Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Speaking in the Past Tense: Canadian Novelists on Writing Historical Fiction

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Speaking in the Past Tense: Canadian Novelists on Writing Historical Fiction

Article excerpt

Herb Wyile, Speaking in the Past Tense: Canadian Novelists on Writing Historical Fiction (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006), viii + 327pp. Paper. £14.50. ISBN 0-8892-0511-6.

This book consists of an introduction by Herb Wyile and interviews with eleven authors who have created stories based on episodes in Canadian history. The interviews provide an entry point to the imaginary worlds of these authors' historical fiction and the creative life behind their writing. Guy Vanderhaeghe's interest in 'the small event that may have had big consequences' (p. 32) had motivated him to dramatise the Cypress Hills Massacre and the battle between the Cree and the Blackfoot Confederacy at the Belly River. Rudy Wiebe was preoccupied with the encounters and clashes between Native peoples and Europeans when writing about the trials of Big Bear and the Métis uprisings led by Louis Riel. Joseph Boyden was concerned with the experiences of Native soldiers in the First World War. Jane Urquhart's interest in the First World War, by contrast, lay in how it became a myth in the building of Canadian nationhood. She also explains that Thomas D'Arcy McGee served as a point of anchorage for her to explore how immigrants bring their 'mental space' (p. 87) to a different territory. Heather Robert explains why William Lyon Mackenzie King's private diaries prompted her to call him 'the minotaur' (p. 254).

Some authors were more region-oriented. Wayne Johnston fictionalises Joseph Smallwood in order to investigate the history of triply-colonised Newfoundland. For Michael Crummey, this province has been haunted by the extinct Beothuk, and in his novel he tried to 'provide some sort of atonement' (p. 299). …

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