Midlanders Susan Swan’s latest novel entitled The Western Light
Midland native Susan Swan will be at Chapters in Barrie on Saturday for an event that includes an interview about her new book, The Western Light, a book signing and an summer reading giveaway of some of Swan’s earlier novels, all rare editions
Canadian author Susan Swan returns to her Midland roots for her latest novel, The Western Light. She will be at Chapters in Barrie on Saturday for an event that includes an interview about her book, a book signing and an summer reading giveaway of some of Swan’s earlier novels, all rare editions.In The Western Light, Swan’s seventh novel, The Toronto-based author revisits one of the central characters of The Wives of Bath, a 1993 best-seller that was turned into a movie in 2001, called Lost and Delirious (it starred Piper Perabo, Jessica Pare and Mischa Barton). That story centres on two girls at a boarding school — Mouse Bradford and Paulie Sykes — who don’t want to grow up.
Mouse Bradford, two years younger (age 12), takes centre stage in Swan’s new book, The Western Light, and like the Wives of Bath, this story also has a murder. Her father is a busy country doctor who has limited time for his family and as a result, Mouse finds a father substitute in a hockey player who has been jailed, rightly or wrongly, for the murder of a wife and baby. The truth doesn’t come out until the end.
“I wrote The Western Light because I wanted to find out what I really thought about my father,” said Swan. “Like the father in my novel, he was a country doctor who was so busy saving people in the community that he neglected his family.
“Are you a hero if you neglect your family? That’s what my narrator, Mouse Bradford, wants to know.”
Swan’s father was a well-known doctor in Midland at a time when there was no health care. Swan said it wasn’t uncommon for him to work 20 hour days.
It was his story — one of them — that started the novel. It was a day when a young Dr. Churchill Swan (Tud was his nickname) had to walk a lighthouse keeper, who was trapped in a storm and unable to travel to Parry Sound, through an operation to remove his son’s appendix on a ship-to-shore radio. “I gave the story to one of the characters in the novel,” said Swan, who was born in Midland and lived there for 17 years.
Even though there are some similarities between Swan and Mouse, The Western Light is a work of fiction. She has always wanted to write fiction and credits her mother for encouraging her.
Swan attended Midland Public School — she gave the valedictorian address in Grade 8 — and spent her high school years at Havergal College, a girls boarding school in Toronto. She started out as a reporter, working summers at the Midland Free Press. At McGill University, where she studied English and philosophy, she also worked on the school paper. After graduation, she became a journalist, then a freelance writer for magazines, and then started writing fiction full-time.
The Western Light is set in a fictional tourist town on Georgian Bay. Swan maintains a tie to distinctive landscape of Georgian Bay and it has appeared as a setting in a previous novel. Swan’s father died when she was age 17. Her mother, age 93, returned to Sarnia, her hometown. Swan currently makes her home in Toronto with Patrick Crane, an editor at HarperCollins. She has one adult daughter, Samantha Haywood, who is a literary agent.
For the Chapters event, Swan wanted to take a different approach from the traditional reading to make it interesting for people. As a result, Valerie Gardner, a member of the Innisfil Lakeshore Library book club, will be interviewing her about the book on Saturday, May 18 at 1 p.m. With every purchase of The Western Light, Swan will be giving away one of her earlier novels, free.