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Votes, Love and War, and other novels

by Ruth Latta

 

For the past few years I have been writing historical novels about Canadian women. As a child I liked bedtime stories about my mother’s young years, and one of my favourite books when I was growing up was John F. Hayes’ award-winning novel, Rebels Ride at Night, about the Rebellions of 1837. Eventually I studied History at university (Queen’s, M.A., 1973, Ruth “Olson”.)

 

Since 2012 I have published five historical novels. People used to ask me, “What can you do with a Master’s in History?” and these books are my answer to that question. Reviewing young adult historical novels for the online magazine, Canadian Materials, boosted my self-confidence about writing one.
I’m concerned about Canadians’ lack of knowledge of our history, and, in a small way I hope to remedy this lack of knowledge with entertaining novels about women who did not conform to convention. Since I prefer historical novels involving real people of the past, I’ve been writing that sort rather than Regency romances, for instance.

 

My first such novel, for young adults, was The Songcatcher and Me, (2012), inspired by Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke. I followed that with another young adult novel, Grace and the Secret Vault, (2017) depicting fourteen year old Grace Woodsworth in 1919 when her father was involved in the Winnipeg General Strike. As Grace “MacInnis”, she became a Member of Parliament in the late 1960s and early 1970s and a strong advocate for women. The following year I published another novel about her, Grace in Love. Its title is self-explanatory.

 

Having researched the progressive, reform-minded Winnipeg circle to which the Woodsworths belonged, I discovered their friends, a journalist couple, A. Vernon Thomas and Lillian Beynon Thomas. Lillian and her sister Francis Marion Beynon were two unsung heroines of the Manitoba women’s suffrage movement, and, after finishing Grace in Love, I decided to write a novel involving them. (By the way, “Francis”, not “Frances”, was the spelling used to register her birth.)

 

This novel, Votes, Love and War, (Ottawa, Baico, ISBN 978-1-77216-191-5) may be of particular interest to Media Club members because Lillian and Francis were both members of its forerunner, the Canadian Women’s Press Club. While Votes includes some depiction of the Beynon sisters as writers, it’s mainly about their mentoring of the fictional central character/narrator, Charlotte, and their work in the Manitoba women’s suffrage movement. Thanks to them and many other women, Manitoba was the first Canadian province in which women got the vote, in 1916. Sadly, the Manitoba women’s movement split over compulsory military service during the First World War.

 

In researching the Beynon sisters, I tracked down scholarly papers about them, read up on progressive politics in Winnipeg in the early twentieth century, and also read books on World War I. To get a sense of the Lillian and Francis’s personalities, I read some of Lillian’s writing in the Free Press, and Francis’s semi-autobiographical novel, Aleta Dey, first published in 1919 and more recently, by Virago. Her “Country Homemaker” pages in the Grain Growers’ Guide (peel.library.ualberta.ca/newspapers.GGG) are extremely interesting. As editor of this women’s page, she published letters, articles, recipes, patterns and directed readers’ attention to booklets about more intimate matters These pages showed me the concerns of western women in that era.

 

In Votes, Love and War, my fictional central character, Charlotte, leaves her rural Manitoba home to find work in Winnipeg. Through a series of unfortunate events, she meets her idols, the Beynon sisters, and, under their wings, she participates in the suffrage movement and meets some of the most progressive people in Winnipeg. Then, in the summer of 1914, Canada goes to war against Germany, and, over the next four years, many hopes and dreams are shattered.

 

It is ironic that, shortly after writing about the 1918-1919 “Spanish” flu pandemic, I found myself and my husband living like hermits on account of Covid-19. In the early part of “our” pandemic, I wrote a stand-alone sequel to Votes, Love and War, called A Girl Should Be, (Ottawa, Baico, 2021, $30). The protagonist is Charlotte’s younger sister, Annie, who has a minor role in Votes. Annie comes of age during the Roaring Twenties and finds her life changed when the Great Depression of the 1930s sets in. Again, I’ve tried to capture an era and present it through women’s eyes.

 

Recently I was pleased when a reader emailed me to say: “I had a very pleasant read this past week. I thoroughly enjoyed your book (A Girl Should Be) and appreciate such a fun way to learn history. I love the strong female characters and being able to follow the members of a family through time. The stories of the one-room schoolhouse remind me of the stories my mother used to tell about going to school in the 1920s.”

 

While praying for the pandemic to end, I realize that my self-imposed solitude has given me the opportunity to enter by-gone times and recognize that past generations have faced terrible challenges, too.

 

Past Articles

Votes, Love and War, and other novels, March 22, 2022 Mosaïque Interculturelle, March 4, 2022 Recognizing Olive Dickason’s Many Contributions, February 26, 2022 Holocaust Remembrance Day, February 3, 2022 Launching our new website, September 26, 2021 Beans – A Canadian Production, September 26, 2021 June Coxon speaks to us, virtually, June 8, 2021 Barbara Florio Graham speaks to us, virtually, May 8, 2021 Relationships, April 8, 2021 Baico Publishing, March 8, 2021