SSJ:Tell us about yourself.
JHF: A non-fiction writer for 42 years and an avid photographer, I am also a hybrid author of twenty-one books— including four commercially published about Canadian history, six self-pubbed for writers and teachers, and six photo portfolios.
My articles and images have appeared in national and international markets, both print and online. I am also an addicted freelance travel writer and photographer.
My company, Beacon Literary Services, provides services to writers yearning to get either commercially or self-published, in book and magazine industries that are in constant upheaval.
I am proud to be a member of The Travel Media Association of Canada, the International Travel Writers Alliance, the BC Association of Travel Writers, and the Federation of BC Writers, as well as a former member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers.
My fourth traditionally published book is James Douglas: Father of British Columbia, a young adult biography (Dundurn 2009 – Quest Library series), which was voted one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2010 for grades 7 to 12 by Resource Links Magazine for teachers. I’m also delighted to be able to say that JD has been enjoyed by as many adults as school students.
This creative nonfiction adventure is mostly set in pre-Confederation Canada from 1803 to the end of JD’s life in 1877. Part-Black and illegitimate, fifteen year-old James Douglas sailed alone from Scotland to join the fur trade and later became the governor of the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia. The story weaves through the heart of Canadian history when BC was a wild land, Vancouver did not exist, and Victoria was a muddy village. The foreword is by Stephen Hume.
How did you get started writing this book?
Dundurn’s managing editor phoned me and asked me to write James Douglas for their biographical series for school libraries. I had not queried them nor did I have to write a book proposal because I had done two books with Dundurn before. This is one of the bonuses of being in a publisher’s stable of authors.
Dundurn gave me only four months to do the research, creative writing, and revision. Fortunately, I knew the period well and some of the characters from work on a previous book.
The work was brutally hard and all-consuming; I ate, slept, and dreamed of James Douglas. But I achieved the deadline and was satisfied with the manuscript.
What did you learn during the writing process? Can you give us any tips?
To be honest, I would never undertake to research and write a book in such a short period again and, indeed, refused when Dundurn asked me to write another book in six months.
I’ve learned since 1984, when I began work on Periscope, to immerse myself in as many original sources as I can find, write without the research beside my keyboard, and ruthlessly revise to meet my book’s overarching theme and throughlines. (I use the material I cut for my articles, etc., that promote the future book.)
Also it is imperative to start getting articles pubbed on the nonfiction topic as soon as you can in markets that your book’s potential readers read; to create and activate your online presence years in advance of publication; and to speak on your subject whenever you can. Promotion needs to be relentless, both in person and online, well in advance of your book’s appearance and afterwards.
Tell us about your previous books.
I have written two books about the Canadian Submarine Service: Through a Canadian Periscope: The Story ofthe Canadian Submarine Service (1995) and its sequel, Deeply Canadian: New Submarines for a New Millennium (2000). My next book for Dundurn was Sing a New Song: Portraits of Canada’sCrusading Bishops (2006), that features biographies of four BC Anglican bishops who changed the world. (The first, George Hills, was a contemporary of James Douglas.)I self-publish (print and electronic) my books for writers and teachers as mini-guides, and my own photo portfolios (print and iBooks). My overall-bestselling book is Book Magic: Turning Writers intoPublished Authors, now in its third edition, which is also self-published.
What is it that you like about British Columbia history?
Almost forgotten, BC sat at the final frontier of the British Empire and was wild and unspoiled when the Europeans discovered it. Today, I can still see the same geography and nature they did—unchanged and beautiful. I often imagine what it must have been like to live then with no toilet paper, no running water, no medicines, no transportation but canoes and horses, and have to make journeys of five thousand plus miles each year to feed the fur trade. Every time I drive the highways in BC, I remember that am using those fur trade routes and seeing what they saw. It’s an amazing sensation that invigorates me to search out more about it and then write stories of the place and individuals in a way that lets our population discover their predecessors. Magic!
I feel exactly the same way about British Columbia, Julie!
What are you reading right now?
· Above All Things by Tanis Rideout ( McClelland and Stewart 2012). A superb debut CNF biography of George Mallory who died on Everest in 1924.
· Rough Passage to London by Robin Lloyd (Sheridan House, forthcoming). A fictional account of Ely Morgan, a famous trans-Atlantic packet (sailing ship) captain, who rose to master mariner from serving before the mast as a boy.
Tell us about your next project.
I have just finished preparing my first book, Through a Canadian Periscope, for re-release in March 2014 to celebrate the centenary of the Canadian Submarine Service. It will be a trade paperback this time round with the images embedded in the text, a feature that pleases me. Technology has also meant that the old print images could be restored, which I did myself.
I have also finished the first in a mid-grade novel series set on one of the last great sailing ships.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Canadians who write well have a much better shot at getting published than Americans. We don’t need an agent to approach any Canadian publisher and our government extends grants to publishers, which assist those of us who write for small markets in keeping the Canadian voice not only alive, but loud.
How can people buy your book?
All my books can be accessed through links on my website:
History titles at http://www.beaconlit.com/#!historytitles/c15t5.
Writers’ titles at http://www.beaconlit.com/#!books-miniguides/ct1m.
How can people find you on-line?