Claire Cameron’s The Bear describes the adventures of a five-year-old girl and her two-year-old brother as they escape from a bear that has attacked their parents while the family is on a camping trip.
Why write about fear in the wilderness?
I like situations that push a character to the edge. When I first met my husband, we went rock climbing and accidently got off route. Loose rocks started to fall from the top of the cliff; they were so close I could hear them whistle past. By the midpoint, our nerves were frayed. Perched on a ledge 450 feet up, we had a huge fight. Not just a spat—an epic screamer. Dangling from a piece of rope, we worked out our differences and found a way to the top. All the dynamics of our relationship were compressed into those few hours. The wilderness and the fear that sometimes comes with it expose our inner workings. We are all much closer to the edge than we like to acknowledge.
How did you capture a five-year-old’s perspective?
Just before I started writing, my son went through a chatty stage. When I say “chatty,” I mean talking nonstop. It was hard to get a word in. There was a moment when he demanded I listen—why did some cuts get Band-Aids when others did not? As I listened, I started to appreciate that his inner life was not only distinct from mine, but also far different from what I had assumed. While the character of Anna is not my son, her view of the world came to life through his; how drips from Popsicles make a tree grow, why cuts get Band-Aids only when there is blood, what happens when you die.
Was writing an emotional experience?
Yes. I cried most days working on the first draft. The last scenes were the hardest. I had a feeling where I wanted to end—the exact note—but I couldn’t see how to get there. Sarah Murphy, my editor, asked the right questions to help me. I think of The Bear as a hopeful book.
Do you still camp?
I took my family on a canoe trip this past summer. We visited the island where the book’s fictional bear attack takes place. I did not sleep as soundly as I usually do in a tent, partly because the kids slept between my husband and me. A small, sleeping foot kicked me more than once. The first night home, as I tucked my eldest son into bed, I asked if he felt safer sleeping now that we were back in the house. He said no: “In the house you and Daddy sleep far away in your own room, but in the tent I was right between you.” Feeling safe is different for everybody.
What is it about Ontario that inspires women writers, including Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, to name two?
...and Sheila Heti, Miriam Toews, and Anne Michaels. The rest of us hope to catch onto their coat tails as they fly by. Seriously, there is something in the water. I would love to tell you more, but then we might lose our competitive edge.