25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Richard Rohmer

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Richard Rohmer

When Major-General Richard Rohmer first began the manuscript that would become Sir John A.'s Crusade and Seward's Magnificent Folly (Dundurn Press), he had no way of knowing that the setting of Highclere Castle and the character of William Seward would both be top of mind in popular culture by the time his book was published this month. Highclere Castle, now best known as the setting for Downton Abbey, was an important location in negotiations for Canada's confederation, and William Seward, the man who purchased Alaska for a song, was recently featured in the film Lincoln. Today Richard talks to Open Book about the character (in every sense of the word) Sir John A. MacDonald and how our first Prime Minister inspired the writing of this thrilling work of historical fiction.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Sir John A.'s Crusade and Seward's Magnificent Folly.

Richard Rohmer:

Sir John A?s Crusade and Seward?s Magnificent Folly is best described in the recent piece that I wrote for VisionTV.ca as part of its promotion of Downton Abbey. (Read it here.)


The lines between fiction and non-fiction have been getting more blurry. Why did you decide you wanted to approach this subject as speculative historical fiction, rather than as a non-fiction account? What is your opinion on the author's responsibility to "stick to the facts" when it comes to historical fiction and memoir?


The story of Sir John A. dealing with the British government for legislation granting Canada?s initial autonomy through the British North America Act (BNA) is not speculative historical fiction. It is based on researched historical fact clothed in conversations created by the author as, indeed, much of the script of the fine film Lincoln is achieved.

On the other hand, that part dealing with Macdonald?s failed attempt to have Alaska purchased by Canada and Britain is indeed speculative, borne out of the realization that Macdonald in the UK could see that an American acquisition of Alaska would endanger the Canadian concept of bringing British Columbia and the area known as the Northwest Territories into confederation.

I have written many non-fiction books and continue so to do. Many readers find it impossibly tedious to read a non-fiction account of an event. Others do not fancy fictional treatments. In this instance, as a huge admirer of the Fathers of Confederation and of Sir John A. Macdonald in particular, and with a substantial background in writing fiction based on well-researched fact, I chose the historical fiction route.


What did you enjoy the most about developing Sir John A. Macdonald as a character in your novel?


What I enjoyed most about developing Sir John A. Macdonald as a character was that history teaches us that he was a ?character,? both as a private individual and as a persuasive political person who could ?work the room,? as indeed he did during his first meeting with all the Canadian representatives in London after his very late arrival in London. As to his ?drinking? weakness that he was able to control during his courting of Agnes — that was a well-known (even today) part of his character. After all, he was our first Prime Minister and, in my opinion, probably our best achiever.


How have your experiences in the military helped form you as a writer?


My military experiences have helped form me as a writer only when I have been dealing with military matters in fictional or non-fictional terms. My form as a writer has been created by my profession as a lawyer, writing briefs, pleadings, agreements and reports such as the influential Report of the Royal Commission on Book Publishing (1972), which I chaired and to which I contributed with my fellow Commissioners.


Which authors have had the greatest influence on your own writing?


It is realistic authors such as Farley Mowat who have given me the greatest influence on my writing as a Canadian author. As well, my friend Conrad Black?s amazing literary capabilities have had a bearing. Books are my wordsmith outlet, as is the writing of weekly newspaper columns, which I have been doing for over two decades (yes, more than a thousand columns).


What does your average writing day look like?


What does my average writing day look like? Being an author is not my ?earning? profession; it does not provide me with an income on which to maintain even a minimal lifestyle. When I am working on a book I do all of my writing in the morning hours. Why? I?m a morning person. And I have always ?fitted in? my writing time while carrying out my earning professions: the law (still), the military and entrepreneurial activities.


What are you working on now?


What I am working on now is the promotion of my best literary work, Sir John A?s Crusade and Seward?s Magnificent Folly, including pitching the film rights to Steven Spielberg! I am doing (finishing) an update of one of my novels (2nd edition) that will be titled Sovereignty Challenge: Russia in the Canadian Arctic.

Richard Rohmer is the bestselling author of numerous thrillers, including Ultimatum, Separation, and Ultimatum 2. He has also published many non-fiction books, including Generally Speaking: The Memoirs of Major-General Richard Rohmer. Rohmer lives in Collingwood, Ontario and practises law in Toronto.

For more information about Sir John A.'s Crusade and Seward's Magnificent Folly please visit the Dundurn Press website.

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

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