Hollay Ghadery is a multi-genre writer living in Ontario on Anishinaabe land. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Fuse, her memoir of mixed-race identity and mental health, was released by Guernica Editions in 2021 and won the 2023 Canadian Bookclub Award for Nonfiction/ Memoir. Her collection of poetry, Rebellion Box was released by Radiant Press in 2023 and her collection of short stories, Widow Fantasies, is forthcoming with Gordon Hill in September 2024. Hollay is the host of the 105.5 HITS FM Bookclub, as well as HOWL on CIUT 89.5 FM. She is also the Poet Laureate of Scugog Township. 

Robin Pacific‘s work has spanned thirty years and a wide variety of media. In addition to writing personal and critical essays, she has produced artworks in a variety of media, encompassing painting, drawing, video, installations, performance, and numerous community based collaborations. Robin holds a PhD in  English Literature from York University,  a Masters in Theological Studies from Regis College, and a Masters in Fine Art, Creative Nonfiction, from Kings College. Skater Girl is her first full-length book.


Skater Girl by Robin Pacific was only just released, but I had the privilege of reading it a few months ago. I was immediately absorbed by Pacific’s writing, which is lyrical and fractured and also feels spectacularly whole. The book is perhaps most easily labelled as a memoir, but it is not a memoir in the tradition of linear memoirs. Pacific is a visual artist and this tactile and textured way of engaging with the world and presenting her experiences is evident in the curious and playful narrative approach, which prioritizes themes over chronology.  I love this approach, and not because it was the one I also adopted in my memoir, Fuse (Guernica Editions, 2021) but because it aligns with how I encounter the world: through feeling first. Chronology is simply a way in which we try to impose order on our lives, and in my experience, it can distort and limit understanding.

Perhaps the main reason I enjoyed Skater Girl so much, though, boiled down to what the collection does for liberating women from stereotypes of how and who we should be—especially as we age. In this interview with Pacific, I was glad to have the opportunity to speak with her about her unabashed approach to owning and sharing her life: her choices, her mistakes, and the dizzying multitudes she contains. Combined with the disjointed but not disorientating narrative structure, the effect is striking.

HG: In perhaps my favourite early review of your memoir, Skater Girl, you were called a “shit-disturber.” I laughed when I read this response because it’s true: your memoir is shit disturbing and disruptive, particularly to notions of who a woman—and particularly, a woman of a certain age—should be. Were you expecting this response to your work? Or did it surprise you?

RP: I often think of the essay collection I am working on as a spiritual memoir, an elliptical, gap-filled saga of an awakening spirituality, a spirituality that both encompasses social justice and is the ground of creativity, writing and artmaking. 

Tolentino’s essay on women heroines and women writers (one of the finest piece of feminist writing I’ve read) cites a story about Ulysses in a book by the Italian scholar Adriana Cavarero.

In the Odyssey, Ulysses is sitting incognito in the court of the Phaeacians, listening to a blind man sing about the Trojan war. When Ulysses recognizes himself in the story, he begins to weep—a moment that evidently Hannah Arendt called the beginning of history. Ulysses was there, in the war, but had not heard it told as a story. His Torrentino in her essay collection, Trick Mirror, calls this the need to be narrated, that we can only recognize ourselves as central to the human project if someone is narrating us, telling our story, as Elena Ferrante tells the story of her friend Lila.  I think there is also, however, a need to narrate, a need to tell our own story, increasingly urgent as the current overflow of memoirs, particularly by women, suggests. This takes on a particular necessity if the story we tell about ourselves, like Saint Augustine and Torrentino, is a spiritual odyssey—a way of fixing oneself in the firmament, in something greater than ourselves, in the cosmos. 

HG: Having read your memoir, it seems there could have been any number of points in your life to sit down and write about your rich experiences. Why now?

RP: I’ve spent most of the last thirty years making visual art, often large scale collaborative community art projects involving hundreds of people. I fundraised for and produced them all myself and as wonderful as those experiences were, I don’t really have the stamina for them anymore. (You can see all my artwork at www.robinpacific.ca). I consider Skater Girl to be another art project, in the sense that it’s the same process of inspiration, collaboration (in the case of Skater Girl, colleagues and friends and editors who worked on the manuscript) and finally, manifestation and dissemination. But this time all I had to do was sit down at a computer. Short answer: I got too old to do anything else!

Although the essays are in a very loose chronological order, I didn’t feel like I was writing a memoir exactly. I’m very interested in fragmentation, collage, assemblage—rather than narrative or story. Although certainly most of the individual pieces do tell stories; some are more impressionistic writing, and my intent was for them to glance off each other, play off each other.

I’ll be reading a short essay at the Guernica spring group launch on April 21, and doing a solo launch on June 6 with an art installation based on the book.  I’ll hang around fifteen long strips of honey coloured paper with essays printed on them, from the 14’ high ceiling in Gallery 1313 on Queen St. West. I’ll dip each one in beeswax so the gallery will smell lovely. Visitors can wander around and read some of the book in this fashion, which is consistent with my ideas about fragmentation and collage.

I want it to feel like a forest of words, or like a giant artist’s book.

HG: I love this melding of mediums. In fact, in general I love it when visual artists write. Ellen-Chang Richardson and Colleen Brown are two artists who come immediately to mind who have such a playful, curious approach to using language and telling stories, like you. Like your collages, which is exactly how I experienced them. Your book felt like a conversation: frank and intimate. But also, and perhaps unlike many conversations, not too caught up with the confines of decorum. You don’t seem to feel too concerned with how what you disclose might make the reader feel—in fact, you seem to relish your freedom of voice, which I loved. I loved how my discomfort with your lack of remorse about certain things (like the extortion ring you ran as a child at your local skating rink) and your refusal to make people feel comfortable with who you are, if that person makes them uncomfortable, spoke volumes to my inability to accept who I am; my tendencies to play into the role of who a woman should be, and how she would act. Was this a reaction you anticipated? 

RP: I was supposed to be a writer—I was that writer girl. In fact in the book, it comes up twice that in my adolescence my father and my sister both assured me that although things might be tough, someday I would writer about them. That “someday” happened in my seventies. I did write some plays, and even a book length personal essay, in my thirties, but I couldn’t get the plays produced or the book published. And I found the experience of writing excruciating. It seemed to pull off all the scabs of shame in my psyche. Then I started playing around with rubber stamps, which led to collage, which led to finally studying life drawing—all of which gave me uncomplicated pleasure.

So I made art for the next thirty or so years. 

When I started writing these essays, that pleasure in creation came back. Writing in my own voice felt natural, effortless. The old spectres of fear and shame have mostly been vanquished. That’s not  to say I don’t have regrets – “regrets, I’ve had few”. I feel remorse for unkind things I did or said decades ago, and for the hurt I caused people I loved by the essential selfishness of being an artist. We all have to live with our choices. But once I found my voice, once I could write pretty much as I speak, I profoundly stopped caring if people like me or not. 

HG: The structure of your book: was this something you thought of constructing consciously or is it something that emerged naturally, perhaps as a reflection of the themes of your book?

RP: I thought about structure a great deal when I was writing the essays for the book. I was intrigued by the idea of “cut ups” invented by the artist and writer Brion Gysin. He took a page of print—any print—and cut it in four parts, rearranged them and made a kind of surrealist found poem out of them. His cut up method was used by William Burroughs and influenced many other writers and artists.

But the most important source of my thinking about structure came from the 2018 Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk, particularly this quote: “Constellations, not sequencing, carry the truth.”

I didn’t intend to write a memoir, and still don’t consider Skater Girl to be one. I was interested in fragments, in non-chronological writing. In fact, my first title for the collection was “Gather Up the Fragments”. This is a quote from the Biblical story of the loaves and the fishes. After the multitude of 5,000 had been miraculously fed, there was still food left over, and Jesus told his disciples to “gather up the fragments so that nothing is lost.” I wanted the essays to mirror the haphazard, gap-filled nature of felt reality.

HG: Do you see yourself continuing to write and experiment with nonfiction? What’s next? 

RP: I have a couple of art projects in mind, but for the time being, the writing well is dry!


More about Skater Girl:

Skater Girl is a collection of intensely personal essays, an archaeology of the self. Robin Pacific sifts through the midden of consciousness to find shells, potsherds, a broken piece of mirror. Themes of art, spirituality and social justice run like a current through otherwise disconnected pieces and fragments, many as short as one paragraph. Further, ideas about aging, loss and mortality colour many of them. The book is about the formation of Robin Pacific’s many selves, about creativity, spiritual seeking, and the dream of a more equal society.