25th Trillium Award

Readers Write: The Road to Anderdon, by Mark Warren

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Anderdon, by Mark Warren

By Mark Warren

For me, reading began in a one-room school house in Anderdon Township, Ontario. Not that I?m that old — I?m 64. But the separate school system in rural Ontario provided an education in the same building my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents had attended.

Our books were utilitarian, having been chosen by venerable men and women keen to protect us from ideas, moral untidiness and thoughts of adventure — reckless or otherwise. When needed, our teacher would retrieve these from wooden boxes stored in a crawl space under the school. Also under there were boxes containing ink pots and ice skates, along with spare desks, mounds of unused coal and rolled up maps, yellow with age and held together by string and strips of flaking tape.

There was more mystery in that space under the school house than any of the books given to us by the school board.

The first real book I remember was The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. My mother picked it out for me at the Carnegie Library in Amherstburg. It was big. It was heavy. It looked like some precious and valuable object. Its leather binding was a work of art as were the richly coloured illustrations. It gave off an aura of joyous power and shameful temptation. The Jungle Book taught that friends are among us everywhere, that we live by empathy, loyalty and courage, and that no one has a hold on truth. For a boy raised a Catholic, this was shocking heresy that made the book all the more precious.

This early experience set me on a path to discover Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Daniel Dafoe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

One of the best jobs I have ever had was as a security guard during a Bell Canada strike while I was at University. I worked a 12 midnight to 8 a.m. shift, sitting in a booth, checking the IDs of management staff who very occasionally might visit. Hours and hours rolled quietly by, as I spent that summer reading the novels of Thomas Hardy and George Eliot. You cannot imagine the magic of reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda as the sun slowly rises on another day.

University and thereafter brought more dangerous reading. Hunter S. Thompson redefined journalism with his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1972) while Bruce Chatwin redefined the travelogue with The Songlines (1987). Each in his own way re-invigorated a fading form of nonfiction by setting loose outrageous flights of fantasy. Hunter drowned his despair for America in a drug-induced haze, while Chatwin?s biographer maintains, ?He tells not a half truth, but a truth and a half.? In his book, Chatwin?s Aborigines hunt kangaroos by chasing them down with an old Ford sedan.

The book that has meant the most to me in recent years is Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. If I had read this as young man, I might have admired it as stylish, inventive and humorous. As a man who has passed middle-age, I understand the feelings of regret for lost opportunities, the confusion that is reality and the ambiguity of the road ahead. It?s reassuring in a way that a young person cannot know.

All of these have influenced my own writing. My book Anderdon is a history in the conventional sense, but it?s also a book of unexpected diversions and quirkiness. Some chapters read like improbable adventures, and yet they are true. The fact that I often step out of the picture and let my characters speak from letters, diaries and newspaper articles gives the narration the flavour of ?a truth and a half,? which after all is an aspect of how we see Canada. I look for empathy, loyalty and courage? but keep stumbling over greed, betrayal and cowardice.

Anderdon was a place that no one today can imagine existed.

And yet it did.

A descendant of 19th century pioneer Luke Warren, Mark Warren attended the same rural one-room school house as his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The family lived on Texas Road near Hell?s Corners, the scene of many of the colourful and violent events described in his book, Anderdon. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario (History, 1973), Mark was for many years a producer at CBC Radio in Halifax. He has also worked in the field of arts management as CEO of symphony orchestras in London, Hamilton and Halifax. He is currently working on a biography of Marshal Seth Bullock of Deadwood, South Dakota, who was born in Amherstburg, Ontario, the son of George Bullock, bounty hunter and Colour-Sergeant with the British 15th Regiment of Foot.

For more information about Anderdon and to purchase your copy, please visit anderdon1812.com.

Anderdon is also available for purchase from Coutts Information Services, the Library Services Centre, Whitehots Canadian Library Services, the University of Windsor Bookstore and Gordon House in Amherstburg.

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