A newly-released wartime novel by Sunshine Coast writer Ken Budd builds momentum by crossing boundaries. An American pilot joins the Royal Canadian Air Force. The roar of military aircraft interrupts the surf-swept serenity of Vancouver Island’s Long Beach. Intercultural relationships expose ignorance and prejudice.
No Killers is Budd’s first novel for adults. He previously published a four-volume series of juvenile fiction inspired by his formative years in Saskatchewan and Alberta. For the hometown of his latest book’s hero, Second World War airman Jedidiah McKittrick, Budd needed to find a picture-perfect American locale.
“I needed a place in the States that was similar to what I knew in Brooks [in southern Alberta] so I could write a bit about it without having to go there,” said Budd. He settled on Yakima, southeast of Seattle, as the seat of the fictional McKittrick clan. Its proximity to R.C.A.F. training facilities in Claresholm, Alberta was vital.
“Jed ultimately ends up having to go across the border [to Claresholm] because he gets kicked out of the U.S. military and desperately wants to make better the error of his judgement,” Budd explained.
When his commanding officer decides that Jed needs more training before fighting in skies over Europe, the action shifts to the Long Beach Airbase, south of Tofino. Conflict is inevitable given the uncomfortable juxtaposition of military machinery and unspoiled landscapes. The association of bravado-charged pilots with local Indigenous people raises stakes even further.
The route that Budd took to his debut adult novel was just as circuitous. He drafted the first chapters 50 years ago and used them to earn a residency at the Banff Writing Program, where he spent a summer learning from author W.O. Mitchell. After returning to his career as a high school instructor (and even during a decade-long hiatus in the publishing business), No Killers gathered dust.
Until COVID-19. After Budd cleaned up his storage locker and updated his will, his dentist prompted him to tackle yet another retirement project: completing the book’s manuscript.
“When I came back to it, I realized I had to pick up from where I left off and read through and change things,” said Budd. “Fiction is all about conflict and if your conflict is vacuous, then people aren’t necessarily impressed. You’ve got to make highlights here and there and then the connective tissue between those highlights has to be interesting.”
The book is a study of 1940s virility, and in one cringe-inducing episode, describes in gory detail an attack on a character’s masculine identity. The counterpoint to such adrenaline-drenched prose is Budd’s pensive descriptions of the Pacific coastline, and the tender account of a love affair between Jed and a young Indigenous woman. The storied geography of Vancouver Island’s coastline instills their relationship with mythological qualities. Budd’s descriptions of the area’s marine life wields both verisimilitude and metaphorical heft.
Budd plans a sequel — No Cowards — for publication in 2024, which will continue the story of McKittrick progeny into the next generation and another conflict: the Vietnam War.
No Killers is available for purchase from online retailers and the publishing company that Budd operates with one of his former English pupils, accessible online at summerwild.ca.