Reading Guide: Bleaker House
Chasing My Novel to the End of the World
On a frozen island in the Falklands, with only penguins for company, a young would-be writer struggles to craft a debut novel...and instead writes a funny, clever, moving memoir that heralds the arrival of a fresh new literary talent.

Twenty-seven-year-old Nell Stevens was determined to write a novel, but somehow life kept getting in the way. Then came an irresistible opportunity: she won a fellowship to spend three months, all expenses paid, anywhere in the world to research and write a book. Did she choose a glittering metropolis, a romantic village, an exotic paradise? Um, no. Nell chose Bleaker Island, a snowy, windswept pile of rock off the Falklands. There, in a guesthouse where she would be the only guest, she imagined she could finally rid herself of distractions and write her 2,500 words a day. In three months, surely she'd have a novel, right?
     It's true that there aren't many distractions on Bleaker, other than sheep, penguins, paranoia and the weather. But as Nell gets to work on her novel--a delightful Dickensian fiction she calls Bleaker House--she discovers that an excruciatingly erratic Internet connection and 1100 calories a day (as much food as she could carry in her suitcase, budgeted to the raisin) are far from ideal conditions for literary production. With deft humour, this memoir traces Nell's island days and slowly reveals details of the life and people she has left behind in pursuit of her art. They pop up in her novel, as well, as memoir and novel start to reflect one another. It seems that there is nowhere Nell can run--neither a remote island nor the pages of her notebook--to escape herself.
     A whimsical, entertaining, thought-provoking blend of memoir and travelogue, laced with tongue-in-cheek writing advice, Bleaker House brilliantly captures the hopes, fears, self-torture and humour of being young and yearning to make a creative life. With winning honesty and wit, Nell's race to finish her book emerges as a fascinating narrative in its own right.

Reading Guide

1. If you were given the chance to go anywhere in the world to write a novel, where would you go? Why? 

2. Nell spends a lot of time trying to control the distractions in her life. Have you ever been able to rid your life of distractions? If so, how?

3. At one point in the book, Nell writes “It seems clear, now, that I have been alone in my relationships . . . It is hard to love someone, if you are in the habit of taking every experience you have as material for your work.” How does this idea play out in the book? Do you think other writers feel the same way?

4. If you had to describe Bleaker House to a friend in one sentence, what would you say?

5. Have you ever written fiction before? If so, how does your process mirror Nell’s? How does it deviate?

6. How does Bleaker House compare to other memoirs you have read? How does it compare to other books you’ve read about writers?

7. The fiction pieces in the book seem to mirror details of Nell’s real life. What did they add to your experience as a reader?

8. Did reading Bleaker House increase or decrease your desire to visit the Falkland Islands?

9. Why do you think Nell choose to share her experiences in Bleaker House? What did you gain by reading this book?

10. What aspect of Nell’s life did you relate to the most?