It’s been more than a decade since he lived in Halifax, but for Mark Sampson, the seven years he spent here as a student and journalist were critical to his development as a writer. “Halifax continues to be such a big inspiration for me,” he says. “It was the first place I lived when I left home. Those were the most formative years of my life… Halifax is a city on the edge of things, which speaks to me. It’s away from the centre, on the edge of the continent, where all these different elements and influences come together.”
In Sampson’s new novel Sad Peninsula (Dundurn Press), Michael the protagonist is a Haligonian, although most of the action happens in Seoul, South Korea, where Sampson taught English not long after leaving Halifax. “One of the things that fascinated me about Seoul was the sort of colonizing effect of these communities of Western teachers, they way they sexualized and exploit the Korean women,” Sampson explains. “It was mortifying and intriguing.”
While in Seoul, Sampson learned about the Second World War comfort women (taken from their homes to be systematically raped by the occupying Japanese, forced to serve the sexual needs of the Japanese soldiers). “I saw all these thematic connections to what I was seeing while I was in Seoul,” he recalls. “I did reams of research. I read everything I could find. I wanted to get the factual framework, but I also wanted to immerse myself in aspects of the culture. In the flashback scenes, there are some moments of graphic violence, which I wanted to complement with these details of Korean life.”
Sampson reads from Sad Peninsula at the University of King’s College on December 16.