Magazine article Teach

Writers on Writing

Magazine article Teach

Writers on Writing

Article excerpt

Both as a reader and a writer, I have found great pleasure in the imaginary places in books. Looking more closely at my long-ago dreams and fantasies, I realize they almost always took me into the past.

As I pondered how this all started, I remembered my Grade 2 teacher reading the class a book called Smiling Hill Farm. I've never been able to find the book in any library and I'm sure it wasn't wonderful literature, but to this day, I can call up the images of its pioneer family climbing into a covered wagon and the slow journey through the woods of Indiana to their special place--the hill on which to build first a log cabin and finally a brick house. I entered fully into that special place and it coloured my daydreams for years. The books I chose for myself were all set in the past. In Grades 3 and 4, I followed the Oregon Trail, was captured by Indians, rode with the cattle ranchers and built railroads. Later, through the magic of books, I found myself in English castles or gypsy wagons, even on Chinese junks.

One place I never found myself on these story trips was in Canada's past and I wanted to know why not? I knew interesting events had taken place here. I lived in Toronto near Eglinton and Yonge. Almost every day I passed the post office on the site of Montgomery's Tavern where William Lyon Mackenzie and his rebels gathered before their brave but fruitless march down Yonge Street to try to wrest their rights from the Family Compact in 1837. The story fascinated me, and that earlier Yonge Street of mud and wild emotion lay fallow in my imagination for many years before I tried to make it live for others as it lived in me.

When I decided to write it seemed natural that I should set my stories in the Canadian past. During high school I began my first novel, a sort of Gone with the Wind North, a rambling story about the Mackenzie rebellion. Unfortunately, this manuscript was lost long ago during one of my moves.

Years later, when I decided to make another attempt at writing, I wondered if it made sense to write historical fiction for children. Isn't it received wisdom that children don't read historical fiction? My experience as a teacher and mother told me that children read any story that catches their imagination.

Stories are about characters in conflict. The Mackenzie rebellion offers many such situations. My book, A Question of Loyalty, centres on a family who find a wounded rebel in the barn and then have to choose between a safe action and a dangerous but humanitarian one. …

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