Joanne Bell’s novel, Juggling Fire, is inspired by her daughter, Mary Fraughton. One night Fraughton asked her to come outside on the road and watch her juggling lit torches. Stars shone through the blurred flames.
Bell was struck by the image “of a girl in bare feet, on a gravel bar, juggling fire with the Northern Lights”. Then she went in and started to write.
The two women share an interest in writing and adventure, in addition to their familial bond.
This past August, the pair hitchhiked to Inuvik together. They wanted to do “some kind of last trip” before Fraughton left to study creative writing at Vancouver Island University, in Nanaimo.
A “trip” for these two usually involves donning backpacks and whacking through willow, well off the Dempster. But both were working a lot: Fraughton held down two full-time jobs, saving up money for school, and Bell spent her summer introducing tourists to Dempster country in the Tombstone Park Interpretive Centre.
“Mom spends her summer telling tourists about Inuvik, but she’s never been there.” They looked at their car and decided it wouldn’t make it, so they hitchhiked.
“It was odd hitchhiking with my mother, at first. We were a bit worried we wouldn’t get a ride or that someone creepy would pick us up.”
Fraughton finds making conversation with strangers who stop to give her a ride easier if she can slip “into character. But my Mom knows me very well and so I felt shy.”
Discussing the feeling after the first ride, she found that Bell felt “exactly the same way”.
The pair shared a one-man mountain tent as accommodation. The first night, as they adjusted to the small space together, they became “giddy, giggling and quite ridiculous.” They feared perhaps that they kept other campers at Eagle Plains awake with their hilarity.
Bell has often gone into places of more risk with her children than many mothers would choose. Not many women have raised two toddlers in a wall tent, at 40 below, with wolves howling around.
“I have a longing to be heroic and stoic,” admits Bell. But when her children are off on risky adventures, “I do feel better if I’m there.”
Fraughton and Bell got stuck at Eagle Plains for a while. “We had breakfast at the restaurant, against our better judgement.” When they finished, all the motorists had left for the day.
Bell was “not so ride-oriented” because she discovered a patch of berries beside the road, just out of sight.
Finally, a small car stopped with two young male Irish travellers. Their car was full, but “[it] looked like they would be quite willing to jam me in somehow,” recounts Fraughton.
“But then I had to tell them I had my mother with me.”
“Being quite charmed by Irish accents, myself, I could quite understand this,” adds Bell.
Fraughton helped Bell with Juggling Fire. She did some editing, standardizing tenses and helping straighten out the various timelines of the story. She also scraped the boil-in-a-bag corned beef off the kitchen. Bell put it on to boil without piercing the bag while preoccupied with her final edits of the book.
“I’d never seen anyone explode supper before,” says her daughter, shaking her head.
This summer, working two jobs, 16 hours a day, six days a week, in preparation to study creative writing, Fraughten found she did less of her own writing than when she was 11 years old. This “would be a real problem” except that she’s going to school to take writing classes.
Fraughton loves Bell’s novel: ” I think it’s absolutely brilliant.” She enjoys the mythology and fairy tales that are woven into the adventure. It’s set in the Ogilvie mountains, where she spent a lot of time as a child.
In proof that life imitates art, not the other way around, “the girl in the book goes on this long trek” in the mountains. After Bell wrote it, Fraughton undertook a similar trip.
“The worst part was that, when she went up, the muffler fell off the truck that was dropping her off and that was what had happened in the book.”
Joanne Bell’s novel, Juggling Fire, was released Oct. 1.