R.K.L. Interviews Ruth Latta
Q. Your latest young adult novel is Grace and the Secret Vault. What is it about?
A: Grace and the Secret Vault is about a thirteen year old girl, Grace, who experiences a crisis in her family life as a result of an event which became a major landmark in Canadian History. The novel takes place in 1919, a time of social unrest following the dislocation and hardships of the First World War. Grace's father is involved in the labour movement and in the historic Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Grace comes to terms with his activism and its effect on her family, and finds a way to help her family during this tense time.
Q: What inspired you to write Grace and the Secret Vault?
A: Over twenty years ago a friend and I researched and wrote a biography of a woman in politics whom we both admired. Her name was Grace Woodsworth MacInnis. When she was a Member of Parliament from 1965 to 1974, another turbulent time in Canadian history, she was a strong spokesperson on matters of particular interest to women, and we were impressed by that.
In researching Grace's life for the biography, my co-author and I read about her girlhood and the impact of the Winnipeg General Strike on her family and on her political awareness.
My friend died a couple of years ago, and at that time, when thinking about the fun we'd had doing our research, I realized that the story of the General Strike and its importance to Grace would make a good novel for young readers, and grown-ups too.
Q: So the earlier book was a biography but Grace and the Secret Vault is a work of fiction?
A: Yes, Grace and the Secret Vault is a novel. It is based on real events, and some of the characters are real people, such as Grace's father, J.S. Woodsworth. But I have created several characters who are fictional, I've used scenes and dialogue, I've shifted some of the family events around in time a little bit, so the book is fiction - historical fiction.
Q: How do you think Grace and the Secret Vault will affect readers?
A: I think readers will go hand in hand with Grace as she learns from the dramatic, frightening events of this period in Canadian history and comes to understand her parents better.
It's a story about the process of growing up and taking on some grown-up responsibilities and challenges. Young adult readers can relate to that.
Also, young readers may learn a little about our history from this novel, and be inspired by the characters who have the courage of their convictions.
Q: What made you feel that you could write this novel?
A: I've always loved reading and history has always been a major interest of mine. Back when my name was Ruth Olson I completed a Master's in History at Queen's University, and this background has been an asset to me in researching and writing this book, and earlier ones. Long ago I taught elementary school, and more recently I've been reviewing children's and young adults' books for Canadian Materials. I've read a great many excellent historical novels for young people and couldn't resist the temptation to write one.
Q: What is your favourite part of the book?
A: I like the part where Grace's father says, "It must have been hard on you. You must have been scared" and Grace, who has been very worried, says, "Maybe a little bit."
Q: What is your next book?
A: It's another novel, again about Grace. It begins in 1928 when she's 23, studying in Paris, and, like most people in their early twenties, trying to find true love and a life's work. After some trial and error, she finds her "calling" and also finds "The One." So I've been in a "state of grace" with my writing for a couple of years now, and look forward to continuing in it for a while.