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The Mothers of Stonehouse Publishing
“The tenacity and independence of the female characters in my work is directly influenced by the women in my life, especially my mother and grandmother.” — Erin Emily Ann Vance, author of ‘Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers’
Stonehouse Publishing, a small press specializing in historical and literary fiction, always has something interesting brewing on their social media channels. If you’re interested in book trailers, blind book dates, beautiful book packages, or interesting content, we recommend following them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
Leading up to Mother’s Day, Stonehouse Publishing’s authors have been celebrating their mothers on social media. We’ve compiled their stories of the ways their mothers have influenced and inspired their lives and work, here.
I wish I had a picture of my mother absorbed in a book, as she often was. The next best thing is to show Hetty’s picture along with the set of books she brought with her from England when she immigrated in 1954. They’re sitting on one of the many sweaters she knitted for me over the years, and which I still cherish. When I think of creativity, I think of Hetty knitting, the state of concentration that was palpable around her. She was the most creative person I’ve ever met, from painting, to writing, to cooking, to singing—she did all these things and more, always with a special twist. Ordinary was never enough.
My mother didn’t live to see me publish a book, but she’s there in every word, in my very way of working. When I think of the word ‘iconoclast’, I think of her. She took nothing at face value, and she had a way of getting something between her teeth and not letting it go. Fierce dissatisfaction, determination: these qualities are exactly what it took to write a novel. Rebecca, the protagonist of The Work, is a lot like my mother, who worked behind the scenes in the arts, nurturing the talents of others for her whole career. When The Work was published, a couple of readers pointed out that all the main characters’ mothers are present in the book, and keep reappearing all the way through. I didn’t set out to do that, but I’m glad I did. The older I get, the more I realize that our mothers are with us all our lives, even when it becomes time to carry on without them.
Maria Meindl is the author of The Work, a novel set in 1980’s Toronto that follows an aspiring stage-manager who falls for a married director with the status of a Guru in his theatre company. But is he pushing people’s limits or abusing his power? Is ‘The Work’ a cutting-edge artistic practice, a road to personal healing, or a cult?
Florence Southam in my historical novel Few and Far has a selfish and indolent mother. My parents, however, worked very hard, raised seven children on a Saskatchewan farm, and would not have hired nannies, hired men, or housemaids even if they had had the money. They also introduced us to Cannington Manor. Little of the village remained even then, but the story of a group of aristocrats trying to transplant English country life onto the Saskatchewan prairies captured our imaginations. I knew even then that someday I would try to recreate that setting.
Whenever I think of my mother, Joyce Kydd, I also think of the values she taught. In my novel, both the real pioneers and the characters I invented make mistakes, but the best of them still live the values of hard work, kindness, loyalty, self-respect and personal responsibility.
Though she was a country school teacher, my mother’s influence goes beyond the lessons she taught. At 94, she still leads by example. She keeps plants and gardens, plays the piano, quilts, does needlepoint (sometimes sketching her own diagrams) and writes letters. A widow for over 25 years, her response to the pandemic is to keep busy. Like her, the women of Cannington Manor knew about isolation and the need to persevere.
In Allison Kydd’s Few and Far, Florence Southam, jilted by her near-beau in England, travels to the exotic new world of the Saskatchewan prairies, both to attend the wedding of her closest friend and to recover from her recent disappointment. Through Florence’s eyes, the reader encounters a Victorian settlement attempting to mimic society life in England. Cannington is home to a medley of Canadians, British expatriates and would-be aristocrats. Despite outward appearances, Florence soon discovers that in Cannington, social niceties quickly give way to the practicalities of survival, and her own unquestioned beliefs are suddenly thrown into doubt by new possibilities of selfhood, and the potential of finding love outside the conventional social norms of her upbringing.
My grandma, Olga, was an ever present inspiration in my life. She loved my older sister and I unconditionally and showered us with stories of the Old Country and tales of those left behind. The strength of my grandmother and her ability to face incredible hardships inspired me as I was writing. In my novel, Kalyna, these stories were channeled through my strong and courageous character, Katja, who single handedly manages the homestead and raises her children when her husband is interned during World War I. My grandma’s early life was about survival and she displayed fierce determination and made sacrifices with great humility and love for her family. For her 75th birthday, we gifted her a gold necklace with her birthstone, a ruby. It was her first necklace and at first she wouldn’t wear it for fear of losing it. Now, it holds a cherished place in my life and I, too, fear losing it.
In Pam Clark’s Kalyna, Katja and Wasyl are swept up in a whirlwind courtship and begin life anew in a Ukrainian settlement of Western Canada. The dusty Canadian prairies promise hope and independence, but when war breaks out between the old world and the new, their newfound stability is shattered. Rumours of the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians haunt the new settlers. Would the country they love betray them like this?
Whenever we write, we bring bits and pieces of our own lives into the characters. This is as true for my Waterton series—Edge of Wild, The Dark Divide, and Fall of Night—as my other stories. With Mother’s Day approaching, my own mother is at the forefront of my mind. She is the template of Louise’s mother and though she only appears in flashbacks, Yuki’s strength of character is the foundation to many of the series’ pivotal moments. In the last years, I’ve seen my mother endure and rise above many hardships, much as Yuki does. Both as herself—and as characterized in the books—she has shown me the way through some of the most difficult moments in life… but she’s also one of the biggest supporters of my writing. She’s always there, enthusiastically cheering me on at all my events. On this Mother’s Day, I’m so grateful for her.
D.K. Stone is the author of a series of thrillers that centre around Rich Evans, a transplant from New York City in the the tiny mountain town of Waterton, AB.
Robin van Eck
Even though Rough is more of a father/daughter story, the mother relationship is not far removed.
Kendra loses her own mother at a relatively young age, a young boy and his mother survive on the streets until the flood comes and they are torn apart.
I think it’s important to remember that mothers are beautiful, imperfect people, like everyone else; they make difficult choices based on their own set of circumstances. Some relationships are bumpy and full of holes, but when it comes down to it, a mother will do almost anything for her children.
My mom has been an enthusiastic supporter of my writing for a long time. She has pushed both when I needed it and when I didn’t really want it. My creativity has come from her, my enthusiasm for life, my worry, my incessant need to question everything, but mostly, my ability to see both sides of any situation and to be empathetic.
And it turns out, she’s a pretty good editor, too.
It is 2013 and Calgary’s Bow River is beginning to rise in Robyn van Eck’s novel, Rough. Two homeless men stand by the bank and contemplate the death of another friend—an accident? Taking cover downtown that night, Shermeto intervenes in the attack on a bar patron, and finds himself laid up in the hospital. Outside, as the city reels from an unthinkable disaster, Shermeto finds himself away from the swelling river and face-to-face with a part of the past he is trying to hide from: his daughter Kendra.
Erika Behrisch Elce
Lady Franklin and my mom are two of the women I admire most. Like Lady Franklin, my mom is a fierce advocate for people she loves, and she wades into the unknown with hardly a backwards glance. When I was a kid, we had glorious adventures, both around the world and in our own backyard. She taught me how to stand up for myself and others, to put my curiosity to good use, and showed me that the world beyond my own horizon was well worth discovering. She is my favourite “lady adventuress”!
Erika Behrisch Elce’s novel, Lady Franklin of Russell Square is set in spring, 1847. Lady Franklin is back in London expecting to greet her hero husband, polar explorer Sir John Franklin, upon his triumphant return from the Northwest Passage. As weeks turn to months, she develops an unconventional friendship with Russell Square’s gardener even as she reluctantly grows into her public role as Franklin’s steadfast wife, the “Penelope of England.” In this novel that imagines a rich interior life of one of Victorian England’s most intriguing women, the boundaries of friendship, propriety, and love are sure to collide.
Anna Marie Sewell
Human(e) owes its existence to many; my mother is chief among them, for the strength at the core of all the characters is her strength. Daughter of Polish immigrants, my mom openly and proudly married an Ojibway/Mi’gmaq man in 1958, and taught her kids that the only shame in being ‘halfbreeds’ belonged to those who would attempt to treat us as less-than. I’ve seen my fierce little mom face down bullies of various ilk, bear the most agonizing of losses—a husband and 2 children— with dignity, and face the many challenges of her life unflinching. That is the power I tried to write into Hazel’s family, though the character most like Mom is patient Sandra, in the garden quietly witnessing how life bends to the hand of God. My mom passed away May 5th, 2017, and her funeral was Mother’s Day weekend. This Mother’s Day will mark the 4th without Mom. I miss her, and still catch myself wanting to phone and gossip—but she trusted in God, and died in the Faith in which she lived, so, now that her soul is with God, I hope she’s dancing.
In Anna Marie Sewell’s novel, Human(e), Hazel Lesage steals a dog from a shelter after receiving a dream message from their grandmother. She never expected to do something like that. Then again, she didn’t plan on becoming an unlicensed PI, helping the ‘throwaway people.’ However much has changed in Amiskwaciy, the problem of poor Indigenous women and girls being expendable hasn’t. Nobody else is going to help the Augusts find out who killed their daughter Nell; so Hazel takes the case. And then she takes the dog.
My mother didn’t know she was a writer, but when I was I child she made regular pilgrimages to her typewriter to craft letters full of stories and metaphor and bon mots to friends and family an ocean away. And sometimes she took out her pen to write more intimate communications to a close friend or to one of her six sisters. There was no point in trying to get her attention during these extended visits with her readers. The children could wait, dinner could wait, and certainly, dishes could wait. Her letters enjoyed pride of place in our household. I was not very old before I recognized this. Being able to write was a lofty ambition. Perhaps that is why, when I was seven and a half years old, getting a pen and pencil set for Christmas was far better than getting one of the dollies my sisters unwrapped that year.
Since this is Mother’s Day, it should be known that, despite her benign neglect of us children when the urgency of words possessed her, my mother was, in fact, a very good mother.
Something Unremembered is a novel by Della Dennis. One would hardly think an outlying college town on the prairies would be the place a woman from the 15th century would choose to reveal her story, but when Janine begins to discover the story of Madeleine of Beauvais interpolated in the pages of her beloved books about the history of art and culture, an enigmatic presence begins to form. Mystified by references to Madeleine which seem to appear in her books only to disappear again, and unhappy with her own restless ever-aftering, Janine becomes preoccupied with uncovering the secrets of Madeleine’s life.
My Mom has supported my love of reading and writing from the beginning (here we are pictured, perhaps negotiating fruit for completed sentences). I have her to thank for the many wonderful experiences and opportunities I’ve had in my life; our shared fierce and furrowed Mediterranean brow; animated arm-waving when we tell a story; a love of reading, education, and travel—broadening one’s perspective and horizons—and always, good conversation accompanied by good food.
In All the Night Gone, the main characters are processing and grappling with loss of their mothers; yearning for the stability of family—care without obligation. The book explores how we can still build family; that we can bring that kind of love into friendships and into community, and persevere.
Sabrina Uswak’s All the Night Gone follows two brothers who, after tragic accident, are left to cope. Ben reads, obsesses. Charlie struggles between silence and anger. Unable to talk about what happened, a tension begins to build, pushing them apart. Then Dill arrives. Carrying only a baseball bat and small duffel bag with a broken zipper, she glides into their lives imperceptibly, raising more questions than answers. They start to become a kind of family. Almost. When she suddenly disappears, what else can Ben and Charlie do but get into their dusty truck and go search for her?
This is Mom sitting outside her assisted living complex last summer. She’s holding up a tee shirt I bought her from which the monies collected went to help those affected by the pandemic in Saskatoon. She has read The Wheaton and hopes to still be around to read my next book, A Snake in the Raspberry Patch, which will be launched in May of 2022.
Joanne Jackson’s The Wheaton explores life in an assisted living complex with wonderfully robust characters. A year after the early death of his wife, John Davies comes hesitantly out of retirement to take a job at The Wheaton, a senior’s residence. Having resisted ‘getting involved’ for his entire life, John is immediately out of his comfort zone. The Wheaton is a boundary-free environment, and he is immersed in the kinds of sticky matters he usually does his best to avoid. Surrounded by mortality and the ghosts of regret haunting many of the residents, John begins to do the unthinkable: relate to his fellow creatures and reconsider his past. After a life of being a selfish husband and a distracted absentee father, is it too late to try to make amends?
The first time I read Jesus on The Dashboard in public, I was asked how my father was doing. He was fine! Unlike my character Gemma, my mother was around, living happily with my father and very much a part of my life. I couldn’t ask for a more loving, more available mother. Luckily for protagonist Gemma, though motherless much of her life, she was surrounded by women who nurtured and loved her for a summer, who gave her the love and guidance she craved. Her mother’s cousin, Rachel, had a lot in common with my own mom, including creating meals as an expression and extension of her love. There’s a scene where Rachel encourages Gemma to eat a perogy. This was my mother’s signature dish and ironically her last meal. My own mother died during Covid this year and I will face my first Mother’s Day without her. But I have elements of my mother in Jesus on the Dashboard. And perogies. I will always have perogies.
Teenage years can be complicated, even when you haven’t been abandoned by your mother at age ten. In Lisa Murphy-Lamb’s novel, Jesus on the Dashboard, it is the 1980s and teenage Gemma lives with her well-meaning father, Nathaniel, and tries to come to terms with growing up motherless. Then comes the strange, almost unthinkable news: Angie is back, attending church in a nearby town, and she has adopted a Korean infant. Gemma finds herself facing the prospect of maybe, just maybe, seeing a mother she is pretty sure she hates.
Erin Emily Ann Vance
My novel centres around a family that is very different from my own. Growing up in a small town, the Morris’ experiences as children reflect that of my brother and I, and their quirky, complicated, but ultimately loving family, is an homage to my own. While nothing is explicitly linked to my family, the tenacity and independence of the female characters in my work is directly influenced by the women in my life, especially my mother and grandmother.
Not many people get the opportunity to live in a three generational, matriarchal household, so I never pass up an opportunity to acknowledge how growing up in the same home as my mother and my grandmother has influenced my life.
I grew up in a family of readers and was read to every night as a child, so a love of literature was instilled from the earliest possible stages of my life. Both my mother and grandmother read everything from Jane Austen to Rohinton Mistry, and they encouraged my exploration of genre, as well as never policing my reading and supplying me with as many books as possible! Some of my favourite moments as a child/teen involved coming home from school to find a giant shopping bag full of books on my bed. The local thrift store would have sales where you could buy a bag of books for a dollar and my mother never passed those up (and now, neither do I!) My grandmother to this day passes on books she’s enjoyed to me, and often the three of us would read the same books—we have all collectively devoured everything Miriam Toews has ever written!
My grandmother immigrated to Canada from England in the 1960s and most of her family is still in the UK. When travelling, my mother and grandmother ALWAYS made a point to visit literary locations: Jane Austen’s Bath, the set of Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightly version), Shakespeare’s Globe, The Elephant House where the first drafts of Harry Potter were conceptualized, Chatsworth House, the inspiration for Pemberley, and more. I particularly cherish a trip that the three of us took to England and Scotland when I was 14; even though we’d been to the Globe Theatre several times, my mom and Nan were more than happy to let me wander around it in awe. And of course, they’ve never said no to wandering into a bookstore.
From reading early drafts, to teaching me cursive, to buying countless notebooks and fancy pens, to sending me to every writing class and workshop they could find, my mother and grandmother are inexhaustible sources of strength for me as a writer. They are both fiercely independent and creative. They are makers and creators and storytellers. They are fun-loving, gin-drinking, PBS Masterpiece-binging wonders.
I am lucky to have a close relationship with both my mother and my grandmother. As I get older our relationship changes, and allows me to see different sides of them as well as our family. They have been excellent teachers in the complexities and joys of womanhood; the nuances of motherhood, and the importance of curiosity, creativity, and collaboration. I work alongside my mother at her business, Olive and Finch, and see her as a mother, collaborator, mentor, friend, and inspiration. My grandmother is the strongest person I know, and she teaches me everything from grammar to how to propagate cactuses and make elegant finger sandwiches. They have never pressured me into stereotypically feminine things, into a particular career path, into marriage, or having children. Their expectations have only ever been that I try my hardest to write, be happy, and be kind to others. Perhaps, that is the most important gift they could ever have given me.
I celebrate them with my writing and my love every day, but especially on Mother’s Day. I love you, mom and Nannie. From a colicky baby who cried for six months straight, to a surly teenager with too much black eyeliner and terrible taste in music, to an MA student crying on the floor from thesis stress—you love me and all of my quirks and moods unconditionally. You are two of my best friends and closest confidantes, and I know you will always be honest evaluators of shitty first drafts.
In Erin Emily Ann Vance’s novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers, the sudden death of Margot Morris and her two young daughters in a house fire sends shock-waves through a small rural community. The Morrises are a close-knit family, long associated with the mysterious arts of taxidermy and bee-keeping. Margot’s three surviving siblings, Teddy, Agatha, and Sylvia are left to wonder if Margot’s death was an accident or murder, while the town is enveloped by speculation about this eccentric family whose close bonds are now being tested by tragedy.
Thank you to all the Stonehouse authors who wrote about their mothers (and grandmothers).