> Zed Book Club / Bookshelf / The Big Read / An Unthinkable Thing

Photos: Boy in window (Cavan Images/Getty Images); Nicole Lundrigan (Anna Lena Seemann); An Unthinkable Thing

> The Big Read

An Unthinkable Thing

In a Q&A about her new crime novel, Canadian author Nicole Lundrigan explains how she switched from anthropology to writing and why she's fascinated by people who do evil things / BY Rosemary Counter / April 14th, 2022


Newfoundlander-turned-Torontonian Nicole Lundrigan is an anthropology grad, would-be doctor, magazine writer, busy mom and crime novelist. Now watch all those seemingly unrelated things come together with the release of her eighth book, An Unthinkable Thing, about 11-year-old Tommie Ware, who is accused of murdering a wealthy, seemingly perfect family. (Obviously, they’re not.) Zoomer called Lundrigan in Toronto to discuss her roundabout route to book writing, digging up bones, the appeal of true crime and why fiction is even better sometimes.

Rosemary Counter: Congrats on the new book! After eight novels, are you excited? Nervous? Is this old hat?

Nicole Lundrigan: I like to think it’s a little less so every time, but I still get nervous every time. If I’m completely honest, sometimes I get busy and forget the book launch. With the pandemic, there are no fancy parties or anything, so that’s good.

RC: Most writers live for the book launch! But then again, you kind of fell into writing.

Nicole Lundrigan

 

NL: I studied a lot of different things, yes. I had a professor once who had us all write our future plans, and mine were all over the map: A medical doctor, a mom with a family, a published author and traveller of the world. He called me “an academic playgirl.”

RC: Did you like that or did you punch him?

NL: I did not like that, even though it was a bit correct, as I was interested in so many different things. But I found it very offensive and upsetting at the time. He didn’t mean it as a compliment. It was his way of saying I didn’t belong in his class because I was so unfocused. When I look back though, it was true. I am interested in many different areas, but that actually helps me a lot with my writing.

RC: I hope he reads this and feels badly. As if having lots of interests is possibly a bad thing! Tell me about your interest in … bones.

NL: My first degree was biology and psychology, but then I ended up in osteology, because I had another professor and she was so interested in bones that it became infectious. Before I knew it, I was digging up bones beneath the Little Dutch Church in Halifax. They wanted to reinforce the floorboards, but when they started, they broke open a series of crypts, so we were brought in to try to identify the bodies. Sometimes we had to actually shimmy underneath the church on our stomachs to reach the mass burial site.

RC: Thanks for the nightmares!

NL: It was a great summer, actually. My daughter was born not long after that, which was when my career – if I wanted to keep having one – had to change again. I took stock for a while and decided maybe I could do some writing. I did some magazine writing, some essays, and then I read [Alice Sebold’s] The Lovely Bones and thought that maybe I could write something like that. Something with darker material, but breezily readable.

RC: Well, you do love bones, so it makes sense. Was a novel as it easy as it sounds?

NL: Oh no, they never are. I’ve learned something every time I write a book, and every time I start over with that lesson in mind, but there’s always something. I find writing very difficult and emotionally draining. This one in particular had a lot of plotting, interspersed with trial transcripts and newspaper clippings, so when and how to reveal information ­– and from whose perspective you get it – was very tricky.

 

nicole lundrigan
Nicole Lundrigan, who was born in Newfoundland, has a graduate degree in anthropology, specializing in old bones. Photo: AnnaLena Seemann

 

RC: Often the perspective is that of a child. Why did you make that choice?

NL: I’ve actually done this a few times before, and it’s because there’s a certain innocence and truthfulness you can get through a young person’s eyes. They’re not jaded; they’re just telling it like it is. They don’t have an adult’s emotions or biases. I also told the story in the 1950s, because I’m more comfortable working in a period without all this technology, not to mention modern forensics.

RC: It was a lot easier to get away with murder then, I’m sure.

NL: Yes, and at the same time, people think of the 50s as this perfect time of wholesome families. I’m always fascinated with what’s happening beneath a perfect veneer. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to dark material, to be honest. Not so much what happened, but why? I want to know why people can possibly do such terrible things. Are they born with morality missing? Is it something they’ve experienced? It’s just fascinating.

RC: I totally get it. My grade two teacher called my mom to report how closely I was following the Paul Bernardo trial.

NL: Everyone was! What did she say?

RC: Just something like, “Oh yes, she loves serial killers.”

NL: “…And thank you for calling!” I’m glad you get it. I used to steal my mother’s true crime books when I was 12 or 13 to read about Ted Bundy. I remember a great book about a surgeon who killed his family, and another about a girl named Cinnamon whose father convinced her to murder her stepmother. I think it was called If You Really Loved Me.

RC: Found it! And popped it right into my Amazon cart.

NL: It’s a great one. Some of these stories just stick with you forever. That’s what I want my books to do, even though they’re fiction. It’s been a really rough few years, so I think people are right now very interested in crime books that aren’t actually true. A little break from the real stuff. Although I do still love a really good true crime documentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SCROLL

Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ Continues to Break Worldwide RecordsThe book also seems to have put a dent in the popularity of members of the Royal Family — including the Prince and Princess of Wales.


Prince Harry’s Memoir Breaks U.K. Sales Record On First Day of ReleaseThe publisher of the new memoir, 'Spare", says it had sold 400,000 copies so far across hardback, e-book and audio formats.


Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2022The former U.S. president’s 13 titles include Canadians Emily St. John Mandel and Kate Beaton, as well as tomes from Michelle Obama, George Saunders and Jennifer Egan


Here are the 5 Books on Bill Gates’ Holiday Reading ListThe billionaire philanthropist is giving hundreds of copies to little libraries around the world


Sheila Heti and Eli Baxter Among 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award WinnersToronto writer Sheila Heti took home the fiction award for 'Pure Colour,' a novel the GG peer assessment committee called "a work of genius."


Suzette Mayr Wins $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize for ‘The Sleeping Car Porter’The 2022 Giller Prize jury called Mayr's novel "alive and immediate — and eerily contemporary."


Writers’ Trust of Canada Awards: Authors Nicholas Herring, Dan Werb Nab Top PrizesThe Writers' Trust of Canada awards amounted to a combined monetary prize value of $270,000.


Bob Dylan Releases ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song,’ a Book of Essays Dissecting 66 Influential SongsIn his new book, Bob Dylan offers up both critique and historical insight into various musical recordings of the last century by a variety of popular artists.


Prince Harry’s Memoir ‘Spare’ Will Be Published in January 2023The long-awaited memoir will tell with "raw unflinching honesty" Prince Harry's journey from "trauma to healing", his publisher said on Thursday.


Sri Lankan Author Shehan Karunatilaka Wins 2022 Booker PrizeKarunatilaka won the prestigious prize on Monday for his second novel ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’, about a dead war photographer on a mission in the afterlife.


Canadian Council for the Arts Reveals Governor General’s Literary Awards FinalistsThe finalists for the Governor General's Literary Awards spotlight books in both the English and French language, as well as translated works.


New Penguin Random House Award Named After Michelle Obama Will Honour High School WritersMichelle Obama Award for Memoir will provide a $10,000 college scholarship to a graduating public school senior based on their autobiographical submission.


French Author Annie Ernaux, 82, Becomes First French Woman to Win Nobel Prize for LiteratureThe author said, of winning, that "I was very surprised ... I never thought it would be on my landscape as a writer."


Hilary Mantel, Award-Winning British Author of ‘Wolf Hall’ Trilogy, Dies at 70Wolf Hall, published in 2009, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, released three years later, both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy and making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice.


Prince William “Cannot Forgive” Prince Harry, According to ‘The New Royals’ Author Katie NichollPrince William “just cannot forgive his brother,” according to Katie Nicholl, author of 'The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown.'


Five Finalists Announced for Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionThe winner — to be announced on November 2 — will take home the annual $60,000 prize.


Peter Straub, Bestselling American Horror Writer, Dies at 79Friend and co-author Stephen King has said the author's 1979 book, "Ghost Story," is his favourite horror novel.


Rawi Hage, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Sheila Heti Make the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long ListThe jury read 138 books to choose 14 titles for the long list, one of which will win the $100,000 prize, one of the richest in Canadian literature


Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.


Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.


Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.


Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”


Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956


Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."


The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.


American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history


Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.


Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."


New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.


Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.


Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."


European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."


Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.


Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.


Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.


Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro


“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.


Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories


Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel


South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 


Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.


Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events


Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards


Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde


Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 


Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members


Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations


Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


> STAY UP TO DATE

Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter