Mad Donald MacKay

Mad Donald MacKay
Historical Novel by James Stevens (cover painting by Cree Stevens)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Below, Jim Stevens describes his book. He will be giving a presentation of this book and another of his bools, Wild on the Superior Frontier, A Romance of Settlers' Lives. Lake Superior, 1845 - 1900  at the Thunder Bay Museum, on Sunday, October 2, 2-4 pm.

On any fine day you can see the old brown tombstone on the graveyard knoll at the Kenzieville Cemetery in Pictou County, Nova Scotia.

Here,  lie the long forgotten remains of ‘Mad’ Donald MacKay the notorious  18thcentury fur trader. His one hundred and eighty year old grave  marker of faded  sandstone so coated with tenacious lichen and years of winter weathering that his name is only partly legible. On the bottom of the quarried stone, barely readable, is an inscription, “Behold all ye that do pass by, remember that you all must die.”

With the MacKay’s of Barneys River attending he was set there in an eternity box on a brilliant sunny June day in 1833. Some of his present ancestors say Donald was an angry man all his life.
‘Mad’ Donald, the fur trader and explorer lived eighty summers. Many would say that a man who had crossed the North Atlantic Ocean on sailing schooners nine times between 1773 and 1820 was just plain lucky. The number of times Donald MacKay faced death in the fur trade country in disputes with Indians and competing traders from the North West Company was allayed only by the ferocity of his passionate Highland temper.

 He would face every challenge, once threatening to fire his pistol into barrels of gunpowder to hold threatening Native trappers at bay. Starting his fur trade career with Gregory McLeod and Company in 1780, he would later become an independent trader then, labour for the North West Company before joining the Honourable Hudson Bay Company.

 ‘Mad’ Donald would spend 18 years exploring and trading in the American and British northwest. His travels with his country wife, the young Metis woman, Hannah Sutherland saw Donald range from the Mandan Country on the Missouri, west to Pine Island on the Saskatchewan River and north to the HBC coastal ports on Hudson Bay.

Dòmhnall MacAoidh, as known to his Gaelic tongued peers, was a rugged tough man. He was a sturdy  Gael . He once walked in the freeze of a snow-bound winter from Halifax to Montreal in 1788-89. It took 69 exhausting days on snowshoes to accomplish the task. In the annals’ of Hudson Bay Company fur traders, Highlander ‘Mad’ Mackay was aggressive, feared and despised by many in his own Honourable Company as well as voyageurs from Quebec. Mackay , a former soldier was ever ready with his sword and pistols to challenge danger or any affront to his Scottish sensibilities.

            In 1830, an elderly Donald MacKay calls his family and relatives together. He will tell his life story. His grandson Seumas Mackay is at this cèilidh. A heavy question rests on his mind. What happened to his half breed grandmother, Hannah MacKay?

Available at the Lake Superior Art Gallery in Victoriaville. Mad Donald MacKay is a handsome illustrated hardcover limited to 250 copies, a collector's book.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Library Book Bag - New Titles for your Book Club

Hello Joan, 
Please find below a list of new Book Club in a Bag titles that your club may be interested in reading:

The Nest by Cythia D'Aprix Sweeney
A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

The Widow by Fiona Barton donated by Text in the City Book Club
For fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, an electrifying thriller that will take you into the dark spaces that exist between a husband and a wife.

The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka donated by Text in the City Book ClubThe suspenseful, emotionally resonant, and utterly compelling story of what brings an enigmatic French woman to a small Canadian town in the 1930s, a woman who has found depths of strength in dark times and comes to discover sanctuary at last.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman donated by the Revolving Door Book ClubLocked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

If you are interested in reserving any of these great new titles for your club, please call or email me. Also, watch for more new titles coming this fall!

Helen Cimone
Public Services Assistant

Mary J.L. Black Library
901 Edward Street South, Thunder Bay, On P7E 6R2
TEL: (807)-345-8275
FAX: (807)-475-7855

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Makenzi Fisk Writes About her Book Signing

Chapter's Bookstore. Saturday, August 27th. 12-3pm

Hi Joan, I'll be promoting my mystery/thrillers, titled The Intuition Series: Just Intuition, Burning Intuition, and Fatal Intuition. 

Just Intuition - A small town cop and her city-raised girlfriend use police skills and a bit of intuition to unmask the culprit behind an escalating series of crimes.

Burning Intuition - A Minnesota police officer and her intuitive girlfriend pursue a killer north across the Canadian border. Together, they must combine their skills and risk all to bring the killer to justice.

Fatal Intuition - An FBI Trainee joins the task force to track a killer she knows all too well. A killer that leads a bloody trail right back to her home town, and to those she loves. To protect them, she'll need the help of her intuitive girlfriend, her friends and her family.

Author Bio:Makenzi Fisk's Intuition Series take readers to crime's gritty underbelly, northern-style, where few can tell the bad guys from the good ones, and a little bit of intuition always helps. 

Her first novel, Just Intuition, earned her the distinction of Golden Crown Literary Society Debut Author and all three books in the Intuition series have been named Mystery Thriller Finalists. Retired from urban policing, Makenzi currently lives in Calgary. She looks forward to her summers in the ruggedly beautiful Canadian Shield, the inspiration for her backwoods thrillers. 

Connect with Makenzi at

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Book Lover Goes Wild

At the South Gillies Community Book Swap, South Gillies Community Centre, (corner 595 and 608) last Saturday, I was able to pick up several books I had sometimes considered reading one day, the kind of books that are on the mental list or books by authors that I admire. The Swap people had set out two storeys of books. They organized them by category on flat tables, the easier to browse. And, the books are free. (donations welcome and you can donate your own books to the hoard.).

The Swap takes place the third Saturday of every month, with the exception of September, 2016.

Here is what I took.  And why. 

The Mission Song by John le Carre I enjoyed  my first  leCarre book, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and every one after that. So I grabbed this one, hoping I had not read it before, which can easily happen with thrillers.

Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge I first encountered this book, or rather an excerpt, in my Grade Eight reader. I tried to read it several times but I could not understand it perhaps because it was published in 1865. Or maybe because no silver skates appeared. At twelve years old, I found it an incomprehensible mess. Timing is everything, and now, in my dotage, I may find out why it was once a heralded children’s classic.

Doors Open and Mortal Causes, both by Ian Rankin. Rankin always serves up a first rate police procedural, usually set in Scotland.

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver The Book Swap arranges its fiction by gender with female authors on the front tables and males at the back. A bit strange, but I suppose they like it that way. However Lionel Shriver, an excellent writer, is female but, perhaps understandably, she got mixed up with the guys at the back of the hall.

The Wisdom of Karl Marx – I had hoped for some pithy sayings that I could put in the mouth of a fictitious character. But Marx was more turgid than pithy. “Workers of the world unite,” seems to be his only memorable phrase. This collection includes gems such as this “The product of labour is labour which has been congealed in an object: it is the objectification of labour.”

In a Glass House by Nino Ricci A good writer. I am looking forward to this book.

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory. I love historical fiction and Gregory is a master. I especially enjoyed her series on the War of the Roses. This book is set in the docklands of eighteenth century Bristol. Add in an arranged marriage and it all sounds pretty good.

The Story of the Port Arthur Clinic 1923- 2000 by Charles Wilkins. A slim book full of anecdotes as well as solid local history.  When I was a child in Port Arthur, I was often taken to the clinic to see our family doctor, Gordon Duff. Somehow, I learned that the clinic was a pioneer in medical services. Years later came a bitter strike by clinic workers and, leafing through, I saw this sad chapter was well covered. You can always count on Charlie Wilkins to entertain and interest at the same time.

The Four-Chambered Heart by Anais Nin. In my hippie days, everyone read  Nin. Except me.  I am still not sure if I will read this or not, but I will give it a fair try.

The Birth of the Modern: Post-Impressionism in Canadian Art 1900 – 1920. Lots of coloured plates of the works of the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall Group and others including Emily Carr and David Milne. I snatched this one up.

Cavalcade of the North selected by George E Nelson. This early Canadian fiction compilation includes some old friends such as Jalna (by Mazo de la Roche ) and Barometer Rising (by Hugh MacLennan). I am more interested in the short stories by writers such as Garbrielle Roy, W.O. Mitchell, Ethel Wilson, Scott Young, and other early luminaries.

The Tale of Pig Robinson by Beatrix Potter. I could lie and say I took the book as a present for a child. But the truth is I wanted it for myself. The cover shows a benign porker, one Pig Robinson, in a blue bloomer suit seated in a beach chair and holding a spyglass to his eye. I have never read The Tale of Pig Robinson but I will now. A quick scan gave me the gist. A ship’s cook shanghaies poor Robinson with the intent of fattening him up for the crew’s dinner. An irresistible plot. Included, of course, are the wonderful Potter illustrations.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Vicious Dogs, by newcomer Henry Brock is, well, Canadian noir. Who knew such a thing even existed? Canadian noir—replete with a self-effacing, overly apologetic, and downright decent protagonist, Derek Lasker. Don’t get me wrong—Lasker is a private dick through-and-through. This down-on-his-luck, can’t-seem-to-get-back-on-his-feet, bordering-on-loser P.I. has total gumshoe cred: he drinks to excess, smokes like a chimney, curses without cause, and womanizes (unsuccessfully, of course, which both feeds into and is fed by his loser persona).
But Lasker is notably different than many of the “new noir” protagonists (if one can call them that) who seem pervasive these days—the soulless, irredeemable misanthropes with cockroach hearts and reptilian minds. On that front, Lasker is a breath of fresh air: he quotes from Macbeth, reads the Classics, embraces multiculturalism, and ponders the plight of women in the male-dominated profession of policing the State. Of course, he does all of this while living in the backseat of his too-old-to-be-hip Toyota (let’s just say it ain’t a Prius) after getting the bum’s rush from a fleabag hotel. Brock’s Lasker harkens back to the gumshoes of an earlier era—the intelligent, two fisted, and sometimes sensitive Marlowes and Spades of the hard-boiled world. And these traits serve Lasker well as he searches for a psychotic cat killer and mutilater in his hometown of Toronto. Yes, you read it right—cat killer and mutilater.
Brock spins a tale both twisted and twisty in Vicious Dogs. The intriguing plot keeps the reader turning pages while the colorful characters bid said reader to slow down and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is—one that doesn’t let up until the final denouement arrives and Brock adroitly wraps up the mystery in a satisfying bow. If you like noir—real noir, with hardboiled dicks, dames, and good old fashioned psychotic killers—then you’ll love Vicious Dogs. Trust me, this one’s for you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Diane Schoemperlen Talks About Writing Her Memoir.

How hard could it be? I thought. How hard could it be to write a memoir? After all, I had already published a dozen books of literary fiction and I already knew the story I wanted to tell. And I already had the title: This Is Not My Life.

As it turned out, the answer to my foolish question was: Hard. Very hard. Extremely hard. It took me a whole year of frustration and false starts to even come close to figuring out how to do it. During that time, I read many other people’s memoirs and many books about how to write a memoir. Some of this reading was helpful, but some of it left me feeling even more confused.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that there are as many different ways to write a memoir as there are to write a novel or a short story. I had never been much concerned about abiding by the conventions of fiction writing. Now I had to dig up that kind of confidence about writing a memoir and do it the way I thought would work best for me and this particular story. At that point, I tried to put the daunting word “memoir” out of my mind and concentrate on writing the story, the true story of my six-year relationship with a federal inmate serving a life sentence for second-degree murder.

Every single one of the books about writing a memoir that I’d read said it must not be written in chronological order because that would be boring to the reader. This was the first so-called rule I had to set aside. I knew this story would not make much sense unless it was told chronologically.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Holiday Reading - Three Goodies, One So-so and a Clunker.

Reading in Dartmoor. The hills stretch far and away and I have the novels I like, stories about people who leave home and set out on adventures, often life-changing ones.

I started with Elizabeth Hay’s wonderful novel “His Whole Life.” Nan and her young son leave New York to find another reality in Canada. The Quebec referendum crisis is heating up and the possible departure of Quebec is mirrored by the possible collapse of Nan’s marriage. Young Jim, on the cusp of adolescence, is affected by his Canadian experiences and by the new friends his mom brings into his life.

Then a classic, “Good-bye to Berlin,” by Christopher Isherwood.  His writing is as clean and sharp as sunlight but pre-war Berlin is not a sunny place at all. Through the slowly invading darkness, he meets remarkable people including the scintillating Sally Bowles, a character famously depicted later in the musical Cabaret.

Next, Sweet Caress, the latest by William Boyd. A young fashion photographer, Amory Clay, becomes a war photographer recording some of the grimmest events of the 20th century. I have loved many of Boyd’s novels, especially Any Human Heart, his masterpiece, and in my opinion one of the best novels of the 20th century. But this book links a series of stock situations with long bursts of low energy narrative. Adding blurry photos and tossing in historical characters does not help. A disappointment.

 Then on to The South by Colm Toibin whose books never disappoint.  Kathleen, a Protestant Irish woman and a painter leaves her husband and child to move to Franco’s Spain, a country still festering from the civil war. Kathleen carries with her a terrible childhood memory of escaping a house fire set by her Catholic neighbours during a time of civil strife. In Spain, Kathleen takes a lover, Miguel, also a painter but a man with a past. He fought against Franco and his name is known to the authorities.  History’s knife stabs deep and Kathleen has to come to terms with its brutalities and find her way to reconciliation.

 In the second-hand shop in the lovely Devon village of Moretonhampstead, I found a book by Rose Tremain, called The Road Home. This was my first Tremain book. But, as The Road Home slowly revealed its deeply conservative and misogynistic viewpoint, I became more and more troubled and not only with the book but with myself. I kept reading. I wanted the main character, an immigrant called Lev, to find his happy ending. I began to think I was glossing over the reality in order to see that happen. Later, I learned, to my surprise, this novel won the 2008 Orange Prize and received glowing reviews. It will be the subject of another post.