The Nicholson stash of letters and documents from the 1910 era.
OK. So what's the date? October 6, 2010. One day after the 25th anniversary of the birth of my first son. (And coming up to my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on December 18. I'm the one in the marriage who always forgets the anniversary. I often see a giant bouquet of flowers making its way up the driveway on that date(carried by a delivery person hidden behind) and think "What the hell is that for?" Then I open the card, still wondering. And it says, Love Blair. My husband. And I am kind of disappointed. Go figure.
I published my first article in the Montreal Gazette a few days after my son's birth. It was about an incident in the hospital, where I shared a room with a 14 year old mother who didn't get one visitor in the entire week I was there. (Imagine, you stayed a week after giving birth in those days.)
It was good. I wrote a lot of OP Ed page stuff back then, much of it pretty sanctimonious in the style of Reverend Pedley of the Emmanuel Church back in 1910.
Anyway, so, now, 25 years (and quite a few newspaper and magazine articles later)I think I am ready to get to work on my first novel.
Back in February, I started writing Flo in the City, right here on this blog and then the blog became more about research.
I had already spent 5 years working on the Nicholson Letters (mounting a website, http://www.tighsolas.ca/) but I STILL had more to research. Luckily, in the time since I first discovered the letters, much more era material has become available online. (I don't have the luxury of hiring researchers.) Archive.org has been a terrific source. I found the Eaton's Catalogues there and so much other great stuff. and then the Gazette archives came online.
I may add a blog or two of background (one on tenements in 1910 Montreal, windowless rooms and on the homeless situation and one on The West using a Magazine that was published by the Western Provinces Immigration People) but that's all. (I'm too tired to do it today. I was wakened at 5 am by sounds in the kitchen a la Sixth Sense. It had nothing to do with a Sixth Sense, more a third or fourth sense. My cat had dragged the toaster across the counter in pursuit of a mouse that had been in pursuit of a few toasted bread crumbs. So then I had to clean the kitchen with chlorine. If life were like a cartoon poor old Fou Fou, the fat and the fluffy, would have got electrocuted and I would have found his giant orange body, fur all puffed up and singed black at the ends, his emerald eyeballs Xed out and dangling of the sockets like two slinkies, stuck to the kitchen ceiling. And the mouse giggling in the corner. But instead I found him quite intact, greedily devouring said mouse in the middle of the living room. EEK! The underdog doesn't usually win in real life.)
And so it goes with the Nicholsons: despite deserving it, despite doing everything right, their ship never did come in. (I actually have a 1914 letter with Flora asking, "When will our ship come in?" (Never, Flora. Never.) I can end my Flo in the City novel with Marion's marriage in 1913, but that is not necessarily a 'happy ending', although it allows for my husband to be born in 1956. Besides, Marion's marriage happened in the shadow of the Great War.
But how shall I proceed? I think I have to re-read all the essays on this blog... and then re-read the letters and then write a few key scenes, like the Dominion Park one with Marion in 1909. And one where Flora takes on J.W. Robertson at Macdonald Teachers' College in 1911. And one where Edith listens to Mrs. Snowdon at the Montreal Council of Women meeting in May 1913, just after Marion has announced her engagement. Or maybe I'll start the book with a scene in Tighsolas in 1908, with a cat catching a mouse under the woodstove, and Flora wondering why the cat, who she has been feeding on the sly, against her mother's wishes, still felt compelled to kill the mouse...
Yes, I think I will proceed by writing key scenes (scenes that bring together the Nicholson Story and the Story of 1910 Canada) and then fill in the gaps.
I will make one more visit to the Richmond County Historical Society (and Esther Healey) to peruse Richmond Time Guardians of 1908-1913 for detail for the book.
You know, a few blogs ago I wrote about Victoria Lywood, forensic artist, who creates faces from skulls or verbal descriptions and who just re-created Group of Seven artist Tom Thomson's face from a remnant to help solve the mystery of his death for a book called Northern Light by Roy Macgegor. Well, I am doing much the same here, I am fleshing out family letters from 1910... and it has taken almost 7 years to put a proper face on them, with character lines and eyelashes and even (dare I admit it) imperfections in the irises. (Is that how one spells the word iris.. looks like a flower.)