Each year, Prince Edward Island writers emerge from behind their word processors and laptops to launch a diverse crop of new books.
Fiction, non-fiction, children’s stories, poetry, short stories, biographies — they can provide an inside look at Island politics and a chance to travel to far-away places. They celebrate the province’s history and they capture emotion in the words of poetry. They delight and entertain young fans and they enhance the knowledge of all readers.
With dozens of new 2012 titles, there is no shortage of choice for book-lovers.
There is also no shortage of inspiration for this year’s authors.
And while they all have different reasons for writing their books, they all share a definitive spark of inspiration that moved them to take the first steps on their individual creative journeys.
Following are six randomly chosen new books, their authors and the motivation behind the words. They are part of a rich library of many more that have been published this year on P.E.I.
A story to tell
Wayne MacKinnon was inspired to write Catherine Callbeck: The Politics of Principal (JHB Publishing) because of its historical significance.
“I thought it was a story worth telling. She was the first woman elected to lead a government in Canada. Her political career spans five decades. And, by looking at her life, it’s way of looking at the times through the lens of her career,” says the civil servant, who is also a P.E.I. historian.
MacKinnon has a great deal of respect for Callbeck.
“The thing that I most admire about her is that she’s not a conventional politician. She always put principle ahead of politics. She also did what she thought was right, rather than what was politically popular, to the detriment of her own popularity,” says MacKinnon.
“Specifically, the kinds of political reforms she carried out weren’t very popular at the time but were long over due,” he says.
MacKinnon is also impressed with her integrity.
“She has been consistently principled over the years. Even in the Senate, she’s an extremely hard worker,” he says.
MacKinnon says the title of the book came from a quote that she made when she was a provincial cabinet minister.
“She was undertaking some significant reforms to the social services system. And there was quite a bit of resistance in cabinet and caucus. But, she said, ‘it was a matter of principle. I had a job to do.’ That, I think, summarizes her career.”
A matter of history
Recording history was also the inspiration for creating Prince Edward Island: 125 Years Through Our Eyes, published by The Guardian.
The project started last January when publisher Don Brander approached Joan Sinclair of Island Studies Press to see if she could produce a book of photographs that would reflect 125 years of P.E.I.’s history.
“He needed the book by October. So I did a quick search, to see what was available and to see if it were possible to cobble together enough good quality images to represent 125 years of P.E.I.’s history,” says Sinclair.
She became fascinated with the project.
“Wouldn’t it be glorious, I thought, if we could pull it off. Initially, it was pretty daunting. And it proved to be much more time consuming than we anticipated, but it was also more fascinating than we predicted,” says Sinclair.
The biggest challenge was finding enough high quality photos to cover 125 years of history. When little was available in The Guardian collection at the Provincial Archives, she actively sought out other sources.
“With the help of the MacNaught History Centre, the Acadian Research Centre, the Alberton Museum and the Montague Museum and then many private collections we were able to cobble together what I thought represented the best images of the events of the day,” says Sinclair, who wasn’t alone in her journey.
“Looking over my shoulder all those months was Ed MacDonald. We would meet together routinely once a month and that was a tremendous guiding light to me. And in the process, I learned so much about Island history.”
Laurie Brinklow has spent much of her life’s journey editing other people’s writing. As the former publisher of Acorn Press, she always stayed in the background.
But that changed this past fall when she stepped into the spotlight with the launch of her first book. Entitled Here For The Music (Acorn Press), it’s a collection of poems that transport the reader from childhood to adulthood.
The inspiration for writing the book was selling Acorn Press and going off on another adventure.
“I’m currently working on my PhD, which is my own thinking and my own writing. After all these years of listening to other people, it was knowing that I have the capability inside me to do the thinking and writing myself and that I had something to say about Islands,” says Brinklow, who is writing her thesis after getting a scholarship to attend the University of Tasmania.
At the same time, she had been writing her own poems.
“It didn’t seem right that I should publish my own book. But when I sold my press and started working on my PhD, my poetry book seemed a good fit with the new Acorn Press.”
For Brinklow, making the transition from editor to author left her with a joyful feeling.
“It was pretty cool. After always being in the background, now it was my turn to step up and take my place,” she says.
P.E.I. author Richard Lemm decided to step up to the task of editing Riptides: New Island Fiction because he was inspired to highlight 23 emerging authors.
Published by Acorn Press, the book includes work by Thomas O’Grady, Melissa Carroll, Laurel Smyth, Ruth Mischler, Anna Karpinski, Fiona Ann Papps, Valerie Compton, Alan Harrington, Hanna Visser, Glenna Jenkins, Beth E. Janzen, Lisa-Marie Brunnen, Susan Buchanan, Steven Mayoff, Bonnie Stewart, Shirley Limbert, Helen Pretulak, Malcolm Murray, Dylan Riley, Jeff Bursey, Orysia Dawydiak, Philip Macdonald and Samantha Desjardins.
“As Islanders, we must pay attention to these new voices, and what they are showing us of the world we now live in,” says the editor, who is also a UPEI English professor.
One thing these new authors have shown is a good deal of new P.E.I. fiction isn’t set on P.E.I. any more, as the stories take place in Nova Scotia, Poland, Ukraine, Australia, Montreal and elsewhere, as well as P.E.I.
“This is a reflection of how continental and global P.E.I. — along with the rest of Canada — has become .... Islanders travel and live away. People from elsewhere settle here. Islanders listen to and watch American music, media, movies, and surf the international Internet daily.
“(As a result) P.E.I.’s next great fiction writer may be of Lebanese, Chinese or African descent, and her novels and stories may be partly set on P.E.I. and partly in the land of her ancestors. Or he may be Mi’kmaq and re-envision a P.E.I. quite different from the land of Anne,” says Lemm.
Inspired by nature
For P.E.I. children’s fiction writer Deirdre Kessler, her strong connection with the natural world has often proved an inspiration for her stories.
And she draws on it in her newest book, Danger — Keep Out! (Curriculum Plus). The story revolves around Miles a little boy whose secret hideout is threatened when he discovers plans for the development of the ravine near his home. It’s also about his friend Zev. They gather support for saving the ravine by holding a public meeting and drafting a letter to the mayor.
“My inspiration was how diminishing the wild places are. I wondered where someone could find freedom from adults and get a taste of the wild,” says Kessler, adding the book is part of the Porcupine Chapter series, for grades 2 and 3.
Because a lot of her family lives in Toronto, they often seek out green spaces.
“But these parks aren’t very wild. Then, there are these ravine places in the city. So I thought, what about (telling the story) about a child like me, who was allowed to roam. As long as we came home for the meals, or we could hear our mother’s voice, it was all right for us to explore the trees and fields.”
Following his passions
When it came to finding inspiration for his latest book, writer David Silverberg needed to look no further than his two creative passions: medicine and philosophy.
The Charlottetown neurologist was inspired to combine these in Awareness Motivation: Insights from the Tao Te Ching for the Medical Arts. He has taken the 81 verses of the Tao, a Chinese philosophy book and written commentaries on each of them.
“Besides organizing these verses into a nice flow I also tried to apply the insights of the Tao Te Ching into the practice of medicine. “It’s a brief volume but it takes on the infinite,” says Silverberg. (The Night-Coloured Pearl: A Taoist Adventure, The Divorce of Buddy Figaro)
For example, Verse 16 talks about the importance of having an open mind, one that treats others with fairness and compassion. It also talks about nature and the cycle of life.
“When we are faced with the loss of something, that thing becomes more precious to us. Although death is not exactly the same as loss of a thing, it’s the loss of life that makes life so precious,” states Silverberg in the commentary.
Published by ChiAM Books, the 120-page volume is illustrated by another David Silverberg.
“When I started practising neurology in New Brunswick, I became friends with David, the artist who at the time was living in nearby Sackville. He was kind enough to provide pictures for the covers of my first two books and was even more generous for this one.”Favourite Island books
AT A GLANCE
- Premier Robert Ghiz: Left Arm Missing, Left Leg Missing, Unfit For Service: The Life and Times of Daniel J. MacDonald by John H. Brehaut.
- Opposition leader Olive Crane: I am an Islander by Patrick Ledwell.
- Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee: Right Place, Right Time by Bruce Rainnie
- Green party leader Peter Bevan Baker: Cornelius Howatt: Superstar! by Harry Baglole and David Weale.
- Confederation Centre chief librarian Tina O’Brien Leggott: Right Place, Right Time by Bruce Rainnie.
- Confederation Centre reference librarian Gary Ramsay: I is for Island: A P.E.I. Alphabet by Hugh MacDonald and Brenda Jones.