Thursday, December 6, 2018

My Christmas novel: WINTER SHADOWS










The story takes place in the heavy snows of Manitoba along the deep river banks of the Red River.

When Cass finds the star brooch once belonging to Beatrice Alexander, visions lead her to Beatrice's diary. Do the girls really communicate across time, or is it all in their imaginations?

Besides developing the stories and connections between Beatrice and Cass, I also had the pleasure of researching and looking at the food and entertainments that might have occurred at this festive holiday time. 

lot of people don't realize until they've read Winter Shadows that the entire story is spun around a Victorian Christmas in an early settlement along the Red River; as well as a modern Christmas story in the same stone house along that river.

I used this holiday because it is often used in stories to bring families together in celebration and harmony. But when those families are in fact, very dysfunctional, it can cause all kinds of new stresses - some that break spirits and others that offer new strengths.

In the 1850's along the Red River, in the small settlement of St. Cuthbert's where Beatrice Alexander lives, Christmas is one of the few festive holidays that breaks the cold monotony of a long winter. It is a time that Beatrice usually loves; but because she is now living with a very  nasty stepmother who seems to be influencing Beatrice's kindly Métis father, Christmas looks very bleak indeed. Only her old Cree grandmother has been "put away from sight" in one of the bedrooms in the house, offers her solace and demands that she remain proud of her heritage. 

The Christmas of 1856 becomes a catalyst for even more tension between Beatrice and her stepmother Ivy. And when Ivy's son, Duncan Kilgour, arrives on the scene, even more tension develops - of a different kind. 

In the modern world, in the very same stone house that Beatrice lived in all those years ago, Cass is also living with a difficult stepmother, Jean, and her annoying daughter Daisy, as well as Cass's dad -  who wants this to be the start of a new and happy life for all of them together.Cass's mother died two years before, and Cass resents her stepmother Jean taking over her mother's place. This is not a happy family looking forward to Christmas.

My research for the settings for Winter Shadows took me to rural Manitoba St. Andrew's, a parish on the Red River in Manitoba, which still has some of the old stone houses from around 1850.

The exterior of my house in the novel, Old Maples, is fashioned after that of Captain Kennedy's house along the Red River (now  a tea house and museum) and some of the interior comes from a typical small whitewashed Red River squared-logged house; the sort where the farmers and former servants of the Hudson's Bay Company lived; and also the Governor's House at Lower Fort Garry, a few miles away - as Beatrice's father had once been a man of rank in the Hudson's Bay Company.


 Photo by Margaret Buffie
     Governor's Kitchen - Lower Fort Garry


Above is hearth in the Governor's house at the fur trading post which gave me an idea of what the old hearth could look like in Old Maples - which Cass (in modern times) sees for the first time when the workmen renovating the old house tear off the wall that is hiding it. She finds an important link to the past inside the sooty hearth wall. There are a lot of hidden things in that old house! Even a ghost...


    Photo by Margaret Buffie
Governor's Kitchen - Lower Fort Garry

This is the old kitchen at the fort, below, c 1850. Although it's not exactly the same as my other main character Beatrice's kitchen in 1856, it's pretty close. Her home kitchen at Old Maples is a bit larger, as it would be the centre of family life unlike the Governor's house. You can see the smoke hanging in the air. In Beatrice's kitchen there is also a large wooden table to work and to eat at and six wooden chairs - and her step-mother Ivy's locked store cupboard! A similar table is seen below.


 Photo by Margaret Buffie


Cass and Beatrice share the same house over 150 years apart. Both are unhappy young women, each facing a tough new stepmother as well as other big changes in their lives. They often look out the windows of the old house to the river and trees beyond. Are they really seeing each other through time?







 Photo by Margaret Buffie






 Photo by Margaret Buffie





 Photo by Margaret Buffie

I'm not sure what this little sleigh, above is, except probably a "play" sleigh for a child or a form of highchair. But it has a very Christmas-y look to it!






Captain Kennedy's House was the house I used 
for Beatrice's home, but much altered of course!


                                                
                                        
                                   Photos by Margaret Buffie   
                                     Captain Kennedy's Desk
                 




                 A Red River farm house - similar to the 
                one Duncan Kilgour lives in.
           Photo by Margaret Buffie


EXCERPTS FROM SOME  MEDIA REVIEWS: to give you more idea of the story through reviewers eyes!



CANADIAN LITERATURE: A Quarterly of Criticism and Review: June 2011
The female protagonists ....at the brink of independent adulthood ... are aware that they have to think seriously about the consequences of their decisions. ... Beatrice, and Cassandra have extra challenges because of their dysfunctional families, and they feel isolated from their contemporaries who appear to come from more stable and conventional ones. Their fathers’ inability to emotionally support or protect them is the catalyst towards change in their lives.

Margaret Buffie’s Winter Shadows tells the intertwined stories of two Manitoba girls who are separated by time but united by parallel situations. Their timelines intersect at similar moments in their lives when they are trying to adjust to reconfigurations of their families, brought about by the remarriage of their fathers. The strained relationships with their stepmothers and stepsiblings form the bulk of the crises in the novels, and at moments of particular emotional distress, the girls have visions of each other that give them strength and encouragement; the past and future influence each other for the better. The modern Cassandra is worried she is losing her mind and seeing ghosts, but Beatrice, who lives in the nineteenth century (and is later revealed as Cassandra’s ancestor), is closer to her First Nations roots and more open-minded about visions. Although the wicked stepmother paradigm seems to be followed initially, the novels move towards better comprehension of the stepmothers’ characters, not surprisingly misinterpreted by the teenagers at the beginning. The novel’s hopeful ending comes from more effective communication and greater understanding of others’ positions, an understanding that leaves the protagonists with an improved, if not an ideal relationship with the stepfamily....Cassandra and Beatrice are sympathetic protagonists whose stories of eventual personal empowerment are thought-provoking. The well-told narrative and the argument that critical thinking leads to compassion and just action towards others make ... attractive choice for young adults.

American Library Assoc's BOOKLIST: January 2011
Hatred for their wicked stepmothers bonds two girls living in a stone house in Manitoba, Canada, more than 150 years apart. Grieving for her dead mother, high-school senior Cass is furious that she has to share a room with the daughter of her dad’s new, harsh-tempered wife. Then she finds the 1836 diary of Beatrice, who is part Cree and faces vicious racism as a “half-breed” in her mostly white community. In her journal entries, Beatrice weighs her feelings toward the town minister, who she thinks about marrying, and the free-thinking Duncan, who may just be a troublemaker. As Cass bonds with her classmate Martin, she begins to see Beatrice in her dreams and even writes advice to Beatrice in her diary. The alternating narratives are gripping, and the characters are drawn with rich complexity; even the stepmothers are finally humanized. Readers will be pulled in by the searing history of bigotry as well as the universals of family conflict, love, and friendship. Grades 7-10. --Hazel Rochman
QUILL AND QUIRE, DECEMBER 2010:
Vicky Metcalf Award-Winner Margaret
Buffie returns with a breathtaking novel
 that is part realism, part time-travel fantasy,
and part coming of age tale. Winter
Shadows focuses on two young women who
live in the same Manitoba home a century and a half apart.....
This communication across time obviously
draws on the conventions of fantasy, but these elements
arenever forced or implausible, and there is plenty of
suspense and energy to sustain the two alternating narratives."
CANADIAN MATERIALS, OCTOBER 2010:
The past setting of this novel is simply stunning. Buffie immerses the reader in the cold, the food (and the effort it took to find and prepare it), the influence of the church, and above all, the intermingling of the Scottish and native and English cultures in the settlement near Selkirk, MB. She is clearly sympathetic to the native/Metis wisdom and connection with the land, using many Cree words (that are both easily understood in context and explained in a glossary).....Buffie is a master of the ghost story, carefully allowing Cass and Beatrice to drift in and out of each other's lives in convincing fashion. The convention of the diary allows Cass to connect the dots and learn more about her ancestors. The dialogue both in past and present is authentic, revealing character and moving the action along.
DR. ANDREA DEAKIN
Okanagan College Library NOVEMBER 2010
:

....The 1856 setting is particularly effective and engaging. You feel the cold, you watch the preparation of a feast, you learn about the society and its expectations, and you become engaged in the lively character of Duncan Kilgour and his odd courting. The culture, the time, the expectations of that time, is all brought vividly alive.
Beatrice and Cass interact, sense each other, and affect each other in a thoroughly convincing way in this engaging novel."
KIRKUS: 
Buffie’s characters and the conflicts they face are deeply engaging...Of special interest is the rare portrait of a multiracial community when informal marriages among British and First Nations people were common.

Other excerpts by online reviewers: "It's been a few years since I read a Margaret Buffie novel and the wait was so worth it! I have always admired her writing. She makes a ghost story believable and engaging. In her new book, she introduces her readers to Cass and Beatrice, ancestors born one hundred and fifty years apart, but with a strong connection.....There is so much here to attract readers. It is historical and informative about Manitoba's past. It deals with the issues that blended families face, in the past and in the present. It helps us understand the need for communication during difficult times, and it offers up characters who will live long in our memories. What more can we ask?" 
Sal’sfictionaddiction.com

"It was an enjoyable read, well written with wonderful characters, a great setting, and an interesting plot to which many can relate. It was a little like a contemporary Cinderella meets Jane Eyre, with a pinch of Mr. Darcy." Mimosa Effect. 

"I found the story line intriguing. It's like two different novels are being merged into one using the diary as a vehicle. There's a special ending to both stories and I won't give away what happens. Get yourself a copy and read this charming tale of two young women coming of age. You won't be disappointed." bkfaerie blog

"I adored WINTER SHADOWS. As I read it, it completely consumed me. ...this is a beautifully crafted book, and I thoroughly enjoyed every page. 5 stars"bookreporter.com

FROM AMAZON
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read!Jan 24 2011

This review is from: Winter Shadows (Hardcover)
Margaret Buffie's tenth novel, Winter Shadows, is a beautifully crafted, richly detailed 'supernatural suspense' story. The author's fascination with the supernatural began at a young age. "My interest in the supernatural came about after my dad died. I was twelve at the time. I suddenly became very interested in books about life after death. I began going to the library and taking out books from the non-fiction section about this topic, from spirituality of the late 1800s, to biographies of real-life ghost busters, to ordinary people who had had extraordinary supernatural experiences."

In Winter Shadows two young women, Beatrice and Cass, share separate but connected realities and an ancestry dating back to Manitoba's early settler days. Beatrice and Cass occupy the same house, Old Maples on the banks of the Red River, but not the same century. The story opens with Beatrice, who is English-Métis, her dead mother is English and her father is Cree First Nation (Cree words are used throughout the narrative, which includes a glossary of Cree terms at the back of the book).

It is the winter of 1856 and Beatrice is dashing through the snow in her horse-led sleigh. Suddenly, through the flying snow she sees a ghostly apparition. Tupper, the horse, also senses something amiss. "As the conveyance passed a girl with a halo of red hair stared down at Beatrice through one of the windows." The conveyance is, of course, a car and the girl, Cass, and the "'strange device" vanish from view into the blowing snow. In a few short paragraphs, Buffie has set the scene and given the reader a palpable image of place, a snowy December in Manitoba.

The chapters alternate between the two characters and span the winter months leading up to Christmas. Beatrice begins writing a diary on December 8 and the diary becomes the means through which Cass learns about Beatrice's life and begins to reflect on her own. Cass's step-mom (the source of her anger) is renovating Cass's childhood home, abolishing anything in the house that belonged to Cass's mother. In the original fireplace, Cass finds a broach, belonging to Beatrice and thus begins her glimpses into this other world, a look back into the history of her family and Old Maples.

Beatrice and Cass are both strong-willed characters, struggling to find happiness in new circumstances. As the story builds, the girls become more aware of each other and their ability not only to be seen but also to influence the other. As the two stories become interwoven, they play off of one another in amazing ways. Will Beatrice marry the minister, a man she doesn't love but who offers a way out of the stifling environs of her home? Or will she follow her heart and realize that she loves Duncan? Will Cass come to terms with her new life? Winter shadows hang heavy on the hearts of both characters.

Margaret Buffie has used the ghost story "as a way of examining the self coming to terms with the self," as Margaret Atwood describes it. Beatrice and Cass are transformed through their 'encounters' with one another. This book, so rich with fascinating historical detail and fully realized characters who seem to live outside its pages, is a must-read.









A SPECIAL READER'S EMAIL

"I'm 12 years old and i just finished reading your book called Winter Shadows and I have to say, I loved it! It's probably something you hear all the time...but anyway, I loved the way you sculpted the book, I loved the way you showed Beatrice's cluelessness to her love towards Duncan, it was so sweet but, i didn't like Robert he's to uptight, no fun, my idea of fun is kinda weird but, it's fun for me to curl under the covers with a good book and the fireplace crackling, hearing the soft rain touching my window......well anyhow I nearly cried when Cass was always fighting with Jean and never forgiving herself for not being there when her Mother died, it's, like this weird feeling inside me, very few books can do that to me. I'm sort of a writer myself but my books aren't really all the spectacular.....i do hope you read this email, even if you skimmed, thanks for listening!

A very big fan,
Khushi -- "

A Follow-up from Khushi - I love this, too!

Sorry about replying so late!!! And yes my mom did say yes about putting my email on your blog. I also showed it to my librarian who is incidentally, one of my friends, she was the one who told me about your book, Winter Shadows, and now she's ordering me to return the book to the library so she can read it, and I'm flat out refusing. I just can't stop reading your book!! Till now I've read it at least 6 times, and am on the 7th time currently. She also told me about her daughter who did the same spontaneous act as I did, writing to an author. The author replied back, which was completely unexpected and turns out the author lived on her street!!!! It was completely ironic, and completely amazing.

Sincerely hoping you reply back,
Khushi

P.S. Thanks for replying to that first email, it really made my day!  


And I wrote back to this amazing young woman!


( I found this lovely little Victorian Christmas card to "Beatrice sends best wishes for a Merry Christmas" and felt it had to be from her!)





Winter Shadows is available in hardcover and paperback in most local bookstores (like McNally Robinson's here in Winnipeg) - and through online bookstores such as Chapters, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and more. It is also available as an eBook on most online bookstores in their eBook sections.. 



New Review:

https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/winter-shadows/
FROM THE HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY

Winter Shadows

Margaret Buffie tells parallel stories of two girls who are kindred spirits in situation, if not in time or culture. In present-day Manitoba, teenage Cass is grieving for her mother. Her father’s new wife is distant, comes with a bratty new stepsister in tow, and spouts clichés with every breath. Meanwhile, in 1856, the same stone house is home to Beatrice, just returned from teaching in Upper Canada to another beloved father, and another stepmother who neglects Beatrice and her Cree grandmother. Expected to marry, Beatrice soon faces a choice between two very different men.
Connected by Beatrice’s diary, the two young women become ghosts to one another. Cass wonders if her “shadows” are signs of clinical depression and insanity, while Beatrice, raised in the Metis culture with a strong belief in the powers of dreaming, accepts Cass as a spirit girl. Over the coming Christmastime, the worlds converge in decision and ultimate harmony.
Lyrically told, with compelling characters, Winter Shadows illuminates the stigma of mixed ancestry in 1856, as well as the stigma of depression today. Great storytelling.