Greensboro Author Visits Bookshop Friday
"My mother died and I cannot remember how to knit," Nicole Dickson whispered to the owner of a yarn shop in Seattle. While her daughter played with knitted finger puppets, Dickson sat at a table, desperately trying not to cry as she struggled to relearn the skill her mother taught her so many years before.
She looked up from her twisted stitches and spotted a book on Aran sweaters. "A story came into my head," she recalls. "It just appeared -- a woman running away with her little girl to Ireland. The dialogue started when I grabbed the book. I had names as I collected three skeins of green wool. By the time I laid it all on the counter, I had an outline. 'It'll take you a long while to learn how to knit one of those,' the shop owner said to me. I just nodded and smiled."
On Friday, Aug. 7, at 3 p.m. at The Country Bookshop on Broad Street in downtown Southern Pines, Nicole Dickson will present "Casting Off," her award-nominated debut novel that evolved from that moment.
"As I wrote 'Casting Off,'" Dickson says, "I was remembering my mother who said, 'You can be anything you want to be.'" But when she spoke of herself, she said, 'I had all of you (four children). It is enough.' I thought she didn't live her dream. I thought of all the things she could have been. For the first time in my entire life, I realized all those years of being told, 'You can be anything you want to be' somehow made what my mother was -- less."
It was Dickson's sister-in-law, Amy, who helped her understand that her mother did "exactly what she chose to do. It just isn't enough for YOU."
Dickson came to realize her mother wasn't "just a homemaker. She created home -- even out of the disaster of her marriage and divorce, she created it. Each time I look at this story, I know it came to me from my mother. And it is enough."
"Casting Off" is about Rebecca Moray, a single mother and an American archaeologist who travels to a small island off the coast of western Ireland with her young daughter, Rowan, to research the history of the fisherman's sweater, and the knitting styles of the local women who weave family stories, secrets, and charms of the villagers through their complicated sweaters. The island is populated by a stubborn, slightly eccentric priest, two lively old ladies, an American growing honeybees on his late grandmother's farm, and Sean Morahan, a cantankerous old fisherman who lost his sons in a fishing accident.
Dickson wrote the first version of her story as a screenplay. She sent it to a friend of a friend in Ireland who "put Post-It notes where she laughed and where she cried." Dickson soon realized, "I didn't have a screenplay. I had a novel."
She took the manuscript with her when she moved from Washington State to Greensboro, but it wasn't until her brother called from Seattle and said, "Get that book moving!" that she decided to enter it in the 2007 "Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award," the first writing competition in search of the "next great novel," sponsored by The Penguin Group, one of the country's leading publishers. Dickson's and 13 other North Carolina authors' manuscripts were among the 100 semi-finalists selected by Publisher's Weekly from the 5000 entries, which went on to receive a "full editorial review process" by Penguin editors who then cut the submissions to 10.
"Casting Off" and "The Wet Nurse's Tale," by Erica Eisdorfer from Carrboro, were two of the top 10 finalists. Judges Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat, Pray, Love," John Freeman, former president of the National Book Critics Circle, Eric Simonoff, literary agent, and Amy Einhorn, publisher, Amy Einhorn Books, a division of Penguin Group, named the ABNA Grand Prize Winner, "Fresh Kills" by Bill Loehfelm.
While Dickson did not win the top spot, Einhorn described "Casting Off" as a "romantic, charming story of love and letting go. There are shades of 'How to Make an American Quilt' or 'Good Grief" to the novel," she says. "The rapport between Rebecca and the town priest is wonderful. He's a great character. And Rebecca and Fionn's relationship is charismatic. And the whole conceit of a small island, and learning about the gurney lore and what it all means, is lovely."
Of the 10 finalists, Dickson's and Eisdorfer's novels were both selected to be published in August--"Casting Off" by New American Library, an imprint of Penguin, and "The Wet Nurse's Tale" by Putnam. (Erica Eisdorfer will be at The Country Bookshop on Thursday, Aug. 13, at 4 p.m.)
As the old Irish proverb goes -- "May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, and may you cast off who you are to become who you might be" -- Nicole Dickson is now what she always wanted to become -- a published author.
Nicole Dickson, who is originally from California, now lives in Greensboro with her daughter and their two dogs.
For information about The Country Bookshop's Meet the Author event, call (910) 692-3211.
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