Booze, Bars and Battles with Morgan Wade

As much as historical novelists like to talk about the “reality” of their characters and times, I suspect there’s one area in which we don’t do the job we should–when it comes to the role booze plays in great events. It stands to reason that if rebellions start in Taverns (and there’s enough proof of that from almost every corner of the world) the key players weren’t exactly sober during those discussions. As a comedian friend of mine (I think it was Boyd Banks, but memory fades) used to say, “without booze and bad judgement, most of us wouldn’t be here.”  That leads us to Morgan Wade, and his novel “Bottle and Glass.”

After all, if you’re going to write about displaced soldiers, you’d better catch them in their natural habitat–the bars and taverns of Upper Canada in this case. The story also has an interesting development as a stage play, which is very cool.

Here’s the Morgan Wade story…

Morgan Wade’s debut novel, The Last Stoic, edited by Helen Humphreys, was released in June, 2011 by Hidden Brook Publishing and it made the 2012 ReLit Awards long list.  His short stories and poems have been published in Canadian literary journals and anthologies including The New Quarterly and The Nashwaak Review.

He adapted his second novel, Bottle and Glass, into an immersive, site-specific play that, in conjunction with Theatre Kingston, had a sold-out run during the 2016 Kingston WritersFest.  Audience members pursue the story through the streets and pubs of Kingston, drinking along with the characters and experiencing the city’s history like never before.  The production is set to be expanded and re-staged for a three week run in the summer of 2017.  When not writing, Morgan earns his keep as a software engineer.  When not busy writing or programming, he plays soccer or spends time with friends and family in beautiful Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Editor’s note: Kingston Ontario  contains a federal prison, Queen’s University and the Royal Military College. It’s safe to say that while it’s beautiful, but has its share of bad-ass bars and poor decisions influenced by booze.

In a nutshell, what’s the story of Bottle and Glass?

Bottle and Glass is a story of survival and escape told from the barstools of

Canadian author Morgan Wade

two dozen boisterous Kingston taverns at the close of the War of 1812.  The story focuses on Jeremy and Merit, two young fishermen from Porthleven, Cornwall pressed into service aboard a Royal Navy frigate. They are forced to leave their native England for Canada and eventually Kingston, where they are stationed as Royal Marines. They spend much of the novel attempting to escape and return home, but by the end, having attained their freedom, they are resolved to stay and make a new life.

Inns and taverns figured prominently in Upper Canada’s frontier life. In 1812, when Kingston had a population of 2250 plus 1500 soldiers, it could boast 78 taverns. Many of these, including “Old King’s Head” and “Mother Cook’s,” are mentioned in the newspapers and correspondence of the time. This novel is structured so that each chapter takes the title of a historic Kingston tavern and each tavern is featured in the chapter in some significant way. The novel’s title is taken from the infamous watering hole, “Violin, Bottle, and Glass.”

I notice a rise in Canadians writing about the Loyalist era. What is it about that time period that fascinates you?

Kingston, Ontario, is a city rich with history, especially relative to many other cities in a country as young as Canada.  When my wife and I moved here in 2001 we were struck by the historic architecture, national monuments, and wealth of other historical artifacts (e.g. Kingston is the final resting place of our first Prime Minister).  It was on a visit to Fort Henry, now a world heritage site, that I realized I wanted to write a historical fiction novel based on the Kingston of 200 years ago.  Standing behind the old rifle loopholes or in the underground escape tunnels, I imagined what it must have been like for a young, raw recruit, thousands of miles from home, stuck in this cold, damp, forbidding place.  I wanted to explore what a young man would have felt and experienced and to walk a mile in his shoes.  It would be a way of delving deeply into the stories all around us just waiting to be discovered.

I’d originally wanted to set my novel within the Fort.  I liked the idea of all the main characters in the book saying something like “it’s fine, don’t worry, they’ll never attack Fort Henry,” and then three quarters through the story the American forces would stage a huge attack.  It would be a big shock and I thought it would be interesting to see how the characters would deal with that.  But, as I dug deeper into the research, I realized that Fort Henry was never once attacked in its entire history, so that ended that.  Nevertheless, I’d done a good deal of research by this time.  In my research I was struck by how prevalent drinking was in this rough frontier town two hundred years ago.  I’d loved the names of all the old taverns I’d come across.  So, I decided to set the story in the town instead, winding itself in and out of the many, many inns and taverns of 1814 Kingston.

Do you have a favorite (or favourite, I’m still a Canuck at heart) scene?

There is a scene early on in the book that takes place at a so-called “work bee”.  I think many people have this conception of an old-fashioned work bee as a standard, sedate affair in which friends and family and neighbours come together to clear some land or erect a barn.  I did, at least.  I imagine fifty or more Mennonites coming together to put a structure up in one day.  These early tenant farmers in Upper Canada were living on the margins and barely eking out an existence from some formidable countryside.  It was a boon, if not a necessity, to get the help of neighbours and friends and to, one day, return the favour.  But, in my research, I discovered that the work bees didn’t always go so smoothly.  Often there was chaos and idleness.  It was an all day affair usually with a lot of drinking involved as a reward for hard work.  The “work bee” sometimes devolved into brawls as drunkenness increased and tempers frayed.

In Bottle and Glass, some of the main characters decide to host a work bee.  When men arrive from the Kingston taverns Badgley’s and Metcalf’s, Beach’s and Brown’s, thirsty and having nothing better to do, the work bee which had started out so well takes a turn.  What happens has serious repercussions for the rest of the novel.  I like how the bucolic scene of the work bee curdles over the span of the chapter and I hope that the reader feels, as the scene unfolds, the growing sense of menace from the interlopers and the increasing desperation of the hosts.  It turns the romantic idea of the work bee on its head!

Where can people learn more?

Bottle and Glass is available in both Kindle and Paperback form on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01N4ACN5V

For more information, please visit:  http://www.morganwade.ca

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/bottleandglass/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26347330-bottle-and-glass

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/morgancwade

The Other Side of the 49th- Elaine Cougler’s Loyalists

The whole point of historical fiction is to tell a story. And every story has two sides, unless it’s your side and then the other side’s uh, side, is apparently invalid. Sometimes this gets contentious (those of you who missed the point of my last post and thought I was a Castro apologist need to breathe.) So let’s take the most calm, polite example I can think of: the Loyalists who built Southern Ontario after the cruel terrorists forced them from their lawful land in America…. oh did that hurt? #sorrynotsorry.

Fact is, that the American revolution didn’t end in 1778, and the “other side” weren’t all animal brutes and Hessians hired to oppress the good people of the colonies. Elaine Cougler has done yeoman service in her “Loyalist Trilogy,” and I interview her here.

So, here’s the Elaine story in a nutshell…

Elaine Cougler is the author of historical novels about the lives of settlers incougler the Thirteen Colonies who remained loyal to Britain during the American Revolution. She uses the backdrop of the conflict for page-turning fictional tales where the main characters face torn loyalties, danger and personal conflicts.

Her Loyalist trilogy: The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luck and The Loyalist Legacy came out this month. The Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair selected The Loyalist’s Wife as a finalist in its Self-Publishing Awards. The Middlesex County Library selected the book as its choice for book club suggestions. The Writers Community of Durham Region presented Elaine with a Pay-It-Forward Award.

Alright, so this is the third book in the series. What’s it about?

The Loyalist Legacy plunks the Garner family right in the wild heart of Upper Canada (now southern Ontario) to build a life after their devastating losses in Niagara. They’ve suffered through the American Revolutionary War (The Loyalist’s Wife) and the War of 1812 (The Loyalist’s Luck) and now settle on two hundred acres awarded them by the Crown for military service. All they want is peace and prosperity. Instead they find extreme hardship, back-destroying labor, disgruntled native peoples,  family feuds and a government where they have no say and must watch as the “Family Compact” keeps power and position in the hands of a privileged few. This last becomes the divisive knife that leads the settlers ever closer to rebellion. Perhaps Upper and Lower Canada will take the path their neighbours to the south have taken.

What’s your interest in that time period?

I  have in my possession a book about Butler’s Rangers, a famous group of militia who fought for the King in the Revolutionary War, and in the back are the names of two of my relatives, John Cain and John Garner. That absolutely got my attention even though there is some question about whether the second one is actually my John Garner ancestor. My brain took off on all the possibilities and mapped out a fictional story for John Garner set against the history of the times after the Boston Tea Party, the resettling after the Revolutionary War (where did all those disgruntled people go?) and the War of 1812. Once I was into the initial research more and more nuggets seemed to drop into my head leading to not just one novel but a trilogy. My brother and his wife shared their findings of the family history and took me on a car tour to the actual land where William and Catherine (Cain) Garner settled north of London, Ontario. I could just see the third book as I gazed out at the two hundred acres on either side of the Thames River and the place where the Garners had built their home. How in the world did they do it?

Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene?

loyalistI have so many. There is one involving Catherine Garner and her ability to rise up and fight against a lynx that has come right up on her porch and grabbed a papoose from its cradle there. There is another where she is furious with William because of his treatment of his brother and in a flash of insight switches to empathy for the man she loves. I love the strength of Migisi and Kiwidinok, a Chippewa couple who represent the plight of the native peoples at this time in our North American history. And I love the scene from Lucy’s point of view at her granddaughter’s wedding and its subsequent denouement. All of these scenes and many more show the strength of these ordinary people who when circumstances demand become absolutely extraordinary. These are the ancestors of many of us lucky enough to live here now in North America.
While the times I write about often emphasize the division between the United States and Canada I am ever mindful of our united beginnings. Brother against brother in the wars, laws restricting land ownership  based on allegiance which went on for years, the ugly head of slavery, the struggles of neighbour against neighbour where had been staunch allies—all of these show the difficult times my characters and our ancestors lived in, no matter which side of the border they were on. Still today most of us have relatives on the other side of the US-Canada border. Imagine if our two countries went to war not as allies but as enemies. When governments and those in power make decisions, we the little people must find ways to survive. This is the backbone of the Loyalist trilogy.
You can learn more about Elaine and her work here:

Her blog

Her Amazon author page

Twitter @ElaineCougler

Her Facebook author page