An Inspiration for ‘Morris Dyson”
My APPARITION character ‘Morris Dyson’ is a columnist at a fictional Owen Sound newspaper, an historian specializing in the local social history of Grey County. That’s his day job. By night, he’s a secret ghost-tracker, mapping out ghost sightings, researching the stories surrounding them, helping my protagonist Amelia Mackenzie solve the mysteries behind their restlessness. Dyson is himself a world-weary, haunted man, with a heavy heart and a gaunt face. I kind of imagined him as Harry Dean Stanton in the wonderful Christmas movie One Magic Christmas (shot, by the way, in Meaford and Owen Sound in Grey County!), with a sad, cowboy drawl.
But when it came to Morris Dyson’s day job, I was inspired by the vocation of another writer – whose columns I’ve read with admiration and respect, though I only met him for the first time a week or two ago. And his character is nothing like that of Morris! Nothing at all!
Andrew Armitage is a Grey County treasure! He’s a columnist at the Owen Sound Sun Times, the long-time, now retired, chief librarian of the Owen Sound public library, and a wonderfully skillful and engaging author of local histories. For years, my husband and I have admired his writings, and Morris Dyson’s day job is my way of paying homage to the decades-long contribution that Andrew Armitage has made to the celebration of Grey and Bruce County history. Is Andrew Armitage the real ‘Morris Dyson’? Of course not! (But I can’t help thinking that researching local history might make a great cover for a secret ghost-tracker!)
It’s a special thrill that Andrew Armitage included a review of my book Apparition for the Owen Sound Sun Times this past weekend in his weekly column “Read This”, on October 26th, 2013, and I’m reprinting it below with his permission:
“We have a new novelist living in Grey County. Let me introduce her. Gail Gallant is a television writer and story-editor who has worked on productions for CBC, the Discovery Channel and History Television. Gail and her husband (think The Nature of Things) live in one of the old Telford houses in what was once north Sydenham Township.
Sitting in the Ginger Press one day, Maryann Thomas received a call that the author of a forthcoming Random House title somehow worked this writer into her plot. I didn’t think more about it until a reading copy of Apparition (Doubleday Canada, $14.95) came in for review. Even then, I waited until I had the actual book in my hand before I took the plunge.
I whipped through Apparition in one sitting and then, went back and read it again. This is a ghost story, a gripping grand tale of an old barn, an apparent suicide, the deaths of broken-hearted young men by their own hands, dating back decades. It is atmospheric, supernatural, and destined to keep readers glued uncomfortably to their chairs.
Yep, I’m there, barely recognizable. “My name is Morris Dyson,” he continues. “I’m a writer. I write a column for the local paper. Mostly short history pieces.” Dyson (along with his son Kip) leads Amelia (age 17) to the barn where her best friend, Matthew died. And then becomes a guide to the events that unfurl in one very scary place.
Gail introduced herself last Monday on the MS Chi Cheemaun’s fall voyage down the Peninsula. Puzzled, I asked her why her new novel was listed as Young Adult. Which led to a great long talk about publishers, agents, and readers. Apparition is certainly not “YA” (ask me, I was once a young adult librarian in Philadelphia). Even though it deals with the lives of young people, this is a full-fledged novel that reminds me of the early work of Susie Moloney, the Winnipeg author of Bastion Falls.
Apparition makes excellent use of its Grey County setting. Unlike other recent novels that attempt to superimpose a place on a story, Gallant’s rambles through such well-known places as Inglis Falls, the Scenic Caves, Greenwood Cemetery, and Branningham Grove ring true.
“A grand old three-storey Empire Loyalist mansion. It’s been run as a restaurant, changing owners about three times in the past ten years, and no one has been able to make it work. But back in the late 1850s it was a last stop in the Underground Railway – the secret route to freedom for slaves escaping from the cotton plantations in the Deep South. Apparently it was also a tavern and brothel for sailors, back when the town was a thriving port for ships on the Great Lakes.”
Apparition, which appeared in print this fall, will be followed by Absolution in 2014. Also published by Doubleday Canada, it will continue the story of Amelia and Matthew. And this reviewer can’t wait to read it. But that is months away.
On Tuesday night, October 29th at 7:00, Gail Gallant will have her Owen Sound book launch at the Ginger Press. I will join her that evening to tell some ghost stories, explore the world of scary living in the outback of Ontario, and belatedly welcome Gail to Owen Sound. We will also break a bottle of bubbly over my new book, Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem: 26 True Tales of Grey and Bruce. By the way, proceeds from the book will go to support the enthusiastic work of the Community Waterfront Centre to forge a new vision for Owen Sound’s historic port. Join us!”