For Brudenell-raised writer Fiona King Foster, growing up in a rural Renfrew County provided unstructured time for imagination and for building independence. As a child, the author of the ‘rural noir’ thriller, The Captive, recently published by HarperCollins, found nature “endlessly interesting, and mysterious, and sustaining.”
That first-hand knowledge of the beauties and the dangers of the natural world translate into harsh realities for The Captive’s heroine, Brooke Holland, who must guide her young family to safety through a dangerous world with more than a few similarities to our own county.
Set in a future in a remote rural secessionist state which has cut itself off from the urban world, a young couple and their two small children live alone on a small subsistence farm. They barely make enough money growing cranberries to sustain themselves but Brooke loves the ‘poor but free’ life they are creating. Into this hardscrabble piece of paradise comes Stephen Cawley, an escaped criminal with a price on his head, intent on retribution for a blood feud from Brooke’s dangerous past. Using a ruthlessness she hadn’t realized she possessed, the young wife and mother is able to capture Cawley, intending to bring him to justice and collect the reward money for her family.
Hastily and ill-prepared at the onset of winter, Brooke, her husband Milo and her two young daughters hasten on foot across an unforgiving landscape to reach the nearest marshal. Family dynamics, the difficulties of the terrain, the chained but dangerous prisoner in their midst and the eeriness of a dystopian world beyond their safe farm creates a harrowing odyssey which reveals the horrors of Brooke’s past and her connections with Cawley.
For Fiona, who now lives and works in Toronto, The Captive began as a way to keep herself writing while she was on maternity leave from her job. She cites the oft-given advice that writers should write the book they want to read.
“I like adventure stories, wilderness settings and tough female characters, so I began an adventure story about this no-nonsense world-weary mom who has to deliver a fugitive in winter with her family in tow, and it grew from there.”
Both Fiona’s insider knowledge of the difficulties of rural living and her skill with words originate via her upbringing in Renfrew County.
“I was born in Schutt and grew up in Brudenell with my parents and my brother, Owen,” Fiona explains. “We went to the Killaloe Alternative School, and later Killaloe Public School and MVDHS. Now I live in Toronto. I go home to the Valley with my partner and our kids as often as I can. It's never enough though.”
In Toronto, Fiona works as a grant-writer for the national literacy organization, Frontier College.
“My grandmother, Gwynne Foster, was a strong literacy advocate, and I'm proud to carry on that tradition,” she said. “Frontier College is a great organization with an important mission and I love working there. I'm taking some time away right now to parent my kids through COVID-19 and work on my next book, but I still do contract work there and I hope to return, eventually.
“Writing The Captive while raising kids and working a job was very, very hard. Both my partner and I sacrificed a lot to make it possible. And our kids, who are still little, had to put up with my absence a lot. So, it didn't come without cost. The idea that you can have everything if you try hard enough is a myth.”
The Captive took four years to write and revise, including several rounds of edits with HarperCollins after it was accepted for publication.
“I've been writing fiction since I could hold a pencil, but I hadn't really tried to publish. Part of that was shyness, but it also felt like I was still in the apprenticeship stage. My influences were showing through more than my own voice,” Fiona explains.
She cites an article about Omar El Akkad's book American War which imagines a civil war based on the current political and cultural divide in North America that inspired her to look for a publisher.
“My book also deals with that, so I saw that people were interested in the subject, and that it might be the right time. My mom had forwarded me that article and I actually sent pitches out to agents the very same day. Then I signed with an agent, did some revisions, and sold the book at auction six months later.”
The reviews posted on Fiona’s Amazon page laud the first-time novelist’s achievements.
“Remarkable… With this part–feminist Western, part–dystopian odyssey, part just plain-old nerve-jangling thriller, Foster does a terrific job of maintaining the page-turning pace of her narrative… Packed with heart-stopping misadventures.”
“Dark as an ice-cold winter's night, Fiona King Foster's debut novel is a pitch-perfect noir thriller, set in a rural tundra in a world populated by loners, homesteaders, and the kind of people who most typically lurk in the shadows. Foster keeps the tension high, running at a constant throbbing pulse, and showing all the things we'll do to protect our family and our future.”
Although The Captive is her first novel, Fiona is an experienced writer with a long list of publication credits in newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and prestigious magazines like The New Quarterly and Room.
“I'm working on a new book, not much like The Captive, although it's again set in a rural environment.
“It's been a fairy tale, honestly. I'm incredibly lucky and privileged to have this experience of publishing,” she says. “But I missed the human connection of a book launch because of COVID-19 so I appreciate hearing from readers.”
Fiona is working on a new book which is also set in a rural environment.
“It's hard to find time, with my kids home during lockdown, but when I do get to write, it's a lot of fun.”
With her skill as a storyteller, there will surely be another book launch in her future.
The Captive by Fiona King Foster is available now through Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle editions as well as from Chapters and other independent bookstores.
Johanna Zomers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader