In Laurie Petrou’s Sister of Mine (Crooked Lane Books), the lives of two orphaned sisters, Hattie and Penny, begin to fray as longstanding resentments, sibling rivalry and unpaid debts overflow and the ties of sisterhood start to snap. It’s a fast-paced thriller by Petrou, a debut novelist who also is an Associate Professor at Ryerson’s RTA School of Media and speaks on topics such as gender and rejection. See what she has to say about her first work, family relationships, and her own literary journey.
Laurie Petrou: In order for the sisters’ relationship to be put to a test, there needed to be tension, the stakes needed to be raised. This ratcheting up of the tension and adding a twist came from the advice of others who read earlier versions. This served to push Penny and Hattie’s personalities to their limits, then the plot and how the characters responded began to echo off of each other.
BookTrib: Strong, female protagonists are very popular right now. Are there any characters from which you drew your inspiration when writing about Hattie and Penny?
LP: They just kept developing and becoming their own people. In that way, they didn’t start out based on anyone in particular.
BookTrib: Why did you focus on a relationship between two sisters, as opposed to, say, a couple?
LP: I have always loved fictional siblings and families: from Salinger’s Glass family to Roddy Doyle’s close-knit family in The Snapper, but also close fictional friendships that last lifetimes. I have a lifelong best friend (Nicole) and other very close girlfriends. I have a brother with whom I am very close.
Luckily none of these relationships has ever become toxic or strained, but I wouldn’t be who I am without them. To that end, so much of how we identify and who we are can be wrapped up with those people with whom we are close. This interests me.
BookTrib: Hattie and Penny are both incredibly unique and underused names, as is Jameson. How did you go about choosing them for your main characters?
LP: I’ve always liked the name Hattie, or Harriet. I seem to remember wanting both names to be able to be shortened, whimsical in their nickname but more formal in their given names. I can’t remember when I thought of Jameson, but I can’t see him as anything else. Sometimes, right before I’m done with a book, I change some of the names. It might be a function of my trying to see if they still work. I believe Iain’s name changed a couple of times.
BookTrib: What is your favorite, most underappreciated novel?
LP: Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. I love it so much that it was a large part of my PhD dissertation, and even after surviving that, I still love it.
BookTrib: Who is the one person, living or dead, who you’d want to have a conversation with?
LP: The late Montreal writer Mavis Gallant would be lovely, interesting company for tea.
BookTrib: If you could compare yourself to one famous literary character, who would it be?
LP: I know it’s become popular to hate The Catcher in the Rye, but Holden Caulfield was honestly the first character with whom I ever really identified, against all odds. Mainly, despite all our differences, it was because he was so nakedly sensitive. I was constantly accused of being too sensitive; I felt sorry for everything, I felt things too keenly.
Holden Caulfield jumped off the page to me. My brother sent me a stapled-together copy (original burgundy cover) from university while I was in high school. I remember reading it while working at my part-time job and feeling like it was speaking to me.
BookTrib: What would you like readers to take away from Sister of Mine?
LP: That this book is not one thing: it is a family drama, a thriller, it is literary fiction, it is easy to read quickly but I hope you enjoy it line for line. I received a note from a friend that her mother had just finished it and said, “It’s horrible, and SO good!” Now, I think she meant that it was horrible in the way the characters behaved, but I love this response, because this book is not one thing.
Sister of Mine is now available to purchase.
ABOUT LAURIE PETROU:
Laurie Petrou is an author, professor, PhD, and a drinker of tea. Most of my adventures take place inside books. I am, I think, part Hobbit: I love my books, my armchair, my garden… but I am not at all stealth (was once described as a Clydesdale for the way I clomp around the house). My 2nd book, Sister of Mine, won the inaugural Half the World Award, and was released in Canada in April, 2018 with HarperCollins and in August 2018 with Crooked Lane Books.