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Ottawa author/illustrator Jessica B. Bartram presents Ghost Water Kiss—11.21.19 at Octopus Books

By Kyla Piccin on November 18, 2019

Kyla Piccin works at Octopus Books in The Glebe. She is an MA candidate at the Institute of Political Economy, Carleton University.


Created by Ottawa’s Jessica Bromley Bartram and published by Popnoir Editions, Ghost Water Kiss is a new collection of illustrated short stories woven through with mysterious transformations and attuned to the rhythms of the natural world.

In the stories of Ghost Water Kiss, seas are filled with weird songs that rise from the deep, forests are populated by shambling, mossy ‘Once Deer’ and bear-armed caretakers, and bodies shift from what they were to something strange and new.

The book has received praise from none other than acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro, who remarks that “Miss Bartram’s art is suffused with such exuberance and joy as to revitalize one’s eye—to redirect it upon the world with renewed hunger and curiosity… Through her annotations about our world and her own, we are revealed a landscape of enormous inner and outer beauty.”

Bartram will present Ghost Water Kiss for the first time to an Ottawa audience on November 21st with a reading at Octopus Books. In anticipation, I asked her some questions regarding her writing process and the depth within the pages of this captivating book.

Apt613: Human-nonhuman relationships play a central role in your stories. What is it about this theme that intrigues you?

Jessica B. Bartram: A lot of that is based on my own relationship with the wild creatures around me. Like most people, my first instinct is to touch, to have an interaction with, to insinuate myself in the lives of the birds and animals I see. I also, however, have an understanding of how very damaging human contact can be to wild things, so it’s a constant push and pull, of me wishing I could befriend the crows in my neighbourhood one minute and admiring their independence, their elegant navigation of this so-human world the next.

Since I have a policy of trying not to interact with wild animals unless they need help (like the bat in “And Suddenly” who somehow got into our apartment), I get it all out in my stories, indulging my fantasies of being one with nature through them instead of coaxing crows onto my patio with meat-chunks—which is better for everyone involved, really.

What are your creative inspirations?

The natural world is my greatest inspiration, weaving its way through all of my stories to date, even “Skyscrapers,” which is set in downtown Toronto. I’ve been fascinated by nature, its creatures and cycles and moods, my entire life, and I’m able to draw from both my past and present interactions as I write.

As I was putting together Ghost Water Kiss, I realized that the central concern of all the stories is transformation, usually into a wilder, stranger version of what the character was before, and I attribute this focus to my cottage on Georgian Bay. From our outer island location, I’ve been privy to the inner life of the Bay, the treasures washed up on the shore during our first visit in the spring, the sudden storms that blow in from the open water, all the tiny flutterings and growings of the plant and animal life around me. This intimate connection with nature has shaped me more than any other outside force, and I continue to find new ways of bringing it into my writing and art.

All but one of the stories in Ghost Water Kiss appeared initially as zines. What was it like integrating these into one book?

The adaptation of the stories took a few different forms. Four of the stories were self-published as full-colour zines and required only minor adjustment as they became a part of Ghost Water Kiss.

“And Suddenly” and “Tending” were entirely reworked for their appearance in the book, as the former had initially been printed as a tiny risograph zine and the latter a black and white inked comic.

Though some other stories required more physical work, the most challenging adaptation process was the one for “Frostbitten,” my first illustrated story. As I set out to redo one of the illustrations, which had been created before I knew the importance of bleed and gutters to book illustration, I realized that my art had changed so completely between 2013 and 2018 that I could no longer replicate the style I’d used. I ended up with a replacement illustration that doesn’t stand out too much, but it was one of the most difficult art-related things I’ve had to do so far.


Celebrate the launch of Ghost Water Kiss at Octopus Books, 116 Third Ave in the Glebe, on November 21st at 7pm.