Craig Spence at the foot of Symonds Street in Ladysmith, at the beginning of his novel Uphill From Here
Uphill From Here is a novel about reconciliation. The main character, Devlin Smith, is on the cusp of adulthood, about to graduate from Ladysmith Secondary School. To friends, family and self it seems he’s on a trajectory of fantastic success. He’s a wheelchair athlete, with Paralympic aspirations; an honours student, who’s earned a scholarship to a top rated university; and a well adjusted, well liked member of his community.
So what can go wrong?
First, he learns that his estranged, dysfunctional mother is dying, and wants to see him. Devlin is torn. His compassionate nature urges him to attempt reconciliation; his instinct is to spurn the woman whose addictions and irresponsible actions resulted in his disability.
Then he falls in love with Marie, a First Nations student, whose fierce independence and commitment to her people triggers sharp disagreements, even resentments. Should Devlin keep his mouth shut and mind open, focusing on his love for this quietly passionate woman, and self-described ‘existential anarchist’; or does reconciliation begin with a hazardous coming to terms across treacherous cultural and political divides?
In the midst of these turmoils, Devlin is preparing for a personal trial he’d accepted long ago – to climb Symonds Street hill, unassisted, in his wheelchair. He’s set a date – the feat is to be part of his graduation celebration – and invited friends and local news hound Philip Henderson, to witness the attempt. But in light of all his other challenges Devlin wonders if it’s worth following through with his hill-climb pledge. Wouldn’t it be more honest to simply give up on what seems to him, now, a fake ordeal that has been overshadowed by real events?
Reconciliation, he learns, begins in your own heart; real strength, by acknowledging other’s needs.
Inspiration is the spark plug that ignites imagination. The outline above occurred in a moment, since then I’ve been exploring its possibilities in terms of character, plot, setting, structure and (something writers don’t often talk about) process. I am fascinated by Devlin’s story, and by the interwoven narratives of the other characters in Uphill From Here. But I want to know them better, and that’s where process comes in.
For instance, I want to make contact with people whose stories or experiences overlap with my characters’:
- Devlin is a young man who has become a high achiever despite his disability. I’d like to meet people whose experiences can help me make that aspect of Uphill From Here ‘real fiction’.
- Marie is a First Nations teen, passionate about achieving justice for her people. She likes Devlin, maybe even loves him, but how does he fit into her bigger picture?
- Debbie Smith, Devlin’s mother, is an addict and sometimes street person, whose dysfunctional lifestyle has contributed to her terminal illness. Can she make sense of her life? Can Devlin?
- Mike and Clara Smith, Devlin’s grandparents, have raised him since the accident that landed him in a wheelchair and estranged him from his mother, Debbie. How do they celebrate his success without mourning the fate of their daughter?
I’ll be looking for ways to reach out and involve the community in the telling of Uphill From Here. If you have ideas or experiences to share, please let me know… If you want to go Uphill From Here with me, join the Out of Bounds list for updates about Devlin – and family and friends – coming of age.