Writers hold back the curtain on other people’s lives. But as a general rule, they don’t like having their own lives examined. Stories of reclusive and shy writers (most kindly described as “quirky”) abound. So to talk with a writer who openly, even happily, shares a lifetime worth of hopes, hurts, highs and lows, is a disarming experience. Consider when I ask Marjorie Simmins, author of the new memoir Coastal Lives and a regular Halifax Magazine contributor, if it was a tough decision to write so freely about her life. “I feel like I should say yes, because it’s what people asking these questions expect me to say,” she says. “But I was raised in a writing household, raised to be brave in my writing. You can’t hide in a memoir. You can’t just write about the weather, or it doesn’t work. And a book is still a level removed from the person. Coastal Lives isn’t me—it’s art.”
An experienced journalist and memoir-writer, Simmins tells the story of a life on Canada’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Her tale begins when she’s a sad and single 37-year-old fisheries reporter working in Vancouver, meeting and falling in love with widowed Nova Scotia writer Silver Donald Cameron. With a continent between them, their relationship grows, despite her determination to not leave her beloved West Coast. Soon love, and Cameron’s stubbornness, win out, and she makes the move.
Coastal Lives is interspersed with columns, essays, articles and correspondence—like photographs, they illuminate the narrative and add a richness to an already warm, wry and emotional story. “I feel like I have a lot of information to lean into there,” she says. “Everything becomes very circular and it all ties together. My biggest challenge was to keep out of my own way and just write it. It all came together very naturally.”
Simmins talks as candidly about her supporting cast as she does herself—her love for Cameron, her difficult relationship with her sister. She describes how Cameron lost his wife Lulu Terrio-Cameron to cancer, and was still mourning her when they became friends. And while she has no fears exposing herself, she took great pains to be fair to the other people who appear in her story. “I tried to be careful and respectful,” she recalls. “Don laughed and cried when he read the manuscript. My biggest concern was being respectful to Lulu’s family.”
With that mix of care, insight and honesty, Simmins has crafted a touching and beautiful memoir. She describes the difficulty of leaving a place she loved so deeply for the Atlantic Coast, where even the ocean smells different, and she’s often reminded that she’s a come-from-away. It’s honest, warm and at times raw. She’s an energetic and joyful person, which sparkles off every page, even—and especially—when her story (as life stories so often do) take darker and sadder turns. You should read this book—it’s hopeful, inspiring, and just plain good writing.
- Friday, June 13: 12:00-2:00, Halifax, Scotia Square, Coles
- Saturday, June 14, 12:00-1:30, Halifax, Bayers Lake, Chapters
- Saturday, June 14: 2:30-4:00, Halifax Shopping Centre, Coles
- Saturday, June 28: 1:00-3:00, Truro, Coles