The Sealed Book

I’m not sure if any of you are old enough to remember the old radio program called, “The Sealed Book.” I discovered it during a conversation with my mother while writing Cammie Takes Flight. I could still hear the excitement in her voice when told me how when the gong sounded it meant the Keeper of the Book had unlocked the vault where the great sealed book was kept. It was in that very book that all the secrets and mysteries of mankind has been recorded through the ages. Just imagine how mysterious that must have sounded to my mum and her friends as they crowded around the radio on Saturday nights. At the end of each episode, listeners were told to tune in next week when “the sound of the great gong heralds another strange and exciting tale from… the sealed book.” According to my mum the show also had sound effects that made it all seem quite real.

While doing a little checking online the info I found said the program originally ran between March 18 and September 9, 1945, and was broadcast on Sundays from 10:30pm to 11:00pm. My guess is that the program aired on reruns for years after its original broadcasting which makes me think that it’s good to actually talk to someone who has knowledge of a time period rather than just relying on the information that’s available online. Obviously that’s not always possible and so a writer must do the best job she can to bring that authenticity to the story.

I worked in some bit and pieces about The Sealed Book to my novel during my first round of edits as it seemed to fit in nicely with a scene I was working on at the time. I found it quite exciting and hadn’t remembered my mother ever mentioning it over the years. And who knows perhaps there was something in our conversation that day that jarred the memory loose for her. It’s strange the way memories can suddenly come to us when we hadn’t thought about a particular thing in many years. (For anyone who doesn’t know, Cammie Takes Flight is , for the most part, set at the Halifax School for the Blind.)

Part of a writer’s job when writing historical fiction is to research the time period we’re writing about. All those details add authenticity to the story and help the reader to become a part of that time and place the author is writing about. What many people told me after they’d read my first novel Bitter, Sweet was that they remembered that time so well since they were kids themselves back then. Many of them found it easy to relate to the Burbidges plight because of it.

With both my mother and step-father having gone to the Halifax School for the Blind they were able to provide little bits of information I would not have otherwise discovered through research—The Sealed Book being one of those things. There were other little things as well, the note tossing between the boys and the girls during classes when the teacher they had was blind, and the way the boys would sneak out of the school and call the payphone in the lobby asking to speak to a particular girl they had a crush on. There were other stories as well that I was able to weave into the novel and hopefully when kids (and adults) read it they’ll come to understand that the children who went to the School for the Blind weren’t much different they are.

My ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) for Cammie Takes Flight arrived the other day in the mail. I finally got to see and read the story in book form for the first time. It’s such a wonderful sense of accomplishment to know that others will get to read my words and hopefully find something of value in the story. I’ll read through the ARC a few more times to pick out anything that needs changing before it goes for the final printing. Release day is three months away!

So, without giving you age away, do any of you remember The Sealed Book or are there any other old time radio programs you might have listened to back in the day? 

Spinning Wheels and Book News

“There’s an old spinning wheel in the parlor.” Never dsc08174thought I’d be singing that old tune, let alone actually being the owner of a spinning wheel. I understand that most people wouldn’t be excited over something like this, but as a writer of historical fiction it makes my little heart go pitter-pat. Coincidentally, I’d been given a set of wool cards a number of years back. Perhaps the universe has ideas for me!

(Again)coincidentally, I have a friend who knows how to spin wool and the plan at the moment is for me to get a little instruction on this. I’m looking forward to it! Who knows I may discover a hidden talent. Stranger things have been known to happen. Or maybe when I sit down to spin I’ll have a flashback to a past lifetime and it’ll all come rushing back to me. My grandmothers both spun wool, as I’m sure many others did. It was a way of life back then. I’ve always said that history is made up of ordinary people simply living their lives the best way they could, doing the things that were before them to do, and yet when we look back we’re totally amazed at some of the feats they preformed.

While we speak about the past as simpler times there was certainly nothing simple or easy about the work our ancestors did. I marvel at how industrious people were one hundred or even fifty years ago and how we take so much in our lives for granted these days. We run to the store for most all our needs or else order it online from the comforts of our homes. What could be simpler? I’ve always felt a connection to the past from the time I was quite young. I suppose that plays a role in my writing life. When I sit down to write a story it almost always seems to end up being set in the past. It’s as if I can’t stop myself. I remember when it dawned on me that Bitter, Sweet was considered historical fiction—actually not until I saw it in the historical section in a book store. For some silly reason 1949 didn’t seem that long ago to me.

As for book news, the edits for the new anthology being put together by Vernon Oickle is moving along. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, actually. The piece I’ve submitted was previously published in The Antigonish Review quite near the beginning of my writing career. I’m looking forward to the book’s release. The works of a lot of talented writers is included in the anthology. And now for the really exciting news, the Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) have arrived at the publishers! I’m hopeful that a copy will arrive for me in the mail one day soon. While it’s not the final version (I’ll have the chance to make some subtle changes to the text) it’s still pretty cool. I haven’t done a cover reveal on my blog yet as there could still be some changes there as well. So I’ll wait until I receive the “official” cover—front and back. Should be soon since the release date is April 30th. That’s coming up quickly. When I look at the calendar I can scarcely believe that we’re so far into January. We’re half-way through winter on February 2nd—or Candlemas Day for anyone with a mind for these things. Before you know it April 30th will be hear and Cammie Takes Flight will finally be released into the world. What could be more exciting?

What has your winter been like so far? Are there any new happenings on the horizon for you?

Interview with Marsha Skrypuch

Today, it is my pleasure to welcome author, Marsha Skrypuch to my blog.

silver2Marsha Skrypuch (pronounced SKRIPP-ick) prides herself on being the only children’s author in Canada who is a dyslexic princess, and has received death threats and hate mail. Marsha writes about those bits of history that have been shoved under the carpet. Her specialty is writing about how children are affected by war. Her settings have included World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Armenian Genocide, and the Ukrainian Famine (Holodomor).

Marsha’s latest book, Dance of the Banished is being launched Friday, August 22nd.

Based on true events, a compelling story of love and hope published on the 100th anniversary of World War I.

downloadAli and his fiancée Zeynep dream about leaving their home in Anatolia and building a new life together in Canada. But their homeland is controlled by the Turkish government, which is on the brink of war with Britain and Russia. And although Ali finds passage to Canada to work, he is forced to leave Zeynep behind until he can earn enough to bring her out to join him.
When the First World War breaks out and Canada joins Britain, Ali is declared an enemy alien. Unable to convince his captors that he is a refugee from an oppressive regime, he is thrown in an internment camp where he must count himself lucky to have a roof over his head and food to eat.
Meanwhile, Zeynep is a horrified witness to the suffering of her Christian Armenian neighbours under the Young Turk revolutionary forces. Caught in a country that is destroying its own people, she is determined to save a precious few. But if her plan succeeds, will Zeynep still find a way to cross the ocean to search out Ali? And if she does, will he still be waiting for her?

1.Your latest book, Dance of the Banished, is being launched on August 22nd. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this book came from? <

Dance of the Banished was a novel that I was destined to write because so many themes I’ve written about in the past became inextricably twined in this one.

A few years ago, two local historians approached me with a set of newspaper clippings from 100 years ago. The old articles related an incident in my hometown of Brantford Ontario about 100 foreign workers who were rounded up in the middle of the night on suspicion that all hundred of them had tried to blow up the local post office together in an act of treason. The context: World War I had just been declared. These men had come from Ottoman Turkey. They were ultimately interned as “enemy aliens” in Kapuskasing, Ontario.

I have written three YA novels set in Turkey during World War I: The Hunger/Nobody’s Child/Daughter of War. These three novels are about teen survivors of the Armenian Genocide, which took place in Ottoman Turkey during WWI.

I’ve also written two children’s chapter books about Armenian orphans who were rescued by Canada just after WWI: Aram’s Choice/Call Me Aram, (illustrated by Muriel Wood)
Additionally, I had written two books set during Canada’s WWI internment operations: Silver Threads, a picture book illustrated by Michael Martchenko, plus a Dear Canada diary novel called, Prisoners in the Promised Land: The World War I Ukrainian Internment Diary of Anya Soloniuk.

And my own grandfather had been interned in WWI.

So …. SEVEN books written about this era plus a family connection, yet here was an entirely new take on a story I thought I had already told.

Doing the research for Dance of the Banished was like peeling layers off of a long hidden secret. Ali, the Brantford man who was interned, and Zeynep, the fiance he left behind, were not Armenian, and they were not Turkish. Sorting out and piecing together just exactly who they were and what happened to them in WWI was like detective work. The novel is fiction, but based on facts. Their intertwining tales of heroism, compassion and love became all consuming for me.

2.Many of your books are written around the theme of war. Is there a particular reason for this or is it because you find the subject of war interesting?

The best known war stories are those told by the victors and I have no interest in retelling these, but I am intensely interested in the untold stories. Imagine yourself plunged in war, trying to stay alive from one minute to the next. What kind of person do you become? That’s a story worth writing.

3. Your bio mentions that you’ve received death threats and hate mail. Can you share any of the circumstances surrounding these threats and what your reaction was?

I wrote a picture book called Enough, illustrated by Michael Martchenko and published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside. That book came out in 2000, and it was this particular book that I got the most threats over.

Enough is a Grimm-like folk tale about a girl who saves her village from starvation by tricking the dictator into thinking the village is already dead. It is clear from the illustrations and historical note that the setting is the Holodomor in Soviet Ukraine. Holodomor means “death by starvation” and refers to the famine-genocide perpetrated by Stalin upon Ukrainians in 1932-33. Millions were killed, their bodies disposed of and ethnic Russians were moved into these villages, receiving the dead Ukrainians’ homes and land. Stalin was able to hide this crime for decades by bribing western journalists, including Walter Duranty, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing. George Bernard Shaw was another of his lying flunkies, which is why I’ll never go to a Shaw Festival performance in Niagara-On-The-Lake. But my story book didn’t touch on all that. It simply told a tale of one brave girl who stood up to an evil man.

Enough was the first commercially published story book to have been written about the Holodomor. When it came out fourteen years ago, there were still people around who considered Stalin to be some sort of saint, and in the year 2000, the Holodomor had not yet been recognized worldwide as an act of genocide. The post-Soviet propaganda of the time was that the Holodomor was a myth and anyone who claimed it happened was a Nazi.

The first bit of hate mail was actually signed. It came from a fellow writer whom I had considered a friend. She wrote that if Stalin had killed all of those millions of Ukrainians, they must have done something to deserve it. I shredded that letter and broke off contact with that person. A week or two later, another letter arrived. This one was quite different. There was a photo of a soldier shooting a child and block letters below calling me a Ukrainian Nazi pig. There were other incidents too: spray bombed swastikas, a phone call from a man who read my words back to me, then threatened to kill me, disturbing emails.

I called the police.

They took the threats seriously and collected the various letters as they came in (and were annoyed that I had shredded the first). For a time, I had to let the police know when I was going to be doing a public event. It was scary. The threats continued until 2006.

4. How many books have you written?Do you have a favourite and, if so, which one?

Dance of the Banished is my 19th book. Each is special in its own way. I’ll never write a book that I’m not passionate about.

5. Your books are both fiction and non-fiction. When you come up with an idea for a book how do you decide if it will be a fiction or non-fiction book?

All of my books are factually based and I am nit-pickily maniacal about accuracy. I was able to write Last Airlift and One Step At A Time as narrative non-fiction because Tuyet agreed to let me write very specifically about her and she was involved every step of the way. Many of the people are still alive and available for interview.

I prefer the historical fiction for stories that are older. For these stories I rely on journals, diaries, newspaper accounts and government documents, plus survivors when I can find them. The people whose story I’m telling aren’t all alive though and they can’t all give me permission. My WWI and WWII novels are factually accurate, but the characters are composites of real people. I place these composite characters into real scenes and circumstances and then recreate dialogue. From a reader’s point of view, there isn’t a huge difference between my narrative non-fiction and my historical fiction.

6. The list of awards and nominations for your books is very impressive. What do you consider your best literary accomplishment?

The Order of Princess Olha, which was bestowed upon me personally by President Yushchenko of Ukraine in 2008 for my writing about the Holodomor in my picture book, Enough. Do you remember Yushchenko and the Orange Revolution, the precursor to what’s happening now in Ukraine? Putin’s minions tried to poison him by putting polonium in his soup, but he miraculously survived. The polonium pockmarked his face like a moonscape. He was the first democratically elected president of Ukraine and was the first to publicly acknowledge the Holodomor.

7. Do you have a favourite character in, Dance of the Banished? If so, who is it and why?

Zeynep, Ali’s fiance. She is very stubborn: this is her gift and her curse. She intrigued me with every scene and I could hardly wait to see what she’d get up to next.

8. Why do you write for children? Do you ever see yourself writing for an adult audience?<

Lots of adults read my novels. I see the slotting of novels as middle grade/ YA / adult to be more of a marketing thing than a readership issue. To me, a YA designation means an intelligent well-researched novel that leaves out all the words people skip over.

9. Just as your books inspire other authors, what authors have inspired you to write?

I didn’t learn to read until I was nine, but once I learned, I was drawn to big fat books written by Dickens and Alcott, but also by the historical novels that were in the bookcase outside my bedroom door. In the wee hours of night when everyone else was asleep, I’d take my flashlight and grab one of these novels, and read it under the covers: Daphne DuMaurier, Irving Stone, Taylor Caldwell, Annemarie Selinko, Victoria Holt …

10.Is there anything about your new book, Dance of the Banished that you’d like to share with us?

I struggled for a couple of years about how to tackle this story. There is so much untold history and many complex issues. About two years ago, I had the first draft nearly written, but I ended up deleting it and starting from scratch because the voice seemed wrong. I had tried to use the same technique that worked so well in Daughter of War – a revolving set of intimate third person narratives. A few months after that, I had a long chat with my editor Ann Featherstone about my problem with the voice. She suggested I write dual first person narratives. As soon as she suggested it, I knew that was the solution. Ali and Zeynep have utterly different experiences during the war and their voices are each very distinct. Once I was able to step into Ali’s shoes, and then Zeynep’s, the story practically wrote itself. I also found that by using these intertwining first person voices, the complexities of the story and history fell in place, clarifying but not overpowering the essential love story.

11.Are you working on a book now and can you share any of the particulars with us?

I have three books down the pipeline at the moment, and all happen to be narrative non-fiction. One is about a Ukrainian girl in WWII whose mother is executed for hiding Jews. Another is a picture book about a Vietnamese boy who escapes by boat with his family. Another is about a Vietnamese boy who stays in Saigon after it falls to the North, but escapes some years later in the most amazing way.

Thank you, Marsha, for sharing a bit about your writing life with us. I’ve been a fan of your work for some time now. It was a trill for me to do this interview with you. I wish you all the best with your new book.

To find out more about Marsha and her books check out her site here. For writers out there Marsha has included tips for writers on her site and you’ll find a lot of valuable information. Dance of the Banished is available at Amazon, Chapters and Independent Book Stores across Canada.

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