ANTIGONISH, N.S. - The Tall & Small Café in downtown Antigonish is hosting a special book launch, Dec. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m., as local writer Nicole Spence introduces her memoir Somewhere North of Where I Was.
Promotional material speaks to the content of the book.
“Somewhere North of Where I Was is the heart-rending story of a young girl whose childhood innocence was stolen,” the passage reads.
“Retold with the reflective voice of a woman who has survived and transcended the trauma of childhood poverty, neglect and abuse, Spence’s wisdom and poignant storytelling abilities, draw you into the world of a little girl whose tragic circumstances are tempered with fond family memories. One may be left to wonder how it is a child can survive and move beyond such experiences.”
In an email interview with the Casket, Spence talked about her debut book being such a personal and revealing project.
“As I say in the first page, ‘every family has skeletons in their closet. In my family there are armies. We are, however, the exception to the rule. In my family, our skeletons are out dancing for everyone to see.’
“Honestly, this has been my life’s work. I wrote the first version when I was 15, in my Grade 9 English journal,” Spence said.
“The original title was Nothing Can Take Away the Pain. It was my truth at the time. I was so certain, back then, that it would become a book … and a movie someday (I still do, by the way) … that I went to a local notary and had him stamp it so that I could maintain the copyright. He chuckled at me but stamped it just the same.
“I picked it up again after my sister was murdered during my senior year of university (1993-94). Seeing her life end so tragically drove me to live my life beyond the circumstances of our childhood. Pill Milner’s English 420, Creative Writing class gave me the space to re-write as a survivor what I had first written as a victim.”
Spence talked about an “unknown force” driving her forward.
“I wish I could name it,” she said of the ‘force.’
“I have taken the past 25 years to write it because it has taken me that long to get where I am and become the person I am today. No longer a victim, or survivor, but a woman who has the life experience to back up what she says and who has transcended those labels.
“I have met and become friends with so many people, men and women alike, who have experienced, alcoholism, violence, sexualized violence … and survived. Many have found their voice. Many have not. All of them have a courage and strength that is immeasurable and admirable, even when they don’t feel it themselves.”
Asked about the biggest challenging in getting the book ready for publication, Spence quipped “finishing it.”
“Seriously, though, getting it published was easy,” she wrote.
“I finished the manuscript a full year before I began looking for a publisher. Through a series of synchronistic events, I found myself at Pitch the Publisher on Sept. 16, 2017, at the Word on the Street Festival, two days after my son had spinal corrective surgery. My son wished me good luck and I made the 10-minute walk from the IWK. I listened while others gave their pitch. I had no clue what to include. I had practiced various versions and knew I had just five minutes to complete the pitch.
“Listening to the others, as well as the responses from the publishers gave me a really good grasp on what they wanted to hear. I stepped up to the podium and gave my pitch, which was exactly five minutes.”
Her successful pitch has seen the book published by Acorn Press.
As for the launch location, Spence talked about why the popular Main Street café is the appropriate setting.
“I wrote a lot of the book in the safe space of The Tall & Small Café,” she said.
“The first page, reflecting on the death of my sister, was written in the old Tall & Small, before Meghan and Zack expanded. It is such a wonderful space for writers and artists. Meghan (Peters) and Zack (Benoit) have a gold mine of a spot. I am not even sure if they realize what an important part of the community they are.
“When I asked Meghan if I could have the venue there, she was very excited and supportive. The response from my friends and colleagues has been great, so far. I’m excited and a little nervous, but launching it at The Tall and Small, feels like I’m bringing it full circle. With my family there, it will feel like home. There is no better place to be.”