Above All Things author Tanis Rideout will participate in IFOA’s Novelists for a New Age round table on Sunday, October 21, and a reading Saturday, October 27.
© Nikki Mills
IFOA: What inspired you to write about George and Ruth Mallory?
Rideout: I first came across George Mallory when I worked at an outdoor equipment store in Kingston. A co-worker there brought in videos to show on the TV at the back of the store—adventure documentaries, that kind of thing. He was obsessed with all things Everest, so there were a number of docs about the mountain. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get why people would try and climb it, risk so much for it. I became obsessed by Everest first myself, reading everything I could get my hands on.
In one of those docs there were shots from the very first expeditions and the glamour of it, the romance, struck me. There were these men in their tweeds and hobnail boots—clothing we wouldn’t think was enough for February in Toronto. I started thinking and wondering about them, focusing what I was reading. Which of course led to George. He was charismatic, ridiculously good-looking, ambitious. He just swept me away.
After a while of thinking and pondering and daydreaming I found myself writing about George. And of course Ruth. I knew from the beginning Ruth had to be part of the story, that she might be my way to understand someone like George. I also thought it was incredibly important to share what her life must have been like, what kind of woman would have been capable of dealing with that kind of circumstances.
IFOA: How did you manage to fictionalize history while maintaining a sense of historical accuracy?
Rideout: I did very extensive research. Even though I knew from the very beginning I didn’t want or need to stick to the factual history of the expeditions, I did want to create a world that both my characters and my readers could fully inhabit.
At the beginning I simply read everything I could get my hands on—about Everest in general, about the early expeditions, about the search and discovery for George’s body. Eventually the opportunity to go to England came up to read and research in the very rooms that George had spent some of his time.
Being able to go to Cambridge and London and read first hand documents—George and Ruth’s letters to each other, official documentation of the expeditions, that kind of thing—enabled me to soak in the world, the time that George and Ruth live in. Those documents provided me with language and detail and colouring to create the landscape of the novel.
IFOA: If you could time travel, where and when would you go, and why?
Rideout: Well, I wouldn’t say no to anywhere, really. But right now I’m reading a lot about the early Victorian era, so probably England and Europe around that time. It was an era filled with massive thinkers and creators. It was a time when so much seemed possible. They really thought they were just about to figure everything out.
IFOA: What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Rideout: I love travelling, so I think my perfect day is waking up in a strange place, with my husband—bounding out of bed (unlike at home) and setting out to explore. Whether that’s a city with its galleries and museums or hiking trails with packs on our backs—looking at new landscapes and spaces is perhaps my favorite thing to do.
After a day of wandering and soaking it all in, we find a fantastic place to eat with a great view, some local beer or wine and an exciting menu. Then top it off with nightcaps somewhere outside watching the world wind down. Staying up too late, getting a little tipsy and then falling into bed to do it all again the next day.
IFOA: Finish this sentence: I can only write if…
Rideout: I need an answer. I think that’s where I start from—from questions, from things I don’t understand. If I have the answer, I can’t write.
IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:
Rideout: Collegiate. In the best sense.
For more about Rideout and her appearance at IFOA, click here.