Name changes

December 2012

I have received the newsletter of the Colchester Historical Society in the mail, and am pretty pleased to see that they have officially changed the name of the museum they operate in Truro, Nova Scotia to the Colchester Historeum. It’s a name I suggested to them a few years back when our Camus Productions team came up with an interpretive concept for the building. It is the second museum in Nova Scotia where I’ve successfully suggested new names in the past few years. The other was what used to be the Musée Acadien in West Pubnico. Our Camus team worked with them a few years ago and at an early meeting I observed that their name was generic and not revealing or suggestive of what they were about. Had they considered something more specific, which reflected the distinctive stories they present? I gave a couple of options, one of which — Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos — they agreed would be better. It pleases me to see both changes.

If Thomas, A Secret Life were to have a soundtrack

November 2012

If books could have musical soundtracks, the way  films do, there is one I would definitely choose. That is François Couperin’s haunting melody “Les barricades mystérieuses”. Its mood and momentum suit Thomas and his journey through life like nothing else I can imagine. No surprise perhaps, since Couperin published the song when Thomas was seventeen, and it is a song that is still as appealing and mysterious now as when it was first heard. Should any readers not know and wish to track it down, that’s easily done on the internet. Then imagine it coming and going at appropriate moments in the book as you read.

What’s in a name, a particular person’s name?

November 2012

The central character of Thomas, A Secret Life carries the same name and some of the life details of an actual historical personage, one Thomas Pichon (1700-1781). Contrary to a couple of Atlantic Canada reviews of the book, however, my intention was not exactly to bring that personage to life. Well, maybe it was in the beginning. But it ceased to be as the character came to his own life on page after page. I now see my Thomas Pichon as a quite independent character all on his own. He stands apart from the literal historical figure, and does so more and more as the page count grows. With hindsight, I see this was inevitable because I began my story when Thomas was age twelve. That was long before the historical Thomas Pichon really offered much evidence at all. My guess is that my Thomas has more than a little in common with Annabel Lyons’ Aristotle in her novel, The Golden Mean. Or how about I think back to high school English courses I once took.  I guess I aspire to do with Thomas what I was told Shakespeare did with Hamlet, Macbeath and many other historical figures. He made them his own. I figure if I’m going to aspire with my central character, I might as well aspire big. So, if there are readers out there who have no idea (and what’s more don’t care) who Thomas Pichon really was, don’t give it a thought. My Thomas is for you. If someday you want to check out the other guy, that’s what history books are for. Thomas, A Secret Life is not of that genre; it’s a novel.

What exactly is historical fiction?

October 2012

I’m a little puzzled by what is and is not considered historical fiction. I certainly understand why people consider Thomas, A Secret Life as historical fiction. It’s fiction and it’s set in an imagined 18th-century world. Yet many other novels similarly set in the past do not seem to be so labelled. Are not Leo MacKay Jr.’s Twenty Six and Donna Morrisey’s novels set in Newfoundland out-ports a generation or two ago — or for that matter any story set in London, California or anywhere else in the 1930s or 1960s — not historical fictions as well? Who makes the call and where is the line? Does the historical fiction label mean a novel is set a couple of centuries ago and not in the more recent past?

My opinion is that historical fiction is not a genre at all. It’s just a detail of when and where the story is set. It’s not — or should not be — the defining characteristic of the work. My aim with Thomas is to explore the many shifting moral compasses people have as they go through life. I try to make the historical period come alive as authentically as I can, but ultimately those details are incidental to the story I’m seeking to tell.

History versus Fiction

October 2012

Since I now write both, I’ve had people ask me about the difference between the two. The shortest answer I can think of is: History tells the story from the outside, while Fiction shows it from the inside. One is not better than the other. It depends on what you want.

On writing

October 2012

I used to think everyone wanted to write books. The naïvété of youth, I suppose. To think that everyone thinks along the same lines as you.

For me, writing is the best way I know to organize my thoughts. I don’t even know what I really think about something until I begin to write. The very act of putting down (then re-arranging and altering) words on a page (or more often on a screen) is how I think best. The opaque becomes clear, or at least it sometimes does. That was how it was when I sought to write history — trying to weigh the evidence and give it a narrative thrust — and it’s how it is with fiction, though with novels it’s trying to see and hear characters in different scenes and bring them to life.