I was introduced to Jeanette’s delightful novel - The Apprenticeship of Molly Chant – when asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing her novel by James Fisher of The Maritime Reader. After reading the following, I knew this was a story I wanted to read.
“Sixteen-year-old Molly Chant faces the noose, a punishment unheard of in 1869. Her one chance for escape is to follow her friend, Mick, to a ship ready to sail to the desolate island of Newfoundland. But, crossing the vast, angry ocean to the colonies could be a new kind of death sentence.”
I was enthralled. Read the review HERE.
Jeanette is formerly of Bonavista, Newfoundland. She has graciously accepted our invitation to be our guest this week to participate in a 4Q Interview and is sharing an Excerpt from her novel.
Jeanette Winsor is a graduate of The Humber School for Writers, Toronto, and has been writing both novels and short stories for the past twenty years. Many of her works are set in Newfoundland out ports as she tries to capture a culture quickly giving way to the modern world. Her nonfiction pieces have been published in journals and magazines both nationally and internationally. Her short stories have appeared in Unleashed Ink, Frustrated Writers, CanWrite Anthology and most recently, The Antigonish Review. She is a member of the Writers’ Community of York Region, The Toronto Romance Writers, and The Barrie Writers’ Club.
Having completed a Bachelors degree at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and a Masters degree in Adult Education from St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, her career as a lecturer/instructor wended its way from St John’s, NL to Belize City, Belize, on to Edmonton, AB and then, Barrie, ON.
She now lives in Belize City and, like just about every other Newfoundlander, often yearns for the comfort and traditions of the wonderful place called The Rock.
4Q: Please tell our readers what to expect when they pick up there copy of The Apprenticeship of Molly Chant.
JW: Molly Chant’s apprenticeship as a midwife starts in Ireland (in the mid 1800’s) but quickly transfers to the desolate island of Newfoundland. She strives in a community—filled with superstition and old wives’ tales—to survive and to become a respected member. Learning quickly that her medicines and practices are frowned on here, she lives each day being both the pariah and the woman everyone comes to (secretly) for help during times of sickness. It’s a long hard road to acceptance but Molly continues, until a tragic event brings her life full circle.
Drawing on the history and stories of the small village of Spillar’s Cove, near Bonavista where my family originated, I have created the fictional community of Silver Cape Cove. While the characters who live in the story are totally fictional, I have tried to draw on the characteristics and personalities that are prominent in the Newfoundland culture. As far as possible, any references to history, geography, and cultural practices have been researched and are true to the times and places. For example, I am often asked why I called the ship that brings Ignatius and Molly into Silver Cape Cove the Ariel. I had checked the website http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/ and found that in 1863 the SS Ariel was the coastal steamer that ran from St John’s north to Twillingate. While ‘Ariel’ is currently the name of a Disney character, it in no way influenced my naming that ship.
4Q: What inspired this story?
JW: Two things inspired this story. First, I was born and raised in Bonavista, NL in the 60’s. Our community had ‘witches’. No, they weren’t the broomstick riding, cauldron stirring women of folklore, but they had a certain power. They carried a stigma that gave them this power and people went out of their way to be ‘nice’ out of fear these women would put a ‘wish’ or a spell on them. These spells would cause a loss of some kind, or pain and suffering and getting rid of them took time and energy.
The second thing that inspired me was a book based on the research of Dr. Barbara Reiti of Memorial University of Newfoundland called Making Witches: Newfoundland Traditions of Spells and Counterspells. In her book, Reiti explores the significance of the fact that certain communities had ‘witches’ in Newfoundland because of a combination of social interdependence and female coping strategies in an unstable economy. The book fascinated me and although Reiti never actually spells out which community she is discussing, it is clear to anyone who has lived there that she is referring to Bonavista and the surrounding coves.
The story is told from Molly’s perspective and so we are able to understand some of the ‘unusual’ things she does. She is not the fearsome hag that some would assume her to be, but a woman trying to survive in a world where women had little power. Just as, I believe, the women of Bonavista were using their ‘power’ as a survival tactic.
4Q: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.
JW: One memory that comes to mind is of stealing a cat when I was about eight years old. The cat, a big orange tom, came out to greet me every day on my way to and from school. One day he came close enough for me to grab him and sneak him into my bookbag. I brought him home and hid him in the wood shed, feeding him part of my supper. He stayed there all night and when I got home from school the next day, his owner sat in the kitchen, drinking tea with my father.
Dad folded his hands together on the table and quietly said, “Mr. Hunt is looking for his cat. The orange one. Didn’t see it around, did you?”
I picked up my wet mittens and pinned them to the clothesline over the stove where wet mittens and socks belonged. “I never seen any cat.”
My father was no fool. “No? Well, whoever got your cat, Mr. Hunt, is the worse kind of thief. Don’t you keep that cat in the barn to chase away the rats?”
“I do. And you know, the hardest part is, that’s the best cat I ever had. Why, every night, he has a lunch with me and the missus before we goes to bed. He loves jam jams.”
I giggled and glanced toward the man. But he wasn’t smiling. His face, drawn down, eyebrows knitted together, made him look scary.
My smile dropped and the air around me grew harder to breathe.
Dad gave me a look like he did when I kick the seat during mass or interrupted when people were talking.
The two men chatted on, drinking their tea, and talking about storms on the Grand Banks.
The sun fell lower in the sky and Mr. Hunt stood, rubbed his hand across the top of my head. “Well, seems like ‘tis bad news I’ll have to carry home to the missus.” He put on his cap, stared at Dad. “A wonderful cat. Like a child to us, he is.”
His words pierced my heart. I broke down and went to the woodshed. Despite the sadness and tears, I figured ‘twas best to give the cat back. I learned several lessons that day—the most important I think, a lesson in empathy.
4Q: The Apprenticeship of Molly Chant is the first novel in the Silver Cape Cove series. Can you tell us about the next book(s) in the series and what we can look forward to?
JW: The next book in this series The Healer’s Journey is about a young man, Thomas, who feels he has been ‘witched’ by Molly Chant and as a result, he, too, becomes a pariah in the cove. He tries to make sense of it, but when his family has a bad fishing season, they call him a jinker and send him away from the one thing he loves most of all—the ocean. On his return to the cove several years later, he learns a secret that brings his life to a different place.
The third book in the series, According to Daniel, continues Molly Chant’s legacy and looks at some of the history of mental illness in Newfoundland back in the 1930’s through the eyes of a teenage boy who has witnessed a most incredible tragedy.
4Q: On a more personal note (if we’re not being too nosey), how did a young author from Newfoundland end up in Belize?
JW: This ‘older’ woman came to Belize with her husband back in 2000. He worked with the utility company here and I taught at St John’s College. We were here for 6 years, then went back to Canada. Last fall my husband was called back and I was delighted to return with him. I am writing full time and enjoying the beautiful country—when we are not on Covid lockdown. I miss being able to go back to Canada to visit my grandchildren, but as soon as travel bans are lifted and borders are open, we will be back to visit family and enjoy the people, customs, and fine salt air of The Rock.
4Q: Favorite author? Novels?
JW: Ohhh, I could talk all day about authors and novels I love. I would say that the authors who influenced me most include: Donna Morrissey, Kit’s Law, Downhill Chance, Sylvannus Now. Norah Donoghue, Room, Slammerkin, The Wonder, and The Pull of The Stars. Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Michael Winter Into the Blizzard. Michael Crummey, Sweetland.
4Q: When Jeanette Winsor is feeling most creative, where will we find you writing? Your writing habits?
JW: It’s six o’clock in the morning and the sun has just breached the horizon on the Caribbean. I am sitting in my little corner in the living room (a place I call ‘my office’) tapping away on my computer. I am debating if I should go for a walk or a jog while the temperature is still only 25 degrees Celsius or get down all the ideas that have been percolating during the night. My creative brain always wins, so there is no going out, just a continuation of tapping keys. By noon, I’m starting to fizzle out. I have lunch and settle down to the pleasure of reading. By 4:00, the sun is not as hot and the sea breeze has picked up so I walk for about an hour. By five, I’m back to the kitchen preparing supper. If the mood is right, I may tap out a few words tonight or do a little research.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
JW: To all those who want to write, please do it. I pushed back the urge for so many years telling myself that I couldn’t, or I’d not be very good or, …and the list goes on. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop and it went forward. I constantly sent out pieces of my work to contests and magazines, and from there I found my work did have validity. I attended workshops and conferences and met so many people who willingly guided me along the way. The world of writing is a lonely world, but once you establish friendships there you find that so many writers are willing to help you and eventually, you will want to help others succeed. Study your craft diligently and write every day.
An Excerpt from The Apprenticeship of Molly Chant.
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)
County Cork, Ireland
Molly Chant stood on the docks of Cork in a blood-soaked frock, her hands burning, and her life not worth a tinker’s cuss. Witchcraft, they said in the courtroom, and no one in Ireland accused of it for over a hundred years. Her only friend in the world, Mick, waited for her on the deck of The Myrtle, a ship bound for the desolate island of Newfoundland.
He readjusted the small pack he carried over his shoulder and reached toward her. “Come on, then. Give me yer hand.”
Her mouth dried, her throat ached. She had to get away from here. From the danger of being caught. She knew nothing of the place he planned to take her to, except it was a colony across the ocean, and going to the colonies was never a good thing. Stories abounded of starvation, murder, and other—more shameful—deeds.
“Molly. We have to hurry.”
She shook her head, the ends of her long black hair stiff with blood. The stink of piss and filth coming off her body, stark reminders of the horrors of prison over the last few days. But how could she go and leave them? They were her family. “Mick. What about Bridget? She’ll need—.”
“Molly, please. Bridget is gone and ’tis hanged you’ll be if you stay.”
“Hanged for what? We did nothing wrong.”
“The law doesn’t see it that way. You’ll be safe on the ship. But Alfie and Mariah, they’ll be run off the land, left to starve if you go back.”
“Can we ever return, Mick? How many years will I wait?”
His voice dropped and he pulled his brows together. “When Ireland’s free of the English. Next year, two years at most. I promise ye, Molly.”
His hand, pale against the dark hull of the ship, lay face up, beckoning her. Bridget’s voice sounded in her head ‘Molly, girl. Be careful with Mick. He’s trouble. Not to be trusted.’
“But ‘twas lies, all lies. I tried to tell them. Bridget and I are not witches. We didn’t hurt anyone.”
“I know that. But it’s more than that we’re running from now, isn’t it?” His voice, although hushed in the shadows, came clear to her.
“I did it to save you. I had no other choice.”
“So you’ll tell that to the court and expect they’ll believe you?”
“I can’t leave Bridget.”
“Fuck sakes, Molly. Just give me yer hand.”
Her life was here, her family, her work, and…the threat of hanging for murder. But once she stepped foot on that ship, she’d never see Ireland—never see her family—again.
As much as it cut into her heart, there was no other choice.
She held on to his hand until she found her footing on the deck. ‘Twas as if she had stepped up to the gallows, waited for the hangman to put the sack over her face.
“Stay here ’til I find out who’s on watch.” Mick walked away.
She swayed with the ship, wrapped her arms around herself to keep warm against the breeze cooled by the dark night, dampened by the river. The journey to the courtroom and through the prison had been hard, but not nearly as hard as fighting off Paddy and breaking out, away from the cold and the filth and the blood. Her legs and feet ached from skulking around, one corner to the next, to avoid thieves, drunks, and the police. Running, that’s what she was doing and not taking a single moment to think. Was this the right place to go? Mick said it was, said he’d care for her, in fact he’d promised. But Bridget said…. She balled her hands into fists. Seems like she couldn’t even trust herself these days.
They had gone to trial, she and Bridget, accused of witchcraft, of spoiling crops, causing death. She told the truth when she said they gave medicines and prayed over the sick and dying. The Justice of the Peace twisted her words, calling their medicines ‘potions’ and their prayers to the Mother, ‘spells and incantations, the very work of witches and devils’.
Leaning on the rail now, Molly stared into the murky Lee River below. Bridget. Dear sweet Bridget. Her heart ached.
“I’d not be thinkin’ of jumping in there, lass.” A tall man, his smile comforting and his voice gentle, leaned against the wheelhouse, strong arms crossed in front of him.
“I’ve no intention, sir.”
“Then why so sad?”
“Tis more than I can speak of.”
“Aye.’ He sighed. “A lost lover, then?”
“No. I been told lovers can be found anywhere, anytime. I lost a true friend.”
Mick came around the side and stopped. “There you be Ignatius. Are ye on watch?”
“I am. Your Uncle Seamus and Mr. O’Rourke was late gettin’ back from the pub.” He straightened.
“Is Uncle still sleeping?”
“He is, and ye best not wake him.” Ignatius pushed away from the wall and walked toward her, his dark eyes never leaving her face. “And who’s the fine colleen here?”
“Molly. She’s sailing with us to Newfoundland.”
“Part of the cargo?”
“What, then? Seamus don’t abide the sale of Irish folk into service in the colonies.”
Mick moved closer. “She’s a guest on this ship. That’s all you need to know.”
Ignatius smiled and tipped an invisible hat. “Welcome aboard.” He walked away, sauntered downstairs to the deck below, dark curls pulled back and tied with a leather thong bouncing against his back.
Uneasiness flared up. She moved closer to Mick. “What was that all about?”
“Nothing. Keep yerself out of sight as much as possible until we’re out of port. Uncle Seamus’ll be up soon.” Mick ambled toward the stairway.
She followed. “Who was that man?”
He stopped, turned. “Ignatius? Just a lad out of Waterford. Been sailing with Uncle for five or six years now. Why?”
He pulled down his brow. A scowl shadowed his face. “You best stay away from Ignatius Flynn. Not right in the head, if you know what I mean.” He took her hand, led her along. “Now wait here.”
She sat next to the wheelhouse, sheltered on the port side away from the quay where morning trade was starting up. Men and boys shouting, sails flapping against masts, the scrooping of the tie ropes rubbing along wood. The sun peeked through a thin line between the horizon and the clouds, lighting the sky in a vibrant pink. The Lee flowed along, thriving in the early dawn. She yearned for her tiny stone with the Ogham symbol of the birch tree scratched on it—the symbol of protection—but they’d snatched it from her when she was thrown in prison. Images of home taunted her. Alfie with the hearth burning now, heating the tiny kitchen. Mariah ladling out oats for breakfast, her bread already set to rise. Home.
An escaped tear dropped to her hand. How could you yearn for someone so much? She closed her eyes. You have a strength and a power few other people possess, Molly Chant. Bridget’s voice echoed inside her head. Take your strength and use it to fill your life. But how did you fill your life when the most important people were missing?
A shadow fell across Molly and her eyes flashed open. “Uncle Seamus wants to meet you. Come on. He’s a busy man, so be nice.”
She pulled herself up, her hair all down around her face, and her dress...
“I need to wash up, get out of this—”
“No. We’ve no time.”
Mick’s eyes scanned her, head to toe, his lip curled and he stepped back. Molly pulled her shoulders together and stared down as the sun shone upon the filth she longed to shed.
She followed him, the sounds of the early morning so unlike what she heard at home. Two sailors looked up from their work, stared at her with prying eyes. Could they see what she’d done? No matter. They should mind their own business, had probably done far worse things in their time. But what was worse than—? She glanced away.
Mick stopped and knocked on a door.
He opened it and stood aside. With a touch to the small of her back, he urged her into the room.
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