Friday, August 2, 2019

Ontario Women's History Network interview

On July 7th the Ontario Women's History Network published on their blog their interview with me about Votes, Love and War.  To read the interview, visit 
https://owhn-rhfo.ca/interview-with-ruth-latta-author-of-new-historical-novel/

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Interview with Ruth Latta about her new novel, "Votes, Love and War"

INTERVIEW WITH RUTH LATTA
about her new novel,
Votes, Love and War
coming out in the fall of 2019 from Baico Publishing, Ottawa.

Q: Your title Votes, Love and War suggests that the novel is about the women’s suffrage movement. Is that so?

A: Yes, specifically about the women’s suffrage campaign in Manitoba in the early 20th century.  Two of my main characters, Lillian Beynon Thomas and Francis Marion Beynon, were active in the movement, the Political Equality League; indeed, Lillian Beynon Thomas was one of its founders. These two sisters, who came from farm backgrounds, started out as teachers and subsequently  became journalists and editors of women’s pages.  Letters from readers leading hard lives on pioneer farms helped to inspire the Beynon sisters to work for the enfranchisement of women.  Thanks to the Beynons and many other activists, Manitoba was the first province to pass legislation giving women the right to vote - in January 1916.


Q: Nellie McClung is the name that first springs to mind when the women’s suffrage movement in Canada is mentioned. Did the Beynon sisters know her?

A: Yes. Nellie and Lillian used to go on speaking engagements together. In my view, the Beynon sisters are the unsung heroines of the Manitoba women’s suffrage movement. Nellie McClung was nationally famous for her novel, Sowing Seeds in Danny, when she moved to Winnipeg and got involved in the Political Equality League, and her fame was an asset to the suffrage movement. In 1917 there was a split in the League, with the Beynon sisters and Nellie McClung on opposite sides of an issue, a situation I present in my novel.

Q: How do “love and war” come into the story?

A: The first person narrator in my novel is a fictional girl named Charlotte, eighteen years old when the story opens. Charlotte moves to Winnipeg to find work and recover from a broken heart, and gets to know the Beynon sisters. When World War I, the “Great War”, breaks out in the summer of 1914, her boyfriend enlists and is sent overseas.  Two other young men who love her also go to war in the years that follow.

The Great War took the lives of many young Canadian men, and took a tremendous toll worldwide. It also forced women’s suffrage and other progressive movements onto the back burner. In Canada it split the western women’s movement.  By 1916-1917, due to the great death toll and the drying up of volunteer enlistments, the British government decided that Britain and her dominions should institute compulsory military service.  In Canada, the federal election of 1917 was fought on that issue.  Western Canadian farmers, a group that included many immigrants from the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, needed their sons to work on the land,  so conscription was not popular among them. 

To win the election and bring in conscription, the government of Sir Robert Borden enfranchised some but not all Canadian women.  His Wartime Elections Act included women who had husbands, fathers and sons fighting overseas,  excluded “enemy alien”  naturalized since 1902, unless they had relatives serving in the armed forces. This act excluded a lot of women in the western provinces where they had won the right to vote.  The Borden administration’s intention was to enfranchise the women most likely to vote for conscription and leave out those who might not.

This issue split the women’s suffrage movement in Manitoba. Nellie McClung, who had previously been a champion of newcomers to Canada, supported the Wartime Elections Act. The Beynons thought it was undemocratic, and did not.


Q: Why did you choose to present the story through a fictional character?

A: Rather than presenting the novel from the point-of-view of the Beynon sisters, I decided to create the fictional Charlotte to lead readers along with her, hand in hand, as she learns about the women’s suffrage movement and the issues of the day.

My cast of female characters includes several farm women, a housemaid,  a housekeeper, some teachers and a department store clerk as well as several homemakers.  I wanted to show a variety of women’s lives in addition to journalists like the Beynon sisters. I also refer to women factor workers who were starting to organize during this period.

Q: What sources did you consult in researching Votes, Love and War?

A: I read Francis Marion Beynon’s “Country Homemaker” pages in the Grain Growers’ Guide, from 1913 to 1917, and several of Lillian Beynon Thomas’s articles in the Manitoba Free Press. I also read many scholarly articles about the Manitoba women’s suffrage movement, and about Francis Marion Beynon as an advocate of peace during the Great War.  As well, I read her semi-autobiographical novel, Aleta Dey, first published in 1919.

The research I’d done for my novel, Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017) was relevant to Votes, Love and War, so I applied it. I also read a great many books about the era, including Tim Cook’s war histories and Eslet Wynne Jones’s account of the 1918-1919 flu epidemic in Winnipeg.

Q: Why did you write Votes, Love and War?

A: I wanted to show in an engaging, entertaining historically accurate way the Beynon sisters’ contribution to women’s rights in Canada.  I also wanted to show the impact of the First World War on women at home in Canada.  To my knowledge, the only other Canadian novel about “home front” women’s experiences of the Great War is Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery.  Although I was raised on L.M. Montgomery and admire her books,  I felt that Rilla was limited in its depiction of the war’s impact, and wanted to show a different point of view.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Votes, Love and War

My new novel, Votes, Love and War, will be published later in 2019.  It's a novel about the women's suffrage movement in Manitoba and the impact of the First World War upon the enfranchisement of women and other progressive causes.  In this novel, as in all historical novels, fictional characters mingle with real people. Lillian Beynon Thomas and Francis Marion Beynon were very real leaders in the Votes for Women campaign in Manitoba, and were part of a progressive circle that included Fred and Winona Dixon, J.S. Woodsworth, A. Vernon Thomas, and many more.  The Beynons were sisters, both former teachers who became journalists and were well known throughout the Canadian west on account of the womens' pages they edited.  Thanks in part to their efforts, Manitoba was the first province of Canada to enfranchise women  - in 1916.

When my fictional narrator/protagonist, eighteen year old Charlotte Tyler, left her rural home in 1913 to find work in Winnipeg, she dreamed of meeting the Beynon sisters. Under their wings, she participated in the suffrage movement and got to know other progressive people. Then in 1914, Canada went to war against Germany, and over the next four years, many hopes and dreams were shattered.  Votes, Love and War were the primary concerns of Charlotte and her friends "Lily Kate" Thomas and "Francie" Beynon in the teens of the last century.

Tamaracks Celebration

Last Sunday (June 2, 2019) There was a celebration of the anthology, Tamaracks, at Pressed, a cafe on Gladstone Avenue here in Ottawa.  Eight Ottawa area poets, along with the editor of the anthology, James Deahl and Norma West Linder, read their poems in Tamaracks and some of their other work.  I was honoured to be among the Ottawa poets: Sylvia Adams, Frances Boyle, Mary Lee Bragg, Doris Fiszer, Maureen Korp, Blaine Marchand and Colin Morton.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Winnipeg General Strike, young adult novels

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Winnipeg
General Strike of 1919, a landmark of labour history that has inspired labour and the left in Canada ever since.

My 2017 young adult novel, Grace and the Secret Vault
(Ottawa, Baico, info@baico.ca)  focuses on the impact of the strike
upon the family of the labour activist J.S. Woodsworth,
particularly upon his thirteen year old daughter, Grace.

Up until publication of my book, the only work of fiction for young people about the Strike  was Geoffrey Billson's, Goodbye, 
Sarah.

With the arrival of the 100th anniversary, two more young adult novels have appeared:  City on Strike by Harriet Zaidman and Papergirl by Melinda McCracken and Penelope Jackson.

I reviewed these novels for CM Magazine (formerly Canadian Materials) an online magazine based in Winnipeg.  The links are:
https://www.cmreviews.ca/node/756 and https://www.cmreviews.ca/node/726


Friday, February 22, 2019

Book review in Compulsive Reader

My review of Kick Kennedy's Secret Diary, by Susan Braudy, and The Kennedy Debutante, by Kerri Maher, was published in Compulsive Reader. The link is below.


http://www.compulsivereader.com/2019/02/15/a-review-of-kick-kennedys-secret-diary-by-susan-braudy-and-the-kennedy-debutante-by-kerri-maher/

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Grace in Love at the Miller's Oven

 On Wednesday, February 13th, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.,
 I'll be at the Miller's Oven restaurant in Manotick
 with copies of my novel,Grace in Love,
 the ideal gift for St. Valentine's Day.