Monday, March 18, 2013

Above All Things by Tanis Rideout

I'm very excited to welcome author Tanis Rideout to our blog today. Next week, Viking Penguin will be officially releasing her eagerly anticipated biographical novel about Ruth Turner Mallory, the wife of George Mallory who climbed Mount Everest in the early 1900's. 


Tanis Rideout

Author of Above All Things

(Viking Penguin, published 7th March)

About Ruth Mallory

Above All Things is a fictional reimagining of George Mallory’s third attempt on Mt. Everest. The novel alternates between George’s struggles on the mountain and his wife’s, Ruth’s, as she waits for him at home in Cambridge. While George’s adventures may take up the bulk of the novel, Ruth is undoubtedly the heart of it.


Ruth Turner Mallory

When I first set about writing  I was certain I would have an easier time writing Ruth than I would writing George. After all, I had never been to Everest, never climbed a mountain. I’d never even really given those things much thought. But I was certain that I could relate to Ruth, would understand her – after all, who hasn’t been left behind, hasn’t been lonely and over whelmed.

It was Ruth though that proved the difficult one. There are seemingly endless pages written about George and his temperament and his days and his desires. George had an adventure to set off on. Ruth, though was circumscribed by her time and place. She was a woman of at certain class, a certain background, a certain town and country. Her world was infinitely smaller than George’s and yet had to be able to engage a reader as strongly as he did.

And yet – what I believed, what I knew must be true, was that in order for George and Ruth to have been married for a decade, to be so seemingly in love despite long absences, dangers and difficulties, that Ruth had to be an exceptional woman.

By creating a single, important day in Ruth’s life, one day out of her endless days of worrying and waiting, the reader is able to follow her through those needs and desires and wants. And even though it is one day against George’s many, it is her emotional avalanches and crevasses, that to me, anchor so much of the book.

I was lucky, while I was writing, to receive a grant from the Canadian government that allowed me to travel to England to research. My time there included several days in Cambridge, at Magdalene College. While there I was able to read many of the letters that George and Ruth had written to each other over the course of their marriage. It was there that Ruth really came alive for me – that I was able to more fully conceive of her as a complete character with her own wants and needs, entirely separate from her husband’s, her children’s.

In those pages I found a woman that was incredibly bright, although a terrible speller. (If my memory serves, she left school at a young age after her mother died.) A woman who was thoughtful and questioning and in some ways incredibly modern.

In her letters Ruth is very cognizant of the kind of parent she wants to be, the kind of partner. She wrote to George about how they should behave towards each other, what they should model for their children. How important it was to try and stay abreast of issues and ideas so that they might better connect with their children. I was surprised and moved by the woman I found in those pages. I hope I was able to try and make a woman like her come to life in my own.



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