On Writing

I’m often asked how, perhaps improbably, I came to write a novel at this (advanced) stage of my life  and with this particular story. In itself, that’s a rather long story! I’ve always been interested in, and enjoyed, the craft of writing. I enjoyed writing my thesis and letters, memoranda and documents as a practicing lawyer. Over the years I authored several articles in law review journals. I wrote several articles in newspapers on matters of public policy from a legal standpoint. I even wrote a novel (unpublished and not very good) about a lawyer. I’ve also always been interested in history, including that of the Canadian prairies. I grew up in Winnipeg, a city on the Canadian prairies, in the 1940s and 50s and stories of Prohibition were still in the air when I was a small boy. My Dad told me of his memory of boyhood in Regina in the 1920s where his family had a house close to that of Harry Bronfman, and of the sounds of big cars roaring up back lanes at night. The drama seemed to stick with me. And I’d heard, I don’t know where now, something about a Bronfman being murdered in Saskatchewan in that period. Again, very dramatic.

About ten years ago, as my professional career was winding down and with more time on my hands, I wrote a couple of articles in “Canada’s History”, a magazine of popular Canadian history. I also had a look at an old and tattered manuscript I’d received many years before from my Grandmother Arnett. It was an unpublished novel by my grandfather, Jonathan Hughes Arnett, a totally fictional story about rum-running in Saskatchewan, obviously during Prohibition, which, I assume, was written while he lived in Regina. I wondered if I could do something with it and showed it to someone in the publishing business but there was no interest. I thought that maybe I could edit it and improve it but started to realize it had problems. Still, it was an interesting setting and genre and I tried to use it as a basis for a ‘treatment’ for a movie upon which a professional screenwriter could improve. But when I showed this to a professional screenwriter, Noel Baker, I was told it just wasn’t a very interesting story. So that was it for that story.

However, I’d become interested in the setting and genre and started reading about Saskatchewan history particularly during Prohibition. It didn’t take long to come across the murder which is the core of Bean Fate. Not just a murder, either, but a political situation raising classic issues about the administration of justice and political corruption. Initially, I tried my hand at a treatment with editing assistance from Noel Baker and came up with something that was pretty good but soon realized that developing a movie was a difficult project which I wasn’t interested in taking on. I was interested in the story! Rather than just give it up, at Baker’s suggestion and with his editing assistance I wrote an historical novel based on historical facts and real historical people but with fictional characters, too. Indeed, while the murder had, in fact, never been solved, my fictional protagonist solves it!

In writing this novel, beyond the specific historical facts I had a lot of my own background to draw upon. From my grandfather’s novel I had a general sense of the times and place plus ideas for some of my fictional characters although not the protagonist. In addition, in the 1940s I had often visited a small Manitoba town near where my other grandfather farmed. It was quite similar in size and layout to Bienfait, the real town in the novel, as it would have been in 1922 (the date of the novel) 20-25 years earlier. I remember its small two-storey hotel across from the train station and the train rolling into that station. I also attended for several weeks a two-room country school there during the 1950 Winnipeg Flood. I had the written reminiscences of my mother, Audrey Arnett, of teaching in a one-room rural school in Manitoba in the early 1930s. I even attended a 1950s barn dance!

I also had my career as a lawyer, including articling in Winnipeg to Brian Dickson , who subsequently became Chief Justice of Canada, working in the Department of Justice in Ottawa and as a corporate lawyer in Toronto and advising governments on law and policy. I’ve worked on political campaigns and raised money for political candidates. I’ve spent time in the US, at Harvard Law School in 1963-64 and Washington, DC, 1993-96, so that I do have  some familiarity with American law and government. And I read widely. All these contributed to my particular interest in the issues of politics and administration of justice which are key themes in Bean Fate.

As they say, we authors of fiction draw upon our experiences and people we have known. These are some of mine in a rather long life and the result is Bean Fate!”

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