The Toronto Women’s Bookstore, Interval House, Rape Crisis Centres, and Broadside: A Feminist Review — Eve Zaremba's legacy for women in Toronto and beyond is so far-reaching it's hard to summarize. Which makes us all the more thrilled that she has recorded her long fight for equality in her memoir, The Broad Side: Reflections on a Long Life (Insomniac Press), which has been called "one of those books you simply cannot stop thinking about after you have finished reading it" (Don Oravec, President of Project Bookmark Canada).
Zaremba's candid and engaging memoir tells the story of her life, beginning with her emigration from Poland, and details an essential and influential time in the Canada's women's rights movement. The Broad Side includes photos from Zaremba's personal archives, many of which offer unique insight into a tumultuous and important period.
We're pleased to speak with Eve today about The Broad Side, as part of our Lucky Seven interview series. She tells us about tackling a memoir after spending years writing thrillers, how her spouse persuaded her to start the project, and offers a great reading list.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
I never planned to publish a memoir like The Broad Side: Reflections on a Long Life.
Over that life of 85 years I have published six thrillers with a lesbian private investigator (with Second Story Press), a collection of early Canadian women’s writing by Anansi Press and, in the eighties, numerous articles in Broadside, a Feminist Review.
Plus working in advertising and marketing, running an used bookstore, dabbling in real estate, taking a crack at visual art, traveling, acquiring a spouse, and generally getting older without noticing. All this since emigrating to Canada in 1952 at age 21.
This memoir came to be because Ottie Lockey — my lover, partner since 1978 and as of 2010 my lesbian spouse — insisted I write it. Once there was interest among some of our friends she proceeded to get it published by Insomniac Press.
Is there a question that is central to your book?
Of course a memoir is about memory. Which is famously fallible. That’s what was on my mind when I started writing. Memory is very much in the zeitgeist these days and I could go on about that for pages but that is not the real nub of my book.
My discovery in writing this memoir is that ‘what happens in our lives is alarmingly arbitrary’. This is true especially for us immigrants — if things had turned out differently I could now be an American or an Aussie. Instead of Canadian.
Coming here was a decision I made based on little more than a coin toss. Had I landed elsewhere I would have done different things, written different books or not written any, had kids, been married multiple times, and/or died young. To some extent I would have become a different person from who I’m now. How different? That’s the existential question there is no way to answer.
My childhood was radically bifurcated by the Second World War. I was nine when my mother and I left Poland in January 1940. War and loosing ones country are events over which the millions of people affected have no control. Emigrating to Canada was a personal decision, a choice for which I take responsibility, an opportunity I grasped. No matter, it was still all a fluke.
Did the book change significantly from when you first started working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?
In 1986 Ottie persuaded me to set down some of facts of my early life. She wanted something to remember about me once I was gone. (She’s thirteen years younger that I am.) So I complied, dredging from memory mundane details of my childhood including the layout of our apartment in Warsaw before the war, the size of my brother’s shoes and my favourite birthday menu.
I continued with my war-time refugee experience, with stories of school and work in Scotland and London, how I had emigrated to Canada in 1952 in the guise of a farm worker in rural Ontario. I ended memoir of the first part of my life with my arrival in Toronto in 1955 at age 24.
Ottie read this early draft, I added some explanations she asked for. It wasn’t written to go public. So for next 30 years the 60 page draft sat undisturbed in my file.
This was to become Part 1 of The Broad Side.
Part 2, was written in 2013/14. It covers in a highly condensed fashion the next 60 years of my life from age twenty-four and brings me to age 84.
The Broad Side, illustrated with photographs, with a bonus of a 1986 Helen Keremos P.I. short story at the end, is really two books written years apart. I like the way it came to be, organically over time.
What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
Undisturbed time. That’s the most vital element. Once I get to writing on my old PC computer I can go for hours without food or drink. Ottie reminds me to stay hydrated otherwise I would forget. Once I get up from my desk and the rhythm is broken it’s difficult to get back into it and I can procrastinate for days.
Back in the day I smoked and seemed to need to smoke while writing. We all did.
That’s long gone now.
What do you do if you feel discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?
Much of my writing begins in my head before I even sit down in front of the keyboard. Of course what finally gets produced is always different from what I imagined and thinking about it keeps me awake at night. If I’m lucky I start the day with an idea incubated over night. Too often life interrupts the process and I loose the thread. That’s when I tend to give up writing until something comes to me again, some idea usually picked-up while reading. I read a lot.
What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.
Great book? You mean as in ‘Great Literature’?, ‘Western Literary Cannon’?
As in Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Joyce, Proust…etc. etc.? Sorry, I don’t do ‘Great’.
Defining what makes a book ‘great’ is a mugs game. Rules don’t apply.
What can count as ‘great’ unless it breaks rules, unless it is unique?
So best I can do is a list of books on my desk today — July 30, 2016. All of these I would classify as worth reading.
Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman, McClelland & Stewart, 1969 — still in print.
Mavis Gallant, Paris Stories, McClelland & Stewart, 2002
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back, Europe 1914-1949, Penguin 2016
Sandra Martin, A Good Death, Harper-Collins, 2016
Mary Meigs, Beyond Recall, Talon Books, 2005
Betsy Warland, Oscar of Between, Caitlin Press, 2016
What are you working on now?
Not currently working seriously on anything. Just writing for my own amusement.
Spent a day on this interview, however.
In her long life, Eve Zaremba has picked tomatoes, driven a Bookmobile, researched Canadians's junk food preferences, and written lesbian-feminist detective novels. She reflects on those experiences, and the personalities and politics involved, in her memoir, The Broad Side. Eve spent her childhood in 1930s Warsaw, the daughter of a Polish army officer. When the Nazis invaded, she and her family took refuge in England, arriving in Canada in 1952. By the 1970s, Eve was an active part of Toronto's lesbian-feminist community and a founding collective member of Broadside newspaper.