Ni’n na L’nu Honoured

May 2014

Jesse Francis and I, co-authors of Ni’n na L’nu: The Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island, are touched by the honors bestowed on our slim book. At the Atlantic Book Awards on May 21 it was selected as the “best Atlantic-published book” and as the winner of the best PEI non-fiction book. Back in February the book (and exhibit of the same name) received an award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation. A French translation of the book is in the works. It is to be available in October 2014.

The exhibit is on display all summer long at the Parks Canada interpretation center at Greenwich, PEI. From October 10, 2014 until February 2015 it will be at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, QC (across the river from Ottawa).

I’d like to say a little about where the content of the book comes from. Back in the 1990s I was fortunate enough to be given a three-year, cross-country, Parks Canada assignment to visit nearly every national historic site and many national parks and offer my thoughts on how Parks might do a better job of interpreting Aboriginal history at those sites and parks. My eyes were opened all along the way. Two particular people who influenced me were the late Noel Doucette (then the Chief of the Chapel Island First Nation) and Peter Christmas. The report I wrote for Parks Canada I called “Toward a New Past”. In the years that followed I became involved in many smaller (but equally important) projects among the Mi’kmaq on Cape Breton Island, on mainland Nova Scotia and on Prince Edward Island. The particular details of Jesse Francis’ story are different, yet essentially the same. There is a long list of specific people Jesse and I thank at the end of the book.

Conscious Uncoupling

May 2014

The phrase comes from Gwyneth Paltrow, but it speaks to my first two books of period fiction. Both Thomas, A Secret Life and The Maze are set in the 18th century and have a central character inspired by an actual historical figure (Thomas Pichon, 1700-1781). But that’s it, at least so far in the project. The over-riding aim of the first two books is not to re-create Pichon, though that’s likely what some might think I’m aiming to do. Rather, I am choosing to explore ambition, longing and betrayal by using a small cast of characters (mostly invented) as they go through life in what I think was a fascinating time period. For the most part it’s a conscious uncoupling from what history suggests occurred in the real Pichon’s real life at that time. As a result, I prefer the term period fiction to historical fiction to describe both Thomas and The Maze. Eventually, in what will be the final novel in the set, I will have to recouple my Thomas with historical Thomas, but that has not happened yet.

Thinking Back to Newfoundland

May 2014

Today (May 6) is the date I began working for Parks Canada, soon to head for Terra Nova National Park in Newfoundland. It seems like a long time ago. No, forget “seems like;” it was a long time ago. Though I moved on from Parks in 2009, I still recall with affection and clarity, many people, places and events that were (and still are) important to me. The Fortress of Louisbourg looms largest in those recollections, but my first several months were working in Terra Nova and they were great. I’d like to get back to Newfoundland someday soon, and see what’s going on Gander, Glovertown, Happy Adventure, Salvage, Clarenville and St. John’s.

Excerpt from The Maze

April 2014

In advance of the late May release of my new book, The Maze, A Thomas Pichon Novel, Cape Breton University Press is making available a short excerpt, taken from the beginning of Chapter 2. If that interests you, please copy and paste the link below.

http://cbup.ca/books/johnston-maze-thomas-pichon-novel/

An Odd Moment with Richard Ford

March 2014

I went to hear American writer Richard Ford last evening. He was giving a reading and answering questions at St. Mary’s university in Halifax. It was great.

In the Q&A something odd occurred. In reply to a question Ford said his thinking on a particular matter was influenced by a book he had read many years ago. My immediate thought, before he said another word, was of a book that had been the most influential book I’ve ever read, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which I read probably forty years ago and not since. Ford went on, and said: “Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” My eyes went wide. I smiled. I suppose we’re of the same generation, though he’s older than me. But still.

Literary Arts Forum, Montreal

February 2014

I feel very fortunate to have been at the Forum organized by the Canada Council for the Arts and held in Montreal, Feb. 14-15. There were over 200 of us (novelists, poets, essayists, publishers, translators, agents, spoken word artists and more), as well as CC staff, trying to figure out the best ways ahead for Canada’s literary industry. The discussions gave us a great deal to think about, and the shared energy and renewed engagement of all participants was a highlight. We’re at a crisis of sorts — for a variety of reasons, with tech. change near the top of the list — and it’s vitally important that the nation and its public policymakers lay the groundwork for its creators to flourish, not wither away. Copyright must be protected, authors encouraged, and literature in all its forms given the opportunity to thrive. We need and want more than what NY and LA produce. Canada is not just geography, industry and politics; it’s a place with a soul and a mind. Writers, painters, musicians and all the other arts are continuing to build this land, from esprit to esprit as well as from sea to sea.