Author Q&A on Aviation, History, and Writing/Publishing!

I’ve often said this little apple didn’t fall far from the tree: I was destined to write about aviation because there were so many airplane nuts in my family.

Well, maybe I was also destined to write – period – because of my genetics. I come from a long line of  journalers, journalists, radio play writers, and now…novelists. My mother, Mary Metcalfe, is set to publish her first book this summer. As part of her journey, she’s doing a weekly Q&A with authors on her blog, In the spirit of keeping it in the family, she’s asked me to be one of her first interview subjects.


Here’s just one of my answers… To see the rest, or to see about becoming a future Q&A participant, please click on the link above!

Q. What are you working on right now?

A. “As always, I find myself working on a number of different projects simultaneously, but the main two are a nonfiction book on the history of aviation in Canada’s North (due to be published by Frontenac House in 2013) and a historical novel, tentatively titled Chasing Skies.

Both of these projects were sparked by my first book, For the Love of Flying, a history of a Canadian bush airline that really got my career “off the ground,” so to speak, in 2009. After getting my Master’s in Canadian history, I had the opportunity to put my training to good use. The only problem was, I didn’t know anything about airplanes! After two years of researching and writing, I was hooked and wanted to explore the area more – but with my own spin. So the North Book (as I think of it) has a real social/cultural history angle to it, and Chasing Skies follows a female bush pilot who goes to fly in England during the Second World War (as well as her First Nations friend who enlists in the Army). It deals with the social realities of the time period, and is based on a lot of research.”

Charlotte Gray Comes to Edmonton!

Me and Charlotte Gray after her talk in Edmonton
I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Charlotte Gray, my CanHist hero, was going to be in Edmonton this week as a guest of LitFest and STARFest. Last Saturday night she spoke at the St. Albert library to a room full of fans – one of the most responsive audiences I’ve ever encountered, in fact. They made all the appropriate noises at all the appropriate times during her presentation, and it was obvious they were smitten with her and her works.
The book up for discussion that night was her latest, Gold Diggers, which was published last year by HarperCollins Canada. I happily bought my copy for her to autograph, and it actually comes at the perfect time (which, I find, is often the case with books).  I just dove into my gold-rush-era material for my book on northern aviation – there was a balloon ascension in Dawson City in 1899 – so her tome will provide great background and description. Of course I’ll still get out Pierre Berton’s Klondike (after all, there’s supposed to be a mention of the ascension in it), but it’s great to have a more recent, socially-balanced tome to work with.
It was wonderful to finally meet Charlotte in person. She called me last November after I had Skyped-in to the Berton House Gala fundraiser in Toronto from Dawson. And we shared the same space at different times in Berton House, of course (and I made sure to put my book next to hers on the bookshelf!). But to get the chance to chat for a few minutes and shake her hand was, well, a highlight in this young historian’s life.
Thanks, Charlotte, for continuing to convince Canadians their history is interesting and relevant, and for embracing the filth, messiness, lace, and rubber boots of the past. 

Dawson Walkabout

I love to walk, and since arriving in late September I’ve tried to get out and explore the town of Dawson (and environs) on foot as much as possible.

Heading out my door and across Eighth Ave I can join up with the 9th Avenue Trail behind Robert Service’s cabin, which links up to the Crocus Bluffs trail and up to the cemeteries on the hill. Apparently here you need to watch your step, as this sign indicates: “Please watch for open holes on fence line.” Gotta plan ahead for the tourists (and writers-in-residence) that don’t make it through the winter, I guess…
If you don’t fall into an early grave, you can continue up Dome Road past side roads named for famous locals: Pierre Berton, Dick North, and Jack London among others.

Back in town you might end up in the alleyway between Second and Front St. where the recycling depot is. I love how the sign says it’s closed holidays and -40…
Further down Front St. there’s the Anglican Church looking out over the river. You might stop in here at the thrift shop on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons, but other days you’ll just carry on, eyeing the ravens perched on rooftops, streetlights, and cleaning up after recess at the schoolyard. They seem pretty docile, but if you’re anything like me you will think of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds when you see more than two together.
Crossing over the dyke, constructed around the river to protect the town from seasonal flooding, you always find surprises. With so many artists and students in town for KIAC and SOVA there are sometimes rocks painted blue, red wine designs in the snow (with the bottle in the middle), or various other artistic offerings. I like this snow couple and their house the best so far.
If you need to warm up, the SnakePit in the Westminster Hotel is a good place, especially in the early evening Thursday-Saturday when Barnacle Bob is pounding out tunes on the piano (often accompanied by guitar and fiddle). But it opens at 9am, so you can pretty much drop in any time!

As you head north out of the Snakepit (if you happen to be there during daylight hours), you might stumble upon this piece of Robert Service wisdom… something to contemplate for the chilly walk home.

Shacking it Up at Berton House

Upon my arrival in Dawson I realized I didn’t actually have the address for Berton House handy. A quick tour of town would surely reveal it, I thought. First stop: front street. Looking out over the Yukon River I thought I spied a cozy cabin. Maybe this was it? But how to get to it….?

Then I found this handsome hovel in the middle of town with a built-in cat door, and we all know Pierre Berton loved his cats. And there was an empty bottle of Smirnoff on the front “porch,” and writers are known to like a drinky-poo from time to time to get the ol’ words flowing…

Finally up on Eighth Ave I found the real Berton House! I guess the signs and plaque on the wall should have been a dead giveaway? We writers aren’t the most observant people, I guess…

When I returned to Dawson after my travels to Old Crow and Inuvik there was a goodly amount of snow on the ground, just wet enough to hold together. I present to you: P’tit Pierre, my backyard sentinel… and the raven’s haven’t even stolen his nose yet!

The front bedroom has been converted into an office with a large oak desk (c. 1900). It may not be 100% ergonomically-correct, but it’s got history. There’s a nice big window facing onto the backyard and with tourist season done I don’t have to worry about people gawking at me in my ‘work clothes’ (read: pyjama pants)!

Lots of great reading spots throughout the house for devouring the large library of northern books. This sectional is my fave so far and I love snuggling under the big HBC blanket while I’m reading Pierre Berton’s The Arctic Grail. Not only is it great reading, but useful too: did you know raw meat is an anti-scorbutic? Forget the oranges and pass me some Maktak!

There’s even enough space for me to do yoga in the living room, but I also discovered yesterday they offer classes in the Downtown Hotel three times a week. Nothing says ‘Namaste’ like going straight to the bar after forward bends!
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.