After Elinor Florence’s first book earned a spot on two bestseller lists for Canadian fiction (helped along significantly by the Parksville Qualicum Beach area, she said), the auther has followed up with her second work of fiction.
A Qualicum Beach homeowner based in Invermere, B.C., Florence successfully made the leap from journalist and newspaper owner to fiction author with Bird’s Eye View in 2014.
That story, of a young woman who joins the air force and works in England as an aerial photographic interpreter during the Second World War, positioned Florence as a suddenly prominent war genre writer. She followed that up with a non-fiction book on 28 Second World War veterans.
But this latest work of fiction — Wildwood — breaks out of that genre, re-introducing Florence as a writer on Canadian history in general.
Wildwood is the story of Molly Bannister, a broke and desperate mom who “accepts the ironclad conditions laid down in her great-aunt’s will… Molly must spend one year in an abandoned, off-the-grid farmhouse buried in the remote backwoods of northern Alberta,” reads a news release on the book. That feat accomplished, Bannister can sell the house.
As in her first book, Florence drew on her personal history.
Florence grew up on a Saskatchewan grain farm, which had been a Second World War training airfield near North Battleford.
“I also, in the second novel, incorporated some of my own family history,” she said. “My forefathers and foremothers were pioneers and I also have an indigenous ancestor, so there’s a little bit of that in the book as well.”
However, she said, the drive to write this particular story came out of a lifelong dream of renovating an old house.
Thinking that dream may have gotten away, Florence said, “‘Well, I’ll write a book about a woman who buys and renovates an old house instead.’ So it sort of morphed into the story about how this young, single mother from the city (Phoenix, Arizona) inherits an abandoned but fully-furnished farmhouse north of Peace River and lives there for one year.”
Even in fiction, Florence’s character doesn’t get around to renovating the house. Instead, her attention is spent on her and her four-year-old daughter’s survival.
“She doesn’t know anything about surviving in an isolated area without any technology,” said Florence. “I would say her greatest challenge is just to stay alive during the winter by keeping the fire going, because all she has for heat is a wood stove.”
That, and entertaining her four-year-old, she said. “Which is another thing that pioneers would have had to do — to figure out what to do with their kids in those cabins in the long winters.”
Though Bannister may not be a fan of the pioneering lifestyle (she’s mostly there for the money to sell the house), Florence said writing the book nonetheless scratched an itch for her.
The author said the book does look to fulfill that familiar human urge to return to simpler times, but at the same time doesn’t make light of the difficulties of that life.
“I think it’s going to strike a chord with a lot of people who wonder what that would be like, and kind of yearn for that simpler life before technology. Perhaps they don’t appreciate how much work it was,” she said.
“But there definitely is an appeal there. I can feel that appeal, myself.”
Florence said she hopes that people enjoy this book as much as they enjoyed her first, adding that Bird’s Eye View made it onto both the Toronto Star’s and Globe & Mail’s top 10 Canadian best sellers — due in no small part to support from people in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area.
In addition to support from book clubs and local libraries, Florence said, “I think probably Mulberry Bush (bookstores in Parksville and Qualicum Beach) has sold more copies of Bird’s Eye View than any other book store in Canada.”
For more information about Florence and her books, go to www.elinorflorence.com.