October 03, 2015

My Life Before Me: Interview with author Norah McClintock

With my review of Norah McClintock's book My Life Before Me, her contribution to the Secrets series from Orca Book Publishers, posted above, I am pleased to offer a little something extra.  As part of Orca's Secrets Blog tour–in which I'm delighted to be participate!–I have the pleasure of posting a Q & A with Norah McClintock in regards to her amazing book and the writing process.

I'm pleased to post that interview here. Enjoy!

Norah McClintock, author of My Life Before Me

HK:  The plot in My Life Before Me is so intense, mixing a young woman’s search for her past with a murder mystery and racism and the civil rights movement.  What germ of an idea did you focus on as the starting point for the story?

NM:  I once read about a woman who had discovered that her father had attended a lynching along with many other seemingly respectable white people in town. It happened in the 1930s, I think, and, contrary to what one thinks when one hears about lynching, it didn’t happen in the American south. It happened in a northern state. That was the sum total of my initial idea. This bears absolutely no relationship to Cady or her quest. But it was the thing that maybe me wonder about family and knowing: what we think we know versus what really happened; how what happened can change everything in a moment.

HK:  The whole Seven Secrets takes place in 1964.  How did you research this time period to ensure setting authenticity in My Life Before Me?  What was the hardest about writing about a teen for a time period during which you were a very young child?

NM:  I would like to say that I wasn’t even born then, so I had to slog through tons and tons and tons of sources to make sure I was as accurate as possible. That’s certainly true for some members of the group. But I was able to draw on actual life experience. When I was a kid, a cousin several years older than me – about Cady’s age, in fact – lived with us for her high school years. She shared a room with me. So I had a pretty good idea about what 1960s teens were all about. 

HK:  Nellie Bly and the field of journalism are important aspects of My Life Before Me.  Why did you choose to emphasize this in your book?

NM:  I gave Cady my passion. I also gave her my part-time job. I actually did what I describe for a local newspaper.

Cady was adopted once in her past and then given up to an orphanage. She has been rejected by two sets of parents, not just one. So her focus was never going to be on where she came from. She doesn’t care. At least, she doesn’t want to care. When we meet her, she has just been dumped by her boyfriend because of his mother’s prejudice against orphaned girls, who, at that time, were more often than not children who were born to unmarried women – something that was deemed shameful and for which women suffered terrible consequences. So Cady’s focus is on finally taking charge of her life, following her dream, refusing, despite all the odds, to give up until she proves herself – just like Nellie Bly.

HK:  Considering the circumstances with which she has had to endure most of her life, Cady could be justified in harbouring a lot of anger and bitterness.  Yet she accepts most situations with a grain of salt and much wisdom.  How did you keep from embittering her to her life’s realities?

NM:  Well, she is kind of bitter about her boyfriend and his mother and the whole town that she can’t wait to leave. But she’s not a person who is interested in her own past. She is focused firmly on the future and who she wants to be. She can’t wait to get started. But her life experience is not one of being ill-used, abused, or even badly brought-up. The orphanage were she was raised was not a huge institution. It was small, charity-run, not well-financed, but it was home. Cady’s resentment is not directed there, although her restlessness stems from there.

HK:  Co-authoring books can be an odious task as well as fulfilling as authors attempt to work with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  But writing Secrets, just as with Seven the Series and the Seven Sequels, must be a completely unique writing process as you and six other authors must co-ordinate your works.  What did you find most compelling about this process–you have done it three times now–and what recommendations would you make to other authors who might like to attempt this?

NM:  You have to be willing to go with a premise that is not necessarily your own and prepared to negotiate with other writers to make sure that the story elements you all need are included, where necessary, in the basic proposition of the series. You have to deal with a few curve balls, too. I was thrown a huge one when work started on the Seven prequels, but that’s another story. Coordinating the instigating situation is probably the hardest part. The person I feel sorriest for is the series editor, who had to make sure that nothing in one of the books contradicted anything in the other six, etc. It was a lot of work and sometimes meant that the editor had to negotiate with two writers to come to a compromise. I think maybe sometimes she also issued fiats. The result was always fine.

HK:   I don’t know if Eric Walters is thinking of a set of sequels to the Secrets series but if it happens, I can think of a number of ways to take it.  Cady’s journalism, another crime or mystery, her remaining family,  a possible romance.  Where would you like to take Cady’s story given the chance for a sequel?

NM:  Oh, there are so many possibilities. She’s young. She has drive and ambition, the 1960s, as they are thought about in popular culture (which is not a true reflection of reality, by the way), are just getting started, and change is in the air. 


Thanks to Orca Book Publisher publicist Melissa Shirley for arranging this Q & A and to author Norah McClintock for sharing with CanLit for LittleCanadians’ readers a glimpse into her writing and her new book My Life Before Me.


  1. Thanks, Darlene. I think Norah provided some great insight into her writing and certainly into "My Life Before Me".