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Last Modified: June 13, 2023
Illustration of a crow sitting on a book, with the following text to the left, "Crow Reads Podcast"

Crow Reads is a podcast series by Rayanne Haines, in which she interviews intersectional women, LGBTQ+, and non-binary authors, publishers, editors, agents, and booksellers from Alberta. In this episode, Rayanne speaks with author Ali Bryan about her new book, Coq (Freehand Books, 2023).

It’s been ten years since Claudia’s mother died after a tragic collision with a banana boat. Her kids are now teenagers, her brother’s wife has left him, and her ex has had a spiritual awakening that has him hinting at reconciliation—all things she can handle.

But when her septuagenarian father decides to remarry after a brief courtship with a woman who is decidedly different than their mother, the entire family is thrown off course. They plan a long overdue memorial trip to the only place their mother ever dreamed of going: Paris. However, minutes after take-off, the trip takes an unpredictable turn and sets off a chain of events that threatens to derail the closure the family desperately seeks.

Chance meetings, poolside confessions, run-ins with mimes, climate protests, and a man with a death wish force Claudia to reconsider everything she thought she knew about love (both the familial and the romantic kind), the tragic, and the sublime. How well do we really know those closest to us? And how well do we really know ourselves? In this follow-up to her award-winning novel, Roost, Ali Bryan explores thorny family dynamics with her trademark offbeat humour and insight. Coq is a darkly comedic contemporary family drama that explores grief, identity, and second chances in the one-and-only City of Love.

For Ali Bryan, writing is an act of imagination performed as daily ritual. For this award-wining Calgary-based author, character and plot speak as one device, and she rebels against labels that diminish the value of her writing and use of humour as a tool towards story development. Ali writes family the way we live family, with no judgements or pre-conceived notions of what the characters will do in the moment. Says Bryan, “When people say, ‘You write without judgement,’ I’m like, because that is who I am. And this life that I tried to embody is not to expect much of it, and that for every good thing that’s happening, there’s lots of not so good things happening. I think living in both of those spaces allows me to write in both of those spaces. . . the notion that character is plot and plot is character, and that they are essentially one and the same that they’re completely intertwined, they’re connected—you can’t really think about one without the other.”

Bryan started her profession as a writer after a varied career in both account management and fitness, and old habits from those days persist. She still wakes up at 5:30 am to start the day and in our conversation discusses the similarities between a writing life and an active life. “There’s a lot of similarities between [writing and] achieving a fitness goal or the discipline that’s required in a fitness practice or a health practice … You’re constantly showing up, you’re scheduling it into your day, you’re making small improvements over a longer period of time. It’s consistency, its discipline, it’s learning and seeing it [your writing] as a long-term thing that you’re engaged with.”

One of the gifts of having a long career as a writer is the opportunity to revisit characters and stories from earlier in your writing life. In Coq, Ali Bryan revisits the Claudia and the rest of her clan ten years after the death of the family Matriarch. I asked Ali about what it felt like re-entering those characters and seeing how they’ve developed. Specifically, because the younger characters in the book are entirely different people now, and as a writer, Bryan had this amazing opportunity to breathe their growth onto the page. Ali shared that she never intended to write a sequel, but that readers’ prompting persuaded her to do so. But once in it, the book was the easiest she’d ever written. “Oddly, the plot came to me right away. And I’m not a plotter, or typically an outliner. But I had this idea of where I could start that book and pick up on Claudia’s life . . . It was fun to go back to these characters to figure out how they have grown up, because they went from toddlers and preschoolers to full blown teenagers, and to play with some of those characters that we just barely knew in Roost. . . it was really fun to go back to this family and see what they were up to.”

Bryan notes as well that her publisher, Freehand Books, has consistently acknowledged the value of humour writing in Canadian literature. But more than that, Ali and the publishers she works with have been able to move beyond defining someone’s work to fit into marketing boxes. “It’s been a challenge for me as a writer because I don’t really fit into either side. I’ve been told I’m too commercial for this particular market. And then I’ve been told—you’re too literary. So, I’m kind of in this hybrid space, where I’m writing sort of contemporary fiction. It’s good for book clubs, but it’s also complex, and it’s layered, and there’s attention to figurative language, and deep sort of philosophical conversations there. So, I kind of just gave up trying to define it.” Refusing to define and simply write through this non-linear profession that is writing is one of the hallmarks of Bryan’s successful career.

With two more books coming out this year (The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships comes out with Henry Holt July 25, and the second book of the Hill series, The City, releases in November with Dottir Press), Bryan has become a master at storytelling and navigating the writing life as an author “outside of the hub of publishing in this country.” Look for Coq out now. It’s a novel filled with humour, sorrow, and humanity written in the everyday moments. Bryan will make you laugh out loud and cry through a grief that takes you out at the knees.

Ali Bryan is an award-winning novelist and creative nonfiction writer who explores the what-ifs, the wtfs, and the wait-a-minutes of every day. She crafts stories about the downtrodden and disenfranchised, the broken-hearted, and the vulnerable. About lovers and losers, mothers and mutineers, prisoners with daddy issues, and sad auctioneers and single dads and feminist kids. She writes about herself. She writes you.

Her first novel, Roost, won the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction and was the official selection of One Book Nova Scotia. Her second novel, The Figgs, was a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and was optioned for TV by Sony Pictures. In 2020, she won the 2020 Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story. Her debut YA novel, The Hill, was released in March 2021 and was longlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. Twice, she has been longlisted for the CBC Canada Writes Creative Nonfiction prize, and twice for the WGA’s Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Award. Ali is a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Emerging Artist recipient..

She lives in foothills of the Canadian Rockies, where she has a wrestling room in her garage and regularly gets choked out by her family.


Ali Bryan (CA)

Published: May 01, 2023 by Freehand Books
ISBN: 9781990601255

Rayanne Haines (she/her) is a pushcart nominated poet and award-winning hybrid author of three poetry collections and a four-part commercial market urban fantasy romance series She is the VP for the League of Canadian Poets, and teaches with MacEwan University. Her poetry collection, Tell the Birds Your Body Is Not A Gun (Frontenac) won the 2022 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for the ReLit Award and the Robert Kroetsch Award. Recent work is published or forthcoming in the Globe and Mail, Minola Review and Grain magazine.

Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun

Rayanne Haines (CA)

Published: Apr 15, 2021 by Frontenac House Ltd.
ISBN: 9781989466216