Jane Urquhart (Hamilton Public Library Evening for Book Lovers)

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 8.58.45 PM“Had it not been for libraries, I would not be a writer”

It was a pleasure to attend the 3rd Annual Evening for Book Lovers at the Hamilton Public Library on Friday.  A capacity crowd heard book recommendations from devoted library staff, enjoyed listening to Annette Hamm (Master of Ceremonies) and learned that The Best Kind of People will be this year’s Hamilton reads title.  This was the lead up to hearing the esteemed Canadian author and Officer of the Order of Canada, Jane Urquhart.

Jane was introduced as a Canadian with curiosity and fascination with language, places and history.  Her latest book, A Number of Things:  Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty  Objects was described as a “lively birthday present to Canada” which is celebrating its’ 150th birthday on July 1st.  Having received an advance reader copy (ARC), I had been privileged to read this in September before it was published and learned a great deal about the resilience, perseverance and hard work that represented the challenges of building a life in Canada.

The author shared details of her own childhood, growing up in the northern community of Long Lac.  Her father was a prospector moving the family north where her mother missed access to books and a library.  Jane laughed that she was an avid reader and would actually have copies of The New Yorker dropped from a bush plane.  Her mother struck up a friendship with a former librarian and the two opened their own library in the glassed in porch of their log cabin, sharing books with each other and the miners of the small community.  Jane told a tale of a great forest fire.  Her father was commanded to fight the fire and as the fire came closer to the cabin, her mother and friend ended up rowing out to the middle of the lake with a bottle of scotch, 50 books and 10 bone china tea cups!  The read by the light of the forest fire and miraculously the only loss to the community were some outhouses!

Later, Jane moved to Toronto and told the audience that she could still remember the allure of the adult section of the library.  After seeing Roger & Hammerstein’s Music Man, in New York, she informed the librarian that the play cast a librarian as a star and was allowed to choose from the adult section.

As part of the lead up to the Canadian sesquicentennial, Jane was approached by an editor from Harper Collins about writing a collection about objects spanning the 150 years of Canada.  She admitted that this was not as easy as she thought and that the research would keep her up at night.  She noted that there were two common themes to her research, the importance of indigenous people and the use and misuse of natural resources.  The book is accompanied by illustrations of each object drawn by Scott McKowen.

She provided a reading of her research about Lady Susan Agnes MacDonald (wife of Sir John A) who rode through the Rocky Mountains seated on the cowcatcher which was attached to the front of the train.  Her husband was not quite as adventurous and spent only a short time with his spouse.  She spoke of the importance of samplers which were needlework pieces often created by young girls and this Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 9.00.16 PMsection ended with the information that the sampler pictured was passed down through the family of Alice Munro (another Canadian treasure).

She was asked how she chose the 50 items (and I would say that this book has many more than 50 items since each section expands to discuss other objects and Canadian history).  She noted that as a “collector of weird things” there were certain things that she knew had to be included such as Montcalm’s skull, the legging, the CBC and the tiger skin rug from the Bengal Lounge at the Empress Hotel.  This walk through history is both interesting and entertaining and readers can reflect on Canada as they learn these facts.

When questioned about which of the descriptions was most important to her, Jane shared the story of the big black rock in Montreal.  It was a memorial to the 6500 Irish immigrants who died of typhus (aka as ship fever) and were buried in mass graves.  They had immigrated to escape the potato famine and sadly died on arrival.  She told the crowd that there were over 1000 orphans adopted by residents of Quebec at the time, many had been babies that didn’t even know their names.

Jane entertained questions about the writing process.  Yes, she did all of her own research, leading to intriguing discoveries.  She did thank her copy writer who helped ensure accuracy.  She shared that she had always wanted to be a writer, that it was “in my blood”, laughing that she would get exams back with nothing correct yet the content was “well-expressed”.  She said that she “honestly never believed would be able to live the life of a writer” but that she had both luck and timing on her side, coming of age at a time when Canadian writing was encouraged.

Her advice to aspiring writers was – reading, stating that you need to “ingest a lot”.  She also encouraged the audience not to let the “inner critic get on your back when you are writing” and to forget what your relatives might say if you write about them.  She said that “my relatives either get mad at me because they think they are in my books or get mad because they are not”.

I had been tempted to skip the event after an extremely exhausting week but am really glad that I ventured to Hamilton.  Jane Urquhart is an amazing storyteller and was very inspiring.  You can tell how much she loves weaving Canadian history into her tales and I was thrilled to have my collection of novels signed.  I had previously enjoyed reading Away and am now in the midst of reading The Underpainter and enjoying her beautiful prose.

For those of you taking part in the Canadian Bingo or the Cross Country Challenge, her novels would be great additions to your reading!

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44. The One-In-A-Million Boy (Monica Wood)

Screen Shot 2017-06-04 at 4.35.15 PMI might not have picked up The One-In-A-Million Boy if it weren’t for the Brantford Public Library Goodreads Online Book Club but it was a sweet little story of perseverance, hope and unlikely friendships. The audio version of The One-in-a- Million boy was difficult to follow at first since the narrators voice was so low and almost seemed a bit mumbly at times.  I had to turn up the volume quite loud to catch all the words but eventually got used to his tone.

The story had a unique group of characters including Ona Vitkus, a 104 year old woman who had outlived her family.  She met the boy (who is never named in the whole book) who volunteered as Boy Scout to do odd jobs and record her life story for a school project.   They developed a friendship and he convinced her to seek a Guiness world record for the oldest licensed driver.

Sadly, the boy died and his father, Quinn Porter,  showed up the following Saturday to finish his son’s commitment.  As he got to know Ona, he learned to love his son who he had spent little time with since he divorced his mother.  Ona shared stories about the time that she spent with the boy and the enthusiasm that he spread which encouraged her to seek the world record.  Their relationship helped each of them in different ways.  Quinn filled a lonely void as Ona reflected and shared her past and he healed as he spent time with the centenarian.

This was a great book to listen to on my commutes.  It was a light read and I enjoyed the story and love books with spunky seniors.  Ona was capable, indpenendent and  had such an interesting life to talk about!

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43. Rainbow Valley (L.M. Montgomery)

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 10.09.16 AM“Once, looking from the attic windows of Ingleside, through the mist and the aftermath of a summer thunderstorm, they had seen the beloved spot arched by a glorious rainbow, on end of which seemed to dip straight down to where a corner of the pond ran up into the lower end of the valley.  “Let’s call in Rainbow Valley,” said Walter delightedly, and Rainbow Valley thenceforth it was”.

Anne of Green Gables is a beloved Canadian classic novel which I have read at least 3 times.  Set in Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, it is the tale of Anne Shirley, a feisty red headed orphan adopted by Marilla and her brother Matthew.  The Anne series is appreciated across the world and and estimated 125,000 tourists flock to Prince Edward Island, to visit the Green Gables Heritage Place, each year.  After rereading Anne of Green Gables last summer, my goal was to finish the 8 book series which includes:

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  1. Anne of Green Gables
  2. Anne of Avonlea
  3. Anne of the Island
  4. Anne of Windy Poplars
  5. Anne’s House of Dreams
  6. Anne of Ingleside
  7. Rainbow Valley
  8. Rilla of Ingleside
  9. Christmas with Anne (a collection of short stories which is in addition to the Anne collection)

Rainbow Valley is set in the village of Glen St. Mary as Anne and Gilbert raise their six children.  Much like Anne, as a child, the children are involved in hijinks along with the four spirited children of the widowed minister.  The Meredith children have little oversight by their distracted father and cause much gossip and speculation in the village as they run rampant in the graveyard, attend church with no stockings, and form a society to self-punish themselves.  The children gather together in Rainbow Valley, befriend an orphaned runaway and try their very best to stay out of trouble.  The novel is a light, easy read with beautifully, descriptive prose and makes one wish to travel back in time to the island.

According to Anne Quick Facts, her first novel, Anne of Green Gables, was published in 1908 and quickly sold 19 thousand copies.  It is now believed to have sold over 50 million copies!  There have been many film adaptations, a musical (it is the longest running musical theatre according to the Guiness World Book of records and holds as special place in my heart after participating as part of the chorus in a high school production in the mid 1980s) and the University of P.E.I even has a designated L.M. Montgomery Institute.  L.M Montgomery has an Ontario connection and I am hoping to visit the Manse where she lived and wrote after marrying her husband who was a presbyterian minister.

As mentioned in my previous reviews of the books in this collection, the Anne of Green Gables series is a series that every Canadian should read!  It describes the experience of this loveable orphan from the time of her adoption, through her school and courting years, her marriage and her experience as a parent.  Tundra books (series pictured above) have reprinted the books with beautifully illustrated covers which look terrific on my bookshelf!  Next up, Rilla of Ingleside!

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Beauty (Bill Wallace)

Thanks to my youngest son, I have another book to add to my ‘to be read’ list!  I loved reading his review of Beauty, which he read with his grade 4 class.  I have added a picture of the recommendation portion of his review above.

Reading this started my day off with a smile!

He is now in the process of reading Dewey:  The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World which he is enjoying.  I think that I will need to make him a cat litter box cake when he is finished!

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42. The Weekend Effect (Katrina Onstad)

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 4.42.54 PMThe weekends always seem to disappear in a blur.  Hours pass running the kids to the pool, watching swim meets and getting organized for the busy week ahead.  Saturday and Sunday are packed full of activities with little time to, as the kids say, “chill” and relax.  How can we make the most of our weekends, reclaim some downtime and recharge for the busy week ahead?

Katrina Onstad has researched the fleeting weekend in The Weekend Effect.  The first two chapters focus on defining and describing the history of the weekend including  the challenges our ancestors faced in their fight for 35-40 hour, five day weeks.  It was interesting history to learn but I will be honest in that I was looking forward to the advice, tips and secrets to getting my weekend back.

Chapter 3 shared the importance of connecting with others and enjoying conversations (less texting and screens).  As less families participate in spiritual gatherings on the weekends, there is less connection (the author even experimented by attending an ‘ecstatic dance party’, part of a weekly activity providing spiritual and social connection).  There are conversation groups, weekend retreats for yoga or meditation and other community groups to bring people together.  The author highlighted the importance of volunteering which not only helps others but can decrease the risk of depression and increase well-being.  She also devoted a chapter to the togetherness of copies called ‘sexy time’ and again reiterated the importance of being screen free!

The fourth chapter, Binge, Buy, Brunch, Basketball:  Better Recreation described the importance of hobbies and activities that help to inspire and recharge your batteries.   Instead of experiencing “spectatoritis,” participate in that sport and get active!   Beware of binge activities (put down that remote and turn off the netflix)!  Stay away from the malls, avoiding buying more stuff that you don’t need for the sake of shopping to fill a void.  She talks about a town that closes down on Sunday’s which leads to the question, do we really need to shop on Sundays?  We do shop, because stores are open and it is convenient but can we commit to a day without shopping?  The chapters on brunch were interesting, I supposed that I had never thought about brunch being the way for restaurants to get rid of the food from the rest of the week. She suggested coming together over food by taking a class, learning to cook and described “The League of Kitchens” where you can go and learn different styles of cooking from talented cooks that invite learners into their own kitchens.  Finally, she talks about exercise (being something to get through) and the fun of sport (which as adults we often miss).

Do Less and Be More at Home was the topic of Chapter 5 which leads to conversation about minimalism and the chores that often must get done over the weekend.  Suggestions to conquer the cleaning challenges are to attack one room each day and to enlist the kids to help.  Many of us find it difficult to add entertaining to our already busy calendars and like the author, I find that spontaneous get togethers are the most enjoyable (I recall the day the power went out across Ontario in 2013 when we pulled together a great BBQ with our neighbours).

Overscheduled kids can be a challenge and the author handles this by having a one sport at a time rule.  Her family tries to preserve their weekend time which may lead to tough choices yet gives free time for hikes and outdoor activities.  As the parents of competitive swimmers, I can related to the busy weekends but have really appreciated the club’s approach to only one meet a month which gives everyone (parents included) more downtime.

Chapter 6 relates to the power of beauty, taking time to appreciate what is around you.  Taking a simple walk in the bush can improve our outlooks.  Walking through a museum or art gallery can help recharge our senses.

The final chapter is a manifesto of sorts and offers Onstad’s suggestions to a better weekend.

This book was thought-provoking but I think I was looking for some more concrete suggestions on not only how to enjoy my weekends but also to prepare for the weekend.  How can we get all those chores done during the week so that we can relax on the weekend?  How can we be more organized?  More present?  More engaged?  I felt like this was a good start but it leaves me looking for more.

What will I do after reading this book?

  • Be more mindful of the time spent (and example set) by setting limits on technology
  • Get outside and enjoy nature – take a hike, camp this summer
  • Connect with others – organize outings, participate in more random acts of kindness.
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41. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 10.21.47 PMThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the intertwined stories of Henrietta, a poor, black woman who died of cervical cancer, the ongoing saga of her cells and the struggles of the remaining Lacks family.  Henrietta was mourned by her husband and children, who were initially unaware that her cells were used for amazing medical advances such as the polio vaccine, chemotherapy treatments and advancements in genetics.  Her cells were mass produced and sold to laboratories while her family lived in poverty, could not afford health care and tried to understand how Henrietta’s cells became a legacy, a gift to the world.

Rebecca Skloot, the author, learned about the HeLa cells in 1988, in a highschool science class.  Years later, she would spend her student loans and use her credit cards to meet the Lacks family, travel and research the story. Over ten years, the author became close to the family and helped to inform them, support them and tell the story of HeLa.

Henrietta grew up in the home house (a former slave cabin) in Clover, Virginia.  Her mother had died and the family of 10 children was split among relatives.  She grew up with her cousin Day, sharing a bedroom with him since the age of 4, until they started having children together.  The couple had 5 children including Lucile who was known as “simple” or “touched”.  Lucille had seizures and, after her mother was hospitalized, ended up being institutionalized (leaving another mystery for the family to investigate years later).

Henrietta felt a “knot” in her womb but when she ended up pregnant with her 5th child, she stopped talking about the knot.  Four months after baby Joseph was born, she started bleeding, felt a lump on her cervix and had a biopsy at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  The physician had never seen a cancer lesion like it, he excised a section and sent it to the lab where it was diagnosed as cancer.  Henrietta returned to have treatment, which at the time, was to sew radium to the surface of her cervix but not before the doctor excised another slice of her tumour without her permission.

The cell sample was taken to the lab.  The scientists were trying to grow cells but despite their lack of success with other cells, the HeLa cells grew, and grew, and grew.  The researchers discovered that her cells had not only survived but were multiplying at a very quick pace.

Sadly, Henrietta died at the age of 31, filled with tumours and suffering with intractable pain.  The pain medications did not relieve her suffering and her kidneys could no longer filter the toxins from her body.  She died a tragic death of uraemia secondary to cancer of the cervix.

While the family mourned Henrietta, her cells continued to multiply, became a multi-million dollar industry and were used for research testing the polio vaccine, studying genetics, testing the effects of pharmaceuticals, steroids, chemotherapy, hormones and vitamins.  Her cells were unknowingly injected into cancer patients, healthy patients and prisoners.  Her cells are responsible for the HPV vaccine which protect young women from HPV.

For many years, the family had no idea that Henrietta’s cells had been taken, studied, sold and used for research.  They lived in poverty, had little education, struggled to look after their own families and subsequent generations of the Lacks family got in trouble with the law.  The family could not afford their own medical care despite the advances made due to their mother.  The family was taken advantage of by researchers, by journalists and by a fake lawyer who tried to convince them to sue the hospital leaving them hesitant to trust anyone.  Miraculously, the family gave  chance to Rebecca Skloot, a young white woman who wanted to write a book.  Slowly the family began to trust Rebecca as she investigated for a decade and uncovered the truth about the HeLa cells, learned about the advances due to her cells and investigated the short life of Henrietta’s daughter (who had likely been affected by syphillis).

Rebecca Skloot is a science writer.  She has taught non-fiction writing to university students and set up a scholarship fund for the descendants of Henrietta Lacks.  This book was her first and has remained on best seller lists for more than seven years according to her website.  The story lives on in an HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah as seen in the movie trailer.

This is an amazing book to read.  This was my second time reading about Henrietta, in preparation for book club and I am looking forward to a lively discussion.  As a health professional, it was shocking to read about the lack of informed consent and the dreadful final days of Henrietta.  This a book that should be studied by health professionals during their training to reinforce the importance of informed consent and ethical treatment.

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Novel Questions: Nadia Hashimi

“Being a writer means being a spy”

In 2015, I was privileged to meet Nadia Hashimi.  She is the amazing author of When the Moon is Low, The Pearl That Broke It’s Shell and The House Without Widows (on my TBR shelf), who balances her time between a busy family, writing and her career as a Paediatrician.  As the mother of 4 myself, I can imagine the challenge of writing on her days off and setting deadlines for her books in alignment with the due dates of her children.

Her parents moved from Afghanistan to the United States in the early 1970s, making a living at their convenience store/Italian deli.  Her family was very happy that they had come to the United States, so much so that her in-laws celebrate the anniversary of their immigration.  It was hard not to consider how different her life could have been had she remained in Afghanistan where opportunities for women have been limited.

Nadia tells tales of strong women and her goal is to she convey what has happened  (and continues to happen) to women through fiction.  She weaves her stories with research gathered through interviews, the library and from her trip to Afghanistan in 2002.  Her experiences growing up have “fed into the book” as well as an influence from everything else that she has read.

Thank you to Nadia for taking the time to answer Novel Questions!

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What is your favourite childhood book?  Why?

The joys of parenting are many but revisiting adored books, from my early years, with my four children has got to be in the top ten. We’re the proud parents of four readers, our eldest is 7 and our youngest 19 months old. They adore books and, with the older two, we are now at a stage where we can do chapter books together. I love re-reading Roald Dahl’s books with his bright humor and playful characters. One of my favorite books growing up was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, which I recently purchased to read with my children as well. It pushed the limits of my imagination and made me reconsider the physical world around me, which is exactly what the best books do.

 

Did you always dream of becoming a writer?

When I was in 2nd grade, I dreamed of one day becoming a writer. At some point, I even filled a one-subject notebook with a fantasy tale set in outer space. But somewhere between 2nd grade and high school, I set that particular ambition aside and decided I wanted to become a physician. I have no regrets. I enjoy working as a pediatrician and it is a privilege to be a partner in the care of a child. At the same time, writing stories that are read by people around the world and exploring universal themes of struggle, resilience, family, and hardship is just as rewarding. In my journey, I’ve learned that writers and doctors can both be healers. I suppose that’s the link between my two careers.

Where is your favourite place to write and why?

This is an easy one. Coffee shops. Amazing things are quietly happening in coffee shops all the time. A steady stream of coffee is a necessity as well as the unexpected moments of inspiration: two friends recounting the early days of their marriages, a student hunched over text books with a highlighter in hand, a saleswoman rearranging appointments in a crowded date book. Sometimes watching what others around me are doing its part of the motivation I need also. Being a writer means being a spy. People watching is a delicious way for me to explore human dynamics and makes my characters three-dimensional. It is also an incredibly effective way to procrastinate.

What work are you most proud of and why?

It would be just as impossible to name my favorite child (and, yes, my little ones have tried to squeeze that information out of me too). I’m proud of each of my stories because of the conversations they have inspired.

I received an email from an Australian man who read The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. He told me that he had an awakened empathy for the struggles of women around the world. A young American woman who works with refugees in Europe shared a copy of When The Moon Is Low with her mother, a mid-westerner whose world views are diametrically opposed to those of her daughter. Her mother read Fereiba’s story and felt compelled to reach out to her daughter. A divide between them narrowed. I’ve even heard from a physician was was moved enough to travel to refugee camps in Greece to volunteered her time and expertise.

My children’s book, One Half From the East, has taken me into schools where I talk with young people exploring whether it is gender or expectation that limits an individual’s potential.

My latest adult novel, A House Without Windows, has had book clubs discussing the Afghan judicial system’s propensity to find women guilty but also has women considering how different it is from what the American justice system does for/to American women who are victims of sexual assault. Conversations are awareness and awareness is the first step to action. I am proud my stories have become campfire around which these issues can be discussed.

What is the last book that you read and why would you recommend it… or not? 

One big perk of being an author is being asked to read advance copies of upcoming novels. My last read was Gurjinder Baran’s Someone You Love Is Gone (upcoming publication date 8/29/17). It is a lovely, lyrical story of three adult children grieving their mother’s death (and life) in very different ways. It was beautifully layered and nuanced examination of how a tragedy can span generations.

Please check out Nadia’s website for more information, news and great book club questions!
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Cross-Canada Reading Challenge

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Canadians will be celebrating it’s 150 birthday on July 1st!

It is a time to celebrate our beautiful country and what better way to acknowledge the greatness, the challenges, the landscape and the history than reading a book set or written by an author of each province and territory.

For book the next 6 weeks, get ready for the sesquicentennial by reading great CanLit.  For suggestions check out the CanadianContent Goodreads group for Authors Across Canada.

Please comment below about your progress and your favourites!

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40. Juliet’s Answer (Glenn Dixon)

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 12.03.17 PMJuliet’s Answer:  One Man’s Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak is the heartwarming account of Glenn Dixon‘s struggles in relationships and his search for love.  This memoir will be featured at the 2017-18 Grimsby Author Series, in the fall, and I look forward to meeting the author who bravely quit his job and travelled to Verona in search of himself and yearning for love.

Glenn was a highschool teacher.  He had a passion for Romeo and Juliet and was striving to engage a group of unique students to learn from this Shakespearean play.  He created interest and through readings, enactments and even a mock court case as the class discussed the play and the fate of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.  Each of the students gained insight from the class discussions into their own struggles.

Glenn had travelled to Verona the previous summer and volunteered as Juliet’s secretary at the Juliet Club.  Letter writers from around to world write to Juliet hoping for answers about love and relationships.  These epistles come in many languages and a volunteer group of secretaries write back to the if there is a return address.

“The Juliet Club has been handling Juliet’s mail for many years; this unique phenomenon has made Verona the world-wide known “capital of love”. Addressed to “Juliet, Verona” thousands of letters arrive from all over the world and our team of volunteers replies to each and every one of them in the name of the most famous heroine in literature keeping alive this extraordinary epistolary tradition”. (Juliet Club website)

Once Glen realized that he would never have a relationship with the woman he loved he quit his teaching job and headed back to Verona for a fresh start.  In Verona, he learned about himself as he reflected on the content of the letters and the responses he was writing.    He also described Verona in a way that makes the reader want to pack their bags and explore!

Juliet’s Answer is a memoir to enjoy and inspired me to search for more information about the Juliet Club.  According to the club’s website, thousands of letters have been received since the 1930s and each letter is carefully read, translated and a response sent.  The letters are kept in a special archive.  Travellers can volunteer for one day or more, returning letters to those looking for love.

After listening to the audio version of the book, I was disappointed to learn that the narrator was not the author.  It was well told but would have been more authentic if the experiences were shared by Glenn himself.  If readers are looking for more information, Glenn’s website hosts many pictures of Verona including the statue of Juliet.

My daughter will likely be reading Romeo and Juliet in grade 9 and I may have to reread the play as she studies it.  Juliet’s Answer has also inspired me to investigate the offerings at Stratford and Romeo and Juliet will be featured this summer.  I sure hope that my daughter has a teacher who shares Glenn’s enthusiasm for Romeo and Juliet and I am looking forward to meeting the him at he Grimsby Author Series event.

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Jennifer Robson: Author Event

IMG_5034 2It was inspiring to meet Jennifer Robson, in Burlington, on May 2nd.  She spoke of her latest novel, Goodnight from London at an event promoted by A Different Drummer Books as a fundraiser for a local church.  As a fan of historical fiction, I was thrilled to hear that her own grandmother had influenced this latest novel.

On her website, Jennifer Robson describes herself as an “academic by background, a former editor by profession, and a lifelong history geek”.  She has a Phd from Oxford, has worked in both journalism and pubishing and is now a full-time author writing  great historical fiction that highlights strong women during the trauma of war.

It was interesting to learn that Jennifer was pulling together this book but struggling as the “heroine was not presenting herself to me”.  She visited her editor who asked why she was not writing about her beloved grandmother who had recently passed away.  Her grandmother had been a journalist during the second World War and had been a central maternal figure for Jennifer after she lost her mother.

After this conversation, Jennifer returned to her hotel room and was inspired!  Although the character of Ruby is not her grandmother,  it was “through my memories of my wonderful grandmother that drew me to this character of Ruby”.  Her grandmother had started in journalism as a “girl Friday”, progressing to writing the military beat reporting the ships coming in and later leading to an interview with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Her novels portray strong women in a time when those living with war had the  spirit of “getting on with it”  and that “whinging was ok but not whining”.  The war was endured and the women in her stories played an active role during a time when women were often looking after their families at home.

As always, I am interested in the writing process of authors and Jennifer shared that she is a “plotter”.  She gets the history and research out of the way before she begins writing the fiction, “creating a scaffolding for the story”.  She writes a chapter by chapter outline trying to avoid the “rabbit hole of research” distracting her from getting “the novel out of you head and on the page”.

When asked about the most challenging part of writing, Jennifer identified the plot as a “millstone around my neck” as her books are so character driven.  She wants “to write books where you remember the people” and needs to be disciplined in her writing.  As a full-time writer she writes every day and recently joined a 5am writing club finding 2 solid hours of focused writing before her family awakes.

She thinks of setting like another character.  She often writes about places she has been in the modern time acknowledging while she may have walked through the streets, it is not the same as being in the setting during the historical period especially since so much of London was destroyed during the blitz and later rebuilt.  She walked the same route which was described in the scene where Ruby and Bennet ran through the streets and notes that imagination had to help create the scene as so much had changed.

For those of you involved with book clubs, it is interesting to know that Jennifer writers her novels with her own book club in mind.  As she plans and writes she thinks of this group whether “the book I’m creating is something my friends would enjoy and find memorable”.  Her website also offers the opportunity for her to call in or Skype with book clubs which would make for a great book club evening!

I have enjoyed reading and blogging about Jennifer’s other novels including Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight in Paris .  I am looking forward to reading Goodnight from London and have added it to my growing ‘to be read pile’.

Posted in Book signing, Canadian, Historical Fiction | Tagged , | 1 Comment