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Canada’s history is vast and extensive. History books tackle the events that have changed the courses history, but in Nelson novelist Anne DeGrace’s latest offering Flying with Amelia, Canada’s history is interwoven with the human experience to tell a tale that spans a century.
“The book is part inter-generational tale, part six degrees of separation in that wonderful serendipitous way that we find ourselves saying ‘small world’ when we find ourselves knowing somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody,” says DeGrace.
Flying with Amelia tells the story of two families who emigrate from Ireland during the Great Famine. As time passes the families scatter across the country.
“That’s the connective tissue for the stories, which make up the 10 chapters in the book. Each one takes place in a different decade of Canadian history,” says DeGrace. “They have a historical backdrop but the stories are very much human tales about regular people for whom the events of history influence their lives. I love history and I love being able to marry the common place with those kinds of sweeping changes and events that happen.”
DeGrace began writing Flying with Amelia when she entered the Nelson and District Art Council’s 24 hour literary competition.
“Originally it was a book of short stories. It changed into something with more length,” she says. “The first one was the 1970 FLQ story about the 10-year-old protagonist. In that particular story there is a parallel between the FLQ terrorist crisis and bullying, so those are the two things that are kind of going on there.”
A few years later, DeGrace participated in the competition again where she wrote what became another chapter for the novel.
“In that competition I wrote the story that takes place in 1934 and that’s the title story of the book. That’s where the title Flying with Amelia comes from,” she says. “It’s a correspondence between a young woman working for a newspaper in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia who’s corresponding with an out of work school teacher on the prairies in the Great Depression, when Amelia Earhart was doing her flight. I won that competition as well.”
Even though DeGrace hasn’t visited all the cities that the stories take place in, she was able to draw on personal experiences for a couple chapters.
“For the chapter that takes place in Ottawa during the FLQ crisis in 197o. I was actually there for that and my protagonist is a 10-year-old girl. I wouldn’t call it autobiographical, but there is certainly a lot of my own experience in that one,” says DeGrace.
Another chapter brings readers a little closer to home telling the story of Doukhobors in New Denver during the 1950s.
Telling a story that travels across time and geography requires a lot of research and DeGrace drew from the internet, interlibrary loans and a host of experts.
“What happens for me is I become a mini expert in something for a defined period of time and then I move on. Often I forget a lot of what I’ve learned but its there in the story. The research behind whatever the story is solid,” she says.
“My acknowledgments in the back of the book are full of people who helped me like biologists from the Yukon, the Doukhobor people that were willing to read that particular chapter. I had people that knew the geography of Montreal better than I do go over that and who know French better than I do make sure my French was correct.”
Flying for Amelia is the fourth novel by DeGrace.
The launch for the book will take place on October 7 at the Nelson Public Library starting at 7:30 p.m.