Audrey Cole loves to drive. Where she’s going and what she’s driving never really seem to matter to her, why she’s driving even less so. That exploration of freedom is at the core of Alberta author Andrew Wedderburn’s novel The Crash Palace.
A rock musician for many years, Wedderburn released his first novel, The Milk Chicken Bomb, in 2007. It was well received, being named a finalist for the Amazon /Books in Canada First Novel Award, and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
His second novel, The Crash Palace, focuses on Audrey Cole, a woman with responsibilities now looking for a way to shed them – even if only for a short time. For her, that is often behind the wheel of a car.
Why Audrey does what she does is as important as what she does. Wedderburn explains, “Audrey Cole is someone who – like many people – realizes that her life has not turned out the way that she planned. Her life is defined by her responsibilities, but her past is full of people who’d abandoned responsibility in one way or another.”
Audrey’s past won’t let go of her and vice versa, leaving behind an urge to reconnect with who she used to be. Wedderburn notes that Audrey’s story is “about being trapped in different ways.”
For Wedderburn, driving as a Zen place is very personal. “When I was a teenager I spent a lot of time driving, alone, on the highways west and south of Okotoks where I grew up,” he says.
“As an adult living in Calgary, I didn’t drive for a long time, and I came to associate freedom with driving – with being able to turn the key and head west and be on a road that you didn’t know the endpoint of.”
At the core of Audrey’s journey is the Crash Palace, a place that she was familiar with from her time driving for a B-list band called the Lever Men. While it is a lot more rundown these days, in its heyday the Crash Palace was a lodge well off the beaten path where people went to party.
While the Crash Palace is not based on any one venue from Wedderburn’s time as a touring musician, it is reminiscent of a type of venue he is more than familiar with.
“The Crash Palace is an amalgam of a lot of different after-hours clubs hidden above or below restaurants, and bars and unlicensed performance venues hidden behind unmarked doors in out-of-the-way industrial districts,” he explains.
For Wedderburn, being a musician and a writer dovetail together nicely, and not just because his life as a musician has served as a great inspiration for his writing. The process of creativity is similar for both realms.
Being a musician is “all about discipline and practice and continual improvement,” he says, “and of course that’s what writing is all about too. It’s nice that there’s less heavy gear and fewer staircases in writing.”