The Scribbler is pleased to have Diane as our featured guest this week. We met several years ago at a Writer’s Federation function and she has agreed to be part of a 4Q Interview.
She is an award-winning bilingual author who grew up in Memramcook, New Brunswick. Besides her dozen books, Diane also wrote her translations. On the East Coast, she is best-known for her novel, La butte a Petard, winner of the 2006 Hackmatack Award. On the West Coast, Diane is remembered for the Vancouver Island picture book, Maxine’s Tree*, a Canadian bestseller, praised by Farley Mowat as "the kind of book I wish I had had as a child". It raised a controversy which lasted for weeks in the early 1990’s, when a pro-clear-cut logging group called for its ban from libraries in B.C. schools. It remained on the shelves and was listed as one of the events of 1992 in the Globe and Mail.
4Q: Thank you Diane for being our guest this week. It must be very special when your work gets noticed. Please tell us about the Hackmatack Award for La butte a Petard.
DL: Winning the Hackmatack was a wonderful reward for being true to myself. It meant a lot to me that young readers in the Maritimes chose this novel, which I wrote when I was longing for N.B. I received it just a few months before I finally moved back home after 20 years in Victoria. What a great welcome!
When I was growing up, I thought that the language spoken in my village was inferior to the Québécois French or the European French heard on the radio and television.
In the High School away from my village, classmates laughed at my accent and some of my words, so I rarely spoke in class.
At the Université de Moncton, while studying Acadian History, I was elated to learn that words I frequently spoke were Old French, a legacy from my Acadian ancestors. I felt that by speaking those precious words, I was honouring my ancestors, my village, my family and myself. This gave me confidence.
As an adult, I insisted on using some of those words in my first book, even though there was a chance it might be rejected by the publisher, readers, and critics. La butte à Pétard won an honorable mention for the 1990 Prix France-Acadie, and later, the augmented edition won the 2006 Hackmatack Award. It has been continually published since 1989. Along with its sequels, it has been used in schools across Canada and in Louisiana as an introduction to the history of Acadians.
For the last 30 years, I have kept my Acadian accent and continue to speak those words on the radio, television and in presentations to audiences across Canada and in Louisiana. Being true to myself, led to a wonderful writing career.
4Q: You write mainly in French with several works in English. It must be rewarding to entertain in both languages. Please tell us about that experience.
DL: Yes it is… and I revel in it! My father was a Francophone and my mother, an Anglophone so naturally I love both languages equally.
My mother, Sheila Tower, was from Dorchester, and a voracious reader. Thanks to her, I am an English and French author!
In 1963, Acadian children with an Anglophone mother were automatically sent to English schools. That was the rule in my 99% French community. Despite being intimidated by the education system, my very young mother was adamant that I go to a French school. My mother often said that insisting her six children go to school in French was one of the best things that she had ever done.
My father, Raymond E. Léger was an Acadian from Memramcook who sang every day and recited La Fontaine’s fables at work!
Surprisingly, for a man who never sat still long enough to read a book, my father became a most unusual literary agent! His enthusiasm and support for my first book gave me the confidence to send its manuscript to a publisher. He sold hundreds if not thousands of La butte à Pétard. Even at the end of his life, unable to move from his hospital bed, he sold my books to the nurses!
4Q: Please correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t your latest publication My Two Grandmothers? Can you share what your inspiration was for this story?
DL: Yes, it is my latest in English. My Two Grandmothers (like the French version, Mémére Soleil, Nannie Lune), is a true account meant to poke gentle fun at the differences between my Acadian grandmother, Hermance, who ran a general store in my village, and my Scottish grandmother, Henrietta, who lived in the nearby village of Dorchester.
I love reading these books and imitating my grandmothers, who were as different from each other as the sun from the moon, with only their grandchildren in common. Children and adults respond very well to this book. The teacher in me is pleased to have inspired people of all ages to write stories about their own grandparents.
My latest book in French, L’Acadie en baratte, was published in October. It is about an Acadian grandmother and her Québécois grandson who go on a whimsical camping tour of the Maritimes in her old Westfalia.
It is not because I am a new grandmother that I have written these last two stories. Grandparents have been characters in my books from the first one. As a matter of fact, Nannie from My Two Grandmothers is also the great-grandmother in Maxine’s Tree. I actually wrote My Two Grandmothers 25 years ago before it was finally published in 2016! So to you writers out there: hang on to the stories that are dear to you!
4Q: Lastly, please tell us what is in the future for Diane Carmel Leger.
DL: I have my fingers crossed for a couple of English manuscripts being considered by publishers. I will have a new French novel in bookstores this summer, if all goes as planned. Experience has taught me not to speak about a book before I have it in my hands. Delays happen often in the publishing world. A writer must be very patient!
Thank you Diane for being our guest this week. Happy writing and best wishes for all your future works.
You can read more about Diane and her books by going to these links.
Facebook: Diane Carmel Léger-Children’s author
Facebook : Diane Carmel Léger-Auteure jeunesse
*Maxine’s Tree is no longer available from the publisher, but can be purchased at Chapters in Dieppe, N.B., or during Diane’s author visits.
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