Phyllis L. Humby's Old Broad Road (Crossfield Publishing) is a story of the complications, joys, and risks of taking an unexpected leap of faith. When Sylvia Kramer leaves her comfortable life on the mainland to start anew in Newfoundland, it's a radical change. Add in an estranged family, a brutal crime, and a lot of authentic descriptions of The Rock, and you get a novel that takes readers deep into both a beloved part of the country and a woman's complex life and past.
We're pleased to welcome Phyllis to Open Book today to tell us more about Old Broad Road and the tall task of setting a novel in a place with as much history, tradition, and character as Newfoundland.
She tells us about the excitement of getting up at night just to keep working on a first draft that wouldn't stop coming to her, a momentous trip to visit the exact spot she was writing about, and her experience following her stories' natural evolution.
How did you choose the setting of your novel? What connection, if any, did you have to the setting when you began writing?
Phyllis L. Humby:
The idea for Old Broad Road germinated during my first visit to Newfoundland and Labrador. My husband is a Newfoundlander so I didn’t see the island through a tourist’s eyes; it was logging roads, cabins in the woods, and kitchen parties. I’ve never known a warmer welcome. It was a challenge to decipher the rapid dialect, but soon their sense of humour and colourful idioms had me rocking with laughter.
What if... an older woman from the mainland came to settle in Newfoundland? It would be interesting to see how she would adapt to the challenges and unique lifestyle of living in a remote coastal area on The Rock. But first I had to come up with a valid reason for her to leave her grown children, grandchildren, friends, and elite social circle behind. And I had to determine what contributed to her decision to never return 'home'. It was a journey in every respect.
Did the ending of your novel change at all through your drafts? If so, how?
The ending of the novel never changed and throughout numerous drafts the story itself remained true. When I wrote the first draft it was strictly for my own pleasure. It was an incredibly euphoric experience. I couldn’t type fast enough for everything that was spewing out of my imagination. I would wake at unthinkable hours and sneak off to the office because I couldn’t wait to get back to my story. I loved every minute of its birthing.
When I’d finished my first draft and shared it with a friend she encouraged me to seek publication. At that point, I realized it wasn’t novel length, so I went back into it. I fleshed out the story, creating another character and more situations, and wove them into the next draft. It not only expanded the book but gave it a richer depth.
If you had to describe your book in one sentence, what would you say?
Your CanLit News
Subscribe to Open Book’s newsletter to get local book events, literary content, writing tips, and more in your inbox
Old Broad Road is a gritty tale of life.
What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
The emotional response of my beta readers for Old Broad Road surprised me. It felt strange to hear how the story stayed with them after they’d finished the book.
It was also interesting that each reader chose a different character as their favourite. Some of the readers found inspiration in the story, which I hadn’t expected.
Did you celebrate finishing your final draft or any other milestones during the writing process? If so, how?
Well, it wasn’t an intentional celebration but it was momentous. The setting of Old Broad Road is Chapel’s Cove and I was only familiar with this particular area through research. After the final draft, I returned to Newfoundland to visit Chapel’s Cove for the first time. I couldn’t believe that I was actually standing on Sylvia Kramer’s beach. It was a MOMENT.
My husband and I stayed at a motel in Holyrood and also visited Bay Roberts. The whole trip was unforgettable. I was spooked more than once when I came upon something I’d ‘imagined’ for the book.
Did you find yourself having a "favourite" amongst your characters? If so, who was it and why?
They’re all favourites for different reasons. The characters are a diverse lot of personalities and each has distinctive and appreciable qualities... well, mostly-appreciable.
Some writers feel characters take on a "life of their own" during the writing process. Do you agree with this, or is a writer always in control?
I’m a die-hard pantser. I’ve tried to plot my chapters and stories, but it’s no use. It’s always more of a let’s-see-where-this-takes-me exercise. Once the characters are formed, they go in directions I don’t always anticipate. The story evolves in mysterious ways sometimes. Freaky, but true.
What are you working on now?
I’m discovering the joys of writing a sequel. This is a continuation of Old Broad Road – albeit three years later. It’s great to be back with these characters and see how life is progressing. I always expect the unexpected and I’m certainly not disappointed.
Phyllis L. Humby is an author of memoir and fiction. Her publisher is Crossfield Publishing. She lives in Lambton Shores near London, Ontario.