When local author and artist Ruth Rodgers inquired about renting the Coopers Green Hall in Halfmoon Bay for the launch of her new work of historical fiction, Those Who Stay, she was dismayed to be told that the maximum occupancy in these days of physical distancing was a total of 11 people. “Given that I had almost 100 people for the launch of Those Who Wander last October, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to work,” she says.
The COVID lockdown did have a positive effect, however. Rodgers wrote Those Who Stay in less than one year, as opposed to the two years it took her to write the first novel. Those Who Wander followed Halfmoon Bay’s first white settler, Clara Lyell, who became the area’s first postmistress and was involved in an unsolved murder in the Bay in 1922. The sequel continues the story through to 1946, but focuses on fictional character Grace Joe, a young woman of mixed white/shíshálh heritage who seeks to make a career in health care and finds herself not only facing personal obstacles related to her race, but also uncovering disturbing conditions in British Columbia’s segregated Indian hospitals.
“When I was researching for the first book, I was focused on the story of residential schools, but I kept coming across references to these separate tuberculosis hospitals for indigenous. I had never heard of them before that, so for the second book I wanted to explore them more deeply,” Rodgers says.
The new novel departs from Halfmoon Bay. Inspired by the 2010 non-fiction Women of Pender Harbour: Their Voices, Their History, Rodgers set the first part in Pender Harbour, “so I could integrate all these strong women and how they homesteaded in the face of limiting circumstances.” The plot also moves down into the Fraser Valley, to the Coqualeetza Indian Hospital in Sardis, near Chilliwack.
The novel, says Rodgers, “explores the theme of difference, of how we treat people we perceive as ‘other,’ but don’t worry – it’s not all politics; there’s a storyline involving a German spy and an exciting showdown climax too.”
To register to (virtually) attend the launch of the book, email Emily Kammerle at firstname.lastname@example.org. A link to the Zoom meeting will be sent to you on the day of the launch, Saturday, Oct. 3. The launch will include a reading from the book, a slide show by the author, and an opportunity to ask questions. It will last from 4-4:40 p.m. Copies of both books (Those Who Wander and Those Who Stay) are available from the author in her Halfmoon Bay studio (email@example.com), and at Talewind Books in Sechelt.