I sat down with Hollay Ghadery on November 7, to talk about her beautiful memoir, Fuse. It is a collection of memories expressed like short stories, that bring together Hollay’s life experiences and her sometimes raw and always honest reflections on mental illness, addiction, motherhood, family, and growing up biracial. It is truly one of the most poignant and self-reflective memoirs I’ve ever read. I was in tears at many moments while reading.
You talk about how these “truths all came tumbling in and they didn’t come in a manner that made sense” Were there any essays that didn’t make it into the book, or moments that didn’t find space in an essay?
Yes, there definitely were. Sometimes, the stories didn’t make it in because ultimately, I realized they weren’t my stories to tell. They belonged to family members or close friends. Other moments didn’t make the cut because they were not closely linked enough to my thesis—which is saying a lot because my thesis, in many ways, casts a broad net. Then there were stories that are mine but I am not yet ready to tell. Maybe I never will be. Not including them doesn’t make the stories I did share any less valid, nor does not detract from the momentum of the book overall. At least I don’t think so. I told the stories I did tell honestly. As for the stories I didn’t…well, I don’t owe anyone all of me.
The essays in FUSE are so deeply intimate, there are moments when I can feel the courage it took to bear so much pain. Did you know with each essay how deep you were going to go? Were there moments when you questioned whether you were sharing enough or not enough?
I often didn’t know until I got there. At times, I had to prod myself to go deeper—to not settle at what Adele Wiseman calls “secondhand epiphanies.” Of course, many of the experiences I discuss are common, and experienced by millions of other people, but the precise way in which each individual feels the shared experiences is unique. I wanted to tap into the current of shared experience while also exposing what makes my experience worth telling. This was tough, both in terms of craft and personal vulnerability.
“I wanted to tap into the current of shared experience while also exposing what makes my experience worth telling. This was tough, both in terms of craft and personal vulnerability.”Hollay Ghadery
The book is dedicated to your family and you mention in the foreword how afraid you were readers wouldn’t see how much you love them given how honest you are about your experiences growing up. I really felt the love, but I wonder how has the experience been for you and your family?
My immediate birth family has not read the book, so there’s little to report on this front. I know they haven’t read Fuse because they would find the experience too unsettling and I can appreciate that. There’s a large part of me that’s relieved, because no matter how much love I put into the book, I know my parents in particular would feel raw. I’d feel raw having them read it too.
My husband read the book long before it was published and was supportive, and my kids are proud that I wrote a book, but don’t have any interest in reading it at the moment. The stories they are in I have read to them, and they were comfortable with their inclusion.
Members of my extended family have read the book and have been wonderful and supportive. I’m grateful for them.
Motherhood is a strong theme that runs through the book. Both your relationship with your own mother and your experiences as a mother of four. As a mother, I was so moved by the moment with Nuala in bed when you say, “It’s strange how I’m an endless comfort for them and I’ve never been one for myself.” So many of your the moments with or about your kids I think about how hard it is to be a mentally healthy role model when we’re in the midst of our own crises. Do you hope when your kids are older they will read FUSE?
I do, yes. And I think they will. I hope they will see how much they mean to me, and how much I try to get better for them. I also hope they’ll see how none of us are infallible, and it’s not only okay not to be okay, but it’s absolutely normal to not be okay.
You recently published a piece of flash in Sledgehammer, and I laughed that when you shared it, you mentioned your husband Matt is not the man in the shower. Do you feel this conflict with fiction that is also very intimate in subject matter? That with your essays being out in the world, people might think that your fiction is also truthful?
I’m absolutely certain some readers will think my fiction is based on my life. I have been delighted to have people tell me they feel like they really know Matt and I after reading the book—that they have a sense of who we are. And they probably do!
My fiction is fiction, though. Of course, there are parts from my real life that I draw on to inform some (not all) of it.
But Matt was not the guy in the shower.
Here’s the story, if anyone wants to read it. Caviar, in Sledgehammer Literary Journal
It’s more typical for people with a confluence of challenges like what you’ve experienced, to go under, and remain quiet. Whether it is the stigma, loneliness, fear of judgement or myriad other reasons. How do you remain solid while remaining so exposed? Does the vulnerability not overwhelm you?
It can be overwhelming, but what overwhelms me more is not talking about it. I’ve seen what silence can do. I’ve spent most of my life being quiet. I’m terrified of that. It almost killed me. I can handle the stigma.
“I’ve seen what silence can do. I’ve spent most of my life being quiet. I’m terrified of that. It almost killed me.”Hollay Ghadery
The essays are not structured chronologically. How did the essays come to you and how did you decide the order in which they appear in the book?
The essays were triaged: which one felt the most urgent to tell (it was the title essay, Fuse, for the record), and which came later on, when things felt less desperate (Monster was the last essay I wrote, after the book was already accepted for publication).
The order was another matter. There was some moving around and earlier editors and readers helped with some of that. For me, the order reflected my trying to establish the issues first, and then explore them further as the book progressed.
I’d like to say the process of ordering the book was very intentional on my part, but it was really…a feeling. The final order of the book was done by instinct more than logic. Like with memories, how they jump around but are connected. I tried not to overthink it too much and ordered the chapters in ways that felt organic.
Hollay Ghadery is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a writing consultant with River Street Writing. Hollay earned her BAH in English Language and Literature from Queen’s University, as well as her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her short stories, poetry, non-fiction, and reviews have appeared in literary journals across Canada, including The Malahat Review, Grain, Understorey, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead, and Room. FUSE is her first book of non-fiction. Hollay lives in small-town Ontario with her family.
You can purchase Fuse directly from Guernica Editions and from your local independent bookstore.