Author Ann Birch speaks to American Woman’s Club of Oakville


Are you thinking about writing a historical or political novel? Do you think this will be easy? Think again.

Canadian author Ann Birch says it is hard to keep bias out of writing historical novels, because they need to be as accurate as possible.

Birch has published several historical works, including the novel Settlement, which she spoke about to the American Woman’s Club of Oakville last week at St. Paul’s United Church, where she gave tips about how to write a novel.

She spoke with her editor about making her novels historically accurate. She said that one line had to be changed from “get lost” to “take a hike” in Settlement because it sounded too modern.

Birch also said that “the phrase ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ had a whole new horrible dimension in 1830,” somewhat because in 1837 “sodomist” was the term for homosexuals in the Oxford Dictionary. She said that she needed to do research about these historical discrepancies.

“With the help of a magnifying glass I squinted at hundreds of diaries, letters, and manuscripts,” Birch said.

“If you had a dead cow, you threw it in the lake. If you had a dead relative you didn’t really care for, you threw them in the lake too,” said Birch, talking about how people would not brush their teeth because the water was too filthy.

Her two main characters are the historical figures Anna Jamison and Sam Jarvis, both of whom she used to portray the social structure of Upper Canada.

“I was dusting my bookcase and her memoire fell on my foot,” said Birch, explaining why she chose to use Jamison as a main character in Settlement.  She also said that other historians and writers had portrayed Jarvis as a murderer, but she saw a softer side to him after reading many diaries and notes about him. She wished to portray this in her novel, and felt tempted to alter some scenes.

“What Jarvis should have done was fire into the air, because then he would have had the moral win,” Birch said, talking about how Jarvis won in a shoot out, knowing that the other person had no bullet in their gun.

Birch’s next novel, The Professor’s Secret, comes out in September, from Dundurn Press. She says that it will be a modern book about a professor at Trinity College, where Birch studied. The professor thinks that her husband is writing articles online, when really he is online gambling, and loses most of their money, which the professor needs to recover after her husband becomes depressed and commits suicide.

Birch told the group of about 20 women to “write about whatever you want to write about.” In her case, she was interested about historical novels, but she told them that they would be successful writing about what they were interested in.

The American Woman’s Club of Oakville is for women who have relocated from the U.S. Katherine Mourer, club president, called the group a social and philanthropic group.

Tracy Hudson, club fundraiser, has a history major from Kansas University and enjoyed the lecture because she didn’t know much Canadian history.

The group hosts speakers and events, and donates to local charities. On Jan. 16, they raised $40.

Ann Birch stands behind her podium.