Dreamland novel a haunting visit to wartime Edmonton and beyond
Published on: July 14, 2016
Edmonton author Laurel Deedrick-Mayne’s book A Wake for the Dreamland is up for the $10,000 Alberta Readers’ Choice Awards.
Fish Griwkowsky / Postmedia
Historically intoxicating, emotionally harrowing, A Wake for the Dreamland is also an important novel — never mind that it’s Edmonton author Laurel Deedrick-Mayne’s first book. Self-published, Dreamland is deservedly a finalist in the annual Alberta Readers’ Choice Award, with a $10,000 prize for the winner — voting open here until Aug. 31.
Opening in 1939 Edmonton, it’s the story of three young friends, Annie, William and Robert, skipping around a much younger city, painted with sometimes astonishing depth and detail (and shocking vernacular) — including the three crashing a royal dinner at the Hotel Macdonald for King George and Queen Elizabeth who are drumming up colonial loyalty as clouds of war spread over the world.
Their hangout, the Dreamland Theatre on Jasper Avenue, serves as a symbol for the innocence all three are about to lose, in some cases brutally in the ruthless chaos of overseas war. But there’s much, much more to the story than that.
While Annie and Robert are fiercely in love, there’s also an unrealized love triangle: Robert is also adored by William, closeted and haunted by shame as he tries to make sense of his socially demonized desires — even still an issue in the military, never mind on the battlefields of 1940s Europe.
As the boys are shipped off for training, William finds a more accessible, if hidden, queer underground in London at movie theatres and in out-of–sight alleys. As time passes, meanwhile, the distance between Annie and Robert takes its inevitable toll as she fears losing him forever, pushing him away. Then there are the terrifying battle scenes, based on real testimony.
Each of the novel’s three major acts — before, during and especially after the war — are full of tension and incredible real-life history, including one of the book’s characters being an actual soldier in the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, an outfit ravaged by the “Tedesco” in Italy. The story increasingly focuses on William, who becomes a ferocious soldier and leader to his breaking point, and is often told in correspondence between Canada and Europe, filled with heartbreaking bad timing and miscommunication, the spectre of sacrifice overtaking all concerned.
It’s just terrific.
Deedrick-Mayne’s father was a flight instructor in the RCAF, adding tone from her own family history, she took 10 years to research and write the book. In the best of ways, you can tell.
“I knew nothing about the war — I intentionally, all my life, knew nothing,” says the 56-year-old during a long talk downtown. Like her book, the process of writing it encountered tragedy and hope, and coming to terms with the reality between.
Q: William certainly goes through the ropes in this novel, can you talk about him as a character who becomes the central focus?
A: Homosexuality is nothing new. And I think a lot of men suffering from PTSD – and also dealing with their demons and stigma attached to being gay and staying closeted – it would have been disastrous. As a fiction writer, it’s fascinating fodder.
Q: One of the things I love about the book, besides being a page-turner, it teaches us a lot. One feels the ghosts of the characters in front of the Mac, or the Shaw where the Dreamland used to stand. Did you research as you went along?
A: This was the terrifying thing, I didn’t know anything. I knew snippets about the old city because mom grew up here, my grandfather was a broadcaster at CFRN, Gord Williamson, he wrote for the Bulletin; and my great grandfather worked on the High Level Bridge — so I was surrounded by these stories. I went into the Edmonton Archives and started to nose around. I just went for days and days, weeks and weeks, reading the paper.
Q: The overseas descriptions are so vivid.
A: I knew nothing about the war, aside from being a little Brownie, freezing my ass off in tights around the Cenotaph growing up in Lacombe but I knew it was an essential part of the lives of these three characters, so I began to dig around the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Archives. That led to interviewing veterans, delving deeper and deeper. It took me to Italy on a battlefield tour. My greatest fear was getting mired down by details instead of propelling the story.
Q: There’s a fascinating nostalgia, looking back fondly at a time of global war.
A: My parents, I look at their generation with adult eyes and I feel quite a sense of gratitude, even though their problems were different. That nostalgia is not rose-coloured. What makes it poignant to look upon is it was fraught, it was. And I feel less alone. I’m in the middle now, I have adult children and since the book came out I lost my mom and dad. We take our place honouring the past and cheering on the future.
Q: You lost both your parents, I’m sorry.
A: The book was going to press on a Monday and I lost my mom the Friday before. The funny thing is all the 10 years of writing this book, the mother’s name was Maureen. But I realized I had too many people whose names started with M. I phoned up my mom, whose name is Kathleen, and said, ‘What do you think if I change Maureen to Kathleen?’ She says, ‘I think she was a pretty good mother, so that’s good. And everybody in Lacombe knows me as Kay, so they won’t think it’s about me. And in the third place, I’m not going to read it.’ I just dismissed that out of hand, but the next night I got a phone call. She never got to read it, but she knew. Then my dad passed away in December. So the book has already given me everything I ever would have needed in that, emotionally, it got me out of bed in those months after. This book is such a tribute to their generation. To be out in the world sharing a book about their life and times, even though it’s not about them, has been a real gift.
Q: What’s the life of the book been over the last year, besides being an Alberta Readers’ finalist?
A: I’ve done a gazillion book clubs. The very cool thing is it began to feel a lot less like my book and more like ‘our’ book. Something triggers something in readers: ‘Oh yeah, my dad was here!’ The discussion invariably veers away from the book into people sharing their stories. The most common thing I hear is, ‘My dad never talked about the war.’ But then we do.
Q:By the end of the book — 40 years later — the very settings are vanishing.
A: Annie’s house on Fifth Street, which I drove by every day, never stopped to take a picture, now it’s just a vacant lot; condos coming. It matters; it just doesn’t matter the most, in my view. When you put your whole life in the context of surviving a war, what matters the most is our relationships, how we live, and love, in our lives. And that’s what the book is all about.
Author’s novel extends past local boundaries
– Ashli Barrett, Lacombe Globe (Friday, May 20, 2016 2:06:40 MDT PM)
Many authors wait a lifetime to see their books hit a bestseller list, or be nominated for literary accolades.
Few ever get the chance, and fewer still see those dreams realized with the very first book they’ve written.
Laurel Deedrick-Mayne, 55, however, an author who grew up in Lacombe and still holds the city dear to heart, has accomplished both with, A Wake for the Dreamland. Recently named a finalist for the 2016 Alberta Readers’ Choice Awards, Deedrick- Mayne has seen her independently-published book sit on the City of Edmonton’s bestseller list for a total of 23 weeks.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled or stunned or surprised or happy,” said Deedrick-Mayne, just a few days after being named a finalist.
“I was surprised when I made the long list of 10 authors. I thought there was no way I’ll be on the short list and dismissed it from my mind. When I got the message I was shortlisted, I just about fell off my chair. “ I’m very humbled and grateful.”
The story, which begins in 1939, follows three Albertan teenagers – Annie, Robert and William – through the Second World War as every aspect of their lives is shaped by the events happening around them. In the aftermath, according to the author, they create a sort of dreamland for themselves to escape the city, the memories of war, and the losses they’ve had and felt.
Unlike many books set around the Second World War, it explores both the violence and the terror of the campaign on the Italian fronts, as well as the anguish felt by loved ones on Canadian soil. It visits the upbeat streets of Edmonton, the London underground, places touched by war as well as the rolling hills and fields surrounding Lacombe.
“I would wager some of my long-ago inspiration that lead to this book came from that very first library in Lacombe,” Deedrick-Mayne said. “They used to have these old, black and white pictures of old-timey Lacombe with dirt roads and pioneers and I think that kind of started my interest in history.”
It was that interest that developed in an innate curiosity about her parents’ generation – how they never spoke about the war – that eventually resulted in a book that has touched people not only within the province, but around the globe.
“It’s a Canadian story, but interestingly enough, I’ve had people reading it in the U.K., France and the U.S. The places don’t mean anything to them, the characters do,” Deedrick-Mayne said. “I’m really happy that it’s not so local that it doesn’t reach any further.
“This story is almost a separate thing from me now. I love it, but I love it like I would a grown up child. It’s out in the world on its own and I just sit back and watch it and feel very proud.”
Other readers’ choice finalists include “The Battle of Alberta” by Mark Spector, “Birdie” by Tracey Lindberg, “Road Trip Rwanda” by Will Ferguson, and “Rumi and the Red Handbag” by Shawna Lemay.
Voting, which will take place on the Edmonton Public Library website, begins on Monday, July 4.
The Alberta Readers’ Choice Award, sponsored by the Edmonton Public Library, is awarded annually for the best fiction or narrative non-fiction book written by an Alberta author.
Author Laurel Deedrick-Mayne sits with her book, “A Wake for the Dreamland” during a book signing at the Mary C. Moore Library in Lacombe last winter. Deedrick-Mayne’s book is a finalist for the 2016 Alberta Reader’s Choice Awards. (Submitted Photo)
Text of introduction by Joseph Planta:
I am Planta: On the Line, in Vancouver, at TheCommentary.ca.
A wonderfully written new novel recently published is A Wake for The Dreamland. Its author Laurel Deedrick-Mayne joins me now. She’s crafted a wonderful love letter to what has been described as the ‘Greatest Generation,’ those who fought in World War II. In her book, Ms. Deedrick-Mayne give us three characters, William, Robert and Annie, who we meet in Edmonton in 1939, just on the cusp of war. Robert makes William promise to take care of Annie, and from there the book takes us from the Canadian home front to the battlefields in Europe, the underground of queer London, and the aftermath of war and love. Laurel Deedrick-Mayne was born and raised in Lacombe, Alberta, and lives in Edmonton now. She is a writer, and was once an arts administrator, a manager of a private massage therapy practice and more. I’ll get her to tell us the genesis of this, her first novel, and the lessons in remembrance that we all should heed. The website for more is at www.awakeforthedreamland.com. I understand that the book’s sold well in Edmonton, hitting the bestseller list there. The book is published by Friesen Press. Please welcome to the Planta: On the Line program, Laurel Deedrick-Mayne; Ms. Deedrick-Mayne, good morning.
UMFM Campus Radio Inc.
University of Manitoba
First-time novelist Laurel Deedrick-Mayne talks about her sweeping historical novel A Wake For The Dreamland.