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Trevor Cole: ‘Many of the women I’ve met have suffered either physical or emotional abuse at the hands of men’

Author Trevor Cole

Fehn Foss

An award-winning journalist and novelist, Trevor Cole is the author of four novels, the most recent of which, Hope Makes Love, was published last month by Cormorant Books. His first two novels, Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life and The Fearsome Particles, were finalists for the Governor-General's Literary Award, while his third novel, Practical Jean, won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2011. He lives in Toronto.

Why did you write your new book?

Hope Makes Love was conceived and written as a response to two tragedies, a personal one and a societal one. About five years ago, my marriage ended, and in the time since, I've come to recognize my contributions to that failure. The character of Zep in the book has lost his own marriage, and while he is definitely not me, and the facts of his marriage and divorce are different from mine, the sense of sorrow, loss and regret he feels at the beginning of the book reflect many of the emotions I experienced.

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The idiotic way he chooses to respond to that sense of loss and regret – trying to make his ex-wife fall in love with him again – forms part of my exploration of the societal tragedy I mentioned. In the past five years, I have encountered a number of women who have been profoundly wounded by the experience of living in the world of men. So many of the women I've met have suffered either physical or emotional abuse at the hands of men. And the more I got to know them, and their experiences, the sadder and the angrier I got. I came to see the potential for all men – in their pursuit of the things they want, in their efforts to satisfy their emotional and physical needs – to cause harm, either wittingly or unwittingly. And the fallout lasts a long time.

In the book, the character of Hope embodies the damage that can be done and the way that fear and despair can reverberate and compound. There are a number of men in Hope Makes Love who want something from women. Some are irrefutably evil, some are not. But they are all, in their own way, pressuring women to give in to their needs.

The main character of Zep thinks of himself as a good guy. But in his efforts to coerce his ex-wife into feeling love, he is doing a bad thing. The arc of the book charts the dawning of his awareness. He is made to see the damage around him and to acknowledge not just the wrongs of the world, but his own wrongs.

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

I very much admire Zoë Heller's character Barbara Covett, the bitter, conniving school teacher who documents and nudges along Sheba Hart's doom in Notes on a Scandal. Unlikeable characters are tricky to pull off, especially when they provide the book's voice. But Heller gave Barbara a multitude of layers, so she is, against all odds, engagingly unlikeable.

Which fictional character do you wish you were?

Sherlock Holmes. It would be wonderful to be so absolutely sure of oneself.

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Would you rather have the ability to be invisible or time travel, and why?

Time travel. I'm currently researching a non-fiction book of history, and I would dearly love to be able to go back to the moments I'm writing about and see them unfold. I'd just have to duck the bullets.

What scares you as a writer and why?

My limitations as a writer scare me. At the beginning of every writing project, big or small, the job of realizing the story and its ideas looks like a chasm that I have to leap across, and I become aware of just how feeble and rickety my legs are. It fills me with dread every time.

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