer. She took a summer course at the Humber School for Writers. Colleagues, family and friends provided critical, honest, encouraging feedback.

It was discouraging, however, to learn that it could take five to 10 years to have her novel published through a traditional publishing house. She turned to Friesen Press, the Canadian company that guides authors through self-publishing, and signed the contract in February 2021.

“I can’t explain what happened,” she said. “I had this story inside and I had to tell it.”

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At times she struggled with some of the themes. She decided that she’d write the story anyway and if she didn’t want to publish, she wouldn’t.

“But I wanted to tell the story the way I thought it should be (told).”

She doesn’t think she could have written her first book had the pandemic not happened.

Back in 2018, she had been looking forward to retirement. She didn’t want her days programmed and, as much as she had loved teaching, she didn’t want to return to teach occasionally. She was ready for other things but creative writing wasn’t on her radar. 

Part of their retirement included basketball. She and McGill are huge university basketball fans — they met at a Laurentian Voyageurs’ game. They had travelled to attend the 2019-20 USport national championships, just prior to the pandemic. As they sat in the stands, she wondered if they should even be at the tournament.

Then the pandemic hit. 

As Mawhiney works on the sequel to Spindrifts and mulls the third book in a possible series, she feels a sense of accomplishment.

“Some people think that independent-published books are like the old vanity books,” she said. “But the fact that one of the shortlists is for traditional (publishing) made me feel like that was an affirmation that I had accomplished something that some people like.”

Visit bit.ly/3bIXzQN for a trailer of the book. You can also check out Mawhiney’s website at ammawhiney.ca, or follow her via Twitter or Instagram at @ammawhiney.

Pick up a copy by visiting bit.ly/3R5iUnI.



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