I am delighted to welcome Roxanne Bouchard to The Shelf today to discuss her dark, poetic crime thriller We Were the Salt of the Sea, her first novel to be published in English and to feature Detective Joaquin Moralès.
As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown in the deep end of the investigation.
On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fisherman’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters…
Welcome to The Shelf of Unread Books Roxanne! We Were The Salt of the Sea is your first novel to be translated into English. Could you tell us a little about the book?
We Were the Salt of the Sea is the story of a village on the Gaspé Peninsula in rural, coastal Quebec, a village haunted by nostalgia for the heyday of fishing that wakes up to tragedy one morning when a local fisherman, Vital Bujold, finds the body of a woman, Marie Garant in his net. Marie Garant lived a nomadic life aboard her sailboat and was on her way back from a trip down south. Her sailboat is then found a few kilometres east of the village near the Banc-des-Fous, a sand bar offshore where she had anchored overnight.
Marie was a woman who once tied many a man’s heart in knots and still manages to embroil Detective Moralès, who’s new to the area from the big city, in a tangle of fishing tales in his search for the truth. I think he earns himself a generous shot of rum!
I’m thrilled that my translator, David Warriner, chose this novel to pitch to Orenda Books, and that Orenda jumped right onboard, because it’s very Québécois. Not just the places, but the description of the characters and the language they use too. I’m over the moon with all this.
The novel is on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. Why did you feel it was important to set the novel in that particular location? And how did the setting inform your writing?
Gaspésie is a long way away from the urban centres in Quebec, and people tend to forget that a coastal Quebec exists. People see the Gaspé as a place to go on holiday, and not many novels tend to be set there. So a few years ago, I went out there and decided to spend a while in a small village, Caplan, and talk to the people there. I found a calm sense of peace washing over me when I got there, and that’s what led me to want to write about it and start researching a novel.
I love working from a theme. When I was in Caplan, the fishermen really opened up to me and told me all their fishing stories. I don’t know if it’s the same in England, but here, fishermen love to exaggerate, and their fish get longer every time they tell the story! I found it all very endearing. So I started to think about what kind of story I could craft around the central theme of lies. Why not an intrigue around a detective in search of the truth? That’s where the idea came from of slowing down time for Moralès once he leaves the city behind and learns to embrace the people of the sea (fishermen and pleasure-boaters) and slowly uncover the truth in a secretive fishing village.
Your detective, Joaquin Moralès, is newly arrived from Montreal, as is Catherine Day. Did you feel it was important to have an outsider’s perspective into the Peninsula and, if so, why?
Yes, because I’m not from the Gaspé myself. When Catherine Day arrives in the Gaspé, people tell her what she has to do to fall in love with that part of the world. When we travel somewhere new, we all dream a little, we hope someone will tell us where to go and give us the inside scoop on how the locals live. It struck me how that might be an interesting place to start for readers who knew nothing about the Gaspé.
For Detective Moralès, what fascinated me was how a man who grew up by the sea (he’s from Mexico) but turned his back on it by going to live in a land-locked suburb of Montreal for the better part of thirty years can find remnants of his past surging from deep within. Now he’s back on the coast, maybe he can feel something he’s lost, a desire to feel young again, a yearning for love and reckless abandon…
When we stand and look out to sea, we feel humbled by the power of the big blue and inspired by the infinite possibilities we see on the horizon. I tried to put all that into words by writing about people who are discovering or rediscovering the sea.
You’ve learnt to sail in the waters of the Gaspé Peninsula yourself and the sea is an important image in the novel. In what way was the book influenced by your experiences learning to sail?
I learned to sail in a harsh environment, for sure! The St. Lawrence River is tricky to navigate, not just because of its cold waters, but also due to the complex currents and tides that lurk beneath the surface. I’ve never had my own sailboat, I’ve always crewed with other skippers on all kinds of waterways. Learning to sail is easy, if you believe all the posters in watersports schools advertising lessons, but I’ve had my fair share of challenges, believe me. Either because of the weather conditions or the people I went aboard with. I’ve experienced distance and solitude, but I’ve loved every experience I’ve had out there. I’ve learned how surprising the power of silence can be, how the sea can resolve many ills, and how honest it can make people be. And I’ve felt the magic of the wind swelling my sails. How could I not want to try and share all of that?
What was it like working with a translator? How much input, as the author, did you get in the translation process?
For the last year while the novel has been in the works, I’ve been trying my best to learn English, but I’m sure you’re going to laugh at me when I try to string two words together in the UK! David Warriner is extraordinary. He’s intelligent, funny and passionate about what he does. He even went out to the Gaspé to meet the Gaspesians who so inspired me. He’s a man who drinks Champagne and does yoga every day! So while I haven’t properly read his translation yet, there’s no one I’d trust more to do my words justice.
Translator’s note from David: Roxanne was a joy to work with. When we sabred open a bottle of Champagne together she helped with a lot of background and was always happy to shed light on the questions about the local flavour and imagery I’d text her once in a while. There are so many layers of depth and poetry to her words I had to be sure I was rendering them the way she intended.
You are one of the few French-Canadian authors to be translated into English. Do you have any recommendations for readers keen to read more books set in Quebec?
If you like detective novels, Chrystine Brouillet is renowned as the Queen of Crime Fiction chez nous, and her Maud Graham series shines the spotlight on beautiful Quebec City. And if you’re a fan of road trips, you have to read Jacques Poulin’s Volkswagen Blues. I don’t think Chrystine’s novels have been translated yet, though.
We Were the Salt of the Sea is available now and is the ideal literary crime thriller to curl up with – especially if you happen to have some champagne handy by the sounds of things! Or maybe some whisky if you want to channel your inner Detective Moralès…
Combining lyrical, poetic prose that is evocative of the sights and sounds of the Gaspé Peninsula with a taut and consuming mystery, this is a fantastic addition to any crime thriller fan’s TBR, especially those who like to indulge in a little armchair travelling alongside their reading.
Chrystine Brouillet’s Maud Graham series sadly hasn’t been translated into English as of yet but Volkswagen Blues is more readily available both in print and on Kindle.
A big thank you to Roxanne for answering my questions – and for David for being so kind as to translate the answers for me! Thanks must also go to my lovely friend Lettie for translating my questions – my GCSE French not being quite up the job!
We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard (translated by David Warriner) is published by Orenda Books and is available now as a paperback and ebook from all good booksellers including Hive, Amazon and Waterstones. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased feature, and to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour. The tour continues until 02 April so please check out the other stops on the way!