The Canadian Connection


In order to write with accuracy and authority, most writers are on a perpetual quest for information. Several months ago I received an email from Canadian author and journalist Elinor Florence who was on such a quest. Working on her second novel, Elinor had an interesting question about naturalist and children’s author Thornton Burgess, the subject of my 2013 biography Nature’s Ambassador: did he ever write about bugs?

The following excerpts from our correspondence (edited slightly for coherence) show that a side benefit of literary research is meeting fellow writers and exploring common interests on an often solitary path.

“Hello — I’m writing a novel in which my heroine, a single mother, reads the Burgess animal books aloud to her young daughter. The child in my novel is afraid of bugs, and I was hoping Thornton Burgess could reassure her about the harmlessness of the insect… Did Thornton Burgess ever write a book in which an insect was featured, or even mentioned? Thanks for any help you can provide.

Elinor Florence

Invermere, British Columbia

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Hi Elinor -- oh yes! Thornton Burgess wrote about spiders, wasps, and bumblebees in addition to the mammals, birds, and amphibians he was best known for!! On the Green Meadow and The Crooked Little Path contain these wonderful stories… I'm in a bit of a rush at the moment, but can provide more detail later --

Best regards,

Christie Lowrance --------------------------------------- Christie, if you could point me to one or two good stories about insects, that would be wonderful. I have about a dozen of his books but I haven't read them for years and don't know where to start.

Thanks,

Elinor

--------------------------------------- Hi Elinor,

On the Green Meadows and the Crooked Little Path books have lovely stories about insects.

"On the Green Meadows chapters:

3-7 are about Madam Orb, a wonderfully informative spider

9-11 are about a wasp, "Cousin Lycosa"

12-15 are about a bee

Here are titles of chapters about insects in The Crooked Little Path: “The Fiddler in the Grass,” “Queer Fiddles and Funny Elbows,” “The Loafer and the Worker,” and “Mrs. Digger Solves a Problem.” Please let me know if you need more information.

Best regards,

Christie Lowrance ---------------------------------------

Hi Christie,

I checked out both of these books and I can order used copies from Amazon. The only problem is that in my novel, the heroine discovers a set of books in the attic that were acquired in 1927. (It has to be 1927 because they were a baby gift for a child born in 1927). These are the beautiful old ones with the red and cream illustrated covers.

I could just go ahead and quote from the two books you mentioned, and probably nobody (but us!) will know the books were written later. But as a purist, I hate to be inaccurate!

What do you think?

Elinor ---------------------------------------

Hi Elinor,

I've looked through five likely later books and not an insect. Could the child have a fear of frogs (which I personally cannot bear the thought of touching) until she learns that poor Grandfather Frog has such a terrible time when he is tied up by his legs and then gets trapped in a rain barrel in the Adventures of Grandfather Frog (1916), and she feels very sorry for him?

It's wonderful you are including Burgess in your novel. If you don't mind my asking, where did you get that idea? … I interviewed many people who read Burgess books or were read them, but not many as far away as British Columbia! Did you watch "Fables of the Green Forest," the internationally distributed TV series based on Burgess stories on Canadian television when you were young?

Best,

Christie ---------------------------------------

Christie, thank you! I think my story will work well as it is — the little girl will lose her fear of nature and wildlife based on the books generally, and I won’t be too specific about the insects.

I have known about Thornton Burgess all my life. Canadians and Americans have very similar reading tastes. It was my father, who was born in 1917 on their dirt-poor farm in Saskatchewan who loved the books so much, and he read them to us when we were small. He identified with all the little animals around him. There was even a beaver dam on the creek running across the farm.

I have never heard of the TV series. I saved the books printed in the 1960s for my own children, but my daughter now has a baby of her own and she has decorated Nora’s nursery with three of my scanned book covers! So the fourth generation will know and hopefully love them as well…. I’m sending you a link to my daughter’s blog called “Miss Tweedle” so you can see the photograph of the three covers in the nursery.

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Hi Elinor,

… Tell me more about your first novel, who is publishing it and how (of course) is it selling? …

Best,

Christie ---------------------------------------

Hi Christie,

My first novel was published in October by Dundurn Press in Toronto. Dundurn is now the largest Canadian-owned publisher and it has a background in publishing Canadian history, so my wartime novel was a good fit… Research is addicting! In 2014 I think I read 34 books of pioneer memoirs and I had to force myself to stop reading and start writing.

I won’t know for sure how my novel is selling until I receive my first royalty statement in May… I have a number of book signings planned for the coming spring and summer, so that should help. In Canada, 3000 copies is respectable and 5000 copies is a best-seller…

As for reviews — I have begged everyone who told me they liked my book to write a review, and my guess is that about one in ten have done so. Sometimes they don’t have an Amazon account, and sometimes (I suspect) they were just being nice. But I will not stop asking, because that is the one thing my publisher said would help.

Thanks again for the message — Elinor ---------------------------------------

Hello, Elinor,

Congratulations! You must have been thrilled to find a top publisher. I also have a second book for children related to Thornton Burgess that is making the rounds -- good luck to both of us!... Like you I have written for newspapers and magazines most of my career, also travel writing for Fodor’s Travel Guides… You may be right about non-fiction being harder to place, but I have no experience with fiction...

I have tremendous respect for you reading over 34 pioneer works in your research. I read 25 Burgess books, among many others, for the biography, I love it when your subject gets a hold of you and becomes your daily life.

Better get on with things- thanks for writing! Good luck with your new book!

Best,

Christie

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Hi Christie,

… My new novel is about a young single mother from Phoenix who inherits an abandoned farmhouse in northern Alberta, on condition that she lives there for one year. It is off the grid, and she must teach herself the pioneer arts in order to survive. In the attic she finds a complete set of Burgess books, and because they have a beaver dam on their property, she begins reading Paddy the Beaver to her little daughter. It is just one of many discoveries made by my heroine, but I thought it was very appropriate for the time and the place…

You can read more than you ever wanted to know about me on my website.

Thanks again, Elinor

www.elinorflorence.com ---------------------------------------

… well, Elinor, just looked over your delightful website, loved reading about your traipsing from one side of Canada to the other in various cars -- and your love of writing and commitment to journalism make you seem like a friend I haven't yet met! Wish you were closer, I'd suggest meeting for coffee!

It's wonderful that you're including Thornton Burgess in your stories! Would you mind if I mention that and you and your father in a blog post? Yes, research is addictive! It’s exciting when you don't know WHERE it is going to take you!

Best,

Christie

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Christie, I would be delighted to have you reference the Burgess connection…Let me know so I can link back to it from my website and Facebook author page as well.

Once my second book is farther along, I will do the same for you. I would be happy to promote the whole Burgess connection, and your book by extension. Maybe I could come to Cape Cod for a book signing and meet you there!

Thanks again, Elinor

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Elinor, yes! That would be great! I’d love to meet you here and show you the place where Thornton Burgess grew up. Keep me posted on how you make out with your heroine, her daughter and of course, Thornton. And sign me up for a copy!

Very best to you, keep in touch --

Christie

NOTE: Elinor’s first novel, Bird’s Eye View, is a dramatic fact-based fictional tale of a young Canadian woman who goes overseas in World War II and works as an aerial photographic interpreter for Allied Intelligence. To order it as a paperback or an ebook, visit www.elinorflorence.com and look for her fascinating blog “Wartime Wednesdays” at www.elinorflorence.com/blog.


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