Dene writer Catherine Lafferty would visit her grandmother’s birthplace, known as Nishi Island or Old Fort Rae by some, every year.
As a teen, she was part of an archeological project on the landscape there, led by the North Slave Métis Alliance. Lafferty said the time she spent on Nishi Island, “a big crater sticking out from the land” in the North Arm of Great Slave Lake, is what inspired her latest novel.
Titled Land-Water-Sky / Ndè-Tı-Yat’a, it’s published under her Dene name, Katłįà.
“It’s a really special place for me so I wrote a short story about an experience I had out there, just visiting, and then it kind-of evolved and turned into the novel,” said Lafferty, who is currently studying law.
She was encouraged to build on that short story by northern author Richard Van Camp after her memoir Northern Wildflower was published in 2018.
“I really feel like I was guided by something else, like my ancestors were helping me to get it down on paper,” she said.
Land-Water-Sky / Ndè-Tı-Yat’a is set on Nishi Island and partly based on Dene legends and stories.
That includes the northern hero Yamozha, sky spirits, a creature believed to live in Great Slave Lake known to some as Ol’ Slavey, and the nàhgą – or bushman – who appears in the book as a villain.
“Some of what I wrote was based on reality and some of the characters that I wrote about, that I created, I saw myself and my experiences in those characters,” Lafferty said.
The novel features the Wılıı̀deh Yati language and themes of domestic violence and climate change.
Lafferty said it was important for her to write about those topics as they’re particularly important in northern communities. She added the book is aimed at young adult readers.
“I really feel like I was guided by something else, like my ancestors were helping me to get it down on paper,” says author Catherine Lafferty, pictured in a submitted photo.
“It’s important that they’re able to see themselves in these characters,” she said, adding she hopes it helps “take away some of that stigma around domestic violence.”
The novel is made up of six parts, each featuring different characters, who connect throughout the story in the past, present, and future. Lafferty hopes readers will take away a favourite character and says they can expect “quite a few twists and turns.”
“It kind-of unravels as you read it and then, at the end, it’s almost like a suspense where you figure out how they’re all connected.”
Lafferty hopes to turn the story into a trilogy. She said she can also see it as a movie and has applied for a grant to turn it into a video game, which she aims to work on with youth.
“I really just want people to start enjoying reading again, first and foremost, and then if it reaches people through a video game or if it reaches people through film, then that’s good too,” she said.
Lafferty worried publication of the book might not happen because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now she is excited for it to be published – but her favourite part is the writing process.
“There’s something about just writing that’s really special. Being able to be published and all that, that’s really awesome too, but there’s much more to it,” she said.
Land-Water-Sky / Ndè-Tı-Yat’a is available for pre-order through Fernwood Publishing. Lafferty expects the book to be available by September or October.