For fans of the award-winning Those Who Run in the Sky, the big day has finally arrived – Aviaq Johnston’s second installment is here.
Published today, Those Who Dwell Below follows the continuing adventures of Pitu, the young shaman who became lost in the world of the spirits.
“After his other-worldly travels and near-death encounters, Pitu resumes life at home. Haunted by the vicious creatures of his recent past, he tries to go back to normal, but Pitu knows that there is more work to be done, and more that he must learn in his role as a shaman. Word of a starving village nearby reaches Pitu, and he must go to help them appease the angry spirits. It becomes clear that Pitu must travel to the bottom of the ocean to meet Nuliajuk, the vengeful sea goddess…” the synopsis reads.
Johnston’s previous installment was repeatedly recognized: as a finalist for the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature, as an Honour Book by the 2017 Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Metis Literature, as the winner of the Most Significant Work of Prose in English by an Emerging Indigenous Writer in 2018, as a finalist in 2017 for the Foreword Indies Award for Young Adult Fiction, and as a 2017 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids and Teens.
One often hears of authors feeling a lot of pressure after a first book is a great success. Did Johnston?
“I didn’t actually. I’m very happy with the success of Those Who Run in the Sky. It was also my first time actually writing for other people. I learned a lot writing that one. With the second one I felt so much more prepared. I was like: this one is going to be better,” she said.
“It might not be, but I feel very strongly about it.”
Johnston, who also authored the bestselling children’s picture book What’s My Superpower?, came to writing by way of elders in Iglulik.
“I really liked traditional stories growing up. My favourite time in Inuktitut classes was when elders would come in to tell us stories. I started reading more, as I got into middle school and high school. I was really inspired by that style of storytelling,” said Johnston.
“The first book I ever read was from a perspective that wasn’t a human. It was a genie. That was really cool to me. You could explore so many different ways to tell a story.”
She started writing as a young teen.
“From there it kept growing.”
Johnston recalls the moments when she realized being a writer is what she wanted.
“I wrote a story. It was 80 pages. It took me a year or two to write. I let my whole family read it, and a few family friends. They said it was really good. And I said, yeah, that’s what I want to do,” she said.
“I would never share that story now, because it’s not the standard I’m at right now. A lot of plot holes.”
In December, Johnston left her job as a social worker, and she’s returned to Iqaluit from Ottawa. There was too much going on with her writing career and she couldn’t keep up with deadlines.
“So I’ve been alone with my brain for the last few months. For now, my career and livelihood is very sustainable as a writer. I’m loving the freedom of being a writer,” she said.
But learning the self-discipline of being a writer hasn’t been easy.
“I’ve been working since I was 14. I’ve just always had a job. Suddenly I’m a freelance person. I really had to force myself to work, especially at home. It’s hard for me to focus at home because there’s so much I could do there,” Johnston said.
“So I asked Inhabit Media (her publisher) if there would be a work space for me at the office.”
Those Who Dwell Below, three years in the making, is widely available at any bookstore and online, and at the Inhabit Media online bookstore.
And, for fans, good news: Pitu’s adventures are planned as a trilogy.
“My favourite books to read are usually trilogies,” said Johnston. “I’m just starting work on the third one.”