Wisdom of the Ages: Canadian Author Shelley Wood on Her Debut Novel “The Quintland Sisters”

An image of the Canadian author Shelley Wood

Photo: Courtesy of Shelley Wood

Canadian author Shelley Wood, 45, splits her time between a home in Kelowna, B.C., and a job in New York City, where she is the editorial director at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation. The Quintland Sisters is her debut novel and explores the true story of the Dionne quintuplets and the most significant custody battle in Canadian history.

“I’d never heard of the Dionne quintuplets before I stumbled across their photo in my local library, nor had most of the people I asked,” explains Wood. “At least among Western Canadians under age 60, the famous Dionne sisters seemed, to me, on the brink of being forgotten.”

The cover of "The Quintland Sisters" a novel by Shelley Wood

What advice do you wish you’d given your 25-year-old self?

Stop worrying about the people you’ll lose. It’s a waste of the time you have with them.

What advice would you give your 80-year-old self?

Be grateful. Keep an open heart (and mind). Eat whatever you want.

What do you know for sure?

Almost nothing. A smidgen of uncertainty in all things is both humbling and inspiring. I do know I’ve been deeply loved in my life and I know this is rare.

What have you learned?

That I am not naturally talented at most of the things I care about. Instead, I typically have enough competency at something to convince me that I want to excel, only to discover it’s an ungainly grunt to get to the place I pictured myself at the outset. I’ve learned to enjoy the learning.

What will you never learn?

I’ll never learn to stop crying. I cry as easily as I breathe, and that’s occasionally a frustration. I sought help for this once and was told I could learn some techniques to help me feel things less deeply. I decided this wasn’t a skill I was interested in pursuing.

Best piece of advice?

Get it down on the page. You can fix it later.

Did it work?

God, I hope so.

What inspires you?

Runners. Any distance, any terrain – I mist up when someone comes hurtling toward a finish line. There’s no better metaphor for wanting something desperately and pushing through misery and self-doubt to make it happen.

The moment that changed everything?

Losing my mother. It’s a cliché and happens to everyone in the normal course of things. But everything that needed changing in my life, I changed after she died.

Happiness is …

Mountaintops. Sunshine on water. A perfect sentence out of nowhere. My dog fast asleep.