I borrowed Sisters in the Wilderness, a biography of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill by Charlotte Gray, from my mom for two reasons. First, I was interested in the women. I had studied their works briefly in my university Canadian literature class and I have a copy of Moodie’s book Roughing It in the Bush. Both had been well-known writers in England before coming to Canada with their husbands, and they turned their pens to describing the Canada they discovered and their experiences here.
One thing I found interesting was that it doesn’t seem like the Canadian publishing industry has changed much since its fledgling days when Moodie and Traill were trying to get published. It still seems easier to get published by American (or even British publishers) than Canadian publishers, and those publishers pay better than the Canadian markets. Traill and Moodie wanted to support the local publishing industry, but also needed to make money from their writing—though the latter rarely happened, despite the popularity of their works and their previous successes.
Second, I was interested in how one author wrote about historical figures. I could just write a biography like that about Charlotte Small. In some ways, that would be easier than trying to write historical fiction based on her life. While I enjoyed the biography, however, I think I want to be more creative in my own writing. I want to get into Charlotte’s head and to make her come alive for the readers. I want to explore her life with all the leeway that writing historical fiction, rather than straight biography, can give me.
I flipped through the list of sources at the end of the book, curious about how one researches two women in order to write a biography about them—especially with the detail that Charlotte Grey went into. I was rather amazed at all the sources and the places that she found information. Moodie and Traill themselves left a lot of writing behind—besides their published works, both were prolific letter writers—but their siblings were also writers. I can see I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in my research on Charlotte Small; more digging will be required.
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