A Good Home, Famous Authors, Louise Penny, Murder Mystery Author

A Hug for Louise Penny

Her name is Louise.  My mother’s name is Louise.

Her husband’s name is Michael. My brother’s name is Michael.

The village church in her books was named for St. Thomas. My village church is also St. Thomas’ Anglican. 

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We both attended Ryerson Polytechnic in Toronto, at roughly the same time. We worked at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), also at roughly the same time.

We have both been through a version of hell.

But importantly, happily, we have both been loved by wonderful men who have supported us and encouraged us to write.

With our similar experiences, Louise once remarked that we seem like sisters. I agreed. Except, I remember thinking, I could barely imagine being as great an author as she is. 

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Not only is she a wildly successful author, she’s also taken the time to encourage new authors like me. 

I say all this to explain my affection for Louise Penny, a woman I’ve never met.

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I’ve read all her books. Late last night, I finished reading the latest, A Great Reckoning. Again, I marveled at the beauty of her writing, the depth of her characters, the unexpected twists, turns and humour in her stories.

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I also read the Acknowledgements section. In it, she writes about the progression and impact of husband Michael’s illness. The support they have received from doctors, caregivers, family, colleagues and friends. (Louise had openly shared updates on Michael’s dementia.)

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This morning, I woke up wanting to find out how they were both doing. So I did something I hadn’t done in several weeks: visited her Facebook page.

And learned the news, though no longer new by now: Michael died weeks ago.

My heart lurched, then wept. For Michael, and for Louise’s loss. Her grief.

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As Louise Penny’s readers know, theirs has been a great love story. We’ve followed the seasons of their life together through Louise’s Facebook page and newsletter.

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In my mind, I can see them without looking at the photos. The two of them and their beloved golden retrievers – Trudy first, then Bishop – at their home in the eastern townships of Quebec.

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Michael gave Louise her life and her dream, she said earlier this year. This brave, good man became the inspiration for her main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

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In her October newsletter, Louise wrote about Michael’s last days, and his death. And she shared these words:

“And we will remember, and celebrate, a great man.  The love of my life. 

And the lamp remains lit.  The way forward clear.”

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

–The Prayer of St. Francis.

The above was Michael’s favourite prayer.  Below, a powerful author interview with Louise, done earlier this year:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/thenational/louise-penny-on-her-unexpected-road-to-success-1.3641698

Condolences, dear Louise.  And a prayer for strength and comfort for you and the family.

A Good Home, Famous Authors, International festival of authors, Prize-winning Books

Remembering Austin

Photos by Hamlin Grange

~~This is an abbreviated version of a 2013 post~~

What’s an introvert like me doing at a party with famous authors?

Feeling a bit lost among strangers, is what.  The program book for the prestigious International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront in Toronto reveals names like Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden and Margaret Drabble.

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I, meanwhile,  am new to this author thing: my first book, “A Good Home” was only recently released. Hamlin Grange and our friend Leonie McKnight-Copeland accompany me. As usual, several people recognize Hamlin from his frequent appearances on CBC Television where he was a news anchor and journalist.

But none of us knows anyone here.

I once possessed the fine skill of mixing and mingling with celebrities.  I’ve been away from that world for such a long time since the accident, I’ve forgotten how.  

I see a young woman who looks as shy as me, and I say a warm hello. Other people surround her,  so I move on.

A relaxed-looking man greets us. 

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He introduces himself: Attila Berki, associate publisher of Quill and Quire magazine. He says the young woman I  greeted is Eleanor Catton, whose book, The Luminaries, just won the Man Booker Prize.

 

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I recognize another famous author, but he’s wearing someone else’s name tag. Despite the disguise, he too is surrounded.

“Come say hello to Austin,” Hamlin says, returning to my side. “He’s across the room.” I am thrilled to see Austin Clarke, whom I know.  In fact, Austin is one of my heroes. Born in the Caribbean, the man and his books are known for ‘speaking truth to power’ about racism in our society. 

The literary giant — winner of the Giller Prize and other prestigious honours — sits by himself in the shadows, removed, yet regal. “Like a sort of eminence grise?”  I tease him.

“Or the lion of Judah,” he offers, laughing softly. I slip my arm through his and we laugh together companionably.

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Austin’s new book of poetry, Where the Sun Shines Best, is nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award, and he’s at work on his memoirs.

As we sit together, looking out at the crowd,  I, the brand-new author, am surprised but happy to have this famous Canadian man of letters all to myself.

We chat, but not about books. Austin’s a famously great cook, and I’m infamously not. We both use canes to walk around. He claims his cane is superior to mine; I reluctantly, laughingly, agree. (See above photo, extreme right.)

A waiter approaches. He’s a fan of Austin’s Giller-winning novel, The Polished Hoe, and he greets Austin as if meeting a head of state. He almost-kneels, almost-reverently, to shake Austin’s hand. 

Hamlin and Leonie join us, and we enjoy our time together. No-one else approaches, and I realize that this roomful of mostly younger or foreign authors probably does not realize that the elderly black man with the shoulder-length grey dreadlocks is Austin Clarke, one of Canada’s greatest writers.

~~

Austin Clarke died yesterday. His recently completed memoir is titled Membering.

Thank you, Austin, for paving the way.

Rest in peace.