Halifax Chronicle Herald, February 23, 2019 BOOKS

Hantsport writer Bishop pens first novel


Writing her first novel was not only a lot harder than Anne Bishop thought it would be, it was harder than any of the non-fiction books she wrote.

“Non-fiction is a matter of clarity,” Bishop said recently during an interview from her farm near Hantsport. “Fiction is much more complex than that. People and situations emerge in a much more mysterious way.”

“It isn’t logical like non-fiction,” she added.

Writing fiction is a messy, complicated experience that involves putting the writer’s own experience into a hopper, throwing in the experiences of others, adding a dose of literary imagination, mixing all the ingredients together and popping out a story, explained Bishop.

“It is a very complex and mysterious process,” she said.

Bishop’s new book Under the Bridge (to be released this spring by Roseway Publishing, an imprint of Fernwood Publishing) follows Lucy, a longtime community organizer and antipoverty activist who has lost control of her life. On probation and living on the streets in Halifax’s North End, all she has left are her friends. Friends like Judith, her lawyer, who helps her take back her life. Readers enter a world where the mentally ill, homeless, prostitutes and drug addicts live alongside poverty activists and human rights lawyers.

“I start awake, roll over, brace my hand on the ground to get up and run, breathing hard. Fingers gripping not leaf mold but gum wrappers, chip bags. The roaring, it’s overhead. Just traffic approaching the bridge,” Bishop writes about Lucy early in the book. “I sag back to the ground, puffing, joints complaining. I can’t believe I actually fell asleep. I don’t sleep much at the best of times, but under the bushes, below the bridge ramp, in the snow?”

Bishop understands the stress of anti-poverty work. For four decades she has been an activist working with local and international organizations focused on poverty, justice, environmental and LGBTQ rights, as well as adult education. She has lived the stress of the work. But not the stress of living in poverty. Bishop imagined what it would be like for a community organizer and anti- poverty activist to break down from that stress and become a client of some of the agencies she helped to found.

While the novel contains parts of her own experience, Bishop is clear that Lucy is not her. The character emerged after she asked herself whether she would have also lost everything if she had been more brittle?

“Lucy came out of some ‘what ifs,’” she said.

Bishop has shifted her activism into her fiction writing. The novel doesn’t shy away from addressing capitalism, poverty, mental illness and the effects of trauma.

“I hope to encourage discussion about issues,” she said.

How does fiction contribute to struggles for social justice? Bishop asks. She believes it is by allowing readers to ask what if, what is possible, and then to imagine change.

“I’m going into a period of exploring the power of fiction to contribute to some of these struggles,” she said.