For many of us, the nights of checking under the bed and looking in the closet are long gone and we no longer fall asleep at night half-terrified of a green-gooey beast lurking somewhere in the darkness. However, as Kathy Page revealed in the Malaspina Theatre on Jan. 18 in her lecture for the Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, achieving adulthood does not mean our lives become free of monsters.
“The monster is a thing, not us, that will devour us,” Page says during “Living With Monsters,” her talk that revolved around the prevalent theme of the monsters—human and other—that exist in the lives of the characters in her latest novel, The Find.
Page, who now lives on Salt Spring Island and teaches in the Creative Writing department at VIU, has published many novels that explore the darkness in human life. “I’ve always been interested in the grotesque and the gothic—the other, the supreme other,” Page says. Originally from London, England, Page completed her Honours B. A. in English and Related Literature at the University of York, and her M. A. in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She has worked as the writer in residence at various places, including universities as well as a category B men’s prison, and has taught Creative Writing across Europe. Among a body of works in various anthologies, Page has published a collection of short stories and seven novels, including The Story of my Face, a psychological thriller published in 2002 that was long-listed for the 2002 Orange Prize, and Alphabet, a dark story about a prison inmate, that was published in 2004 and shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award in 2005. Page began writing her most recent novel in 2004, and The Find was published by McArthur and Co. in 2010. It is her first novel that is set in Canada, and Page says it “is a novel in which several genres are combined.” The story revolves around paleontologist Anna Silowski’s magnificent find, a giant Pterosaur fossil in the riverbed of a fictional town on Vancouver Island, and the consequences of this discovery, both for Anna, the team of explorers she works with, and the local Native community who have a cultural stake in the creature’s natural preservation.
Page said many sources of inspiration came together to create this mix of genres interacting with one central theme. A visit to the Courtenay and District Museum and Paleontology Centre in Courtenay sparked the paleontological aspect of the book. The elasmosaurus fossil, which Page said “was monstrous but also beautiful…and it changed the lives of those who found it,” helped to spark the idea for Page’s physical monster, the Pterosaur, which is central to the conflict in The Find. During her presentation she read an excerpt of the chapter where Anna first identifies the fossil she finds half-buried in a riverbed as the Pterosaur, a giant, flying beast, sprawled across the land.
Page includes an inevitable breed of the grotesque in her antagonists as well. She read an excerpt of a scene between Anna and a rival paleontologist who wants to manipulate her to achieve credit for her discovery, a man who Page described as “a human sort of monster.”
Page said another inspiring factor for her book was an article she read about genetic testing and the advances that have been made in the possibility of predicting future illness. She says this gave her the idea of adding another monster into the mix: the possibility that her main character has Huntington’s disease, and the ability for her to find out. Anna’s inner debate concerning her fate represents another monster, Page said—the monsters within ourselves.
Because of the technical nature of the factors that inspired her, Page had to do an extensive amount of research before, and during, her writing of The Find. “The research for this book created it,” she says. In her “quest to accumulate authentic detail,” she interviewed several paleontologists and attended an official convention, immersing herself in the language and the world of paleontological science. Page said the intellectual journey was fascinating, and that she noticed many similarities between her craft and the one she studied. In their own way, “paleontologists [are] storytellers,” Page says. She compared their careful revelation of details of past life to the way a writer uses words to reveal a different kind of story, but she says where paleontologists are drawn to bones and ancient beings, “my interest is in people, living animals.”
Of her writing and research process, Page says “I write realistically about a world very like this one.” She used her new-found scientific knowledge with her already developed keen creativity to place Anna in a story where she could explore human possibilities in a scientific setting, immersing fact in fiction to reveal the truth about the monsters that lurk, on a variety of levels, in the shadows of our world. “I like to think of stories as taking place in a parallel universe,” Page says. Interestingly enough, long after The Find was well on its way, Page learned that a pterosaur had been discovered on Hornby Island in 2004, at around the same time the idea for her book had begun to take shape.
Even after its publication in 2010, The Find has allowed Page to continue her inquiry in the world of paleontology and the theme of discovery. In spring 2011 she presented her book at a conference in Toulouse, France at “Lost and Found,” a conference that Page described as a cross-disciplinary exploration of “extinction in arts and literature.” The book has also received much critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the 2011 ReLit Novel Award.
After attending “Living With Monsters” and listening to Page share segments of her novel and explain how her book took shape, it becomes evident that The Find is a novel that promises to eloquently expose us to the concept of vanished worlds and show us that we must either learn to live with or conquer the monsters in our lives before they devour us.