Grey County huge part of book
By Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sound
Sunday, December 15, 2013 2:31:13 EST PM
Gail Gallant wanted to call her first book Grey County because the novel wouldn’t exist without it.
“I would have never written a book if I weren’t here,” said Gallant, one of about 15 local authors gathered at the Ginger Press in downtown Owen Sound on Saturday for its 28th annual authors’ open house. “It is completely inspiredby the landscape. The landscape and the weather are all in there.”
The Annan-area author’s murder mystery thriller, Apparition, released in September, is set in and around Owen Sound and tells the story of a teenage girl name Amelia who sees ghosts and the adventures in her life it causes.
Gallant said the working title of the book was always Grey County because it seemed so natural. The name change didn’t come until she was looking for a publisher, which she found in Doubleday Canada (Random House).
“Grey County to me surmises the book,” said Gallant, who was a weekender in Grey County for about a decade before moving to the area about two years ago. “I have a lot of geographic references like Inglis Falls, the Bruce Trail and some of the local parks and cemeteries.”
While the area is known for its beauty, Gallant said in a different light it can also be a very spooky place.
“On our property we used to have a dead apple orchard and there was nothing more Tim Burton than that apple orchard,” said Gallant. “It is very spooky and I have to say it arose naturally from my own emotional response to the landscape and the history in the landscape.”
Gallant said she loves the delapidated beauty in the old barns that are scattered across the area and has always been obsessed with the old cemeteries throughout the countryside.
“I don’t want to get nostalgic like there is only history here, because there is also an amazing future,” said Gallant. “But I think there is something deep about the feeling of the past here.”
Much of the book centres around a haunted barn, which is based on a rundown barn at a property Gallant owned south of Meaford.
“Eventually we took it down because it was half falling down, but it was spooky and somewhere along the line I started imagining a story,” said Gallant.
It was about a dozen years ago and Gallant’s son was going through some tough times as a young teen and Gallant imagined a story of a ghost in the barn that was forcing young boys to commit suicide and it had to be stopped. Gallant, who kept the story in note form, couldn’t bring herself to complete the book until about four years ago, when she decided to tell the story through the eyes of a teenage girl, rather than a mother after her son — who is doing well now and works in a bookstore — bought her a book from the Twilight series.
“As soon as I adopted the point of view as a teenage girl, the book came out,” said Gallant, who is originally from Toronto and has worked in television as a producer and director for the CBC and done freelance work for about 20 years.
Gallant said the book has been categorized as for teens and she has received a good response from teen readers, but the book is also quite serious.
“It is not a fantasy, it is really dealing with things like death and loss,” said Gallant. “The narrator is probably a lot more confused and a little neurotic and troubled than the average teen narrator.”
Gallant has already written a sequel, called Absolution, that is currently in the copy editing stage. It is slated to be released next fall.
Gallant said the local landscape again plays a major role in the new book, which she feels is an improvement on her first.
“”Grey County is right through both books,” Gallant said. “I don’t think it could have been a bigger part of it.”
Maryann Thomas, owner of the Ginger Press, said Saturday’s event was an opportunity to bring together authors so they can connect and share stories and meet with the public. The event has turned out to be a celebration of local literacy in the community.
Thomas, who opened the Ginger Press 35 years ago, said the store has made a deeper commitment to new and old books by local authors and about the region and that has led to the store now having more than 70% local content.
“I think that is a phenomenal statement about the wealth of literature in the community,” said Thomas.
1. The lay of the land. I’m convinced that ghosts like a good view, so for the sake of the ghosts who may in fact be hanging around, there’s nothing better than a cemetery that is either set on a hill, or at least a bit hilly. In many communities, the cemetery is positioned above the town, on the outskirts, overlooking the townsfolk, and this makes a lot of sense to me. I made the in town cemetery in Apparition on a hill for this reason, even though it’s a cemetery from my imagination and not based on any specific one.
2. The best cemeteries have landscaping. Flowers and shrubs are good, but trees are what make a cemetery really special. The bigger, the better. Some of my favourite cemeteries are actually a little overgrown. One of the best cemeteries on the planet is in London, England, the Abney Park Cemetery. It’s ancient and overrun so you almost have to search for the gravestones amongst the trees and brambles and ivy vines. It’s spooky as hell, even in daylight.
3. Then there are the shapes and ages of the actual gravestones, from tiny markers on the ground for babies to ostentatious monuments for wealthy families in town. I also like the statues, especially of angels. Sometimes there are little shrines with home-made icons and candles for a more personal touch.
4. The age of the cemetery makes a big difference to its character, and whether the inscriptions are sharply etched, or worn and crusty beyond all reading. The best cemeteries are the old ones that are still in use. My favourite are at least a hundred years old. The inscriptions tend to be more poetic and religious with age, often with scriptural references few people would recognize today.
5. Cemeteries are communities. In any given cemetery, who are the dead? The graveyard just up the road from my country home is filled with Scottish immigrants, born in Scotland and died over here. Another nearby cemetery is in Leith, with a gravestone that marks the final resting place of famous Canadian painter Tom Thomson, although whether the bones disinterred from Algonquin Park near where he drowned are really his has been debated for decades. Certainly his ghost prefers hanging out in the landscape he painted.
And the very Victorian Abney Park Cemetery in north London was designated specifically for citizens who were not members of the Church of England, ie not Anglican. In the 19th century, that meant outsiders of one form or another, self-proclaimed atheists, Salvation Army members, ‘free thinkers’ of all sorts.
6. You can read quite a lot between the lines on a gravestone, just looking at the names and birth and death dates. Gravestones are often about relationships – somebody’s son, somebody’s wife. You can imagine their stories. What are the social demographics? In the early part of last century, the number of deaths of young women during childbearing years speaks volumes about the age-old risks in childbirth. Same with the spike in the deaths of babies in hard times. The deaths of octogenarians, all from the same family tree always impresses me. Then there are the war monuments, honouring soldiers whose bodies made it home.
And I remember visiting a certain Inuit cemetery on the Baker Lake reserve in the high Arctic, a tiny community with gravestones marking too many deaths of teenage boys and young men, lost to suicide or misadventure. Walking though that cemetery, the feeling of heartache was practically unbearable.