Mary Willan Mason’s The Hivernante has just won the IPPY Gold award for Best Regional Fiction, in the Western Canada region. iUniverse is delighted to congratulate Mary and to talk with her about her book.
Please briefly describe your book . . .
Before the west became “The Wild West” of cowboys, young swashbuckling, intrepid French Canadian explorers claimed the prairies and beyond for France, and trappers harvested the furs beside the first dwellers of the plains. It was a rowdy dangerous life. One young trapper, or “hivernant” French for staying west over the bitterly cold winters was Jean Baptiste Lajimoniere. Unlike his friends, Jean Baptiste returned home to find a bride and farm on his inherited land. He found a bride, Marie Anne, but farming was too tame and he longed to return west for the excitement of riding bareback, trapping and hunting with his friends for his livelihood. To take a white woman out west was unthinkable, foolish and shocking, but Jean Baptiste did it, and Marie Anne so adored her husband, she went with him to the consternation of her family, the community and the North West Fur Company.
The Hivernante (that “e” added to “hivernant” makes the word feminine) tells the story of the first white woman to live out on the prairies – Marie Anne Lajimoniere, mother of eight, the only white woman for literally thousands of miles in every direction. Her adventures, her nightmare encounters, her fortitude and with her adored and at times heedless Jean Baptiste, give us some idea of life in the west in the early years of the nineteenth century. Her eight children were the original pioneers throughout the west. Louis Riel, patriot and founder of Manitoba was her favourite grandson.
Learning to read was difficult for me. By the time I was almost nine, I figured since school wasn’t much help, I would have to teach myself to read. My mother played the piano and sang from a songbook, so when nobody was around I played the note she sang and studied the printed word that went with it. Then I gave myself an examination. The small print on the breakfast cereal boxes now made sense, so I started reading everything, books, the local library, anything in print.
What inspired you to write your book, and how long did it take you to finish it?
In my travels in the west, I met Lise Perrault in Val Marie, Saskatchewan. She had come across the account, published in Montreal in 1883 by the Abbe George Dugast telling briefly of the life of Marie Anne Gaboury Lajimoniere, born 1782 in Maskinonge, died 1878 in St. Boniface and had translated it into English in the 1980s. I used her translation of his account to bring the facts of Marie Anne’s experiences as well as what was going on around her to life.
What is the one message you would like to convey to your readers?
History is a fascinating subject because it is about human beings, what they do and the consequences of their actions.
Winning the Gold Medal 2016 for Canada West from IPPY was a very special accolade. Hopefully The Hivernante will be of interest to history teachers as well as lovers of adventure stories. The evnts that involved Marie Anne were the important facts of the time and influenced subsequent development of the entire western continent.
What was your favorite part of your publishing experience, overall and with iUniverse?
The editor from iUniverse assigned to me was thoroughly professional and very helpful.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Very few of us become’ best sellers’ and rich. Finding work on a newspaper, daily or weekly, is a splendid ‘school of journalism’.
Congratulations to Mary again on such a splendid achievement!