Bretton is no stranger to the Scribbler.
During the Scribbler’s 4Q days, he was a guest back in 2019.
If you missed it, please go HERE.
He’s sharing the story behind the story for his new book -
Joe Howe’s Ghost.
As an added bonus, you can read an excerpt from the novel below.
Read on, my friends.
I am a novelist and non-fiction writer who has published two previous books that were nominated for Whistler Independent Book Awards: in 2018 for my first novel, The Last Hockey Player, and in 2015 for a biography, Rebel With A Cause: The Doc Nikaido Story.
My short stories have appeared in Canadian short story anthologies and literary journals, including the short story collection Everything Is So Political. In 2013 my short story Tommy’s Mother was one of 12 stories shortlisted for the Writers’ Union of Canada’s 20th annual Short Prose Competition for Developing Writers.
In 2019 my story, “The Coulee Song”, appeared in The Group of Seven Reimagined, a collection of very short stories inspired by the artists’ paintings.
I was a journalist for more than 20 years in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and worked in communications for the Government of Nova Scotia for the past 16 years.
Working Title: Joe’s Howe’s Ghost
In Joe Howe’s Ghost, Erin Curran, a rookie Government MLA, has a startling encounter with the ghost of Joe Howe, Nova Scotia’s most famous politician and journalist, which changes the trajectory of her career and her life.
Erin is a young, bright and articulate politician learning to balance her new responsibilities to constituents and her party with trying to protect time with her husband and toddler.
Howe has been silently walking the halls of historic Province House for more than 150 years and Erin is the first living soul he has spoken to in all that time. At first, it is Erin who learns from Howe, the master politician and communicator, who brought responsible government to Nova Scotia, defended free speech and bitterly opposed Confederation.
But as their friendship grows, Howe gains an appreciation of our times as Erin faces the trials of today’s politics and the unique challenges facing female MLAs—from sexist colleagues to misogynist social media trolls.
Joe Howe’s Ghost is a reflection on Howe’s tumultuous political era and of provincial politics today. It explores the personal struggle between the desire for political power and upholding heartfelt personal convictions that are common to both eras.
The Story behind the Story:
In 2015, I had the idea to combine elements of Nova Scotia history and politics with today’s provincial political scene and Joe Howe’s Ghost was born. As a former journalist and long-time, behind-the-scenes observer of provincial politics, Joe Howe’s story has always called to me.
How could anyone not find Howe interesting?
· He was a crusading journalist and editor who won a famous libel trial defending freedom of the press by representing himself in court
· He fought a duel in Point Pleasant Park and won – and yet no one died
· As a politician, he was a driving force behind Nova Scotia achieving responsible government.
· He fought viciously against Nova Scotia joining Confederation and then changed sides and became a federal cabinet minister in one of Sir John A Macdonald’s first cabinets.
· He visited the Red River colony prior to the Riel Rebellion.
· He attended Queen Victoria’s coronation and once went out for a long hike with the novelist Charles Dickens
As the writing of this book evolved, the fictitious character, rookie MLA and future cabinet minister Erin Curran, began to speak to me too. Particularly regarding the trials of today’s politics and the unique challenges facing female MLAs.
And as my friends and colleagues will tell you, I have more than a few thoughts about Nova Scotia politics. The more I thought about the challenges of Joe Howe’s political career and the travails of Erin’s present-day political life, the more the parallels between the two became apparent.
A question before you go, Bretton.
Can you tell us about the perfect setting you have, or desire, for your writing? Music or quiet? Coffee or tequila? Neat or notes everywhere?
My best writing time is for a few hours between 8:30 am and noon while my head is still fresh. The most productive place is a desk in our spare bedroom on an old desktop computer that I’ve written two novels and a biography on.
I love some background music – classical, jazz, techno or mood music – but it can’t have any words or no words that I can understand so I listen to Brazilian and Latin jazz too.
Mild caffeination – either a coffee or tea – is necessary. My desk is notoriously untidy with notes and research strewn everywhere and taped to the nearby walls and window sill.
My “perfect” writing setting would be at a villa in the south of France with an ocean view, but to date my royalties haven’t made that dream come true. Sometimes when my royalty cheques come in, I can afford to splurge and buy my wife and I some fancy coffees, which is a bonus really because who writes for the money?
(Copyright is owned by the author. Used with permission)
***Authors note: In this opening chapter readers are introduced to the legendary Nova Scotia politician and journalist, Joe Howe, and to the young rookie MLA, Erin Curran. Accompanying Howe is his aide in life and in the afterlife, Ennis Douglas.
JOE HOWE’S GHOST
The second time I saw him I felt him first. Every hair tingled. The taste of metal coated my tongue. The speaker piping in the drone of late-night debate from my fellow MLAs fell silent. I was alone in the Legislative Library, and it was as still as a tomb.
At the top of the winding, wrought iron staircase to the second-floor book stacks was a shape. To the left of a portrait of the Duke of Kent. No more than a shadow in a room cloaked in semi-darkness. I shook my head. After a sleepless night pacing the floor with a sick toddler in my arms, I was too exhausted to be at work.
In the gloom a hand formed grasping the railing so tightly a row of knuckles popped up. An elderly man took shape out of the nothingness. He had a large head, a wild crown of white hair, and a turnip-shaped nose.
He wore a long, dark frock coat with a white, high-collared shirt, a vest, and a bow tie. His left hand was hooked on the lapel of the frock coat. His feet anchored as though steadying himself on a rocking ship. He gazed down on me from under winged eyebrows.
“Good evening, madam,” he said formally, his voice hoarse and dusty as though unused for a long time.
Eight porcelain busts mounted along the walls turned their heads toward him ever so slightly.
The freakish movement was startling. Winded me like a punch to the stomach. I blurted out “Good evening” as my head fell to the table and the world went black.
“Joe, you sh-sh-sh-should not have appeared out of the blue like that. You s-s-scared the young woman nearly out of her wits. She has fainted straight away.”
“For goodness sake, Ennis, I know. I couldn’t help myself. Over the years we have crept around here, I have tried to reach out to many of these fellows. To dissuade them from poor policies or to encourage certain bills, but I could never make a connection. Then, the first time I try with this young woman, something magical happens. I feel as though I have been struck by a thunderbolt.”
“She does remind one of your lovely wife, does she not?”
“Of my own little editor, my dearest Susie? Do you think so?”
“You know that she does. Her spirit and intelligence shine through in this p-p-place, not to mention the adorable little nose and those hazel eyes. It’s quite remarkable.”
“God’s teeth, that is it exactly. I have seen her dozens of times in these hallways. Her keen mind and grace are evident whether she is conversing with members of her own party or fellows from the other side of the House. She listens carefully and politely, weighing their words, never offering too much nor too little of her own opinion until she has the perfect thing to say. Rather extraordinary.”
“Our Nova Scotia needs someone like her, Joe, more than ever.”
“I feel awful for scaring her. Quite diabolical of me. Should I try to revive her? Blow in her face or tap on the table beside her head?”
“I think you have done quite enough for one night. It has been nearly 150 years since you last conversed with the living. I think you can give the young woman a day or two to try and understand what she has seen before attempting again. I am sure you have plenty to say to her, but it can wait. I have tried to be good company for you since I came over, Joe, but admittedly I have not been as good a conversationalist, and as good a listener, as I was at first. One grows tired.”
“My friend, you have been fine company. It is I who have grown tedious. I am tired of this place, the unchanging nature of the issues and, most of all, of politicians. I long for eternal sleep, but somehow you and I seem impervious to its charms. For some reason known only to fate, I have made a tenuous connection with this promising young woman, and I must say it fills me with hope. We should raise a bumper of wine in celebration, but of course that is not possible. Yes, we will let her sleep and gather her thoughts. I must be a fright to the living, eh, Ennis?”
“And to the dead too, s-s-s-speaking on behalf of the dearly departed.”
Okay, I want to know what else happens!
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Bretton.
Wishing you continued success on your writing journey.
And a Brobdingnagian Thank You to our readers and visitors.
Did you look that word up?