Sitting at the Formica table, Luanne Armstrong is buzzing with excitement, not because her latest Young Adult (YA) novel Sand has just been published but because she is a genuine lover of language. She recently read and re-read Seamus Heaney’s “North”, a poem that reflects the ancient and modern faces of Ireland. She discusses the mechanics of poetry, the teachers and lecturers at the UBC Creative Writing department, and she has just bought a book on sailing, even though she doesn’t sail.
Eventually, Armstrong does discuss her latest work. “It’s a story about Willy, a teenager reacting to trauma and eventually finding a place in the world where she feels she belongs. It’s also about horses and Willy’s ability to walk through therapeutic riding,” says Armstrong. Sand is named after the horse that helps Willy, and the book is dedicated to the Creston and District Therapeutic Riding Centre. All horses in the book are based on real horses at the Centre.
Therapeutic riding is something close to Armstrong’s heart. “I remember when Karen Brain came to Creston. She was a member of the Canadian Equestrian Team, but she had a severe accident and her spine was crushed. She was told she would never walk – and certainly not ride – again but she demanded to be put on a horse two months after her accident. Three years later, she represented Canada in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, winning Individual and Team Bronze medals.” Brain came to Creston to teach riding workshops, and is one of several documented cases where individuals have regained the ability to walk while using horses as therapy.
When asked about the writing process, Armstrong explains that writing about teenagers for teenagers allowed her to get back to the habit of writing. “Writing Young Adult books is not difficult for me,” explains Armstrong. “Actually, in a way, it’s a form of entertainment. I sit down to write in the afternoon and it carries me away for the rest of the day. I wonder, what will happen today? Where will the story go? I try to write a great story with action and interesting characters. My brain gets to run wild. I didn’t know the ending of the book while I am writing it. Sometimes the characters lie to me and then the truth comes out later. I allowed the characters to unravel the story for me.”
The three teenagers in the book – Willy and her two friends – are dealing with hard emotional truths: paralysis, psychosis and bullying. Armstrong was interested in exploring how teenagers react to dealing with various trauma. “It’s a sweet, positive book, but it’s also about ferocious anger and the emotions of teenagers,” says Armstrong. “The main character, Willy, is paralyzed, and Ben has a psychotic break from taking drugs. Lailla is bullied. But they recognize each other for who they are, and help define each other.”
Armstrong wrote Sand while recovering from a brain injury, but now that she has finished the book and recovered Armstrong is back to the rhythm of constantly writing. “I used to write everyday. I’d get dressed as if I was working a regular job and cross my living room and write at 9:00 a.m. But my brain injury forced me out of the habit. And I find it hard to write during the summer with so many visitors at the farm. In the summer, I’m harvesting fruit and chasing away bears. But now I’m working on four different projects: a history of the East Shore – that’ll take two or three years; another young adult novel; a book of essays, mostly about animal intelligence; and a kind-of memoir.”
Sand is Armstrong’s 20th publication, but she doesn’t find the process any easier. “Every book is a book I haven’t written yet,” she says. “It takes a lot of thinking and walking around before I figure things out.”
Armstrong launches Sand at the Archibald House, Creston and District Therapeutic Riding Centre (849 Erickson Road) on Saturday, September 24 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The evening will feature readings, special guests, refreshments and book sales. All profits from the sale of the books at the book launch will be donated to the Therapeutic Riding Centre. Sand is published by Ronsdale Press.