Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Fathers and Sons

November 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Ever since Homer wrote in The Odyssey of the misery of Laertes, the father of Odysseus, over his son’s twenty-year absence following the Trojan War, thinkers have sought to dissect the dynamics of father-son relationships. Marco Polo’s father Niccolo, absent during the first fifteen years of the boy’s life, tried to assuage their long separation by taking him to the court of Kublai Khan, a trip that set the stage for an equally enthralling literary epic. In a later age, Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev wrote of the generation gap in Fathers and Sons and Vincent van Gogh struggled to gain approval of a brooding and melancholy father. More infamously, Adolph Hitler in Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) remembers only a mean and unforgiving father who applied his authority relentlessly and “forbade me to nourish the slightest hope of ever being allowed to study art.”

It is the lives of famous sons of famous fathers that attract the closest scrutiny, particularly when they occupy significant public positions. In Canada, the most notable example is of course that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. British Columbia produced father and son premiers in William Bennett who followed an ebullient parent, W.A.C. Bennett, into office. Justin Trudeau, dealing with new issues a generation on from his father, exhibits the same activist government philosophy of his parent. The younger Bennett, driven by a fierce free enterprise ethic learned from his father, presided over the greatest period ever of B.C. economic expansion.

In a longer history, the United States has had two father-son presidential successions: George W. Bush, 43rd president and son of George H.W. Bush, the 41st; and John Quincy Adams, 6th president and son of John Adams, the country’s 2nd president. You can see some parallels in their careers. The younger Bush, misled by faulty intelligence that led him to make war on Iraq, appears to have been motivated to “finish the job” begun by his father in the 1990-91 Gulf War. The sorrowful outcome, one is wont to think, is probably more regretted by the father than by the son.

Two of the foremost pariah states of the twenty-first century, Syria and North Korea, are led by family progeny. Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria since 2000, is the son of Hafez al-Assad who held power from 1971 to 2000. Kim Jong Un, chair of the Workers’ Party of Korea, represents an even more entrenched dynasty: his father and grandfather had since 1948 controlled the destiny of twenty-five million North Korean countrymen.

In every case of father to son succession, it might be asked if it was the fathers who set the sons on their course toward political power, or might they have achieved such destiny without parental example? In thousands of papers and hundreds of books, psychiatrists and psychologists have put forth a dizzying variety of findings on the influence of fathers on their sons’ choices in life.

These experts agree on many aspects of parenting and they are the most in agreement when it comes to down to earth, common sense conclusions. More than one study has found that love is the most important thing a father can offer a son, or a daughter, for that matter. Other most often mentioned qualities of a strong father-son relationship are the fathers’ availability when they’re needed, their involvement in their childrens’ day-to-day lives, their success as a provider, and their position as a role model.

All of these qualities seem timeless, but are embedded in deeply held social attitudes that change over the generations. Throughout, we’ve lived with the “good dad/bad dad” dichotomy while realizing there’s probably a bit of both in most fathers. Almost the worst thing a father can do, even worse than being drunk or a poor provider, is to be absent, according to some experts. On the other hand, how about he negative qualities that some fathers impart to their children? There’s a song for this: Cat’s in the Cradle, by Harry Chapin.

My child arrived just the other day

He came to the world in the usual way

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay

He learned to walk while I was away.

As the boy grows, he insists “I’m gonna be like you, dad.” And when dad is retired and wants to spend time with his son, he finds he is too busy to see him. “He’d grown up just like me.”

There can be more serious consequences of fatherly misdirection that mere emulation of busyness. Many studies have shown how self-centered, competitive and arrogant fathers can damage their sons’ personalities. These men are perfectionists who see their children as extensions of themselves. Their sons, especially, grow up insecure.

Ronald F, Levant, past president of the American Psychological Association, would agree. “Fathers were expected to model, encourage, and even to demand masculinity in their sons,” he has written. The results, according to studies by Levant, were too often low self-esteem and excessive use of alcohol by sons who felt they had failed to measure up to their dads’ demanding standards.

So now we get to the big questions: In an age of same-sex marriage, are fathers really necessary – other than biologically? And are the negative qualities of some fathers so profound that their children would be better off with them absent from their lives? Arguably yes, to both. Adolph Hitler or Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, might never have turned out as they did but for their fathers’ impact on their personalities. (Paddock’s father was an escaped bank robber described by the FBI as a “psychopath” who should be treated as “armed and very dangerous.”) These men, like all of us, yearned for fatherly approval. Circumstance as well as genetics shaped their personalities.

I have only daughters and from them I have learned much about the often-fraught relationship between the generations. My father had many good qualities but when I needed him most, in my teen-age years, he was an aged veteran of the First World War – a shell of what he had been as a younger man – with little left to give. Wounds from shrapnel he’d taken at Vimy Ridge ran as open sores on his right calf. When my stepmother insisted he strap me for having landed a dirt-encrusted snowball on a bed sheet fluttering on the clothesline, he took me to the garage, razor strop in hand. “When I slap the bench,” he told me, “I want you to holler.” It was his way of saying he loved me.


Life among the green trees of Canada

In 1936, in the first weeks of the Spanish Civil War, fourteen-year-old Ronald Rodriguez Lawrence, a boy of English-Spanish parentage, helped lead a squad of Loyalist troops through the sewers of Barcelona. They emerged out of a manhole cover near the statue of Columbus that stands close to the Barcelona waterfront. A gunfight ensued with invading Fascist troops, supporters of General Francisco Franco who was about to overthrow the country’s Republican government. Lawrence “killed a man with a bullet that went into his head and knocked his helmet off.” He would later write of “a cruel, evil war that laid the groundwork for World War II thanks to the stupidity of French and British politicians who at that time preferred fascism to what they thought would be Marxist communism if the Republic should defeat the rightists.”

In a long and productive life Ron Lawrence fought in two wars, worked as a journalist across Canada, authored thirty books, and fathered two children. I became a friend when we worked together at the Toronto Telegram. Ron went on to become the outstanding Canadian nature writer of the 20th century, not as well-known as Farley Mowat, or that other charlatan of the wilderness, Grey Owl (Archie Belaney), but assuredly the most faithful recorder of life and death among the denizens of our forests and streams.

Ron Lawrence died in 2003, sadly from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. My rich memories of times spent with Ron were reawakened when Sharon, his widow, re-published several of his works as e-books on Amazon. I downloaded The Ghost Walker, his tale of a winter spent in British Columbia’s Selkirk mountains, tracking a mountain lion. It can be ordered here.

Lawrence Bok  Ron’s meditations on trekking into the Goldstream River valley, building a shack from the remnants of a mine works, enduring blizzards and accidents while collecting fresh evidence on the life of the elusive cougar, make for rewarding reading for anyone who appreciates and wishes to know more of the  life of our Canadian wilderness.

The book reminded me of so many aspects of Ron’s life that I went looking for his autobiography, The Green Trees Beyond, which I found here (on Abe Books).

Ron had told me the essential facts of his life — his birth at sea in 1921 aboard a British vessel returning from South Africa, his birth registry by his Spanish  mother, the fact he’d been a young soldier in the Spanish loyalist Army and had later been in World War II, and some of his adventures as a homesteader in northwestern Ontario.

In common with most veterans, Ron never spoke of his wartime experiences. I had to read The Green Trees Beyond to find out that he’d escaped over the Pyrenees into France at the end of the Spanish Civil War and going to England, had joined the British Army at the outbreak of World War II.

Ron was part of the British Expeditionary Force that narrowly escaped entrapment at Dunkirk. “I took to the water and managed to reach a rescue vessel. It turned out to be a seagoing barge that had once carried coal. More and more men came aboard, filling the hold. Would we get the hell out of there in one piece?”

Ron fell asleep, and awoke as the barge docked in Dover. His next sea voyage came when his tank regiment was convoyed to Alexandria in Egypt. Months of tank fighting in the desert led to the defeat of General Rommel’s Afrika Corps. Ron landed on the beach in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The next day, his unit liberated Bayeux, the town where General de Gaulle made his first speech on his return to France as leader of the Free French. I wish I’d known of Ron’s connection with Bayeux  when I visited there while researching my book on de Gaulle, The Paris Game.

The experience of death in wartime came early to Ron. When he lost his schoolmate Gallorte in that first action in Barcelona, an older man told him, “You will see many dead … but you must learn not to grieve. There’s no room for grief in war. Be angry instead, but never allow anger to become rage. Your anger must be cold, like steel.”

In his memoir, Ron tells us that it took an animal, a badly abused, part-wolf dog, Yukon, to teach him love. I don’t think he was ever really comfortable among his own species, notwithstanding the fact that he gained loyal friends and enjoyed, to my personal knowledge, happy years with two women — his second wife Joan who died in his arms, and Sharon, his last and perhaps most satisfying relationship.

Having witnessed the depredations of mankind first hand, who would not prefer the company of creatures of nature who kill only from necessity — the need to survive — and never from lust, greed, or hate?

The title of Ron’s memoir, The Green Trees Beyond is a metaphor for the Canadian wilderness. He writes of throwing his last symbols of British life, his black umbrella and his homburg, into the ocean as the liner that brought him across the Atlantic reached Newfoundland waters. Entering the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he is mesmerized by “the serried ranks of spruces that marched along with the boat on both banks of the spectacular waterway.'” He knows he will never be entirely free of his war demons, but that he will be able to “subjugate them by immersing myself, not symbolically but in fact, in the reality of the green trees beyond.”

At a time when our environment needs protection more than it ever did,  I hope the re-publication of Ron Lawrence’s books will open the doorway for a new generation to  the life that still endures among the green trees of Canada.





Don’t count on politics to fix climate change

April 5, 2014 Leave a comment

If you haven’t paid attention to the United Nations report on climate change, now might be a good time to start.The report, issued March 31, tells us the impact of climate change is already being seen around the globe, and bigger effects are on the way.

The UN warns that the increase in emissions of greenhouse gases is having serious effects on our planet. As one example, Arctic sea ice is melting faster than ever. The consequences of global warming include extreme weather events (how about that winter, eh!), displacement of populations, food shortages, and economic shocks in wealthy as well as poor nations.

“If the world doesn’t do anything about mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases and the extent of climate change continues to increase, then the very social stability of human systems could be at stake,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The next step for the panel is to determine what steps have to be taken to head off a calamitous warming.

Warnings like these seem to come in a group. Only days before the release of the UN report, NASA put out a document containing an even more ominous forecast.

A team of NASA-funded mathematicians looked at various scenarios for the future of mankind. It came to the conclusion that the collapse of civilization is inevitable unless “major policy changes” are made to control population growth and reduce the gap between rich and poor societies.

It might be possible to dismiss the NASA warning as a speculative pondering of what might happen if we continue to eat up the earth’s resources at present rates. We’ll be reduced, says NASA, to grubbing for roots in about five hundred years.

The UN report needs to be taken more seriously. Ian Bruce, a spokesman for the David Suzuki Foundation, puts it this way:

“Climate change is more than just an environmental issue. This is an economic and security issue that will impact everyone from the biggest cities to the smallest towns.”

If you look closely, you can see a link between the UN warning and NASA’s prophesying about a collapse of civilization.

The linkage is our world’s constant diminution of its natural environment. Humans have been tampering with the balance of nature since the emergence of Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago. The real crunch started about 12,000 years ago when man first domesticated animals and took up a sedentary life style.

51bCT7TOFwL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-46,22_AA300_SH20_OU15_J.B. McKinnon explores this theme in his book, The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As it Could Be.

McKinnon, the Canadian who came up with the idea of the 100-Mile Diet, thinks it unlikely that disasters such as those predicted by NASA “will convince us to change our relationship with the natural world.”

“Our own ancestors handed down a degraded globe,” he writes, “and we accepted that inheritance as the normal state of things. As our parents and grandparents did before us, we go about our lives in the midst of an ecological catastrophe that is well underway.”

McKinnon makes the case that from the earliest ages of mankind’s dominance over other species, we have reduced the genetic pool of earth’s inhabitants, until today we retain only around ten per cent of the original species. And in every age, he observes, we take it as normal the condition that we inherit. As a result, we accept the plundering of our forefathers and continue in much the sane path whether it be the near disappearance of cod stocks off Canada’s Atlantic coast, the loss of bison on the western plains, the decimation of the whale population , or the extinction of the passenger pigeon and other species.

It’s worth quoting from McKinnon in any discussion of climate change because he appears to offer a solution to the precariousness of today’s world. He calls it “rewilding,” in the words of environmentalist David Foreman “to make a place wild again.”

What he means, I think, is that we will have to withdraw from certain regions that have never been suitable for human habitation. The deserts of Nevada, the high forests of British Columbia, or  the boreal forests of northern Russia. Accept that they belong to the sand turtle, the grizzly bear, or the Siberian tiger.

The linkage between rewilding and climate change is that we are more likely to deal with both challenges through economic circumstance rather than through any conscious decision to protect wildlife or reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever voluntarily shift to the low-carbon economy that we must adopt if we are to head off the most severe consequences of global warming. Nor will we find the solution in politics. The more likely outcome is that economics — aided by science, with more sustainable methods of energy conversion — will  do it for us.

Only when Las Vegas can no longer afford to bring water to the desert and the cost of oil forces millions of internal combustion engines off the roads, will we move screaming and kicking into the sustainable society that survival demands. That day can probably be measured by the span of two lifetimes — that of our grandchildren, if not our children.

So get ready for $5.00 a litre gasoline and water so expensive you’ll fill in your lawn. You’ll be saving the world.



Lusts of the media magnates

March 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Political power and control of the media often go together. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Newspapers, the “fourth estate” (after Lords, the Commons, and the Clergy in medieval British society), were supposed to be advocates for the people, defenders of common rights. It was the job of the press, wrote American humorist F.P. Dunne, to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

In Canadian history, the combination of George Brown and the Toronto Globe ranks high on the list of media power brokers. Brown used the Globe to advance the interests of his Reform party before and after Confederation. Earlier, in Nova Scotia, Joseph Howe used his Novascotian to champion better terms for his province in the Canadian federation. After winning them, he served Prime Minister John A. Macdonald as a cabinet minister. He oversaw arrangements to bring Manitoba into Canada.

That’s a bit of background to help us look at Pierre-Karl Peladeau, whose nomination by the Party Quebecois in the current Quebec election (voting day April 7) has stirred a lot of interest.

Peladeau owns a controlling interest in the massive media conglomerate, Quebecor. The business was started by his father with a scruffy tabloid sheet, le Journal de Montreal, but has since grown to include the biggest newspaper chain in Canada – Sun Media.

booksPeladeau’s appearance beside PQ leader Pauline Marois electrified the campaign when he gave a clenched fist salute as he called for Quebec to become independent. He later said the outburst indicated his “passion” in life, both for Quebec and for his company which controls an estimated forty per cent of Quebec media outlets, including cable.

For a few days, Mme. Marois was talking up sovereignty, blithering on about “no borders, no tolls” but a Quebec passport and a seat for Quebec on the board of the Bank of Canada.

Suddenly, PQ fortunes took a nose dive, confirming that Quebeckers not only don ‘t want separation, they don’t even want a referendum on separation. Unless the PQ somehow manages to reverse the tide, the election is likely to produce a majority victory for the Quebec Liberal party. It now leads in the polls, raising the question of whether Peladeau can even win his own seat. The worst outcome for him might be to win personally, but then to have to serve in the Opposition. The potential upside for PKP in this scenario is that a PQ defeat would spell the political end for Pauline Marois.

This would open up a leadership contest, adding yet more irony to this strange melange. Peladeau, who is famous for having locked out workers at his companies, is well-known for his right-wing views. How will that fit with the social democratic, left-wing core of the party?

The Peladeau story illustrates once again how the combination of power and media can produce unintended consequences.

The all-time model for media megalomania as a root cause of power lust must lie in the life of William Randolph Hearst, the American media giant of the early and mid-twentieth century. It was always Hearst’s ambition to become President, a lust well documented in Kenneth Whyte’s biography, The Uncrowned King. Heart’s life was also brilliantly magnified in Orsen Welles’ classic film, Citizen Kane.

As noted above, Peladeau is not the first lord of the press to seek high political office. John Bassett, publisher of the old Toronto Telegram, ran for Parliament, unsuccessfully, in 1962. The only Canadian Prime Minister to have been a newspaper owner was Mackenzie Bowell (1894-1896), publisher of the small provincial daily in Ontario, the Belleville Intelligencer.

We mustn’t forget Conrad Black, the modern exemplar of the status-hungry media baron. He importuned British PM Maggie Thatcher to the point of winning a Lordship — Lord Black of Crossharbour — and a seat in the House of Lords which the disgraced former newspaper titan still holds. (He’s been stripped of his Order of Canada). Nor does Back any longer control the newspaper empire he built out of the old Southam family chain, nor the National Post, which he launched.

Pierre-Karl Peladeau has said that if elected, he’ll put his stake in Quebecor in a blind trust. Fair enough. But he’ll continue to profit from press properties across Canada — the country from which he so passionately wishes to separate himself. Then again, as Peladeau himself has said, “that’s just business.”


The new world of Canadian writing

March 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Not so long ago, Canadians who were feeling inundated by American culture were constantly being reminded of the importance of “telling our own stories.”

The message became a key tool in the kit of Canadian film and literary organizations. The media picked up on it, and the theme has since been showing up in newspaper columns and broadcast talks.

Typical was the campaign of the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, an outfit that is strong for the CBC and other public broadcasting. It launched an Internet campaign  more than ten years ago – – to push the idea that Canadian stories were being neglected on our airwaves.

The message evolved as Canadian film and literature matured, but never really went away. A London Free Press columnist, Greg van Morsel, recently summed it up this way:

“It took tireless authors who knew they had the write stuff, from the late Robertson Davies to the legendary Margaret Atwood. It took trailblazing Canadian publishers, like the late Jack McCLelland, willing to take chances on homegrown talent. Academics, too, had to be willing to teach CanLit and governments willing to invest in telling our own stories.”

A half century ago, the number of successful Canadian novelists could be counted on one hand, such as Morley Callaghan and Mazo de la Roche. Both won international reputations. La Roche, in fact, won the Atlantic Monthly $10,000 novel of the year award for Jalna in 1928 — a huge sum for the time. A bit of a 1920s Downton Abbey, it tells the story of a Canadian family, the Whiteoaks, in plot and narrative that had universal appeal.

51SoJzJLuQL._AA160_After WWII, Canadians began to learn the real history of the country in books by writers such as Pierre Berton and Farley Mowat.

Since their time, television spawned a People’s History and today, shows such as Little House on the Prairie, Murdoch Mysteries, Republic of Doyle  and Saving Hope are regular fixtures on major networks and abroad. In France, I was told that “Inspect-air Murdoch” is a favourite even if he “never knows what to say to Julia.”

Today, despite cutbacks at the CBC and an uncertain book publishing industry trying to adjust to the switch from print to online reading, we’ve never been stronger at telling our own stories.

What’s changed is that Canadian writers are no longer constrained to write about only Canadian things. We’re free to cast our interests around the world.

A crop of immigrant novelists has blended experiences of their native countries with Canadian life, ranging from Yann Martel to Rawi Hage. We’re seeing the same trend in non-fiction.  Three of the five short-listed titles in this year’s RBC Taylor Prize built on content from outside Canada.

Thomas King won the Taylor Prize and the B..C.  Non-Fiction prize for his widely-acclaimed The Inconvenient Indian, which casts a North American context for his look at what has happened to the aboriginal population of this continent since the arrival of Europeans.

Graeme Smith won a major prize for The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, a searing examination of what’s gone right and wrong in Afghanistan. Margaret Macmillan, in The War That Ended Peace, has produced yet another page-turning account of the First World War, its causes and its outcomes. J.B. MacKinnon gives us a global picture of the stresses facing our environment in The Once and Future World.

Modris Ecksteins added further lustre to his reputation with Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age. John Valiant used a Siberian setting for his suspenseful examination of man vs. nature in The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival.

In recent new fiction , J.L. Witterick has written a compelling (and controversial) novel on the Holocaust, My Mother’s Secret, about a Catholic Polish woman who saved Jews from the concentration camps.

The appearance of more Canadian books on global subjects – reflecting the willingness of Canadian publishers to go to subjects beyond our borders – is one of the brighter signs of Canada’s newly found maturity. We’ve told our own stories to ourselves. Now we’re telling the world’s stories to both ourselves and the world.

Family and fortune — what makes a memoir

March 6, 2014 Leave a comment

I recently heard Mark Medley of the National Post say that he receives four or five family memoirs a week, sent in with hopes of obtaining a review. There’s little prospect of this happening, considering that major newspapers receive several hundred books each week, each sent in with the hope of gaining mention.

I didn’t have reviews in mind when I began work on mt family memoir, which I call Lives of My Fathers. 

My intention, like that of other family memoirists, was to create something my children would enjoy, and hopefully pass along to their children.

I’d started work on my family tree in the 1990s. I had taped an oral history from my father about 1980 but otherwise,I knew next to nothing about his or my mother’s ancestors. That left me little to start with. I began by posting a question on a roots web site, telling what I knew from my father, Percy Argyle  — his birth in Derbyshire, England, First World War service, and emigration to Canada.

That began an incredible chain of contacts, enabling me finally to trace my father’s line back to the Rev. Richard Orgell (17th century spelling for Argyle), who became the Vicar of Lullington in the Church of England. I found his graduation from Oxford University in 1599 and his subsequent ordainment on a Church of England web site.I heard from Argyles across Britain and Canada and in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. All were very helpful. One sent me copies of letters written by a young Harry Argyle, a coal miner who died in a mine accident in South Africa during the gold rush of the 1880s. I travelled to England and met with cousins Sonia Smith, Patrick Smith, and Chris Argyle.

I had less luck in tracing my mother’s family.I was able to establish her birth in Yorkshire as Katherine Connor but I could find nothing on her Irish antecedents. So in writing my memoir I naturally chose to focus on my father’s side of the family tree.

When you set out to write a memoir you have a few choices. You can write the stark details of the types of events that used to go into family Bibles – births, marriages, deaths, with little narrative development. Or you can fill in the blanks with what is definitely known about your people — what they did, where they worked, the challenges they would have faced.


I wanted to do more than that. I decided to regard the information I had turned up as nothing more than a skeleton. I would use my  imagination to put flesh on the bones — to write Lives of My Fathers as if I were writing a novel. It would be true to  all the hard facts, but I would draw on my imagination to create scenes and dialogue and maintain the narrative. All the while, I hoped, remaining authentic to the experiences they would have had.

I thought about the Australian  writer, Kate Grenville, who set out to write a memoir of her grandfather. She decided his story would  be better told as a novel. For that reason, she changed his name and wrote what was  entirely a work of fiction. Her events and characters are all adapted from the actual historical record.

I decided to use her model, but not to change the names. The Argyles of my historical records would become the Argyles of Lives of My Fathers. their stories based on things that really happened.

This meant doing a lot of research beyond the family tree. As there is a legend in my family that our origins were in Scotland, and that two brothers had travelled south to Derbyshire in the English Midlands on a religious pilgrimage, I decided to work that into my memoir.

But what about their origins? Again, I tapped into my research to imagine how the first Gaelic arrivals from  Ireland would have settled on the west coast of Scotland. Argyle, I learned, means “coast of the Gaels” in Gaelic.

My memoir is broken into four “books.” The first, entirely fictional, tells the story of a mythical Rothan who settles in the Argyle district of Scotland in the sixth century. Hundreds of years later, two descendants set out for England, seeking to become priests. One is burned at the stake for heresy. The other establishes the family line in Derbyshire.

The second book is about Richard Argyle the vicar of Lullington and Erasmus Argyle. the lord of Heage Hall. Thomas Argyle, the first to own this once great estate, has survived the Great Fire of London, just as his father has lived through the English Civil War that saw the execution of King Charles I.

The third book tells the tale of  Edward Argyle who journeys to Australia on a leaky ship, becomes a “squatter king” with thousand of acres under his control, and sires a future premier of the Australian state of Victoria — Sir Stanley Argyle.

The last book begins with William Argyle and his widow Catherine, who becomes a rag and bone collector to keep her family from starvation in 19th century England. I draw on census records that show her giving such an occupation, and later becoming a shop owner before her son, my grandfather John Argyle establishes  a tinsmithing business with his brother Thomas. After their business is done in by cheap imports of pots and pans from Germany, John sends his family, including my fifteen-year-old father, to Canada.

I end the memoir with my father’s service in the First World War, in which he takes part in the battles of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.

With true events like these, I had no difficulty building scenes and dialogue that I believe give a true reflection of their lives.

I found myself with far more material than I could use. One branch of the Argyles converted to the Mormon faith and sailed to America. Joseph Argyle led his pregnant wife and several children across the plains in the first “hand cart” trek of the Mormons to Utah. Many of his descendants live there today. After writing several chapters about Joseph and the Mormons, I decided not to use them — it was all too much. Even without their story, the book I had printed through runs to 344 pages. If you’re so inclined, you can download an e-copy of my book here.

There are easier ways, of course, to write a family memoir. I hope you’ll write one for your family. Understanding our origins helps us to better understand ourselves.

The woman who knew too much

January 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Guest blog by Barry Francis

If it had been left to the mainstream media, the conspiracy surrounding the assassination of John Kennedy and the massive cover up that followed might never have been revealed. It has taken the unheralded, and often ridiculed, research efforts of citizens like Mark Lane, James Hepburn, Josiah Thompson, David Lifton, Dick Russell and Jim Marrs, not to mention New Orleans DA James Garrison, among others to expose the monstrous evil behind America’s first and only coup d’état. The mysterious deaths of many who knew too much underscores the courage and determination of these citizen-patriots who set out to expose the convenient fabrications of the Warren Commission.

Now, the name Peter Janney, son of a career CIA operative, can be added to this distinguished list. Janney’s landmark book Mary’s Mosaic exposes the facts behind and reasons for the assassination of Kennedy’s lover Mary Pinchot Meyer. The book is exhaustively researched and beautifully written – aided by the fact that Janney personally knew Mary, her family members and many other principals in the case.

Janney gained access to the papers and notes of author Leo Damore (author of Senatorial Privilege) whose planned book on the Mary Meyer murder was never published due to his mysterious suicide. Damore had obtained a copy of Mary’s diary and had identified her killer.
Mary Meyer was a beautiful, intelligent society woman, artist and mother. She was also a confidant, friend and lover of John Kennedy. At the time of her death she was divorced from Cord Meyer, a former peace activist who had gone over to the dark side with the CIA. She was brutally executed as she took her morning jog along the towpath alongside the Potomac river in Washington DC, just 11 months after the Kennedy assassination.

Reminiscent of the Kennedy assassination, within minutes a poor black “patsy” (Ray Crump) was identified and charged with her murder – despite little or no evidence of his guilt. The CIA’s fingerprints are all over this narrative and in fact the whole book. Fortunately, for Crump, the brilliant efforts of defense attorney Dovey Roundtree poked holes in the State’s case and got him acquitted. Rountree took the case pro-bono and financed expenses out of her own pocket. On his release, Crump gave her $1 in payment, representing two-thirds of his entire worth.

Janney outlines the lives and relationship of the ill-fated lovers whose paths first intersected as students during the 1930s and led to a serious partnership in the 1960s. He weaves the story of Mary’s life, loves and death through the geopolitical events of this period and shows the interconnection of those events.

Unfortunately for Mary, she was outspoken – a definite no-no for a CIA wife. She was also dabbling in drugs, including LSD, with JFK, Timothy Leary and the wives of important Washington power brokers and kept a diary covering her relationship with Kennedy (described as the “Hope Diamond” of the Kennedy assassination) and the “mosaic” she had put together on the assassination. In short, she knew too much and was liable to talk.

The book reads like a fiction thriller and contains a great deal of interesting information, some of which has not been published elsewhere, including:
• the name of Mary’s alleged CIA killer – William L. Mitchell;
• Mary’s brother-in-law, Ben Bradley, helped facilitate the cover up of Mary’s death and the subsequent disappearance of her diary;
• Mary’s role in, and support of, Kennedy’s bold peace initiatives with the Soviets;
• the suggestion that the CIA may have purposely brought down Gary Powers U2 spy plane in 1960 to scuttle President Eisenhower’s peace summit with Chairman Khrushchev;
• First hand information that, in April 1963, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson asked that he be given greater Secret Service security protection than the President (suggesting pre-knowledge of the assassination plot);
• JFK’s comment to his secretary Evelyn Lincoln three days before the assassination that his choice for running mate in 1964 “would not be Johnson;”
• The 1964 Moscow mission of Bill Walton on behalf of Bobby Kennedy to convey the Kennedy family’s true feelings about the assassination conspiracy and Bobby’s future plans to KGB man Georgi Bolshkov; and
• the publication of an editorial by former president Truman that appeared in the first edition of the Washington Post in December 1963 just one month after the assassination arguing, in effect, that the CIA was out of control and must be reigned in and restricted to its original mandate of intelligence gathering ─ rather than carrying out covert operations and making foreign policy. The piece indirectly implied that the CIA may have had something to do with the assassination. Shockingly, this important editorial was dropped from subsequent editions of the Post and was never picked up by any other media outlet.

Thankfully, Janney is not satisfied with simply telling Mary’s story and exposing the events surrounding her death. In a post script, he outlines his plans to campaign for a reopening of the Mary Meyer murder investigation which would compel the chief suspect in Mary’s murder to testify under oath. Let’s hope he’s successful, Mary deserves at least this much!

Barry Francis