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Diary of a Book Launch

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Wed., Aug. 11 – We fly from Toronto to Kelowna to begin a British Columbia book tour for my Young Adult bio of “Last Spiker” Edward Mallandaine – The Boy in the Picture.

Aug. 12 – An enjoyable stay at the English Rose Garden B&B where host Mina Muench greets us with a glass of homemade wine (good, too!). The car Budget rents us is such a lemon we take it back and opt for a Ford Mustang convertible. A week of glorious B.C. sunshine ahead of us!

Aug. 13-14. We drive to Revelstoke via the pretty lake town of Salmon Arm, stopping first to visit Barb Britton of the Monahan agency in Vernon, who run the big Bookland store there. In Sicamous, on the shore of Shuswap Lake, we look for the site where the steamer Rainbow would have brought Edward ashore. At the Chamber of Commerce we’re told that’s in Old Town but we can’t go there — it’s now a gated condo community. So much for history!

Aug. 15 – After attending the Last Spike dinner of the Railway Days festival, an enthusiastic crowd gathers at the Museum for the book launch. Lots of questions and keen interest. Guide George Hopkins tells us every tour he conducts produces questions about “the boy in the picture.” Curator Jennifer Dickerson leads a q&a and lots of books are sold.

Aug. 16 – We get our first daily newspaper review, in the Victoria Times-Colonist, and it’s a good one: Dave Obee writes:

“It’s aimed at younger readers, but don’t let that sway you. It is  highly readable, and it will help to shed new light on the construction of the railway 125 years ago.”

 Aug. 17 – We head for Creston, my home town and the town that Edward Mallandaine helped found. Tammy Hardwick is waiting for us at the Creston Museum where we’re given a beautiful setting in the garden for a signing session. This is one of the finest small town museums in Canada.  Two of my classmates from Grade 1, Phyllis Vigne and Russell Tompkins, put in a surprise appearance. How wonderful to see them! The museum sells out!

Aug. 18 – On to Nelson, buddy Chris Moore’s home town. He blogs:
“I know a writer named Ray Argyle. When Ray Argyle was a kid in Creston, BC, he knew an old gent named Edward Mallendaine. When Edward Mallendaine was a kid, he squeezed himself in behind an old gent named Donald Smith for what has been called the most famous photo in Canadian history…”

Aug. 20 – We arrive in Vancouver and are put up by Genni Guinn and Frank Hooke at their wonderful South Granville St. home. Her new novel, Solitaria will be out next month. There’s an evening boccie party with lots of interesting guests, including Vancouver Writers’ Festival artistic director Hal Wake.

Aug. 21 – It’s a bonus when I drive out to Abbotsford to meet April Bell, who I’ve been emailing for the past year. April is a fount of knowledge on a major miscarriage of justice when the wrong man was hanged for the murder of her great great aunt back in Ontario. It’s the topic of an article I have coming up in the December issue of Canada’s History.

Aug. 22-24. We get two days off from interviews and signings for a weekend in Whistler where partner Deborah Windsor’s son Damien is with Fairmont Whistler Resort. They go skydiving – jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet! I’m grounded, mercifully.

Aug. 26 – Back home, ready for the Toronto launch of The Boy in the Picture at Roundhouse Park Sunday at 4 p.m. Details on the web site of the Railway Historical Association, here. Hope to see you!

The “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and the Last Spike

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m getting ready for the launch of my book “The Boy in the Picture” on Sunday (August 15) at the Railway Days Festival in Revelstoke, B.C.

Book launches are always high on authors’ agendas. I’m indebted to the Revelstoke Railway Museum for working me into their observations of the 125th anniversary of the driving of the Last Spike.

Museum director Jennifer Dunkerson will interview me and I’ll be signing copies of the book.

It’s the story of boyish Edward Mallandaine who set out to “fight the Indians” in the Riel Rebellion, missed the uprising, but had hair-raising adventures in the B.C. mountains during the final days of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885.

It’s a Young Adult title —  the best-selling sector in the book business these days — but Margaret Bryant from my publisher Dundurn Press reports that her grandfather enjoyed it!

I’m blown away by the early response. As I write, I’m No. 1 on the children’s non-fiction best seller list on Amazon. Had a great interview with the Revelstoke Times-Review which will run a feature in their anniversary edition coming out on Thursday.

After Revelstoke, I’ll have a book signing at the Creston Museum in Creston, B.C., on Tuesday afternoon, August 17. My Toronto launch is set for Roundhouse Park in Toronto — where a railway museum is being assembled — for Sunday, August 29 at 4 p.m. (Sorry for all these shameless self-promotions.) It’s on Bremner Blvd., opposite the CN Tower.

All this has gotten me to thinking about how celebrated railways are in our history, in songs as well as in books.

Among many great railway songs, there’s Paul Quarrington’s “Gotta Love a Train” which I heard him perform at Hugh’s Room not long before his untimely death.

But nothing, I’m sure Paul would have agreed, matches Gordon’s Lightfoot’s unforgettable “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.”

The CBC web site has an interesting piece on how this matchless classic was commissioned by the CBC and first played on air on January 1, 1967 – the year of Canada’s Centennial.

The article by Jennifer Higgs about “Railroad Trilogy,” Canadian nationalism and 1960s folk music, critiques Lightfoot’s song as an exclusively white, European interpretation of Canadian history.

Well, that’s what Canadian history looked like at that time. She criticizes the absence of aboriginal references in the song. But it was written before “les sauvages” of New France had completed their long migration into the “First Nations” of modern Canada.

The “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” accurately represents attitudes of the era of which it speaks, and the time in which it was written.

Nonetheless, it remains a stirring, epic poem that has rightfully contributed to Lightfoot’s iconic status as Canada’s folk singer laureate.

Listen to it now, and see if you don’t agree. (Note that the visuals include pictures of Chinese railway laborers, to whom I devote a chapter in “The Boy in the Picture.”)

The flat earth of Stockwell Day

August 5, 2010 2 comments

It’s hard to tell where in the universe Stockwell Day, the head of the Canadian government’s Treasury Board, thinks he’s living.

Responding to criticism that Ottawa’s plan to build more jails under its “Truth in Sentencing Act” will double prison costs by $9 billion a year, Day said it’s all needed because of an “alarming” increase in unreported crime.

This is really interesting. Unreported crimes lead to unreported convictions, unreported sentences, and unreported stretches behind bars. In unreported prisons?

Day has been making these kinds of vacuous statements ever since he got elected as an MP and leader of the Canadian Alliance party. The fact he was dumped when the party merged with the PC’s to form the Conservative party under Stephen Harper, doesn’t seem to have changed Day’s “flat earth” views of the world.

He’s the guy, after all, who pronounced that man and dinosaurs walked the earth together. And that the Niagara River flows south, which is where he said Canadian jobs were going back in the 2000 election campaign.

The effort to justify the unwarranted increase in the cost of operating prisons in Canada was already in serious trouble when Day came out with his latest off-the-wall comment.

It began with a new law that would eliminate the double time off prisoners get for the time spent in custody awaiting sentence. According to Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Days, this will add about 159 days to the average prisoner’s sentence.

For this, we’ll have to build a lot of new prisons to accommodate all those being kept behind bars. The government talks as if this will bring crime under control. Do they really think that adding five months to somebody’s sentence is going to change anything?

I can write with authority on unreported crimes. I’ve had a backyard intruder make off with my daughter’s briefcase. (Found later in a park). I’ve had a couple of bikes stolen from outside the house. Ditto some nice iron planters. Did I report these to the police? Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.

Yet Day, Harper & Company insist that with their “build a jail a day” plan they’re somehow  protecting us from vicious criminals carrying out these “unreported” crimes.

All this flies in the face of facts. The nearly 2.2 million crimes reported to police in 2009 were about 43,000 fewer than in 2008, according to a Statistics Canada report released in July.

This helps explain why a government poll shows only one per cent of Canadians rank crime as the country’s biggest problem.

Of course, if you’re a vindictive, “get even with them” kind of guy, the kind of measures the government is proposing might make you feel better.

 But what of Conservative fiscal prudence, something these guys have claimed is bred in the bone with them?

Two billion dollars on the G20 meeting? Sixteen billion for new (unneeded) fighter planes?

This kind of  nonsense ranks on a par with the Harperite edict to abolish the mandatory long form census report. Dozens of Canadian organizations, including municipalities and provinces, have decried this effort to puncture our understanding of what makes this country tick.

Don’t give the government any information . Lock ’em up and throw away the key. Arm ourselves to the teeth with fighter planes.

What kind of flat earth are these guys living on?

(Note: Today’s Ekos poll, showing the Conservatives in a statistical dead heat with the Liberals, may be more than a straw in the wind. As the old adage goes, government’s aren’t defeated, they defeat themselves. These guys are doing everything in their power to prove this once again.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Giving the lie to Conservative party claims of fiscal prudence, Industry Minister Tony Clement now says provincial and municipal governments (as well as private businesses) that relied on Statscan should do their own data mining. They’ve been getting a “free ride,” he says. Clement seems to be saying these governments should spend additional millions of taxpayer dollars on duplicate studies that are bound to yield uneven results. Efficient government? Not under Harper & Company.