‘This book began for me when I was out camping alone’ – Shelley Read on the genesis of her debut novel Go as a River
More about the book!
With Go as a River, Shelley Read has honoured the writer in her. After 30 years as a university lecturer, Read retired from teaching, and finally paid heed to the story that had long been brewing in her mind, and which shines a light on her deep roots in her home state of Colorado.
Go as a River is a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettable characters and a breathtaking natural setting, it is a sweeping story of survival and becoming, of the deepest mysteries of love, truth and fate.
‘This novel is rooted in everything that defines and enriches my own life.’
Go as a River gets at the heart of what is most valuable to me and what I think the world needs now: a strong connection to nature, a belief in love, and a deep faith in personal resilience.
This book began for me when I was out camping alone, as I am known to do, when I witnessed the exact scene that appears on page 126 of the book: the doe and two fawns creeping into the dusky meadow. I was so moved, I immediately got out my notebook and wrote about it. The next day, I climbed a mountain (which is when I do my best thinking) and the character of Victoria started to grow in my mind.
After, I was not in a time in my life where I was clearing much space for writing – while teaching full-time and raising two kids and whatnot – but as I got to know Victoria and the other characters, and the story started to evolve in my imagination, I kept jotting down notes here and there, not really knowing what would come of it. Add to this that I frequently drive past or take a swim in Blue Mesa Reservoir and have, for many, many years, wondered about the town of Iola drowned in its depths. So, the narrative eventually came together.
I am a fifth generation Coloradoan, a mountaineer, environmental advocate, wilderness historian and overall outdoor woman. I come from humble, hard-working Colorado ancestors. I have lived in the same small mountain town at 9,000 feet in the upper Gunnison Valley for over three decades, and I deeply value a sense of place. My children are named after local mountain peaks and they, too, feel rooted to the land and to wild places. I know my homeland well and love it deeply.
This novel is rooted in everything that defines and enriches my own life – my deep family roots in Colorado, my love and knowledge of the Gunnison Valley, my own wanderings through the wilderness and along wild rivers gathering life lessons. Nothing is more important to me than family and the natural world. This is who I am. I also come from a long line of deeply committed, hard-working, resilient ancestors, especially the women, and I draw from that strength every day. I also have spent much of my career and personal life exploring the history of social and anthropocentric hierarchies that translate into the mistreatment of people and the land, and I know we can do better.
I hope that my novel will leave readers exploring some of the relevant issues of our time – displacement, prejudice, and notions of progress; the value of women, mothers, and the natural world; resilience in the face of adversity; and of course, the extraordinary power of love. I hope that Victoria’s journey moves them to contemplate (or, better yet, feel) more deeply about place/displacement, the natural world, motherhood, loss, and/or resilience. And I hope I can offer a reader some wisdom that might help them befriend their own journey, especially in what Victoria’s learns near the end of the novel – ‘What I’ve learned most about becoming is that it takes time’ – and in the concept of what it means it to go as a river (we flow, we gather, curve and bend, we carry on).
This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa.