Content warning: this story describes a book concerned with topics of abuse and its effects, which may be traumatic for some readers.
A newly-published memoir of hurt and healing by Sunshine Coast writer Heather Conn reroutes the traditional path of catharsis through a more winding course.
Conn will launch her book No Letter in Your Pocket: How a Daughter Chose Love and Forgiveness to Heal From Incest during an event at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre on April 15. The volume is published by Ontario’s Guernica Editions.
Conn is a prolific author, editor and educator whose work has appeared in more than 50 publications. Her books for children include Six Stinky Feet and a Sasquatch. She has earned a reputation for solidly-researched works for adults (as in her co-authorship of Vancouver‘s Glory Years: Public Transit 1890-1915).
Conn’s earlier books presage the raw revelations of her autobiography in one respect: she wields vivid description and uncompromising bluntness to forge imagery that drives a compelling story.
No Letter in Your Pocket is less autobiography and more travelogue — both literal and figurative. The book’s first segment tracks the author’s journeys, during her 30s, through the convoluted cultural landscape of India. Conn developed a deep respect for the country’s religious and artistic sophistication. Meanwhile, she experienced shocking objectification and unsolicited sexual advances by its men.
“India embodied all the different conflicting aspects of what my relationship with my father did,” Conn said in an interview with Coast Reporter. “The whole book is really about living with paradox and finding some element of inner peace and acceptance regarding paradox.”
In midlife, Conn began to recollect childhood sexual abuse she experienced from her father. As an abuser, her father defies stereotypes: he was an accomplished anesthesiologist with a reputation for geniality, intelligence and generosity.
Conn’s reconciliation — to the fact that he had acted on his basest impulses — takes years. The opportunity to confront him with the truth takes even longer. The outcome, for her father, is an insidious incredulity that grows into uneasy acceptance.
“I want to be the voice for other people who might not want to share their secrets,” said Conn. “Knowing that there are other women out there who have been through similar things, I felt like if I can put something out there that might make the journey easier for someone else, then that’s what really kept me going. Not everybody has the same levels of support.”
Conn found strength in the support of her husband, Frank McElroy. Their decade-long marriage before McElroy’s death by cancer in 2019 represents an untempered gleam of joy.
The hard-won skills of a lifelong writer’s craft turn what could be a moribund portrayal into a well-tempered tale of transformation, culminating in an undelivered letter that Conn penned for her father. The letter becomes a metaphor, framing the story and softening the reader’s second-hand trauma. In fact, Conn hopes to use the book as a platform to encourage public discussion, encouraging people to become less judgemental about trauma survivors.
“I felt very strongly that silence is not an option,” added Conn. “I don’t want to be one of these people who goes through life harbouring a secret, because I think secrets are toxic.”
A public reception for the launch of No Letter in Your Pocket will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 15 at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt.