Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ghostly Autumn

There is something about late autumn that cries out for the telling of ghost stories. Is it because we’re surrounded by summer’s decay as flowers shrivel and desiccated leaves are chased by biting breezes? Is it the withering daylight and deep, dark nights? Is it the skeletal trees that reach bony fingers toward the lowering sky or claw on windowpanes? (The spectral Catherine Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights comes to mind.) Is it the superstition that spirits wander the earth on Halloween night when the veil between the living and dead becomes gossamer thin? Whatever it is that conjures up some atavistic fears at this season, it’s spine-tingling fun.

One of our favourite family stories that perfectly evokes this autumnal eeriness is called The Ghost-Eye Tree by Bill Martin Jr. We had a "ghost-eye tree" in a riverside park close to our previous home, and always felt the story’s thrill as we passed it. Interesting how that became part of our family lexicon.

For adult books, I prefer creepy rather than gory (which I refuse to read or watch), and find that the most chilling tales are the subtle ones. Stephen King can make a hedge or a fire hose seem like the most malevolent danger, as he did in The Shining. (I remember that from 30+ years ago!) But I think that the scariest book I ever read was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. It’s haunted me for way too many years. What a great writer she was!

To celebrate this spooky season, ghosts and skeletons have already invaded our house, and a grimacing jack-o-lantern is soon to join them. On Halloween night we’ll don our witches’ hats and demons’ cloaks so that we can’t be singled out from the real ones that may be about - and to scare the little goblins who dare to come to our door for treats. Candles will flicker… medieval chants will echo… Imaginations will delight…. Bwahahaaaaaaa.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Changing history

Although having real people mingle with my characters adds even greater realism to my historical novels, there is always some trepidation that I’m altering history somewhat. For example, one of my main Canadian characters in Elusive Dawn is an aviator in WWI, and becomes the top British Ace when Albert Ball dies. The problem is that the person who succeeded Ball was Canadian Billy Bishop. History is “changed” by the fact that for a few weeks at least, my character has claimed Billy’s rightful title.

What a relief then to have Billy Bishop’s son, Arthur, recently tell me that he really enjoyed both my “Muskoka Novels”, and found them not only suspenseful and well written, but also historically accurate. He said that the amazing amount of research evident in the books provides an excellent educational background on the Great War and on aviation. Coming from a WWII pilot, who is himself a respected author - not only of his father’s compelling biography, but also on aviation and other military topics - this is indeed exciting.

Also reassuring is the fact that, since Billy actually interacts (briefly) with my characters in Elusive Dawn, I did justice to him in my portrayal, based upon Arthur’s book as well as Billy’s own account written during the war, and other sources.

Speaking with Arthur, I was also intrigued to feel at just one small remove from the legendary Billy Bishop, VC, about whom there has been much controversy, but who was unquestionably an heroic young man.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cliveden and the Astors

I receive a monthly e-newsletter from Cliveden in Berkshire England - “one of the world’s finest luxury hotels” - not because I can ever afford to stay there, but because I used this grand country house in my latest novels. Under the ownership of Waldorf and Nancy Astor, Cliveden became the centre of social and political life between the wars, with many illustrious guests from royalty to George Bernard Shaw, Churchill, and Charlie Chaplin.

During WWI, the Astors offered their indoor tennis court and bowling alley to the Canadians, which became the core of the Duchess of Connaught’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital. Nancy Astor (who didn't become Lady Astor until 1919) was renowned for visiting the men and cajoling them into getting well. A Canadian hospital was once again built in the grounds during WWII, and remained a hospital until the 1980s.

One of the Canadian doctors who worked there during the Second World War talks in his memoirs about Nancy’s generous nature, friendliness, and determination to help. He and other staff were often invited to dine with the Astors, who were teetotal. However, the butler would discreetly ask the guests if they would care for more sustaining refreshment, and pour them glasses of whiskey.

Some of my characters dine with the Astors in Elusive Dawn, while others work at the hospital or are patients. One day I should like to dine at Cliveden as well!

Monday, October 12, 2009


Canadian Thanksgiving falls at the most colourful time of the year, with trees glowing like balls of sunshine or blazing scarlet, the meadows punctuated by purple and yellow wildflowers and sun bronzed stalks.

This long holiday weekend is also the traditional time to “close” the seasonal cottages that aren’t insulated or accessible in winter. This ritual can involve, among other things, draining the water system, putting up shutters, and pulling out docks that are threatened by winter ice. Cottage Life Magazine claims that 60% of Ontario’s 220,000 waterfront vacation homes are now used year-round, so Thanksgiving is no longer the end of the cottaging season for many. There are, however, still resorts that close after this weekend, to be opened again in late May.

Sad to think that it will be seven long winter months before we can re-open the cottage in anticipation of summer.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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Goodreads Ratings

Gabriele Wills's books on Goodreads
The Summer Before The StormThe Summer Before The Storm
reviews: 2
ratings: 8 (avg rating 4.50)

ratings: 4 (avg rating 5.00)

ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.50)

A Place to Call HomeA Place to Call Home
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.00)