the day before the B.C. Book Prizes

Euclid's Orchard_cover Final

Last night I read at the Gibsons Library and engaged in a conversation with Dick Harrison, dear friend and fine scholar. I had one of those moments, after people had made generous comments or asked interesting questions, when I realized that I’d written the book I’d hoped to write, one that weaves family stories into a larger pattern of natural, cultural, and regional history. Someone said at the end that the one word they (well, it was she) would use was “textured”. And yes, that was at least one of my intentions.

But it’s a quiet book. The writing doesn’t exactly ignite fireworks. I’m not apologizing. I believe that the world needs all kinds of books and I hope that the quiet ones can continue to find a place in the literary conversation. The ones that notice the plants and birds (right now there’s an orange-crowned warbler on the rugosa rose out the window!), record the dailiness of lives, ask us to remember the ordinary people who made us. Ask us to listen as the coyotes sing in the woods beyond the house, to birdsong on a May morning.

Tomorrow is the Gala for the B.C. Book Prizes awards. If you visit this site frequently, then you know that Euclid’s Orchard has been nomination for the Hubert Evans Award. I don’t have any expectations regarding the award. I do believe that it’s an honour to know that a jury read all the non-fiction books published in B.C. in 2017 and included mine among their top 5. I’ll pack my glad rags, cross Howe Sound on the ferry, and go to the reception and dinner, then sit among the well-wishers as the awards are given out in the big ballroom at the Pinnacle Hotel in Vancouver. It’s a chance to celebrate the vital writing and publishing community in this province and I’m happy to be part of it. And what a thrill to be in this company for the past two months.

Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize

Supported by the BC Teachers’ Federation

Dead Reckoning: How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father
by Carys Cragg
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

When Carys Cragg was eleven, her father, a respected doctor, was brutally murdered in his own home by an intruder. Twenty years later, and despite the reservations of her family and friends, she decides to contact his murderer in prison, and the two correspond for a period of two years. She learns of his horrific childhood, and the reasons he lied about the murder; in turn, he learns about the man he killed. She mines his letters for clues about the past before agreeing to meet him in person, when she learns startling new information about the crime.

Carys Cragg is an instructor in Child, Family & Community Studies at Douglas College. Her personal essays and reviews have appeared in such venues as The Globe & Mail and The Tyee.

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Euclid’s Orchard & Other Essays
by Theresa Kishkan
Publisher: Mother Tongue Publishing

In her new collection of essays Kishkan unravels an intricately patterned algorithm of cross-species madrigal, horticulture, and love. Opening with ‘Herakleitos on the Yalakom,’ a turbulent homage to her father, and ending in ‘Euclid’s Orchard,’ amidst bees and coyotes, her touchstones of natural history and family mythology are re-aligned and mortared with metaphysics and math. Along the way her signature lyricism of place and home sings us from her grandparents’ first homestead near Drumheller via an actual ‘Poignant Mountain’ of her girlhood to her beloved home on the Sechelt Peninsula in BC.

Theresa Kishkan is the author of thirteen books of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. She has been a finalist for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and won the Edna Staebler Personal Essay Prize.

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Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition
by Paul Watson
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

In a masterful work of history and contemporary reporting, journalist Paul Watson tells the full story of the Franklin Expedition: Sir John Franklin and his crew setting off from England in search of the fabled Northwest Passage; the hazards they encountered and the reasons they were forced to abandon ship after getting stuck in the ice hundreds of miles from the nearest outpost of Western civilization; and the dozens of search expeditions over more than 160 years, which collectively have been called “the most extensive, expensive, perverse, and ill-starred . . . manhunt in history.”

Paul Watson earned three National Newspaper Awards for foreign reporting and photography, the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography, and the 2006 Hal Boyle Award from the Overseas Press Club of America.

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The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy
by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson
Publisher: James Lorimer and Company Ltd., Publishers

Manuel and Derrickson offer an illuminating vision of what Canada and Canadians need for true reconciliation. They show how governments are attempting to reconcile with Indigenous Peoples without touching the basic colonial structures that dominate and distort the relationship. They review the current state of land claims, tackle the persistence of racism among non-Indigenous people and institutions, celebrate Indigenous Rights Movements while decrying the role of government-funded organizations like the Assembly of First Nations, and document the federal government’s disregard for the substance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples while claiming to implement it. These circumstances amount to what they see as a false reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Arthur Manuel was a widely respected Indigenous leader and activist from the Secwépemc Nation. He was known internationally, having advocated for Indigenous rights and struggles at the United Nations, The Hague, and the World Trade Organization.

Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson served as Chief of the Westbank First Nation from 1976 to 1986 and from 1998 to 2000. He was made Grand Chief by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs in 2012.

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The Sacred Herb / The Devil’s Weed
by Andrew Struthers
Publisher: New Star Books

The Sacred Herb / The Devil’s Weed is informative and even enlightening, but above all, it’s a hilarious look at a humble plant that has entertained, inspired, and occasionally terrified so many for so long. One side of this double paperback answers all your questions about the world’s most misunderstood plant, from how “the bikers of the Stone Age” spread it across Europe to why it makes music sound better. The other side is a non-stop trip as Struthers weaves together true stories, collected from 100 friends, of marijuana-inspired misadventures.

Andrew Struthers is the author of Around the World on Minimum Wage (2014), The Last Voyage of the Loch Ryan (2004), and The Green Shadow (1995). His films include The Magic Salmon, TigerBomb: A Symphony in Dynamite, and Spiders on Drugs.

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“…will the voices come to us again?”

Euclid’s arrival at Mona’s place

This morning the B.C. Book Prizes announced the 2018 shortlists and I am so thrilled to see Euclid’s Orchard nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

Awarded to the author(s) of the best original work of literary non-fiction. Topics such as philosophy, politics, biography, history, belles lettres, etc. Quality of research and writing along with insight and originality are major considerations in the judging of this prize. (from the Book Prizes website)

I’ve always admired Hubert Evans. When John and I first moved to the Sechelt Peninsula, Hubert was still alive, living at Roberts Creek. I met him once and told him how much I loved his Mist on the River and O Time In Your Flight. In the way that these things happen in small places, his granddaughter, a nurse at the hospital in Sechelt, helped to deliver my son Brendan. Brendan, for those of you who’ve read Euclid’s Orchard, is the mathematician who inspired the title essay. When my publisher Mona Fertig and I were making decisions on images for the book, I had to call on Brendan several times to help with something I had in mind: a photograph of a tree in our old orchard with Euclid’s algorithm hanging over it like mist. Another layer of meaning. I remember my relief when Mona sent a photograph of the spread for that essay, relief that both Brendan’s work and the wonderful eye of designer Setareh Ashrafologhalai helped to bring my vision alive.


My other children are in these pages too. Son Forrest, a historian, helped with the work of decoding a whole complicated knot of information about a squatters’ community in Drumheller in the early 20th century, the first place my grandmother lived when she came to Canada. My daughter Angelica is always the first person I ask about classical texts (she has an M.A. in Greek and Roman Studies and can read Latin with an impressive fluency). And my husband John, well, he makes so much of what I do possible. The beautiful young women who are the mothers of my grandchildren are also in these pages, entering the family story with grace and humour.

I dedicated Euclid’s Orchard to those grandchildren and my late parents. They bracket my specific time on earth and the stories in my book are theirs. Ours. No one knows when they might need to know something and when I was undergoing medical tests in the fall of 2016, I needed to know how the pieces of particular family stories fit together, both within our own ecology and also the larger picture. How a squatters’ community on the banks of the Red Deer River echoed much of the immigrant experience, the languages of loss and grief and deprivation. How a child dazzled by patterns and numbers might grow up in a family of dreamers and poets and how a mother might try to parse the meaning of those patterns late in life. How letters might be written to the dead.

Migratory, like monarchs, we find our own urgent way to a place where the sun and earth greet us, give us rest.We find our place among wild plants on a roadside, we hear beetles and the lazy drone of bees. If we sit on the grass and let the dry wind ruffle our hair, will the voices come to us again? — from “West of the 4th Meridian: A Libretto for Migrating Voices”