25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Lee Lamb

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Lee Lamb

Lee Lamb talks to Open Book about her latest novel, Oak Island Family: The Restall Hunt for Buried Treasure (Dundurn Press), a story of a search for a 200 year-old stash of treasure and the mysterious disappearance that surrounds it.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Oak Island Family.

Lee Lamb:

Oak Island Family describes a Canadian family?s search for a fabulous treasure thought to lie deep within Nova Scotia?s Oak Island.
Bob Restall, my father, believed that by using information gathered by the many treasure hunters who preceded him, and by working methodically and with care, he would, in mere months, be the one to unearth Oak Island?s elusive treasure. But the Island resisted. While tantalizing clues and surprising discoveries kept hopes high, progress was slow. Months stretched into years. And then one summer day, the Restall search for treasure came to an abrupt and tragic end.
In order to fully appreciate the Restall story, it is necessary to understand why, for more than 200 years, men have sought treasure on Oak Island, and how those searches took their toll on the island. Three teenagers, back in 1795 started it all. Their story and highlights of those who followed are presented in this book along with the Restall story.
Written for teens, young adults, and anyone who is new to Oak Island, Oak Island Family makes liberal use of sketches and photographs to tell its story.


You are the daughter of fearless treasure hunters Bob and Mildred Restall. How did you feel when they told you they planned to find the Oak Island Treasure?


I felt bewildered and bereft.
I had grown up in a joyful family, steeped in dreams of success and glory. Through luck, determination, and very hard work, some of our dreams came true.
When I was twenty, I married the perfect man for me, and soon we had our own family. And then one day, as I cradled my first child in my arms, my mother and dad and brothers drove off to join the circus. One of our long-held family dreams had at last come to fruition . . . a dream that once had included me.
Now, here they were, embarking on an amazing new adventure!
I loved my husband, and our children. I wouldn?t have changed that for anything. But A treasure hunt? Oak Island? I saw my parents and brothers every day. They had never mentioned it.
I did my best to be happy for them. They were ecstatic. My husband and I helped in every way we could ? lent them our boat, gave them other equipment.
And as they drove happily out of sight, I smiled and waved.
But inside I was aching.
?What about me??


Tell us about the research process for Oak Island Family. Did you discover any surprises along the way?


When I set out to write this book, I knew I needed to learn Oak Island?s history. Without question, The Oak Island Mystery, by R. V. Harris must be my primary source.
But the island?s history is awash with numbers — distance, depth, volume, years — more than 21 shafts, all with mind-numbing numbers of their own. I wanted to strip the old history to its essentials so that teenagers or adult newcomers to the Oak Island story could read with ease.
To make wise choices, I had to fully understand the history. I read the Harris work again and again. Gradually, all those insufferable numbers gave up centre stage and faded into the background, allowing me, for the first time, to discover the poignant little real life stories that lay between the lines. A sweet reward.


Your parents were very unique individuals. Can you describe a childhood experience you had that contributed to you becoming a writer?


Sorry, no particular event pops out; however, in many childhood memories, I seem to be a dispassionate observer, watching silently as the drama unfolds.
Although I love fiction, when pen hits the paper, out comes real life.


Oak Island Family tells the same tale of adventure as Oak Island Obsession, your 2006 book, but is directed at YA readers. What did you do differently to ensure that Oak Island Family would appeal to a younger audience? Which book was more challenging to write?


My first book was intended to be a family biography that included a chapter or two on the Oak Island experience. But when I heard the groundless speculation that the Restall experience on Oak Island had been little more than an extended vacation, Oak Island Obsession was born. For safety reasons, my Dad?s work on the island had been shrouded in secrecy. Little had been made public. I vowed that the true story of the Restall search for treasure now would be told.
The problem was — I did not know anything about the Restall search, except for those months in which my husband and I participated. After my mother died, I had inherited cartons of contracts, journals, correspondence, maps, sketches, newspapers, magazines, and over 300 slides and snapshots which bore no captions. My parents had saved everything. Could this material tell their story? A journal entry such as, ?Got down 22 feet? does not tell you where or why. Rick, only fourteen when tragedy struck, said, ?Don?t ask me. I was just a kid.?
It took nearly two years of pouring over papers and photos, before I could string those disparate pieces of information together into an accurate sequence of events.
In Obsession, I let family members speak for themselves through their own writings. I had no idea what was really important to the treasure-hunting world, so I left everything in. My own writing was used to connect family pieces, and to relate events that I had witnessed firsthand. I told friends, ?I didn?t write Oak Island Obsession — Mom, Dad, Bobby and Rick did.? Incidentally, Rick was able to put aside his abhorrence of the topic, read multiple drafts, and proffer invaluable information and advice.
Oak Island Family is my book. It was written for newcomers to Oak Island history. Too few Canadians know the story. Fans from all around the world wrote to my parents, but only a few were Canadians. Today, if you mention Oak Island outside of Nova Scotia, you?ll probably draw a blank stare.The centuries-old hunt for treasure on Oak Island is a fascinating sliver of Canadian history that deserves to be known.
Oak Island Family required me to learn and simplify the early Oak Island history and to fully understand and streamline the Restall story. Non-essential technical detail was scrapped. More than fifty sketches and photographs were used to help the stories along.
Piecing together the Restall story for Oak Island Obsession was difficult. Scaling down the island?s history, and the Restall experience for Oak Island Family was a challenge. Each book evoked forgotten memories and unexpected feelings.


Do you have any other book projects in mind?


Time for a change — If I could give the world a laugh, I would.

Lee Lamb was born in Somerset, England, and came to Canada when she was two years old. She has been a secretary, a project coordinator, a hospital social worker, and a high school teacher. Her previous book was Oak Island Obsession. She lives in Burlington, Ontario. If you would like to know more about Lee Lamb, look up her interview with CBC Halifax's Mainstreet.

For more information about Oak Island Family please visit the publisher's website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

1 comment

I am wondering what Mrs Lamb's husbands name was. I have family from decades ago with the last name Lamb from Canada and I would be interested to see if there is any connection. Thank you.

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