Mark Steyn and I

Three years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting author Mark Steyn in Toronto. He was promoting America Alone at the time. We had a nice chat about trains (he’s a railfan, by the way) and I gave him a copy of Steam Scenes of Allandale.

Although we write books in different fields, Mark and I share common ground. We both swim against the stream in many ways. Back in 1997, I began writing my series of hardcover volumes documenting the twilight of the railway steam era in Ontario. One big reason I undertook that task was that no one else was doing it! I had an interest in visiting the day-to-day world of steam locomotives, steamships and industries powered by steam. The nuts-and-bolts environment of machinery that fascinated boys young and old. I noticed right off the bat that, for the most part, local museums and archives had no interest in these matters.

I knew that I was doing the right thing with Steam at Allandale, my first book project, after a memorable visit to the Penetang Centennial Museum. The young girl curator at the time, barely out of college, had no clue that the town had even had a railway line! I had to educate this person, who was otherwise fully engaged in some sort of fundraising bakesale, about the recent history of the town. That, and countless other interactions with dumbfounded local library, archive and museum staff across the province, convinced me that I had a role to play which would not be fulfilled by those working on behalf of the taxpayer.

Pity. I hope things are changing, but I won’t bet on it for awhile (don’t believe me? My efforts are nearest to the “Emerging Publishers” category for Canada Council grants. Quebec has 23% of Canada’s population, but received 57% of the money in 2009, the most recent year on file. And check out this feminist winner which received 7% of the grant money and this one which gobbled up 6%).

Anyhow, to Mark Steyn, the subject of this picture. The other day on our Classic Books for Boys blog, I spoke about the refreshing experience of the Royal Tour, and how it makes me believe that the Canada of my youth is back. Mark and I are not among those who drink the bathwater of the institutional elite, believing that the history of Canada’s institutions begins with Trudeau’s French code law-inspired Charter of Rights and “Freedoms” (emphasis mine). Nor do we assert that our legal traditions begin in 1867. Nope, they go way back, about 800 years, and Mark nails that point with his piece entitled The Fool at the Hill.

The Royal Tour

I have been following the Royal Tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge these past few days. It is remarkable how much the coverage is reminiscent of that in 1939, when King George VI and his consort Queen Elizabeth toured Canada. There is the same freshness and display of affection which I have noted while researching The King’s Puzzle. And I enjoy seeing so much emphasis placed on our British traditions and military history during their travels. Makes me feel that the Canada of pre-1968 is coming back.

Of course, there are the naysayers who bash the Monarchy. But in that regard, I turn to my friend Bill Gairdner’s words regarding our Canadian legal system:

“It needs criticism and ongoing improvement. But compared to the legal systems of other cultures? No contest! To Mother England we owe most of the freedoms and the common law rights that we too often take for granted. Superior is the British-based right to private property we have known since the twelfth century. Superior are the individual freedoms and rights to protection from Statism that were enshrined in Magna Carta in 1215, and improved and defended ever since (well, until 1982 in Canada). [Observe] the contrast between the British-based common law system and the French-based code law system, and the superiority of the former. That all who have thrown in their lot with the English bottom-up common law system are free to do anything that is not prohibited by the law is an extraordinary inheritance of the English people. We are presumed free by birth and by inherited right. This stands in stark opposition to the dictates found in so many top-down nations of history where citizens are permitted to do only what is specified–or altered by judges–in a written code. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms [thank you, Pierre Trudeau–I.W.] has seriously undermined our proud legal tradition.”

Author visit to Washago School

On June 2, the whole Wilson family enjoyed visiting Rama Central Public School in Washago. Ian’s PowerPoint presentation to the Grade 4, 5 & 6 classes was followed by a lively question and answer period. All these students had read The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge in class, so they were curious about the background of the story and the writing process. The familiar setting of Washago and environs made Angus’s adventures all the more real to them!


Here’s Ian with Matilda, the girl who introduced her teacher, Mr. Elliott (on the right) to The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge.

Couldn’t resist taking a photo of three kids named Spencer! The one on the far right is Spencer Wilson.
In the afternoon, Ian led Mr. Elliott’s Grade 5 class on a tour of some of the sites featured in The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge. Here we are at the end of the road where the old Highway 11 swing bridge used to span the Trent-Severn Canal.
 Here is the old White Rose Station which provided the inspiration for Eddie’s garage and house.
By the tracks in Washago . . .
Mr. Elliott’s class, plus a few visitors . . .
Exploring the park where Angus lost his toy rocket
By sheer coincidence, we were visited by the real “Hookah Hopkin” at our home in Orillia later that day. You just never know when this leather-clad recluse is going to turn up on your doorstep!

Some thoughts as I work on the backstory for "The King’s Puzzle"

I have by my desk a series of books on the craft of novel writing by James N. Frey. They have served me well on this wonderful journey into the fiction writer’s domain. Frey likens a writer’s journey to that of a hero’s in a novel or in mythology: a trek into the “mythological woods”. In the mythological woods, the writer comes to grips with various ‘monsters’ in his imagination. Writing, that is, honest writing, is a trip through the mythological woods, overpowering the scary stuff which lurks behind the trees.

In the fascinating process of creating The King’s Puzzle,  I am digging deep to find what it is that I stand for as a writer and as a person. This essence or purpose for a writer, once understood and defined, cannot help but pervade the author’s work. Writing is not for the squeamish–it is ultimately a soul-baring experience. Woe to the individual who believes serious writing is anything less.

Anyway, to The King’s Puzzle. In this upcoming novel I will present a riveting story, at times venturing from a mystery into the “thriller” category. I am a conservative, and social conservative (I believe the two labels are inseparable) writer. In this novel, I will be presenting themes, premises, overarching ideas, subtext–whatever label may be applied to describe a novel’s, and author’s, essence–which will be against the grain of much of the current establishment of Canadian literature.

In some blog reading this morning, I came across a fellow named Conrad DiDiodato, who is a Canadian poet and teacher. Visit his blog at A paragraph from Conrad’s blog from about a year ago jumped out at me, as I contemplate the themes I will be presenting in The King’s Puzzle, and how they will likely be contrary to those permeating much of the body of work which we classify as today’s Canadian Literature. I have never applied for, or accepted, public funding for any of my books. I certainly do not intend to reverse that practice with The King’s Puzzle. This entry from Conrad sums up my own thoughts on public funding for the arts in Canada:

“It’s too easy to write in Canada: state intervention is usually anything but oppressive. Cultural productions in this country, in fact, are the result of a system of “literacy by bureaucracy” in which artistic output is tied directly to publicly funded Canada Council (and other various regional) grants & subsidies programs. A kind of ‘royal privilege’ granted to permissible writings. Envisaged as a strategic plan,with objectives and strategies aimed at blending as many “traditions, practices, and media” into one national body of work, it’s no wonder so much of our national literature looks bland and uniform. Any kind of protest is bound to come (as it has lately with news of more Harper government arts cuts) when artist-recipients stop receiving their arts monies or not as much as they’ve been accustomed to. Nothing stirs more heated debate than any form of cuts to cultural spending. I don’t ever recall a national debate on literary innovation nor any sort of impassioned oratory from poets & artists to equal the fervor of government funding.”

Book review by The Canadian Homeschooler

Lisa Marie Fletcher, who maintains a website called The Canadian Homeschooler, recently did a review of The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge. We like what she had to say:

Get ready for an adventure – here comes Angus Wolfe!  
I’m excited to introduce a fun new fiction series by Canadian author Ian Wilson. This first book, The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge, is the beginning of a series that follows the mystery-adventures of a 12 year old Ontario boy named Angus Wolfe. In this first book, he stumbles onto some old documents which throw him and his new assistant, a homeschooled girl named Amanda, deep into a mystery that leads them on a journey through the history of World War II and how it affected the nearby town of Washago, Ontario. The deeper the adventure goes, the more the answers come closer to home.
I took the time to read this novel and was deeply drawn into an engaging and mysterious story that left me wondering til the end! I really enjoyed it.

You can read the complete posting here:
This website is chock full of useful information and resources for Canadian homeschoolers. This month, visitors to the site have the opportunity to win a copy of The Secret of the Old Swing Bridge. 

Thanks Lisa Marie!

Steam Over Palmerston back in print!

“At the crossroads community of Dunkeld five miles to the north, shade trees are obscuring this once-promising locale, whose proximity to the Elora Road became of little use when other stations developed as railway shipping points. A stock pen and turnip waxing plant on the south side justify a spur, while a tiny freight shed and station residence lay claim to the roadside corners to the north. A lady residing in the small depot nestled under maple trees acts as caretaker, and exchanges mail and packages with the trains. Officially a flag station not otherwise requiring a stop, perhaps out of some chivalrous instinct the mixed train nevertheless customarily halts to assist the caretaker in the handling of mail sacks. One Christmas morning a few years ago, she was in for an unexpected surprise. With a heavy train taxing the capacity of the 1200-class Ten Wheeler out of Southampton, the head end crew decided that a stop at Dunkeld would incur the risk of stalling the train. As a result, the southbound Mixed rolled right through Dunkeld on Christmas morning, forcing the otherwise friendly baggageman to heave the heaviest load of mail of the year out the doors onto the ground on the way past.”

When we printed Steam Over Palmerston ten years ago, there were about 50 copies produced without case covers. We held onto these, and have now had them cased and dust jackets applied. So, for a short time, Steam Over Palmerston is back in print. You can order a copy, and/or any of the other available titles, online at our Canadian Branchline bookstore or Classic Books for Boys bookstore.

Digital presentation tomorrow at Orillia Library

Hi folks:

I’m doing a book reading tomorrow (Sunday) at the Orillia Public Library, at 1:30 p.m. This will be a first for me–combined reading with digital slide show. I’ve taken passages from five of my books (the two Allandales, Lindsay, Northern Ontario and Swing Bridge) and designed a PowerPoint slide show to accompany the reading. There will be a book signing afterword. There’s a piece about the event in today’s newspaper.

The King’s Puzzle cryptic verse

This is what appears to be the “meta puzzle” which my grandfather, Duncan MacLaren Wolfe, prepared for King George VI in 1939. It consists of ten lines of verse with blanks to be filled in. Accompanying this verse are ten separate puzzles, each on its own page. I will scan and upload those as time permits.

Amanda and I are working at this now, trying to solve it. Not easy, being 72 years after the time period in question. As I said a few days ago, Ian Wilson will produce an account of our adventures. This will be the second in his ‘Angus Wolfe adventures’ series. He’s already promoting it, even though we haven’t solved it yet! Don’t tell him. The book, as it is shaping up, is The King’s Puzzle.

Ian Wilson at the Orillia Farmer’s Market

A reminder that my biographer Ian Wilson, and his wife Mary-Jo, are set up every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Orillia Farmer’s Market in our fair city. Browse and/or purchase any of the books they have in stock, or go come to chat!

To quote the Orillia Farmer’s Market publicity blurb:

“This is one of the longer-running farmers’ markets in the province, with its roots in the 1840s. The Farmers’ Market continues to proudly boast of its range of locally produced foods, handmade crafts from around the county and regularly scheduled special events for the family. Our growers offer fresh-picked produce in season, and drug-free meats, with a variety of baked goods and ready-to-eat treats in a sociable atmosphere. Bring your family, meet your friends, shop the vendors, enjoy the talent of local musicians in the Market Cafe.”