Local author releases long-awaited debut novel
By Cheryl Minns, Senior Columnist
Author Jennifer Sommersby knows very well how much patience and perseverance writing requires. She has tried her hand at journalism, medical transcription, and editing, but her dream of being a young adult novelist wasn’t achieved until this April, when her debut YA fantasy novel, Sleight, finally hit shelves after years in the making.
“It’s taken a long time to get here,” she said in an interview with the Other Press.
Sommersby’s journey to getting published began when she enrolled in The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University in 2007. While in the writing-intensive program, she wrote a short story about a 13-year-old girl named Frankie who lives with her aunt and uncle in a traveling circus and has a pet frog named Hamlet.
“The workshop group that I did the story in said, ‘This ends really abruptly. This is more like the beginning of a novel,’” said Sommersby. “Then I thought, ‘Oh! That’s a good idea.’ I started writing the novel in 2009. I knew I needed [the lead girl] to be older to be able to handle the things that would be coming at her.”
Sleight follows 17-year-old Genevieve Flannery, who has grown up in the Cinzio Traveling Players Company with her mother, Delia, and other circus performers. Her story begins during a special New Year’s Eve Gala performance that the players hope will bring in lots of funding for the upcoming year.
But during aerialist Delia’s routine, she becomes distracted by a ghost only she can see and then falls off her aerial hoop to her death. This is a crushing blow to Genevieve, who has a magical healing gift and can repair injuries with the touch of her hand but isn’t able to save her mother.
“I knew I wanted something a little bit different, where there are magic and unexplainable things happening,” Sommersby said.
While she was researching magic for her novel, she discovered the word Avrakedavra, a healing spell that magicians used in ancient times when they were considered healers. She decided to use Avrakedavra in Sleight, the first book in the Avra-K duology, but not in the form of a spell.
“I needed something they could chase. You can’t chase down a spell, so I turned it into a book,” she said, referring to a magical book that becomes a vital object in the story.
Sommersby self-published an earlier version of Sleight in 2011, but it was discontinued after HarperCollins Canada purchased the Avra-K duology in 2012. Six years later, a revamped version of Sleight was published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada on April 3, and in the US by Sky Pony Press on April 24.
Sommersby celebrated the Canadian launch of Sleight with a book signing event at Chapters in Coquitlam’s Pinetree Village Shopping Centre on April 3. The signing featured an event banner, cake for the guests, and a table full of Sleight-themed props—including old-fashioned skeleton keys, elephant figurines, and circus items.
“I walked in and I saw the banner with my name, my book, and Indigo Chapters on it. I started crying because I had a real banner. That was pretty great,” she said.
Sommersby’s next book signing event will be at Chapters in Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby on May 18, with Dawkins scheduled to appear. The author will also be signing books at Indigo in Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver on June 22.
“It’s good for readers to see writers in the flesh because then they see there’s a person behind the book,” she said.
The second book in the Avra-K duology, Scheme, will be released in 2019.
For more information on Sommersby and her books, check out her official website at JennSommersby.com.