by Glenn P. Booth
GENRE: Fiction – Historical – Coming of Age
“This heartfelt story grabs the reader from the very start and doesn’t let go. Fans of historical fiction are in for a treat.” – The Prairies Book Review
Discrimination, war in Europe, a pandemic. . .
Sofiya, a young Ukrainian immigrant, experiences all of this and more. It could be 2022, but it’s Manitoba in the early 1900s.
Sofiya is the third consecutive girl born on a poor homestead near Gimli in 1903. She is bright and feisty but nothing more is expected of her than to be a domestic, and at age thirteen she is sent to be a maid to a wealthy family in Winnipeg. There, she experiences the condescension of the English towards the ‘Bohunks’, while her half-brother is interned during WW1, deemed an enemy alien.
While the Great War is raging in Europe, an undeclared war between the classes is being fought at home. This conflict comes to a head in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 when the working classes rise up against their English masters, shut down the city and demand a better deal. The city is divided and everyone must choose a side.
Them Days takes you on Sofiya’s journey, as she discovers what it means to be an immigrant and a woman, struggling to find love and her identity – at the same time that Canada is breaking free from Mother England’s apron strings.
“In them days, we wuz poor but happy.”
You’re probably laughing at how trite this is. But I’ve heard my sister Helen, and several other members of my family, speak those exact words more times than I care to remember. And it’s exactly how they remember “Them Days.”
For us, Them Days goes back to growing up north of Winnipeg on marginal farmland at the turn of the 20th century. Like tens of thousands of Ukrainian and other Eastern European immigrants, my family had come searching for a better life in Canada, lured by the promise of free land.
For the most part, the promises were kept, although, as it would turn out, a few “extras” were thrown into the deal. Unfortunately for my family, like many Ukrainians, they had requested land with wood on it. Back in the old country, they had often frozen through long winters on the Steppes because of a lack of wood for building fires. The Canadian government’s land agent obliged, and they were given some scratchy stony ground near Gimli, Manitoba, where the fertile prairie gives way to swampy Boreal forest. But it had wood!
With this endowment, it was bound to be a hard life. But my sister still remembers it as a time of happiness.
Memories—how they play tricks on us—and how they vary from person to person. It never ceases to amaze me how my family members remember the same events so differently.
It was a warm June day in 1982, the last time the seven of us who had survived to late adulthood had gotten together for an informal family reunion. We were sitting in my youngest sister’s trailer, which was parked on the old family homestead. None of us were regular drinkers, but the occasion had inspired my brothers to have a little whiskey, and my sisters and I were sipping some white wine.
Sure enough, whether it was the heat, the alcohol, or just our age and the occasion, my siblings waxed maudlin. And it didn’t take long before Helen spoke those familiar words, “In them days…,” and my brothers nodded in agreement. Soon, happy stories of Them Days came pouring out like a prairie river spilling over its banks in the spring.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I suppose that I’m a good ‘representative’ Canadian because my four grandparents all had different backgrounds: English, Scottish, Metis, and Ukrainian. My parents split when I was three years old, so I was raised by a single mom. When she died just before my 14th birthday, my brother and I subsequently lived with my Ukrainian grandmother and she had a lot of influence on us.
After graduating from the University of Manitoba, I moved to Alberta because I had fallen in love with the Rocky Mountains. While studying French in Grenoble in 1983 I met my wife-to-be, Elisabeth, who is Brazilian. We regularly visit her extended family in Brazil and I can now get by in Portuguese. We have been married for 36 years and have two grown sons who, unfortunately, don’t live anywhere near Alberta!
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
My grandmother used to tell me stories about growing up as a young Ukrainian immigrant on the family homestead north of Winnipeg, and of her early life in Winnipeg where she was sent to be a maid at the age of thirteen. Although she passed away 30 years ago, those stories always stuck with me and, as I grew older, I began to realize just how tough life was back in “Them Days”.
As I read a little about Winnipeg’s history in the early 1900s, I realized just how tumultuous and interesting it was, particularly for Ukrainians: WW1, passage of the War Measures Act and the internment of the Ukrainians in 24 concentration camps across the country; severe discrimination at the hands of the English Canadians, the Spanish Flu, and the big Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 . – such an incredible time!
I decided that the story of my grandmother, her family, and countless other Ukrainian immigrants who had lived through the same events needed to be told. However, first and foremost, it is an homage to the memory of my grandmother (nee Helen Lyszko).
How do you create your characters?
In Them Days, a lot of the characters were created from my memories of what the Ukrainian members of my grandmother’s family were like. Otherwise, I usually sketch some general characteristics and start writing – like many other writers, I find that a character soon takes on a life of his/her own, so not everything is planned out.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
Stories about how people’s lives are shaped/influenced by the times in which they live, and how they respond to those influences.
I suppose my own early life experiences caused me to self-reflect about how those events affected my own life – early divorce of my parents, being raised by a single mom, her premature death at age 36, moving to boomtown Calgary as a young man – and got me more generally interested in how our lives are shaped by our times.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Mostly from real-life historical events.
What do you like to read?
Murder mysteries and historical fiction. Ambrose Parry’s Raven/Fisher series nicely combines the two genres.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Pick something that has a lot of meaning to you, spend some time thinking about the story you want to tell, draft an outline of the plot, the characters, etc. and then start writing!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Writing, for most of us, requires persistence and dedication. Don’t bother if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort.
Glenn was born and raised in Winnipeg, where he lived with his Ukrainian grandmother, Helen Lesko, after he and his brother were orphaned just before his fourteenth birthday. He grew up listening to Helen’s stories about ‘Them Days’ growing up on the homestead near Gimli, and life in Winnipeg in the late 1910s and 1920s.
Glenn attended the University of Manitoba and the University of Alberta where he respectively obtained his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts (Economics) degrees. Among other jobs, he subsequently worked with Canada’s National Energy Board, where he held positions including Chief Economist, Executive Director of Corporate Planning and External Relations, and Executive Director of Communications and Human Resources.
Glenn has published one other novel, Demons in Every Man, a murder mystery set in the Calgary oil patch, published by Friesen Press in 2019.
The author lives in Calgary with his Brazilian-born wife of 36 years, Elisabeth. Glenn and Elisabeth have two grown sons who are now successfully making their way in the world. Glenn enjoys returning to Winnipeg every summer to visit with his cousins and old friends, and to enjoy cottage life on Lake Winnipeg. While in Calgary, he loves scrambling and hiking in the Rockies, as well as mountain biking and X-country skiing with friends. Of course, Glenn is also an avid reader.
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Glenn P. Booth will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.