Saturday, August 18, 2018

Interview about Grace in Love


RKL:  Last year you published Grace and the Secret Vault, a young adult novel. Is your new novel, Grace in Love, a sequel?

Ruth: Both novels centre on Grace Woodsworth MacInnis, a real-life Canadian woman who lived from 1905-1991.  As a federal Member of Parliament (NDP) in the late '60s and early '70s, she was a strong advocate on women's issues, and also spoke out on economic equality and civil liberties.

Both of my novels about her can stand alone; it isn't necessary to read them in sequence to understand them. But each novel appeals to a different age group. Grace and the Secret Vault is for readers ten to fifteen. It is about the impact of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike on Grace and her family.

Grace in Love is for a more mature audience. It takes place between 1928 and 1932, when Grace was in her mid-twenties, thinking about love and career as most people in that age group are doing.  The earlier novel is about Grace's budding political awareness and her family relationships. Grace in Love is about her search for true love and a meaningful career.

RKL: Where does Grace in Love take place?

Ruth: In Paris, France, and then in Canada: in Winnipeg and Ottawa.  It opens in the fall of 1928 when Grace is starting a course in French Civilization, offered to foreign students by the University of Paris. She is a graduate of Ottawa Teachers' College and the University of Manitoba, and anticipates a future teaching French. As one might imagine, her year in France is an education in many ways. In the fall of 1929 she returns to Winnipeg with a broken heart to take a teaching position, but it doesn't work out. Then her father, J.S. Woodsworth (a father of democratic socialism in Canada) asked her to come to Ottawa to be his unpaid Parliamentary interne.  There, she gets a sense of purpose, and also finds "the one."

RKL: Why Grace MacInnis, and why a novel?

Ruth: I am convinced that Grace wanted her life written about, because she gave many interviews (including a very long one with Peter Stursberg which is a great historical resource) and because she left her papers, including letters and diaries, to archives.

While she was in Parliament I was a student in Kingston, and interested in women's rights. When I saw her speaking on the news about issues concerning women I was impressed. Here was this sedate-looking, grandmotherly woman voicing progressive views that coincided with mine. I never met her, though, because I was up to my ears in work and domestic matters at that time, and then she retired to British Columbia.

Her difficulties with relationships in an era of changing rules, and her  career dilemmas struck a chord with me, and many readers will relate to her experiences.

Why a novel? Because a co-author and I had already published a biography, Grace MacInnis: A Woman to Remember, in 2000. Also, you can better convey the essence of a personality in a novel. I admire Paula McLain's historical novels, The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin, which are the product of extensive archival research, enabling the author to get inside the characters' hearts and minds and bring them alive.

RKL: What is your next project?

Ruth:  An historical novel about two sister journalists during the period 1913-1921. Francis Marion Beynon and Lillian Beynon Thomas edited the women's pages of two major Winnipeg newspapers. They were active in the suffrage movement. Without them, Manitoba would not have been the first province in Canada to enfranchise women. Then along came World War I, with devastating effects at home as well as abroad.

RKL: Why historical novels?

Ruth: I write them because I enjoy reading them, and also to answer the question: "What are you going to do with a Master's degree in History?"