Triumph and turmoil in a small-town family tale

Kimmel explores how people make the best of difficult situations

“Even as a child, I was attracted to books with characters in turmoil,” author Fran Kimmel says. Now her own fiction involves protagonists with tumultuous lives.

Winner of the 2013 Alberta Readers’ Choice Award, Kimmel’s debut novel The Shore Girl tells of a dysfunctional single mother who keeps moving her young child from place to place. Prior to the publication of her novels, Kimmel was twice nominated for the Journey Prize.

No Good Asking, her sophomore novel, is a compassionate tale about a family in crisis. At the outset, Eric and Ellie Nyland have moved their family to Eric’s hometown, hoping to make a new start, but things aren’t going well.

Fran Kimmel
Fran Kimmel

Not only does Ellie have serious mental health issues, but their teenage son is in rebellion and their young son is autistic. In addition, Eric’s elderly father has dementia and the Nylands’ marriage is in trouble.

One frigid winter night, Eric encounters a young girl named Hannah walking along on a dark road near their house. Shortly afterwards, he rescues her from an abusive home and invites her to stay with his family for a few days until her placement in foster care. Conflicts, but also some surprising alliances, abound as the family members react to
Hannah’s unexpected arrival.

The inspiration for this novel came to Kimmel from an image of a young girl with bruises on her face, sitting on the floor, making shadow puppets with her fingers.

“I needed to know what had happened to her and what would happen next,” Kimmel says. “I needed this girl to be surrounded by good people who were trying to do the right thing despite their imperfections and vulnerabilities.”

Kimmel’s life experiences also informed the novel. “The Nyland family and Hannah are imagined, but I’ve stolen pieces from my life to tell their stories,” she says. “Having worked with a lot of troubled kids and families, I have also been inspired by their ability to triumph despite difficult, sometimes horrible, situations.”

“It’s the small acts of kindness that can create new beginnings.” Kimmel

The title refers to a phrase Ellie uses when resigned to Eric’s withdrawal from her. Regarding the Nylands’ marriage, Kimmel observes, “We learn as much about these characters from what is left unsaid as from what they choose to share with each other.”

The novel takes place in the Christmas season. Though the holiday provides the backdrop for this novel, Kimmel, who currently resides in Lacombe, Alberta, sees it as a small-town family drama.

“It is the longings and secrets and profound wounds playing out in these characters’ lives that are at the heart of this story,” she says.

But the holiday season heightens the high emotional stakes – readers can expect their hearts to both break and warm. As Kimmel says, No Good Asking shows how “it’s the small acts of kindness that can create new beginnings.”

And it’s the small but consistent writing practice that can create fine literature. Kimmel offers the following advice to emerging fiction writers: “Write. Read. Repeat. It’s like sunshine and rain for a garden. Day by day, word by word, your stories will grow.”