Saturday, November 26, 2011

RA in a Day 2011: Luncheon speaker, Charlotte Gray

I was the convenor of this session, and Charlotte’s “handler,” so I have to confess I didn’t get many notes down! But here are some observations:
  • I had never heard Charlotte speak before, and I was kind of thrilled to discover that she has a very sharp sense of humour.... Speaking about Dawson City in the 1890s, Charlotte deadpanned: “150, 000 people and 3 public toilets: that's what history smells like." She also protested my introduction of her was fulsome....Bah!
  • Charlotte spoke about her most recent book, Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike. Gold Diggers follows the stories of six historical figures who arrive in Dawson City, Yukon during the gold rush. Charlotte sketched several of the characters in her novel for us, including Father Judge, a Jesuit priest, Belinda Mulrooney, who became the richest business woman in town by opening a hotel in nearby Grand Forks, and Flora Shaw, colonial editor and correspondent for the London Times, who crossed the White Pass trail in 1898 and wrote about it; Sam Steele, the head of the RCMP’s Yukon detachment.
  • Charlotte spoke about the fine line writers walk when writing historical non-fiction: as she described it, "I do not invent, I imagine."
  • She explained that the dialogue in her books is what people really said, taken from their diaries and letters.
  • She gave us some great snapshots into her research processes, sitting at LAC reading Flora Shaw’s letters, or consulting the Sam Steele collection at the University of Alberta.
  • Charlotte also gave us an idea of why she began writing historical non-fiction: when she arrived in Canada from England, she expected it to be very similar to Britain, and found that it wasn’t. She described what she called an uniquely Canadian character: an endless landscape, the idea of "the North."

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