Most people don't like to be scared. Claire Cameron revels in it.
The 42-year-old Toronto author loves the outdoors and adventure -- including mountain climbing and rock climbing -- and she pushes herself to the edge both in real life and her fiction. She is the keynote speaker at The Women's Connection annual International Women Authors event at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
"Women read a lot of books, and are especially interested in my book, which is about motherhood," Ms. Cameron said this week of her second novel, "The Bear," published last year by Little Brown in the U.S., and Random House in Canada. It was nominated for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and is a bestseller in Canada. It won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service.
In the story, as a family camps on a remote island, 5-year-old Anna wakes in the night to the sound of her mother screaming. A rogue 300-pound black bear is attacking the family’s campsite — and pouncing on her parents as prey.
At her dying mother’s urging, Anna manages to get her brother into the family’s canoe and paddle away. But when the canoe runs aground on the edge of the woods, the sister and three-year-old brother must battle hunger, the elements, and a wilderness alive with danger, according to a synopsis. Lost and alone, "they find that their only hope resides in Anna’s heartbreaking love for her family, and her struggle to be brave when nothing in her world seems safe anymore," says Ms. Cameron's website, claire-cameron.com.
Ms. Cameron, mother of two boys, 7 and 10, said: "I write about bears because I love them, and they scare me. I’ve met quite a few bears in my time and what I’ve observed often doesn’t reconcile with the stories I hear."
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As a writer, Ms. Cameron also experiences fear, especially in her chosen subject matter. "I'm putting myself out there, very much what Anna does in the story," she said. "Writing feels like a risk; you have to do it speculatively. I've spent a lot of time on my own in the outdoors. All those things make you much stronger."
Before writing "The Bear," Ms. Cameron had re-read "Lord of the Flies," and as the mother of boys, she was angry about portrayal of the boys in that book, which she called "nasty and brutish," and wanted to write a retort. She also said there is much of her in her brave female protagonist, Anna.
"It's kind of a scary book. I wrote it coming from the place, what if my kids were left to their own devices, so young and vulnerable," Ms. Cameron said. "Part of what I learned writing this was how resilient kids really are," she said. "They have sources of strength that go beyond us. One of the things Anna has is wandering attention; she can go from laughing hysterically to crying. I see that as survival instinct -- you can distract yourself and not panic."
"It's a horrific story, looking through her eyes. It shows the reader she's coping in some way," Ms. Cameron said.
She has optioned film rights for "The Bear," and there is a script, with a director and producer (but no studio or funding yet). "It's such a different process, fun to follow," Ms. Cameron said of film. "They had the creative lead. This book is so personal, and they ended up being very loyal to it."
Her next novel, "The Last Neanderthal," is based on new science that has evolved in the past 35 years, and follows the last family of Neanderthals through their final year of life, until they meet homo sapiens (first appearing up to 200,000 years ago).