Sunday, December 24, 2017

Grace in Love

I just got the proofs of my new novel, to be published in 2018.

Grace in Love is an historical novel about a young Canadian woman in search of a life's work and a love to last a lifetime through.  Aimed at grown-ups who know something about love, Grace in Love is set in Paris in the Roaring Twenties and Canada during the Great Depression. Based on a real person, Grace is a character readers will like.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Grace is at Perfect Books on Elgin Street

Copies of Grace and the Secret Vault are available not only from Octopus Books in Ottawa but also at Perfect Books on Elgin Street.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Writing Young Adult Historical Novels

On Tuesday November 14, 2017, I gave a talk to the National Capital Branch of the Canadian Authors Association on writing young adult historical novels. It is always fun to talk to a group of peer professionals who grapple with the same concerns as I do.

Below is a summary of what I had to say.

My three novels with young adults as protagonists are The Secret of White Birch Road; The Songcatcher and Me; and Grace and the Secret Vault. Since they have young adult protagonists they are young adult novels, but they are of interest to grown-ups as well. Increasingly, adults are reading teen novels, perhaps because teen fiction is less experimental than some literary fiction, and because modern teen novels deal with mature themes.

Each novel required different levels of research. The Secret of White Birch Road, set in 1952, required verification of historic details; the internet came in handy. The same was so for The Songcatcher and Me, which also involved research into folk song collecting and into the real-life Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke.  Grace and the Secret Vault, which is about a real person and an historic event, is the sort of novel that requires a lot of library and archival research. The novel centres on Grace Woodsworth (later Grace MacInnis) at age thirteen, and the historic event is the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, in which her father, J.S. Woodsworth, was involved.

Actually I'd done a great deal of the research already, for the biography Grace MacInnis: A Woman to Remember, by myself and the late E. Joy Trott. (This biography is now out of print, though available through libraries.) In writing Grace and the Secret Vault, which is fiction, I refreshed my memory by reading Woodsworth biographies and memoirs and works on the Winnipeg General Strike, as well as looking at J.S. Woodsworth papers on microfilm at Library and Archives Canada.

Grace and the Secret Vault is a coming of age story in which a girl becomes politically aware and comes to understand her parents better. In writing it, I used real-life family incidents and also created some fictitious scenes, all of which furthered my theme, which was the serious effects of World War I on Canada.

If you are writing historical fiction, rather than biography, it is permissible to make up characters and scenes to further your plot and theme, provided that you stay true to the characters' personalities and relationships.

As for advice to aspiring authors of young adult historical novels, I have a few recommendations:

. Check to see if there are other works of fiction on your subject, and if so, read them to see other authors' approaches so that you can plan something unique.

. Read histories and biographies from the period.

. If location is important to your story, try to visit the place.

. If descendants of your central character are still living, contact them and get their help and cooperation.

. Avoid information dumps: passages of historical information that halt the flow of the story and turn it into a history lesson. This can be done in two ways: by providing a summary of the historical event at the beginning, and/or by feeding in information as you go along, through what your characters experience, overhear or discuss.
You can do this by selecting and dramatizing real life incidents that show the temper of the times; through the use of fictional characters in imagined scenes that reveal the historical events of the era, and through a knowledgeable character who will discuss then-current events with the protagonist, and at the same time, with the reader.

. Avoid using present-day terms that your characters would not have used. Some authors choose present-day words and expressions over those authentic to the era, for fear that their readers won't otherwise understand what they mean.

I have a preference for authentic terminology: for instance, I would say "shell shock" rather than "post-traumatic stress disorder"; "consumption" rather than "tuberculosis"' "melancholy", rather than "depression" - depending on what the common use was at the particular time in the past. I might even use Victorian circumlocutions for "pregnant", like "in a delicate condition"; "in the family way"; or "with child".

My audience pointed out the value of providing a glossary in some instances.
I told them that if they decide to write historical novels, I hope they will enjoy their subjects' company as much as I have enjoyed Grace's.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Grace and the Secret Vault won First Honourable Mention

Grace and the Secret Vault won First Honourable Mention in the Canadian Stories magazine book contest, 2017.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

My talk at the Emerald Plaza Library, Sept. 28, 2017

On Thursday, September 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the Emerald Plaza Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, I will be talking about "Writing a Young Adult Canadian Historical Novel".   Below is the description of my talk:

"Join Ruth Latta, local author of three young adult historical novels, for ideas on writing successful historical novels for teens, Ruth will focus on her latest book, Grace and the Secret Vault, a novel about the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, and  several other outstanding Canadian young adult historical works.  This program is of interest to teens and to adults who are writing fiction for teens."

Those interested are invited to log into the OPL site and register.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Grace and the Secret Vault - excerpt

From my new novel, Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa Baico, 2917, ISBN 978 1772 160 925, $20) To purchase a copy contact   or

Grace spied a motor launch that reminded her of the Goodwill, the twenty-five foot gas-powered boat owned by the Methodist Church. When her father was still a Methodist minister, he used it to travel from the Landing to other communities on the coast and on Howe Sound. She'd loved it when Father invited the whole family to come along with him on a Sunday. How refreshing, to be out on the water, to lean back, close her eyes and feel the wind and salt spray in her hair!

She remembered one trip when her reverie was interrupted by a "Hey!" from Charles. Opening her eyes, she looked where her brother was pointing.

"Porpoises!" he'd cried, and sure enough, these black and grey sea creatures with white underbellies were frolicking in the waves. All the children craned their heads to look except for Howard, asleep on Mother's lap.

Then they'd heard a chug and a snort - not the sound of any sea creature they knew, but the Goodwill's motor conking out.  Either the Goodwill hadn't been in the best repair, or Father hadn't been skilled in operating it. This wasn't the first time it had quit.

As Father started fiddling with the motor, Charles got a mischievous look on his face. Softly he began singing, "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream." Mother glared at him, but of course the younger boys, Ralph and Bruce joined in.

"Stop that!" Father barked in his strongest pulpit voice.
"Hush, children." Mother's quiet tone meant business. The song faded.

Grace and Belva shaded their eyes and looked around, ready to wave if another boat came into sight. Father tried the motor again. It sputtered but did not catch.

"We're going to be late. The congregation will go home," Belva whispered. She began nibbling her fingernails.
"The motor is just flooded, that's all," Grace said softly. "We'll wait a while and try it again and it will go. Let's see who can think of the most hymns involving boats and the sea."

"Will Your Anchor Hold Through the Storms of Life?" Belva said.
"Jesus, Saviour, pilot me, over life's tempestuous sea," Charles added.
"Throw Out the Lifeline," said Ralph.

Grace glanced at Mother. Her eyes twinkled and her mouth twitched. Against her, young Howard breathed softly in sleep.

"Look. Look there!" Ralph pointed. Sure enough, a motor boat skimmed into view.

"You children stay put!" their father ordered. Carefully he stood up, took off his hat and waved it.
"It's coming," Grace breathed. "Help is on the way."

The motor boat grew ever larger until it was alongside the Goodwill.  A Salish fisherman waved at them.
"Trouble?" he asked.
  "It's the motor," Father said. "Can you help us?"
"Sure. I'll tow you to shore."

Monday, May 22, 2017

More news on "Grace and the Secret Vault".

Grace and the Secret Vault, my new novel, was reviewed recently in the online magazines True North Perspective and in Compulsive Reader, and is soon to be reviewed in Canadian Materials. It is also on the short list for the 2017
"Northern Lit" award for fiction,  awarded annually by Ontario Library Services North and Northern Ontario libraries.

On the evening of. May 26th I will be speaking about "Grace and the Secret Vault" as one of the three Arts Night presenters at First Unitarian Church, Cleary Avenue, Ottawa.

Unrelated to Grace but good news as well: I won first and second prizes for poetry in the 2017 contest held by the National Capital Branch of the Canadian Authors' Association.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stephen Dale's review of Grace and the Secret Vault

Review of Ruth Latta’s Grace and the Secret Vault
By Stephen Dale

                To mark International Women’s Day in 2017, a group called Equal Voice organized an event in which young women from across the country occupied all 338 seats in the House of Commons. The women spoke powerfully of the issues that are important to them and, in the process, made a strong symbolic statement about how politics might be different if more women were involved. With only a quarter of the seats in Parliament currently occupied by women, it’s clear that the seat of Canadian democracy remains, overwhelmingly, a boys’ club.

                That the number of female Parliamentarians has increased to some extent recently is a testament to the strength of a few trailblazing women determined to defy the odds and take their place on the national political stage. One of those pioneers was Grace Woodsworth MacInnis, who served as the NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway between 1966 and 1974.
                Ottawa novelist Ruth Latta recalls that, as a student at Queen’s University in the early 1970s, she was fascinated with this diminutive yet dynamic women, one of the first Canadian Parliamentarians to regularly raise issues of concern to women on the floor of the Commons. Latta’s latest young adult novel, Grace and the Secret Vault, (Ottawa,  Baico Publishing Inc. 2017  ISBN: 978-1-77216-092-5) is a fictional account of an especially formative period in Grace’s life.
                Although the book doesn’t deal directly with Grace’s work as a politician, in a subtle way it sheds light on how the future MP developed the determined outlook and fortitude of character that would be necessary to storm the bastions of male power.

The novel recreates a particularly turbulent year in Grace’s early life. Her father, J.S. Woodsworth (who would go on to lead the CCF, the forerunner of the NDP) had lost his job as a minister in an idyllic British Columbia coastal town because of his opposition to the First World War. In 1919, with the war over, Grace’s father remains unafraid of courting controversy. He travels the country speaking out for social justice, and takes a role in organizing the landmark Winnipeg General Strike.

Against the backdrop of these historic events, Grace gets an up-close lesson in courage. Her father stands tall in the face of condemnation, economic sanction, and even the threat of violence. Perhaps more importantly, Grace’s mother summons a special kind of strength: keeping the family afloat by working as a teacher, overseeing a chaotic household of high-spirited children, setting a tone of optimism and good humour.

Latta tells this story in a fluid, fast-paced and conversational way, seamlessly weaving together the daily details of life in the British Columbia of a century ago with the book’s overarching political narrative. The characters’ dialogue is conveyed convincingly in the lexicon of the day, but the emotional pull of the story is timeless. And despite its subject matter, the author avoids propagandizing. There’s also a sly twist on the idea of the “mystery” that adds some fun at the end.

Grace and the Secret Vault is a lively read and a historical tale with a clear resonance for the contemporary reader, especially for the young person who might want to grow up to change the world.
Ottawa writer Stephen Dale’s latest book is Noble Illusions: Young Canada Goes to War (Fernwood Books).


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Praise for "Grace and the Secret Vault"

Ed Janzen, editor of Canadian Stories magazine, wrote the following about my novel,
Grace and the Secret Vault:

"Today I finished reading Grace...  I must congratulate you on this book. It became more and more interesting as I read on when I recognized the history contained therein.  I learned so much about stuff I didn't know before.  I don't remember a stitch of information in school history books about this period after World War I..,I think your novel is reading for Canadian  adults. ... Well done."

Monday, February 27, 2017


 Two recent pictures of myself, one with birthday flowers from my niece, the other with my new novel,
Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017, ISBN 978-1-77216-092-5, $20)

Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017, ISBN 978-1-772-1-092-5, $20, is a novel set in 1919, a time of social turmoil in Canada as a result of the "Great War".  The novel is presented from the point of view of a thirteen year old girl living with her mother and siblings in an idyllic B.C. coastal village, Gibson's Landing, while her father is working on the Vancouver docks and going on speaking tours sponsored by the labour movement, talking about the need to build a  fairer, freer post war Canada. Grace, the central character, thinks she would prefer a father who wasn't such an activist. But when a General Strike breaks out in Winnipeg, and he is caught up in it, she finds a way to help him and her family.

Readers have praised the novel for bringing to life a key event in Canadian history and introducing the impetuous, outspoken Grace.  The novel involved extensive historical research into the girlhood of the real life Grace Woodsworth MacInnis, who, in the 1960s and 1970s, was a strong advocate on "women's" issues in the House of Commons.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Gerlinda", by Emily-Jane Hills Orford

It’s always a treat to read an excellent new novel like Gerlinda, by Emily-Jane Hills Orford. Gerlinda, (Madison VA, Christine Anderson Publishing and Media, 2016) is about the importance of having someone who believes in you.  Although the central character, Gerlinda, is not technically an orphan, she might as well be. Orford's novel is more pessimistic in outlook, however, than the classic orphan novel Anne of Green Gables.

Set in 1966, the story opens with Gerlinda being taunted by bullies crying "Cooties" as she walks to school. Sleep-deprived and grubby, she feels that "the cat calls were just words, the hunger was a gut pain." Jarred to learn that she shoplifts to feed herself, readers are curious to know the details of her predicament. 

By the second page, we learn that Gerlinda's father, nostalgic for his Hitler Youth days, drinks and fights with his wife, keeping the children awake at night and again our curiosity is piqued. Later we learn that he takes his wife's earnings from her cleaning jobs, and has so destroyed her spirit that she has given up providing for the children.

School is often a refuge for children in troubled homes, but not a haven for Gerlinda for a variety of reasons. The one area in which she is respected is in sports. Her athletic ability is a ray of hope in what is essentially a tragic story.

The teachers and administrators seem unable to stop the bullies from verbally abusing Gerlinda. The Grade 8 teacher, Mr. Fernandes, shows good teaching and human relations skills and tries to treat all of his students fairly, but he faces a tough challenge. One of the difficult children is Denise, the ringleader of the girls who taunt Gerlinda. Denise belongs to a religious group that doesn't want its children singing the National Anthem. Instead of absenting herself for the opening exercises, however, the girl sings her favourite popular songs under cover of the Anthem - like "Polka Dot Bikini"!  A promising school project - dressing in the costume of one's ancestors' homelands - goes awry and brings down ire from the mayor because of Gerlinda's costume, which she wears innocently in the hope of being a big success.

In this novel, disasters sometimes have silver linings; for instance, Gerlinda's costume fiasco leads her to an almost-saintly fairy godmother figure who enlightens and helps her. Another drastic incident forces Gerlinda's mother to assert herself and seek help for one of the children. Unfortunately, the "silver linings" don't really make up for the awfulness of the "clouds". This is not a criticism of the novel, which is an outstanding example of gritty realism.

Ms. Orford has created intriguing fully-rounded characters. Readers have the satisfaction of concluding for themselves that several of the adults are deplorable human beings. Orford's explanation of the Nazi period in Germany is important information for young readers to know. Wisely, she is not specific as to the exact location in North America where the story takes place. By leaving it unspecified, she shows that bullying and scapegoating can occur in any community. The characters' names indicate a variety of backgrounds and cultures.

Orford dedicates her novel "to a childhood friend, may she rest in peace." Is the novel to some extent based on real events? Is the author "Janet", the one girl in the school who was friendly toward Gerlinda? In any case, readers' hearts will go out to Gerlinda, along with hopes that the next phase of her life is happier.  Perhaps we will find out in a sequel. Five stars!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Feedback on Grace and the Secret Vault

It's always gratifying  to receive positive feedback about one's book. Two knowledgeable people, one an Ottawa author, the other a church leader and book club member, liked "Grace and the Secret Vault" and told me why.

Author Catina Noble wrote a comprehensive review from which I will quote a small part.  She said:  "The novel begins just after the First World War with fourteen year old Grace finding out from her parents that they are moving in with another family because Father has lost his job. To make matters worse, her father will be leaving to travel once again...empowering the lower class that they do, in fact, have a voice.  No matter lifestyle or social status, everyone has the right to be heard, the right to a fair wage and the right to safe working conditions... Throughout the novel, Grace wants to be supportive of her parents because she believes in what they stand for, but doesn't understand why it should be herself and her siblings who sometimes have to pay the price....Ruth Latta's novel is engaging, historical, beautifully written, and readers will fall in love with Grace from the first page."

Virginia McClatchy wrote: "I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it hard to put down. I also learned some history I was unaware of.  This past week I attended "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams" about Joey Smallwood and Newfoundland's joining Confederation.  I enjoyed it very much as an historical play and found this a very enjoyable way to learn history.  I felt the same way about your book and find it so appropriate that your book is new in Canada's 150th birthday year.  It would be wonderful if it were in every school and library in Canada.  Both the play and your book have inspired me to want to learn more and find some relevant history books. I have passed your book on to my daughter."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Grace and the Secret Vault

In 1919, a general strike is called in Winnipeg, and thirteen year old Grace learns that her father is involved in it. In this crisis, she finds a way to help her family.

Grace and the Secret Vault (Ottawa, Baico, 2017, ISBN 978177216096,  $20) is available from and from