In Lynne Golding's The Innocent (Blue Moon Publishers), there's a secret in Jessie's family. For some reason, unlike all their neighbours in turn of the century Brampton, her father won't allow anyone in their family to enter the local Presbyterian church.
Despite being warned off, Jessie is determined to get answers. She knows her grandfather built the church, so why can't her family go inside? As the years go by, Jessie slowly pieces together the history of not only her family, but then-small Ontario town they live in.
We're pleased to welcome Lynne to Open Book today to talk about The Innocent, which is the first book in her "Beneath the Alders" series, as part of our newest interview series, the It's a Long Story novelist interview.
She tells us about the very moment that the idea for the book was first sparked, her real-life family connection to the story, and becoming best friends with her library's microfiche reader.
Do you remember how you first started this novel or the very first bit of writing you did for it?
I do! I was sitting in a reception area of a major Canadian bank, waiting to be admitted to attend a meeting with clients. The meeting was running behind. On the bank’s walls were some black-and-white photographs. They reminded me of pictures of my great-great-grandparents. The severe, unsmiling images of my sixty-year-old ancestors was seared in my memory. I wondered if I could describe them on paper in a way that would conjure their image for others. I took a crack at it. Then I wondered what they would have looked like forty years earlier, when they were younger and smiling. I described that contrasting look. Then I wondered what had made them happy at that time. When I was finally called into the client meeting, I was on my way to writing what would become the backstory to my Beneath the Alders series.
How did you choose the setting of your novel? What connection, if any, did you have to the setting when you began writing?
I didn’t really choose the setting of my series—it chose me. The Beneath the Alders series is based on stories told to me by my great-aunt. They describe her life and the life of the community in which she lived before, during, and after World War I. She lived in Brampton, so my story is based there. I am glad it is. I have lived in Brampton most of my life, as have generations of my family before me. I love writing about the streets I actually walk, the buildings I can still enter, the families after which the streets are named.
Did you find yourself having a "favourite" amongst your characters? If so, who was it and why?
I love so many of my characters. Certainly, I found writing about the protagonist the easiest. She is a bright, curious girl-turned-woman who generally gets along by going along. But as the book series advances and she matures, streaks of impetuousness, stubbornness, and ultimately, independence emerge.
I had the most fun writing about two other characters: Aunt Lil, who features in all three books, because she is just so zany. I had to think in reverse to write about her. What would a “normal” person do in that circumstance? How would one act in an opposite and yet still believable way?
In book three you will meet Henry, who is handsome, debonair, and totally outlandish. He too is somewhat unpredictable, but his antics almost always make you smile.
Did you do any specific research for this novel? Tell us a bit about that process.
I did a lot of research for this novel. The microfiche reader and I became extremely well acquainted. In addition to spending time in the local library and the archives, I had a number of reference books about life in the early twentieth century always at the ready. Then there was Google. I conducted so many searches for miscellaneous facts that an algorithm identified what I was doing. “Are you writing a book?” the pop-up ad of the self-publishing company asked. I was.
What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
One of the most memorable moments was my discovery that a mortal illness had struck the town in which my family lived. The Beneath the Alders series is a historical fiction. Many of the stories in it are fictitious. But it was important to me that the stories and statements that were supposed be true actually were. My aunt told me about a time when she was about seven years old and her family was quarantined for scarlet fever. It was a great story, and I wanted to include it in the book, but I could not find any evidence that the virus had actually struck Brampton at the relevant time. I told a friend about this. He had the Ontario Archives look into it. One day, I received an email confirming that while scarlet fever had been virulent in Ontario in the mid-1800s, there were occasional outbreaks of it in the twentieth century, including in Brampton in 1910. I was ecstatic!
Did you celebrate finishing your final draft or any other milestones during the writing process? If so, how?
I finished my book on a number of occasions (various drafts), and so there were a lot of celebrations. The completion I most remember was the time that I finally wrote “the end” at the conclusion of the final chapter. Only then did I add up how many words I had written. (I had written each chapter in a separate word document.) I realized then that I had written a 900-page book—what would become a trilogy. I went to my prearranged lunch in Bracebridge with my friend and author Cheryl Cooper. We had a great lunch, and she gave me some fabulous advice for next steps.
Who did you dedicate your novel to, and why?
I dedicated the novel to my great-aunt, Jessie Roberts, whose stories inspired the series. Jessie came of age at the end of World War I. The life that she was told that she would lead—the life she was told she had to lead—the one where she would marry and live a life like that of her mother— that life was not available to her or to her sister, or to her cousin or to many of her friends. There were simply not enough men of marriageable age. She became a researcher in biochemistry and then a professor at the University of Toronto. In World War II, she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. She ran the canteen at the force’s training grounds at the CNE. She led movements for labeling laws. In her eighties she took computer science courses at Glendon College. Her curiosity and interest in the world and those around her made her a favourite of people of all ages.
Lynne Golding was born and raised in Brampton, Ontario. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from Victoria College at the University of Toronto before studying law at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She is a senior partner at the international law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP where she leads their health law practice group. Lynne is married with three grown children, and currently lives in Brampton, Ontario. Winner of the OBPO’s “What’s Your Story Short Prose and Poetry Competition,” Lynne is preparing for the release of her debut novel, The Innocent.