Taking Polar Winds Home

Earlier this month I was able to do launches in my hometown of Ottawa, and my alma mater McGill. It is always amazing to share my work and book parties with friends and family, and to reconnect with some of the people who encouraged me on this path.

Here are a few shots from those evenings! Thanks to Alexandra Leslie for being the photographer in Ottawa, and Alexandre Claude for snapping the lovely pics in Montreal.


It is always such a pleasure to personalize books – really one of the best parts of the job!


The Canada Aviation and Space Museum generously hosted us in the foyer and theatre. What a perfect location!


Perfect Books was on hand to sell our books. Thanks, Jim!


Me and my co-launcher, Crystal Sissons (author of bio on Elsie MacGill) took advantage of the great “props” to take a few photos.


My home base at McGill, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, hosted a multi-author launch for Polar Winds and two other new works of history (from McGill-Queen’s University Press) at the gorgeous Faculty Club.


One of the first professors to encourage me on the path of History – and one I’m still in touch with – Desmond Morton.


After corresponding for years, I finally got to meet my online friend Jean-Claude and his lovely wife Lucille.


Our short talks focused on the challenges and joys of the research process for our books. I love words, but pictures are pretty effective too!


Will Straw from MISC and Michael Darroch, one of my co-launchers. We all hung out at dinner afterwards, which is always half the fun!


Bird’s Eye View: WWII Historical Novel Giveaway

My new friend and fellow author, Elinor Florence, recently released her debut novel, Bird’s Eye View. She has been doing a blog tour and fittingly – given the subject of the book – it ends today, on Remembrance Day. Bird’s Eye View tells the story of a young woman from the prairies whose home town becomes an air training base. Rose Jolliffe travels overseas, joins the air force and becomes an interpreter of aerial photographs, spying on the enemy from the sky, searching out camouflaged bomb targets on the continent.

1. Bird's Eye View - Cover Image

I became acquainted with Elinor because we share a publisher, Dundurn Press of Toronto. My book Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the North was released in September, and hers in October. We also share a common interest in Canadian history, although my book is non-fiction, and hers is fact-based fiction.

DMC: Your heroine Rose Jolliffe joins the air force and becomes an aerial photographic interpreter. What is that?

EF: It’s an art that sprang up after the fall of the European continent to Germany. The Allies had no way of finding out what the enemy was up to, except for spies on the ground, radio transmissions, and aerial reconnaissance. Because aerial photos were black and white, often blurry, and difficult to decipher, an entire new skill was developed. It was called interpretation because it was like learning a new language. One early reconnaissance pilot predicted that women would be especially good at this because they must have the patience of Job and the skill of a good darner of socks! He was correct. Women were good at it. More than half of the 600 photo interpreters who worked at the Allied Central Interpretation headquarters at RAF Medmenham in England were women. This is a photo interpreter studying a photograph while two Canadian pilots look on. She’s probably trying to determine if their bombs hit the target.

2. woman studies aerial photo   DMC: What is that device she is using?

EF: The interpreters used an instrument called a stereoscope that allowed them to see the ground in three dimensions. The pilot had to fly the plane straight and level, while the camera took two photos, a split second apart. When the “stereo pair,” as they were called, were lined up under the stereoscope, then each eye was looking at a slightly different photograph, and the result was to see the image in three dimensions. It really is quite magical, when you think about it.

3. stereoscope DMC: Did the interpreters make any significant discoveries?

EF: It was a British woman, a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force member named Constance Babington Smith, who discovered the first weapon of mass destruction in history. “Babs” found a miniature winged pilotless aircraft on an aerial photograph taken on the northern German coastline at a place called Peenemunde. That was the jet-propelled V-1 weapon called the flying bomb. The Allies immediately destroyed Peenemunde and set back the manufacture of this deadly weapon by six months, influencing the outcome of the war. This aerial photograph shows Peenemunde after the bombing raid.

4. Peenemunde after bombing

DMC: How is Canada’s role in wartime portrayed in your novel?

EF: My heroine sees the entire progress of the war from a uniquely Canadian perspective. She interprets the photos of the raid on Dieppe, for example. Her brother is flying a Spitfire. Her friends are in Bomber Command’s 6 Group, in Yorkshire. And throughout the book, she is receiving letters from her mother and her best friend June, describing what’s happening back on the home front.

DMC: Did you visit any of the locales used in your book?

EF: Yes, the headquarters for photo interpretation was a converted mansion called RAF Medmenham. It’s now a luxury hotel called Danesfield House. My husband and I visited the hotel, and while we were walking around the grounds discussing the past, we were approached by a distinguished white-haired woman who had served at RAF Medmenham during the war! It was the most extraordinary coincidence. We whisked her off for lunch and I plied her with questions, and some of her tidbits I used in my novel. Eileen Scott has passed away, but I’m still in contact with her son. Here’s a photo of the former RAF Medmenham as it appears today.

5. Danesfield House

About the Author:

6. Elinor Florence -- Head Shot

 Elinor Florence grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, a former World War Two training airfield. She worked as a newspaper and magazine editor, and was a regular writer for Reader’s Digest before turning to fiction. Married with three grown daughters, Elinor lives in the tiny but perfect mountain resort of Invermere, British Columbia. She loves village life, thrift stores, antiques, and old houses. You can read more about her, and sign up for her blog called Wartime Wednesdays, at www.elinorflorence.com. She is also on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Pinterest. Bird’s Eye View is available at bookstores everywhere, and as an ebook.    


The Giveaway!

Elinor has generously provided me with a signed copy of her book to give away to a lucky reader. If you’d like to enter, please do one of the following (or all to increase your odds of winning) before 11:59 MST on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. The winner will be drawn via random number generator the following day and announced on Facebook and/or Twitter, as well as contacted directly via email if you have provided that information.

1. Leave a comment on this post letting me know why you like reading historical novels.

2. Tweet about this post on Twitter and tag @danicanuck and @florencewriter in it.

3. Post a Facebook comment about this giveaway, including a link back to this post.

Good luck!

Governor General’s History Awards 2014

"Governor General's History Awards"

The GG History medal (Photo credit: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall)

"Governor General's History Awards"

Mark Zuelhke with his Excellency David Johnston after receiving the Pierre Berton Award for Popular History (Photo credit: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall)

"Governor General's History Awards"

Janet Walker, President and CEO of Canada’s History Society delivering her remarks (Photo credit: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall)

"Governor General's History Awards"

The award recipients, finalists, family and friends – a few dignitaries – at the ceremony. I’m about four rows from the back! (Photo credit: Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall)


Afterward there was a reception and we were allowed to go on a guided tour of Rideau Hall. Fellow history geek Lina Crompton, me, and Jennifer Huang from Canadian Heritage took advantage!


The Wonders of LitFest and Words on the Park


LitFest: a fabulous evening of stories, friends, wine, and planes!



At the LitFest kick off event at Alberta Aviation Museum on October 17 with author Ted Barris.


Robert from Belgravia Books shows off titles from Edmonton author Gwen Molnar at Words in the Park.



Me and book table buddy, Karen Spafford-Fitz, at Words in the Park!


And the yummy treats (and adorable puppies) to make happy customers!


It was great seeing Bob McDonald, host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, again at LitFest’s Brunch of Writers. Hope he likes the book!








#YEG Word on the Square

It was so neat getting to chat with Michael Hingston at Churchill Square today as part of the Edmonton Arts Council/LitFest pilot project, Word on the Square. You never know what you’re going to get out on the street like that but we met some wonderful people and hung out with the City Hall School kids for a bit! They answered some tough questions to win prizes and helped me eat some treats too.

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