PICK UP THE PIECES
Pick Up the Pieces is a novel based on my extensive travels in the Pacific North-West of Canada and Alaska.
The synopsis is included here, though it is written with agents and publishers in mind and has to be kept very brief…there’s lots more that could be included!
Watch this space for occasional extracts from the book.
The central character in this carefully constructed blend of travelogue and literary fiction is Jack Maintenant. He is a fifty-something Englishman with a grown-up son who he raised as a single parent. Jack’s background is in child and adult mental health services, but he is looking to begin a new life after experiencing disillusionment and corporate bullying. All the places described and the people encountered are a true record of the author’s travels during the course of a six month period in western Canada and Alaska.
The narrator, however, is a fictional character named Celestina. She is an enigmatic figure who has cultural roots in the Iberian Peninsula (she is based on a figure in the drawings and paintings of Picasso and Paula Rego amongst others). She has a particular bond with Jack Maintenant, though she is humorously critical of him as well. For much of her ‘career’ she has operated amongst the native peoples of the Pacific North-West and she traces the course of Jack’s journey with insight into the landscapes, the history and the mythologies of the region. She has the power, for example, to swim long distances within the earth in the same way that others swim in water.
The narrative is structured around Jack’s travels. At the beginning it is made clear that he was killed some two-thirds of the way into his Good Journey. Yet it also emerges that he completed the trip and is now back in England, happily reflecting on events and contemplating a renewed life.
Celestina makes it her business to unravel this mystery and takes the reader through Jack’s experiences using her own observations, extracts from his Journal, emails he sent to family and friends, and interviews with people Jack met along the way. She also reproduces the text of a story that he wrote as a gift for people associated with the Saint Cloud Opera House, where he did cash-in-hand work for a while.
He begins in late April by visiting a cousin who lives on an island between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Jack’s one fixed point is that he has bought a ticket on-line for a music festival in an isolated town called Dawson City in the north of The Yukon. The festival is towards the end of July. He purchases a van and heads up into the interior of BC. After some nights in the wilds he arrives at a small place called Saint Cloud and finds a job at The Opera House in the build-up to a summer solstice music festival. He makes various friends and has a brief relationship. After the festival he travels north through increasingly wild areas, enjoying a combination of nature and community. He goes to another music festival, in Atlin, and is invited to visit Alaska.
After further excursions and incidents, including a hike into the tundra near the Arctic Circle, he makes it to the Dawson City festival, crosses the US border into Alaska and house-sits in a small ocean-side community. He re-enters Canada and explores the central Yukon before arriving in a small place called Barcode, so named in the Gold Rush years as it was a centre for ingot weighing and stamping. Just outside Barcode he has the last of four encounters with the one disquieting presence in the story to this point, a surly hunter who is travelling with a shadowy companion. The hunter shoots Jack, whereupon this shadowy companion takes over the journey.
The fictional story-line and the factual travel account are closely interwoven, largely through the narrative voice of Celestina. Her presence also introduces elements of humour, satire, myth, and topographical and cultural reference points. Her voice amplifies the book’s themes of the abuse of power, psychological renewal, sexuality, storytelling and the process of human and elemental interaction (and the significance of the blues harmonica).
Jack is picking up the pieces after a crash in his professional life, and having both shallow and deeper level fun along the way. Celestina is picking up the pieces of evidence and creating an intriguing answer to the questions posed by Jack’s death. The story culminates with the end point of her investigations. There is still a third of Jack’s journey to go, but all the necessary pieces for this particular tale have been picked up by the final pages of the book.