A poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer, Helen Humpreys has never clung to a single literary form. It isn’t surprising, then, that after a great and recent loss, she chose the elegy as a way to express her lamentation at death and deep joy in living.
Nocturne: On the Life and Death of my Brother is a prose elegy about her brother Martin, a pianist and composer, who died of pancreatic cancer at 45 – a book the Toronto Star called “endearing, heart breaking, and joyously funny.”
In Nocturne, Humphreys re-examines her own life: her childhood in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, visiting her grandmother in England, reading at the Frankfurt book fair, and she writes about how her brother’s death has radically changed her life.
“Your death has given me no choice but to slow down. This has meant that, perhaps for the first time in my life, I know what I’m feeling when I’m feeling it, that I’m able to fully experience the present moment.”
Helen is the author of six novels, four books of poetry and two works of creative nonfiction. When she is doing research for a novel, she immerses herself in her character’s world. For her most recent historical fiction, The Reinvention of Love, Helen dipped into the life of Charles Sainte-Beuve and his romance with Victor Hugo’s wife, Adèle. In order to capture the essence of Sainte-Beuve’s reality, Helen jetted off to Paris to see where he lived and loved.
“I walked his routes, timing how long it took to get to his various locales: the Luxembourg Gardens, the church where he would rendezvous with Adèle, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Victor Hugo’s house, the Magny restaurant,” Helen writes in an essay at the end of the book.
Helen has a long list of accolades. She has won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Lambda Prize for fiction, and the Canadian Author’s Association Award for Poetry. Most recently, The Reinvention of Love was on the 2013 longlist for the international IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
“Perhaps there was never a novelist so self-effacing as Helen Humphreys, a novelist so adverse to inhabiting the space between her characters and her readers,” said Donna Bailey Nurse, when reviewing The Reinvention of Love for The Globe and Mail.
Helen lives in Kingston, where she is tethered to the city’s vibrant writing community, and spends as much time as possible at her country property near Bellrock.