Jan
30
2011

The Birth House by Ami McKay

Q & A with Ami McKay

The Birth House by Ami McKay

One of my favorite books of all time is The Birth House by Ami McKay. I've read it two times and this is rare thing considering the number of books on my to-read pile! As an avid reader and a book reviewer for the past decade, it's always a dream to interview one of my favorite authors. For a few months now, I've been gushing about The Birth House going from one of the top forty books on the Canada Reads longlist down to one of the top five Canada Reads finalists. I wanted to give my readers my insight so I shared a review I published in a 2007 women's magazine. I don't know how it all came about but somehow I was offered the opportunity to interview Ami McKay (insert squeal here!). I could come up with a kazillion questions but thought Ami must be very busy with the whole Canada Reads thing, so maybe I should keep it to 10 questions. So without further ado, I'm pleased to share my interview with Ami McKay.

Q & A with Ami McKay


1.  Your bestselling book The Birth House is a contender in this year's Canada Reads debate. You must be so proud to have one of the top five Canadian books from the past decade! Have you stopped pinching yourself yet?

 

No! It's quite an honour to be in such tremendous company. The books in the initial top 40 were all amazing reads, so to have my novel make it to the final five was a bit surreal.

 

2.  Aside from your own novel, what book would you recommend from the top 40 Canada Reads 2011 list?

 

Heave, by Christy Ann Conlin. This is a novel that sings! Unforgettable characters, gorgeous setting, compelling plot - what more could you ask for?

  

3.  You were blessed by the mighty Oprah right from the very start of your career. Do you think the "Oprah Effect" changed you or your writing?

 

Yes, but not in the way you might think. I was actually a guest on her show six years BEFORE my novel was published. (It was one of those "when bad things happen to good people" episodes and it had nothing to do with writing novels.) I learned a lot from the experience. It gave me the confidence to tell stories my own way, and the courage to send them out into the world for others to read.

 

4.   If you were to give any advice to author wannabes what would it be?

 

Give yourself permission to write on a regular basis. Don't sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. You have to treat yourself like a writer if you want to be one - make time and space and energy for your craft. No excuses. If you don't take your work seriously, no one else will.

 

5.   How has social media impacted your writing? Do you feel it's hindered or enhanced the process?

 

It's helped me to connect with readers in ways I never thought possible. I can't tell you how many times an email, facebook message or aptly timed tweet from a reader has made my day! That said, I find that social media can also be terribly distracting. I've learned to "unplug" from time to time in order to maintain my focus on larger projects. It's all about balance.

 

6.  Your Twitter handle is @sideshowami. Where does this moniker comes from?

 

A few years ago I was commissioned to write a play (Jerome: The Historical Spectacle) for Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company. It was for their "Theatre Off The Grid" series so I set it in the context of a traveling Victorian sideshow. I loved researching the world of sideshow performers and their lives, so when it came time to choose a Twitter handle, I chose @SideshowAmi.

 

7.   You grew up in Indiana but now live in Canada. Did your upbringing reveal a fresh perspective on the maritime community of Scots Bay, Nova Scotia?

 

Actually, my upbringing was one of the things that made Scots Bay feel like home to me. I grew up in a rural community surrounded by farmland and people who lived their lives by the weather, the seasons, and, as Dora says in The Birth House "crops that would keep."  Although I lived in Chicago for several years before I moved to Nova Scotia, I think I brought a lot of Hoosier sensibility with me on the journey. The fresh perspective was something this community gave to me. It reminded me of the importance of embracing all the things I'd set aside while I'd lived in the city, all the lessons my mother had taught me while sitting at the kitchen table.

 

8.  Your home has a special connection to the story in "The Birth House". Can you tell us how this came about?

 

My house was once the birthing house for the community. It was owned in the early 1900's by the local midwife, Mrs.E. Rebecca Steele, a woman who graciously invited young mothers into her home to give birth. She'd care for them and their babies for a week or more before sending them home to their families. Mrs. Steele and the house were the inspiration behind the novel. (For more on the history of the real life birth house of Scots Bay, you can listen to a CBC radio documentary I put together before the novel was written.)

 

9.  So many fans are clamouring for your next book "The Virgin Cure". Do you care to share any teasers?

 

I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that it's set in New York in the 1870's and it's told through the eyes of a young girl living on the streets of the Lower East Side. The story itself was inspired by the work of my great, great grandmother who was one of the first female physicians in New York. She practiced at the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, a clinic that mainly served the families that lived in the slums and crowded tennements of Manhattan.

 

10.  Do you have any plans to bake a groaning cake in the near future?

 

Any day now, I'd guess. My whole family loves the stuff and the recipe makes great muffins to have with tea. You don't have to wait for a birth to make it. Try baking groaning cake, it's a delicious treat for new mothers, for book club gatherings, or just tea with friends.


Groaning Cake

The tradition of the groaning cake, or kimbly at (or following) a birth is an ancient one. Wives' tales say that the scent of a groaning cake being baked in the birth house helps to ease the mother's pain. Some say if a mother breaks the eggs while she's aching, her labour won't last as long. Others say that if a family wants prosperity and fertility, the father must pass pieces of the cake to friends and family the first time the mother and baby are "churched" (or the first time they go to a public gathering) after a birth. Many cultures share similar traditions…a special dish, bread, or drink, spiced with cinnamon, all spice, and/or ginger. At one time there was even a "groaning ale" made to go with it.

I made groaning cake the day of my son's home birth and my neighbour brought me "health bread" the day after the birth. This recipe is a combination of the two. It has apple, molasses, orange juice and spices and can really help to see a woman through a long labour, or give her strength after the birth!

  

GROANING CAKE RECIPE

2 ½ Cups Flour
3 eggs
2 tsp. Baking powder
½ Cup oil
1 tsp. Baking soda
½ Cup orange juice
2 tsp. Cinnamon
¼ Cup molasses
½ tsp. Ground cloves
1 1/3 Cups sugar
1 ½ cups apple (grated, no skin)
1 tsp. Almond extract

Sift dry ingredients together. Add apple. Beat eggs. Add oil, orange juice, molasses and sugar. Add to dry ingredients. Mix well. Add almond extract. Bake at 350 F. for 35-40 minutes. Makes two 9 X 5 loaves or about 18 muffins.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

For more information on Ami McKay and her novels, visit her website and blog. For more details on The Birth House check out www.thebirthhouse.com and read more on Ami McKay from Canada Reads.

The Canada Reads debates will be hosted by Jian Ghomeshi at the CBC's Canadian Broadcast Centre in Toronto on February 7, 8, and 9, airing at 11 a.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET (2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland).

Check out the Canada Reads updates on the CBC website. You can attend the debates taped in front of a live audience, follow the debates on CBC Radio One or watch the live stream and chat. Find Canada Reads on Facebook and Follow Canada Reads on Twitter.

 

Relish reading,

Wanda Lynne Young

Website: Bookalicious.ca
LinkedIn: Wanda Lynne Young
Twitter: @YMCbookalicious
Facebook: Bookalicious
Facebook: Wanda Lynne Young
Newsletter: Bookalicious


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Jan
17
2011

Stacking the Deck for Health and Happiness

Stacking the Deck for Health and Happiness

There's 52 weeks in a year and 52 cards in a deck. What if you or I could make some simple changes to improve our health by trying something new every week of the year? Author, nutritionist and former YMC Mummy Eats Blogger Theresa Albert suggests that we play our cards right and stack the deck in our favour. In her new book Ace Your Health Theresa gives advice on how to fuel our bodies for optimum performance on our road to health and happiness. We can swap our unhealthy ways with simple healthy habits. We've all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but some of us forget this message (ahem, raising my hand here) so here's a gentle nudge. Theresa has some meal tips to help us start our day out the healthy way. Below is the excerpt Why Breakfast is the Most Important Meal from Theresa Albert's book Ace Your Health.

Why Breakfast is the Most Important Meal

By Theresa Albert, Author of Ace Your Health

Breakfast is the most important play that you can make. I know you have heard this from your grandma on down, but if you are still not convinced, here are some things you should know.

Study after study from respected researchers worldwide show that skipping breakfast is the single largest predictor of becoming overweight in adolescence, and overweight teenagers tend to become overweight adults. But this isn’t the only reason you shouldn’t skip breakfast. Having a meal within one hour of waking up keeps you from becoming sluggish in the afternoon, thus preventing the need to drink coffee late in the day − the very same coffee that will make you sleep fitfully, if at all, at night. That vicious cycle will ensure that your next day is less productive than the one before.

Your body wakes up and looks for a signal of what kind of day it will have. It wants to know what kind of food it will need to digest today and it responds accordingly. Like a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer, your body wants to know, Was the hunt successful? Can I count on you for protein or will we be gathering berries all day? If we are picking berries, I am going to need a lot of insulin to digest them and to get the most out of the fuel they have to offer. If I have protein, I may not have to work as hard. Your body thinks, “As I begin, so I will go,” and behaves accordingly.

When your body gets lots of carbohydrates in the morning, it responds by giving you insulin to help with digestion. Sometimes your body will overshoot and create too much insulin, and the more often it does so, the more out of whack the process becomes. Too much insulin moves the fuel (in the form of glucose) from the blood to the cells, then stores it as fat! Your body thinks you are going to need fuel (fat) later because the large amount of energy (carbohydrates) you ate first thing signalled that you’re packing it on in anticipation of a famine that is never going to come.

The good news is that each day’s requirement is established anew. If you get enough protein at breakfast, along with fibre, your digestion will slow down and you will get a nice slow, gradual rise of insulin that will serve you throughout the day. Your body has now begun to trust that you have enough food to survive. This seems to be why eggs, which are a nutrient-rich and dense protein, are the best breakfast option. 

Setting a balanced blood sugar level in the morning makes the rest of the ride a little smoother. We all know that blood sugar spikes (like any highs) become crashes. If you avoid the spikes, you probably won’t be “starving” by 11a.m., and you won’t be tempted to eat that doughnut during the morning meeting. Otherwise, you can’t resist, your body won’t let you; it’s scared because it’s crashing and sugar saves. Avoiding that crash is what having a protein-rich breakfast does. Your blood sugar will be stable enough not to drive you toward fast and furious calories. This early play sets up your next strategic play: a lunch that refuels you so that you can have a sensible snack at 3 p.m., instead of throwing the entire game for Ginny’s birthday cake and some java. It’s all about giving you the tools in the morning when you have the courage to use them. Eating a proper breakfast gives you the strength to follow suit the rest of the day, naturally, with your biology co-operating. 

But what else, other than eggs, can you have for a breakfast that is high in protein? Here are three key foods: yogurt, hemp seeds, and white chia seeds. The last two may be new to you and I provide more explanation of these seeds in the King of Spades. Hemp seeds are almost pure protein at five grams per tablespoon and when they are combined with white chia seeds, which contain some protein and both soluble and insoluble fibre, you are set for the entire day! Yogurt is one of the few fermented foods that we eat and it is the fermented foods that lay the groundwork for a happy bowel. Remember the commercials with the Swiss guy yodelling his happiness long into his nineties because he ate yogurt? True story!

Excerpted from Ace Your Health by Theresa Albert Copyright © 2010 by Ezra Levant. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart.

BOOKALICIOUS BOOK GRAB GIVEAWAY

McClelland & Stewart has a copy of "Ace Your Health" to give to one lucky Bookalicious reader who shares a breakfast tip or story in the comments section below.

Yummy Rules and Regulations

You must be a Yummy Mummy Club member to win. Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per member. Entries accepted until January 28, 2011. Contest open to Canadian residents only. Winners will be picked using www.random.org

Good luck!

Relish reading,

Wanda Lynne Young

Website: Bookalicious.ca
LinkedIn: Wanda Lynne Young
Twitter: @YMCbookalicious
Facebook: Bookalicious
Facebook: Wanda Lynne Young
Newsletter: Bookalicious

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Jan
13
2011

Reading Rocks with Canada Reads

Reading Rocks with Canada Reads

One of the biggest events for bookworms like me is Canada Reads. This year Canada Reads celebrates it's 10th birthday! Where has the decade gone? I suppose we've all been busy reading, watching our collection of Canadian books grow, and sharing our favourite book titles which is the whole point to Canada Reads in the first place, right? 

Back in October Canada Reads clamoured for Canadians to celebrate the 10th anniversary by suggesting titiles and voting for the Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the DecadeThe 40 titles on the long list were then whittled down to make The Top10 short list and now it all comes down to a debate with The Top 5 finalists

Since the five nominees were announced in November I've had time to read Carol Shield's Unless on my Kobo.  I found Shield's book so hard to put down! Note to self: put something in the slowcooker before starting a new book. I also have grand plans to read The Bone Cage and interview the author Angie Abdou. I was already familiar with one of the titles and very pleased that The Birth House by Ami McKay made it as a finalist. I read, reviewed and recommended The Birth House a while back for a print publication and it still remains one of my all-time favorite books. You can read my review here:

 In The Birth House author Ami McKay takes us back to the basics to visit the closely knit community of Scots Bay, Nova Scotia. Set in a WWI backdrop the people of "The Bay" are raised on brown bread, shad and tea. With no electricity, telephone or automobiles in the town, the community relies on the healing powers and advice of a midwife for a variety of ailments and childbirth assistance.

The story is told through the eyes of teenaged Dora Marie Rare who finds a kindred spirit in the towns old midwife, Miss Marie Babineau. A victim of gossip and somewhat of an outcast in social settings Miss B. is known as a witch, or an angel "as long as she’s got the gift whenever they need it." Free-spirited Dora considers herself to be a black sheep of sorts being the only girl born after five generations of the Rare family name. Dora was also born with a caul over her eyes. Miss B. sees this as a sign that she "sees more than us all." The old midwife decides to take Dora under her wing and teaches her the art of "catching babies.’ Dora learns tricks like blowing cayenne pepper off a feather to encourage a tired mother to push!

Contentions arise when Dr. Gilbert Thomas opens up a maternity home in a nearby town. The womens social groups topics soon turn from knitting and idle gossip to concerns about issues of women’s rights and control over their bodies. There ensues debates between the doctor encouraging the latest scientific medical procedures, metal tools and drugs and the traditional midwife who uses common sense intuition, prayers and natural herbal remedies.

The novel is wonderfully written with an interesting mix of characters, scenes and period references to a time of prohibition, rum running, book banning and burning. The author takes us along with Dora to visit Halifax at the time of the explosion and Boston during the suffragist movement for the women’s right to vote. The reader gets to follow Dora on her coming of age journey and witness her devotion to her craft despite modern time influences.

McKay draws you in to the story as if you are reading from an old scrapbook with the addition of newspaper clippings, advertisements, letters, herbal concoctions and even a recipe for Groaning Cake. I might try to bake this one myself but I won’t be mixing the batter in between contractions as traditionally recommended!

The author writes with a down to earth style and treats her story with a good dose of Acadian folklore and maritime traditions. Being from the East Coast myself I really enjoyed the local dialogue and colloquialisms. Like the midwives depicted in the novel McKay also displays a great deal of insight with her writing. One thing for certain is we all owe some gratitude to midwives who act as spiritual guardians for mothers and help bring us into the world. In the words of Miss B. to Dora "No matter what you do, someone always knew you would." - food for thought

It's not too late to pick up a book and get in on Canada Reads debate. Jian Ghomeshi will host the hour-long debates, airing on CBC Radio One on February 7, 8 and 9 at 11 a.m. and again at 8 p.m., except in Newfoundland, where the debates will air at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. NT.

The five finalists and their celebrity book debate defenders are as follows:

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Falls
Defended by Canada Reads host Ali Velshi

The Birth House by Ami McKay
Defended by Debbie Travis

The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou
Defended by Georges Laraque

Essex County by Jeff Lemire
Defended by Sara Quin

Unless by Carol Shields
Defended by Lorne Cardinal

Be sure to visit cbc.ca/canadareads to follow the interview action, get Canada Reads updates, and enter the contests for great prizes. The debates can be followed on CBC Radio One. Check the listings for the broadcasts in your area. The debates will be recorded in front of a live studio audience. For ticket information, e-mail canadareads@cbc.ca. Find Canada Reads on Facebook and Follow Canada Reads on Twitter.

 

BOOKALICIOUS BOOK GRAB GIVEAWAY


Chapters Indigo has copies of The Birth House by Ami McKay and Unless by Carol Shields to give to one lucky Bookalicious reader. To enter the contest answer one of the questions:

"What Canada Reads book would you like to win and why?" or "What Canada Reads book would you like to read?"

Yummy Rules and Regulations

You must be a Yummy Mummy Club member to win. Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per member. Entries accepted until January 28, 2011. Contest open to Canadian residents only. Winners will be picked using www.random.org

Good luck!

Relish reading,

Wanda Lynne Young

Bookalicious: Newsletter
Website: Bookalicious.ca

Twitter: @YMCbookalicious
Facebook:
Bookalicious

Facebook: wanda.lynne.young
 

Photo Credits:

Designer Debbie Travis defends The Birth House by Ami McKay
Ryan Couldrey/CBC Canada Reads

Actor Lorne Cardinal defends Unless by Carol Shields
Ryan Couldrey/CBC Canada Reads


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