Hannah Mary publishes bestselling novel: Sister Dear

Hannah Mary publishes bestselling novel: Sister Dear
Hannah Mary publishes bestselling novel: Sister Dear
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About the Author

Mashaal Effendi

Mashaal Effendi

Mashaal Effendi is a writer and new Canadian, having started the new chapter of his life moving to Canada, with Oakville as his first home, which always carries a special place in his heart.Mashaal has worked as a writer in film, television, theatre, advertising, communications, and even in speechwriting during his time as a Toastmaster.An avid reader, video game enthusiast, and musician ( who presently plays drums for a band called "The Downgrades"), Mashaal enjoys gathering experiences around Oakville, and telling stories that make Oakville the special place that it is.

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Oakville author, Hannah Mary McKinnon’s fourth book Sister Dear  was published on May 26th and has been a Canadian Fiction National Bestseller for five weeks, listing in the Globe and Mail as well as the Toronto Star.

For those of you who may remember, we only recently covered Natalie Jenner for her debut The Jane Austen Society and now Hannah Mary (Natalie’s contemporary and friend) has re-entered the list of Oakville’s bestselling authors for the second time.

This is by no means Hannah Mary’s first foray into the novel-writing space as three of her books were published before:



  • Her Secret Son – A tale of suspense and mystery (2019 and a national bestseller)


Yet, before wrestling with the motivations of her characters, the gripping pacing of her plots, and becoming a nationally bestselling author, Hannah Mary had a high-flying business career. In fact, she was the CEO of an IT recruitment company in Europe.

Hannah Mary McKinnon

Hannah Mary was born in Stockport, UK, to an English mother and a father who has British and Swiss roots. When Hannah Mary and her sister were born, the family moved to Switzerland where Hannah Mary lived for over 30 years. She immigrated to Canada in 2010, more than a decade after meeting her husband who’s from New Brunswick.

Hannah Mary is passionately career-driven, and predominantly worked in the IT sector. Developing interculturally, personally, and professionally, when Hannah Mary and her young family moved to Canada, she started her own HR company.

Hannah is from Switzerland

Hannah met her husband online while she was in Switzerland and he was in New Brunswick.

“It was going to be the best thing since sliced bread,” Hannah Mary explained, voicing her passion and entrepreneurial spirit behind her business venture. Despite her ambition and excitement, the company failed, and she had no choice but to close it down. This was a period of reflection and worry for Hannah Mary, because for the first time ever she was out of a job.

“My husband was a stay at home dad for over seven years in Switzerland while I forged ahead with my career. When my Canadian start-up failed, I was lost, because without my job, I felt I didn’t know who I was anymore. It sounds a bit sad but I didn’t have any hobbies or many interests outside of work, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I took a position as head of operations with an IT company downtown Toronto for a while. However, the idea of coming to Canada was for me to work from home, start a new business and have a lot more time with the kids. Working downtown, time-wise it wasn’t any better than my situation before.”

“The ICT sector is characterized by a knowledge-intensive workforce, with over half of its workers holding a university degree, compared to 30.5% within all Canadian industries.” – Canada ICT Sector Profile 2019

“I decided I didn’t want that work-life imbalance anymore, something had to change. My husband had started his own electrical company, which has done extremely well, so he suggested I help him out with that. Ironically, I quickly realized it wasn’t busy enough for me, and I like being busy,” Hannah Mary said with a laugh. “He then asked what my dream job was. I said I’d always had a vague idea of writing a novel one day, and he told me to go for it. I suppose that was the kicker.”

Hannah Mary and her husband just celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary.

Acknowledging that Hannah Mary’s husband’s inspirational and supportive counsel was motivated in part to encourage her to break out of the state of disarray she found herself in, Hannah Mary went on to emphasize he also voiced this situation was a chance for her to reinvent herself, if she wanted to. “He’s a great guy,” she said with an audible smile. “He’s always been incredibly supportive.”

Hannah Mary – Writer

After living in Oakville for 10 years, and writing novels for eight of them, Hannah Mary has undoubtedly found her professional passion. When asked how she came up with the plot for Sister Dear, she shared that the inspiration stemmed from a story on CBC Radio. The segment she heard featured a woman who had found a wedding ring at a playground, and was trying to locate the rightful owner through social media.

“Most people would think ‘oh, how lovely’ and leave it at that. Yet for me, that reaction was followed by a darker thought: what if the woman who found the ring discovered it belonged to someone who had a life she could only ever dream of, and she started stalking her?”

Hannah Mary McKinnon - Sister Dear

“Perfectly perfect Victoria has everything Eleanor could ever dream of. Loving childhood, luxury home, devoted husband. All of it stolen from Eleanor, who deserves it just as much. Now she plans to take it back. After all, good sisters are supposed to share. And quiet, docile little Eleanor has been waiting far too long for her turn to play.” – Excerpt from Hannah Mary’s website, summarizing the story of Sister Dear.

“I suppose that’s really where the writer’s mind stems from, and I realized, I had a penchant for storytelling,” said Hannah, assuring us that this story was by no means representative of her own relationship with her sister, who she assured us she is on best terms with.

Hannah Mary did include a ring in Sister Dear but her initial vision isn’t exactly how the story unfolds. The characters were made to be half-sisters who don’t know the other exists – until one of them, Eleanor, discovers her sibling has a much better life, and as in all great thrillers, mayhem ensues.

Even prior to publication,  Sister Dear had picked up critical acclaim, and National Bestseller status in the Globe & Mail and Toronto Star followed.

“Funnily enough, this could have very easily been a romantic comedy story instead,” Hannah Mary said. “Eleanor could have fallen in love with the ring’s owner, for example, although having said that, I haven’t written a romantic comedy for a few years and I do prefer the dark side of suspense.”

Indeed, Hannah Mary’s very first novel was the light-hearted Time After Time, inspired by the movies ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘Sliding Doors,’ and published in 2016. While it did not have as much critical acclaim, it definitely ignited her passion for writing.

Hannah Mary’s second novel The Neighbors wound up taking a darker, grittier and more suspenseful tone, where things don’t necessarily work out for all the characters. Why the change in genre?

“When my agent submitted Time After Time to publishers, I was in what’s fondly known as ‘sub club,’ i.e. awaiting feedback. For me, the best thing to do while in sub club is to write something else, so I made a start on my second novel. I immediately knew this book was darker, but I didn’t think too much about switching genres because ‘Time After Time’ hadn’t yet been acquired by a publisher. I liked the idea for the story so I decided to write it.” Within a year of ‘Time After Time’s release, ‘The Neighbors’ and Hannah Mary’s third novel, another suspenseful story, bestseller ‘Her Secret Son,’ were picked up by MIRA (HarperCollins / Harlequin North America). They also acquired ‘Sister Dear,’ and her next two novels, slated for publication in 2021 and 2022.

So have things always been easy in terms of her writing career?

“Absolutely not,” Hannah Mary says. “I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning and got tons of rejections from agents. That led to me taking many, many writing workshops and courses, and I joined a critique group, too, before finding an agent and getting a publishing deal. Writing is a tough business. The path to publication is littered with the fictional corpses of characters other people gave up on, and I’m glad I went to battle for mine.” She added there are countless yet brilliant unpublished authors, and said perseverance will take you a long way. So will trusting yourself.

“When I write my rough draft it feels clunky, the dialogue is stiff and it all lacks emotion and description,” Hannah Mary said, “but I know I’ll come back and work on it, creating layer after layer of character and story complexity. Imagine an artist painting a portrait. They don’t start in the top left corner and work their way down to the bottom right, perfect brushstroke after perfect brushstroke. They’ll likely do a rough sketch or outline first. That’s what writing is like for me. I write a draft, something I can work with, and then go over it again and again. I edit, restructure, kill my darlings, and during that entire process self-doubt always creeps in. Will this be a good story? Does it make sense? Can I finish it? Will anyone like it? The uncertainty can be crippling, but when I write I have to trust my process and keep believing I can make these words into something compelling readers will enjoy.”

Oakville and First Chapter Fun

Upon being asked on what Oakville has done for her writing, Hannah Mary mentioned the idea for The Neighbours happened at home as she stood by the window of her office, looking out onto the courtyard.

“Two of the nine houses went up for sale in very quick succession,” Hannah Mary said. “I remember wondering who might move in, then thought it would be weird, not to mention awkward, if it was an ex-boyfriend. And that was the genesis for my second book.”

“There was a kid in Oakville that rolled past me on a skateboard only once, and now he is featured in my book The Neighbours.”

The Neighbors features another appearance inspired by something else that happened in Oakville. As Nate, one of the main characters, stares out the window, he spots a kid with curly red hair, a neon-green plaster cast, and a pair of black shorts with flames on the sides.

“I saw a kid like that one day while I was getting my groceries,” Hannah Mary said. “He was such a vivid character, I knew I had to feature him in my book. I’d imagine he has no idea he was the inspiration for that particular scene.”

And what has writing been like during a pandemic?

“A little stressful,” Hannah Mary said, but she came up with an idea to distract herself and provide help to other authors: First Chapter Fun, a community Hannah Mary created as a reaction to COVID-19.

“It was mid-March, all of the book events were being cancelled, and I wanted to find a way to help authors promote their books in a unique and different setting. I half-jokingly offered to read the first chapter of their novels live on Facebook and Instagram. Within about two days I had 40 authors lined up, which eventually became 53. I read daily until May 8 before joining forces with powerhouse author Hank Phillippi Ryan.

We created a new Instagram account and Facebook group called @firstchapterfun, and we now read the opening of a different book every Tuesday and Thursday live at 11.30 am ET on both platforms simultaneously. Currently we have authors lined up until February and it’s so exciting.”

First Chapter Fun helps readers discover new-to-them authors and books, and it’s Hannah Mary’s way of giving back to the writing community she says continues to be incredibly supportive.

Speaking of Giving Back to the Writing Community

Our final discussions with Hannah Mary lingered around what her advice is for budding authors in Oakville, and elsewhere.

“For the writing process, authors need to figure out what works best for them. Some people plot, some people don’t, and many are somewhere in between. Personally, I write detailed outlines, basically a map of where the story will go. Other authors find plotting too restrictive. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another, so that means trusting your instincts and trying different methods to see what results they yield, and which you’re more comfortable with.”

“Writing isn’t, or shouldn’t be, hard in the physical sense. And yet it’s a really hard thing to do.” – An excerpt from ‘5 Simple Reasons Why Writing is Hard, Really Hard.’

“Another thing I advise people to do is to read their work out loud to themselves. There’s a function in Microsoft Word called Read Aloud, which is helpful, too, as you can work on cadence and more easily spot repetition. Reading your dialogue out loud is especially helpful. Is there a monologue you need to break up? Does your characters’ speech sound stilted?”

“A third tip that was so enlightening to me is to skip ahead if you don’t know how a specific scene unfolds. If you know what will happen three scenes later, or even at the end of the story, write that and trust yourself to backfill the missing parts. After all, nobody said that a novel has to be written in sequential order.”

Hannah’s top 3 favourite authors include:

  • Lisa Jewell
  • David Nicholls
  • Jennifer Hillier – Another Oakville author. She was the inspiration behind Hannah Mary shifting over to the “dark side of suspense.”

Hannah Mary’s last words of advice to the budding writer was: “Keep going, keep going, and keep going. Take writing courses, join critique groups, and get feedback. If you just write in your bubble and never share your work, you can’t improve your craft.”

“Feedback is highly important to grow as a writer. Those things that you can’t spot are what embalm your writer’s soul and help fine-tune your craft.”