Clearwater by Kim McCullough, Loggers’ Daughters by Maureen Brownlee & Short Peaks by Jerry Auld
Available at Polar Peek Books & Treasures. Books will also be available at Clawhammer Press on November 16, which the authors will be happy to autograph!
Here is a column of many firsts. Years ago, I taught my first fiction-writing course at the first Fernie Writers’ Conference. That is where I first encountered aspiring writers Kim McCullough and Maureen Brownlee. They were both attending their first writing workshop. In fact, that week in Fernie is when they first became friends. This fall (in the biggest first yet), they are both launching their first novels.
First novels!!! This calls for some exclamation marks. Kim and Maureen will be doing their first Fernie reading from these new books at the Clawhammer Press on November 16. They will be joined by Jerry Auld, who is also a Fernie Writers’ Conference alumnus. Jerry will be reading from his second book, Short Peaks: 33 Brief Mountain Tales.
Kim McCullough’s Clearwater zooms in on the lives of three teenagers as they learn to navigate life in northern Manitoba with a largely absent mother. Claire, the youngest sibling, develops an intense and complex relationship with Jeff, a quiet mix-raced boy living in the other half of Claire’s duplex. McCullough’s greatest success is in the fullness with which she captures these teenagers and relays their attempt to survive in a world that is equal parts beautiful and brutal. The book veers into dark territory, including domestic violence, racism, and teen suicide. Through it all, McCullough manages to be simultaneously unflinching and gentle. The reality portrayed in her book can be stark but never without hope. Through her characters’ resilience, we learn how to trust and love and carry on, even when doing so seems impossible. McCullough is a visceral and gutsy writer, willing to explore the very outer limits of what a heart can survive.
Where Kim McCullough’s novel takes us to the lake, Maureen Brownlee puts us deep in the world of the forest. Loggers’ Daughters is a probing feminist novel that explores the forces that shape individuals, families and communities. It weaves the story of one logging family onto the tapestry of the industry that built British Columbia. Andreas Schroeder, who teaches Creative Nonfiction at UBC, claims that Loggers’ Daughters is “an epic novel set in the forests of the Rocky Mountain trench – a part of BC that has long been waiting for its definitive reflection in fiction. Loggers’ Daughters accomplishes this with a story so gripping, and a writing style so evocative, it will surely become a Canadian classic.”
Through her engaging story, Maureen Brownlee marks a turning point in the history of women. To take on the challenge of necessary change, the protagonist of Loggers’ Daughters must forgive her mother and learn from her daughter. Adare Brennan stayed with me long after I finished reading this captivating novel. Brownlee has created a protagonist who has the complexity and strength of character to stand alongside the most memorable women of Canadian fiction. I put her in a category with Margaret Laurence’s Hagar and Ethel Wilson’s Maggie. Loggers’ Daughters is a novel about claiming what is rightfully owed, forgiving past injustices and moving forward with “a smile that stretches the heart.
To round out the trio, Jerry Auld will bring us to the mountains. Short Peaks includes thirty-three very short stories about mountain life. From meditations on the age-old question of why we climb to a story about a startled goat finding itself in a precarious position to tales of women who have lost their men to the wild, Auld explores the range of mountain experiences and emotions. He attempts to understand the human need to do the impossible. His work is an original, edgy and evocative celebration of mountains and mountain culture.
Join us at 7:30 pm on November 16 for LAUNCHED! Hear Maureen, Kim and Jerry in a frank discussion about the thrills and the challenges of launching creative work into the world. Each of these books owes something to Fernie and to the Fernie Writers’ Conference. Celebrate with us as the authors see their years of hard work come to fruition. Which brings me to another first: since these happen to be my first students to publish books, I will definitely be celebrating!