Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Soldier of the Horse" and the McNally Robinson Experience

I have written a couple of times about travelling to Winnipeg with "Soldier of the Horse" ten days ago. The highlight of the trip for "Soldier" was a two-hour session at McNally Robinson's Grant Park location. We were set up to sign copies of the book adjacent to their checkout counter. They had a constant stream of customers, some of whom didn't mind chatting to an out-of-towner who wrote a novel about a young Winnipeg man and his Great War experiences.
In an especially rewarding moment a man appeared with a copy of "Soldier of the Horse" for me to sign. It had been a gift to him, and now he wanted another signed copy to give to a friend.
The McNally's staff were first rate, and over all I was very impressed with the store. McNally Robinson seems to be doing a lot right; it would be great if they could be cloned to even more Canadian cities!
Another highlight came a couple of days ago in the form of a  Bestseller list for the relevant week. Here is the portion of the list covering Paperback Fiction:
 1. 419,
Will Ferguson. Fiction. $20.00.
2. Born of Courage,
Walfried Jansen. Fiction. $14.95.
3. Indigena Awry,
Annharte. Poetry. $19.00.
4. Soldier Of The Horse,
Robert W. Mackay. Historical Fiction. $19.95.
5. Letter from Brooklyn,
Jacob Scheier. Poetry. $18.95.

 Soldier of the Horse, keeping pretty good company!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Colt .32 That Sprang A Killer in "Soldier of the Horse"

On a recent visit to Winnipeg I was able to meet with the archivists at the Winnipeg Police Museum. Jack Templeman and Bruce Honey showed me around, and from a back room produced a decommissioned Colt .32, shown at left.
This is the nasty little weapon that was used by a convicted bank robber to threaten guards and escape jail just before the First World War.

My father, who was the real-life inspiration for my character Tom Macrae in "Soldier of the Horse", was accused by the Winnipeg police of filing the serial number off the gun. The second photo of the weapon is a close-up that shows that in fact someone did attempt to obliterate the serial number. When I related this vignette to Jack Templeman (who is a retired Winnipeg policeman) he quipped, "He didn't do a very good job of it!", as the serial number can still be made out with specialized equipment.
For the record, Dad never admitted to the allegations, and I don't for one minute believe they were true!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Soldier of the Horse" in Winnipeg

 I am happy to report that "Soldier of the Horse" trekked to Winnipeg on April 18th and was very successfully billeted at McNally Robinson's, Grant Park, on Saturday the 20th.The staff had set up a display adjacent to the checkout counters, and it was very gratifying to see how busy the store was, with a constant stream of customers buying all sorts of books.
The store had done an eyecatching poster which I will display soon.
One customer appeared with a book he had been given earlier, which I was only too happy to sign for him, especially as he bought another copy to give to a friend. After I returned home, a gentleman who had read the book (almost without taking a break!) phoned long distance to say how much he had enjoyed it.
Kudos to the staff at McNally Robinson, who made for a very interesting and rewarding two hours meeting readers of all shapes and sizes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Joys of Writing, Blogging, and Winnipeg

There are any number of blogs that feature the writer's 5 best tips for getting an agent, or 10 ways to impress an editor. Personally, I am using my blog to reach out to people interested in the Canadian cavalry, the Great War, submarines, and Canadian forces in general. Hence my title, "Forces With History".
This coming weekend will, I hope, add to the list of people who have contacted me about "Soldier of the Horse". As noted in a previous blog, I will be signing books at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg (see http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/event-12124/Robert-W.-Mackay----Book-Signing-#.UWwuZsqyqPY
Both my parents were from Manitoba, and I have always thought of Winnipeg as my second home, albeit seldom visited. Now I'll be taking "Soldier of the Horse" home, in a way, and hoping it gets a warm reception--to add to my list, and to fight off the frostbite!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Battle of Vimy Ridge

I looked in vain for articles about the Battle of Vimy Ridge on the anniversary of its start date of April 9th in our Vancouver newspaper. Vimy, a major event in Canada's, never mind the Canadian Army's, history deserves better.
For a concise history of the battle, see the article on the War Museum's website by historian Dr Tim Cook, here.
An interesting article about General Currie, the former Victoria reservist, was written by Norman Leach and can be accessed here.
Writer Steve Mertl in the Daily Brew listed many local observations of Vimy Day, April 9th, here.
Bravo to those organizations and writers contributing to our collective memories.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Soldier of the Horse" is Going Home

It took four years for Tom Macrae, alter ego of Sergeant Tom Mackay, of Lord Strathcona's Horse, to make it home to Winnipeg after enlisting and fighting his way through the trenches and cavalry charges of World War One.
The odyssey for Soldier of the Horse is two years shorter. This story of a Winnipeg boy will make the welcome trip soon: the countdown is on to my visit to Winnipeg to sign copies of Soldier of the Horse, two years after it was first published. Should be a fun day, at McNally Robinson, 2 pm  on Saturday April 20th. See the item in McNally's newsletter here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Canadian Submarines—Ninety-nine Years and Counting (Part 2)

Canada’s first submarines were born in a foreign land, transferred at sea, purchased by a province, and shamefacedly acknowledged by the federal government.
The year was 1914, and war between Canada and Germany was declared on August 5th, the day after Britain did so. The fledgling Royal Canadian Navy had one warship on the west coast, HMCS Rainbow, a cruiser.
Sir Richard McBride
The then-premier of British Columbia was Sir Richard McBride. Fearing the province’s capital was vulnerable to potential German raiders, he arranged to purchase two submarines built in Seattle for the Chilean navy. The Chilean purchase did not close, and the boats were sailed to the international boundary, thence to Esquimalt under the Canadian flag.
Ownership of the two boats was transferred to the federal government on August 7th, 1914, thus doubling the number of warships in the Royal Canadian Navy. (In addition to HMCS Rainbow, the cruiser Niobe was busy protecting the Atlantic coast.)

CC1 and CC2, as they were dubbed, transited the Panama Canal in 1917, together with an escort, thus becoming the first Canadian ships to do so under the white ensign. Used for training purposes for the remainder of the war, the boats were sold for scrap in 1920.