Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Vancouver Opera, Lillian Alling

There was an article in the Vancouver Sun earlier this week about the Vancouver Opera production of Lillian Alling. The opera was originally set to be performed around the 2010 Olympics (which is in February 2010), but now the production date is either late 2010 or early 2011.

Depending on the timing, I'd like to go down to Vancouver and see the production. I realize the story of Lillian has been romanticized for the opera, but I guess it wouldn't be an opera otherwise.

Arriving worn out, exhausted, at Cabin 8

Lillian Alling arrived exhausted at Cabin 8 on the Yukon Telegraph Line in 1928. She was nursed back to health by Jim Christie and Charlie Janze who also supplied her with clothes and food for her journey.

She'd been walking through the British Columbia wilderness for more than a month, and who knows except her what sorts of hazards she encountered.

I've really enjoyed writing this chapter. It has made me admire Lillian all the more.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Now is the winter of my discontent

OK, so it's officially winter. And I'm officially behind in my writing. I did meet my goal of getting my three chapters done by November. But I've done nothing in the past month, due to work commitments and work computer issues.

Still, the winter is the best time to write and organize, because I'll be inside at night anyway.

Here's hoping. I have 10 days off over Christmas, and this is a great time to jumpstart the next chapter.

Lillian Alling, where are you?


Monday, October 5, 2009

Research versus Writing

Research is so enjoyable. It's like a challenging historical detective story, one clue leads to another. There are false leads, you go off on tangents, but eventually you get back to where you should be. I never have to talk myself into researching.

But writing, yes, I need to talk myself into that. I have to say, just 250 words. Just 750 words. Come on, just keep typing, you can do it, aaaargh, and finally I reach my goal of 1000 words.

Lillian Alling, if she had written a book, would have probably done it within the better side of a week's time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The search for Lillian Alling

2000 km, 3 1/2 days, one mystery solved, one new chapter written.

Did some extensive travelling over the Labour Day weekend through North West British Columbia and a short jaunt through Alaska. Met some wonderful and helpful people in small local museums along the way.

Lillian Alling, what an amazing woman. How did she survive in the bush with just minimal supplies?
I'm very glad I ignored the naysayers who said she couldn't walk over mountains and that it was just too hard. Well, she could do it and she did do it, and I love her all the more for it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It was 80 years ago today

80 years ago, Lillian Alling left Nome, Alaska and headed across the Bering Strait to Siberia. In honour of this, I am now commencing the "Crossing the Bering Strait" chapter of the book.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lillian Alling in Alaska

Surely not! 10 days since my last posting? What a wastrel I am.
Plugging away with the Alaska chapter on Lillian Alling's trek through there in 1929. She was so efficient in her travel, perhaps because she was such a driven individual.

I manage to write a little bit per day, and it is surprising how it all adds up. But as I've been writing this chapter, I realize that a lot of the stuff needs to be moved to another portion of the book. Oh well, they're not wasted words at least.

One of the best things about writing this book is meeting people from all over the world who give ideas, hints and encouragement. More on this next time...
Susan Smith

Monday, August 17, 2009

At the risk of sounding repetitive...

The Alaska chapter is going well. I'm loving writing it, and I'm making a huge To Do Research list as I go. Some gaps to fill in, but all in all, it's a lot of fun.
I've been spending a bit of time and a little bit of money on ebay, buying some more books on Siberia. I need a whole bookshelf to house them.
Lillian Alling was a fascinating woman, who accomplished a remarkable feat, during interesting times, and met a whole bunch of eccentric people on the way. I will sure miss her when the book is done.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Alaska chapter

I am enjoying writing the Alaska chapter. I'm also going back and forth periodically to the book proposal. And I am so appreciating the help and encouragement of my preview editor, Nellie H.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

compliance with publisher's guidelines

I am having an enjoyable time complying with the guidelines to submit to the publisher. So far, I've got a draft of:
marketing summary
list of photographs and illustratsions
my brief bio
Next: table of contents and two or three sample chapters (of course, this is the most difficult, but it's already written in draft form, and I'm typing it now).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Loving the writing process

I am so enjoying the writing. I have to do it in the middle of the night because it's too hot in the day.
I've just completed a draft summary and a draft marketing report for submission to the publisher. Excellent for thought clarification.
Both of these have been sent off to an editor for improving.
Typed draft of the Alaska chapter is underway.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Getting excited

I'm pretty excited about the writing process. I hope that I can do Lillian justice and write the best account of her journey that I can. I realize there will be gaps in the information, but I'm hoping that the interesting context of the time, plus the fascinating people Lillian meet, will make a rich narrative.

And something I always found daunting - a book proposal - actually seems to be helping me get organized. So there!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On a roll now

Handwriting is over, and typing begins August 1. Should be able to power through a first typed draft in a few months. All the experience working at a hectic weekly paper has helped me not believe in writer's block. Just write!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Old newspapers

I have spent this month going through old newspapers. 1926 and 1927 were fascinating years, so much of our popular culture starts at this time.
I was really happy with the service that Library Archives Canada provided, they photocopied 120 pages of old newspapers for me, at a reasonable price and on huge paper. It didn't take very long and it arrived in the mail all in one piece.
I was also really pleased to find out that BC Archives is able to provide duplicate copies of microfilm for purchase, so I will start going through those soon. Would love to have a table top microfilm reader so I don't have to go to the museum to use their reader. I'm slowly extracating myself from a number of volunteer organizations that I belong to, so I can spend the fall and winter writing the first draft of the book.
Hot enough for ya?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

1927 - a very good year

Going through newspapers for 1927 today. Wow, what an interesting time, it's amazing that some of the things that happened that year are still very alive in our popular culture. I only got three hours of microfilm in today, I am booked for three more tomorrow.
Lillian Alling, where are you?

Research blitz

Wow, if I was a follower on this blog, I would have given up on it a long time ago. No posts for almost three weeks? How slack-assed.

Anyway, I'm on a research blitz, having ordered microfilm from at least five different sources. Trying to jam time in to scroll through it all. Got three hours booked this afternoon, hope something interesting comes out of it.

The writing has slowed down, the usual summer beauty and weather has taken its toll on my productivity. Once again, I'm re-arranging the office having recently been the lucky recipient of an antique roll top desk. This will allow me to take out the card table that my computer is presently on. I can also get rid of the strange credenza that I got for free at the re-use centre. It is a dust collector. I hate dusting.

I'm excited about Lillian, I've found some things that confirm Lillian's presence in a few places, so that makes me happy. The more I research, the closer I feel a connection to her, and this will give me the mental push I need to write this book on her behalf.

Not that I think I'm speaking for her, you understand. But it's just that there are so many fictional accounts about her floating around and in production, I just want to keep it as close to reality as possible. That being said, I reserve the right to creatively speculate on Lillian Alling, because it's almost impossible not to. What a gal she was!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Taking a break for a week

I'm not writing anything for a week, and not doing any concentrated research, either. I'm hoping to come at the different chapter files with fresh eyes after that time. Meanwhile, I'm slowly going through my big To Do file, it's rather enjoyable to see if I can find something new in there.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Frozen In - 1929 Bering Strait

Olaf Swenson's boat, the Nanuk, was frozen in Bering Strait in 1929.

The Altar of my Discontent

Took me only about 8 hours, and everything is in order. Thank you to the following people for their encouragement:
Nellie H. (writer, researcher, translator)
Ted E. (writer, poet, traveller)
Jenny B. (researcher, mother, writer)
Leslie H. (researcher, writer, correspondent)
My "To Do" file isn't as bad as I thought, and there are lots of fun and interesting leads to follow in there.

The Dread Filing

The big mound of papers that was on the floor of my office? No more! The papers have all been filed into their respective Chapter Files. The Chapter Files are spread out all over the kitchen table, and are now ready to be carried, like an ancient, sacred offering, to my filing cabinet where they will rest with honour (and with labels). There, they will be ready with eager, flat paper mouths ready to receive morsels of information as I either receive it or type it.

Thank you, Chapter Files, for being so tidy and for being such eager, tidy and cooperative receptacles of the Sum of My Expertise (with apologizes to Mr Hodgman: http://www.areasofmyexpertise.com/).

Smithsonian Institution

Wow, the Smithsonian Institution's National Anthropological Archives are so efficient. I contacted them to ask them for a document, within a week and a half I had received it and that included the free service of them looking up the information for me in the appropriate fonds. PLUS, courteous service. Oh, they are a true example of what an archive can be. I think I'm in love with the Smithsonian Institution's National Anthropological Archives.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Feeling better

I do feel much better about this project today. Maybe it was just getting some sun, but maybe it was hearing back from some people who think that Lillian is a worthwhile subject for research.

Oh, I know, I should be more like Lillian. More independent. Not care what people think. Focus only on the end result.

I'm starting to feel the pressure now! People are asking me more and more often: when will this be done? I would like to say next year I will submit to publisher, but it could be sooner. The long, dark, cold winter here is one of my favourite times of year. I can work on projects and not feel guilty about being inside and writing. In the summer, when it's light until past 10 pm, I feel obliged to "do" something outside.

I know you all are eager to read the book. Me, too, actually. I'm really looking forward to the process of putting this all together. I've got lots of information, background, photographs and more. I'm hoping that people will find this an interesting book, for it's not JUST about Lillian, you know. It's about the times she lived in.

Anyway, I suppose at least three good (and by good, I mean almost final copy) chapters would be easy to get together by this winter. They're sort of done now.

I'm a litle bit concerned about the format. I hate hate hate footnotes. First, I always lose track of them when I'm writing. Then who said what and in what volume gets lost and everything blurs together. Second, it makes the book seem like an academic publication. And this book is certainly NOT an academic publication. It's what I consider a local history book.

I want to acknowledge the other publications I used for background and the archives where some primary documents were found. I like the way Stephen Hume wrote his Simon Fraser book, so I'll probably aim for something like that.

Friday, June 5, 2009


I wrote a few handwritten pages yesterday. And I've been thinking a lot about Lillian's state of mind, her route and so many other things. I've also been thinking: does anyone care about this other than me? I've been called Quixotic for doing this project. Sigh. No, really. Big sigh.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Maps of British Columbia

I received some amazing maps in the mail on Friday. These are topographic maps in great detail, which are so useful when going over Lillian's route. I had a great time poring over these maps. Not POURING over them, of course.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Helpfulness and some new old books

Lots of people are helping with my quest to find both the mythical and the historical Lillian.
Today I had great responses from both the Yukon Archives (you are great!) and the Smithsonian Institution (hooray for interns!). Another thank you to the Cariboo Library Network (Quesnel Branch) and especially their Inter Library Loan service. Just received a phone call: two books are in, and one microfilm is ready, also.

Another thanks to the Church of the Latter-day Saints Family History Centre for locating films when people said it couldn't be done. Good work!

Went to Books and Company in Prince George today and no, not just for the Mrs. Marple lemon tarts. Found two used books, one on Stewart and one about Anyox. Fascinating reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Mythical Lillian versus the Real Lillian

I received an interesting letter in the mail today. From a woman who says that Lillian is a myth and not real at all, and that I'm tilting at windmills and that I'd be better off writing something else.

I think there is a certain amount of information out there about Lillian that has been copied and recopied and plagiarized over the years. No one bothered to do any double checking, they just rehashed the same old thing. That is Lillian the myth. The Lillian that stuffed her dead dog full of grass, for example.

But the real Lillian, the one I'm trying to find, existed. There are traces of her in archives, old files, dusty newspaper accounts and faded memories. She existed within a context of a world that was on the cusp of dramatic change. Old ways gone, only to be found in oral histories or decrepit structures.

My aim is not to perpetuate the myth that is Lillian, rather, it is to explore the history of the time in which she lived, and learn why her story resonates so strongly and incites such passion 80 years later.

"I've just had a brilliant idea" a book by Rob Godfrey

Taken directly from: http://www.robgodfrey.com/book/
"In July 1999 the good ship Marie Anne sailed from Rotterdam, bound for the USA. On board this creaking cargo ship were Rob Godfrey and two Citroen 2CVs. This voyage was the first leg of an epic journey to Prudhoe Bay, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, a journey that took Rob Godfrey and Jose Oostveen 8000 road miles across North America.
The 2CV Alaska Challenge was not only the first time a 2CV had been driven up to the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, it was also the first time that charity fundraising had been attempted entirely via the internet, and also the first time that an ongoing travelogue had been posted as 'almost live' reportage - the only things that weren't cutting edge about the 2CV Alaska Challenge were the cars.
Delay, deviation and danger while crossing the Atlantic Ocean, breakdowns, bust-ups and bacchanalia during the road journey to Alaska, and lots and lots of pissed-off grizzly bears were all part of what beforehand had seemed like a good idea. I've just had a brilliant idea! is not only an account of Rob's travels, it's also a quirky history of Canada and the Pacific Northwest."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Plugging away - need a bigger plug, maybe

I need to do some filing. I had two occurences today where it took me too long to find reference material. Everything used to be so organized. In beautiful folders, and beautiful piles. Now, everything in my office seems to be melding into one gigantic, slithering mess of papers.

And, I'm writing three chapters at once. This is neither logical nor efficient.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

La piste du télégraphe (1994) a French movie about Lillian

Written and directed by Liliane de Kermadec, this film is known in English as "The Telegraph Route."
NOTE: The character is called Lisa Alling.
"This French film chronicles the amazing-but-true story of Lisa Alling who in 1928 successfully walked from New York City to Siberia via the Bering Straight by following telegraph poles. It was shot entirely in the Ukraine. Lisa, a chambermaid, has had enough of American life and wants go home to Siberia. Because she had no money, she decided it was better to walk than stay in the U.S. any longer. An opportunist, she takes whatever food, warmth and even romance that is offered along the way." ~ Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide

"Les Acacias Cineaudience release (in France) of a France 2 Cinema, Cinebravo production, with participation of Canal Plus, Sofiarp, UFCA and CNC. (International sales: Cinexport, Paris.) Produced, directed, written by Liliane de Kermadec. Co-executive producers, Patrick Dumont, Ismail Soliman Taghi-Zadeh. Lisa Alling ... Elena Safonova, John ... Christopher Chaplin, Shan ... Cong Shan, Carlo ... Miki Manojlovic, Muriel ... Mylene Demongeot
(English, French and Russian dialogue)
The photogenic Ukraine stands in for the whole of the U.S. and the frozen Yukon, circa 1928, in "The Telegraph Route," a leisurely road movie based on the true story of Lisa Alling, a Russian-born chambermaid who walked from New York City to Siberia. Attractively shot, agreeably goofy pic should make a pleasant addition to fest and tube slates that favor quirky tales of stubborn determination.
Elena Safonova ("Dark Eyes,""The Accompanist") gives a charming performance as the single-minded, penniless trekker with a terminal case of homesickness. After tending to one too many drunken revelers welcoming Charles Lindbergh back to Gotham, Alling sets out, on foot, for her distant birthplace.
Once off the beaten track, privation and deadly cold don't seem to phase Alling as she heads for the Bering Strait by following telegraph poles. She grabs warmth, food and a bit of romance -- including a brief idyll with a dashing young journalist (played by Charlie Chaplin's youngest son, Christopher) -- whenever they present themselves. Alling never explains her mission but ends up winning the viewer's respect.
Scripter/helmer Liliane de Kermadec, making her first theatrical feature since "Aloise" played Cannes in 1975, took her inspiration from a brief magazine article about Alling.
Once one grows accustomed to allegedly American but somewhat Slavic-looking characters named "Mike" and "Billy" speaking French, pic weaves a spell in which period costumes, cars and trains add up to a vintage vision of a sprawling land populated by kindly individuals, in which anything was possible."
I have not seen this film, but if anyone has a copy, please let me know:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Even more confusing

Just when I think things are getting calm, things get confusing. Every time I receive more information, it just adds more questions. Not that I'm complaining. I'm just sayin'.


I think I need to do some filing. OK, this picture is not actually MY pile of paper. Mine is not nearly as orderly or as tidy as this. And of course, I have more than one pile. I have two piles on the floor, mostly correspondence. Estimate: 1 foot high. I have two other piles, sort of organized, sort of not, on my bookshelf. I have the "Yukon Chapter" on the side table. This pile now includes books, words I've written, notes to myself, and an empty file folder. I went to the library yesterday, and now I have a pile of books about sternwheelers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A day off, full of work

I had a day off from my "real" job today, and had a great time this morning getting off some correspondence to people about Lillian. Plus, I was able to go to the library and put in an Inter Library Loan request, and also picked up some books for background information. I'm looking forward to an evening with all of these books.

I also corresponded via email this afternoon with a few researchers, and before you know it, it's almost 7 pm.

No writing today, but probably a page before bedtime.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Canada Genealogy AKA Jane's Your Aunt

My friend M. Diane Rogers has an absolutely marvellous blog:
It's all things genealogy, and women's history, too. Updated regularly, and full of interesting tidbits. She very kindly mentioned my quest for Lillian Alling on her blog recently.

Great weekend for writing

It was a great weekend. Not only was the weather warm and sunny, I also got quite a bit of writing done. It was rather unexpected, because I'd been holding off on doing more writing on the Yukon chapter until some photocopies arrived this week. But a book I picked up at last week's used book sale was very inspirational, and useful as well. So this "extra" writing will go in a chapter I'm tentatively calling "Survival in the Wild" and it's made me even more of an admirer of Lillian, and has affirmed my belief in her even further.

My writing buddy

Whenever I write, my cat is always very interested. Mr. Ruffleshins von Marmalade (AKA Big Red), when he's not repeatedly opening the same cupboard, or staring disinterestedly at birds, keeps me company and keeps my feet warm, too.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review of Cassandra Pybus's book, "The Woman Who Walked to Russia"

Bookends: This book got lost along the way
by Dan Davidson
The Woman Who Walked to Russia
Reviewed: May 30, 2003
By: Cassandra Pybus
Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers
238 Pages, $24.95

"This week’s review is probably not for the faint of heart. If you had access to a collection of Bookends columns you would be hard pressed to find me spending much time saying anything nasty about a book. Generally speaking, you only see reviews of books that I got some pleasure from or that I thought were well done.
This week I’m breaking that rule.
The mysterious tale of Lillian Alling, The Woman Who Walked to Russia, has a lot of potential as a story. It could be a good historical detective story or it could be fictionalized as an effective novel. Cassandra Pybus’ book, originally published as The Raven Road, is neither of these.
Perhaps it is the change of title that misleads the reader. Pybus intended to write about Lillian Alling. Part one of the book, “Looking for Lillian” will be a good starting point for anyone else who chooses to tackle this topic, because Pybus spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out just who Alling originally was and where she might have come from. Her quest for a country of origin and the mystery woman’s real name - “Alling” really doesn’t sound particularly Russian - make good reading. I recommend the first 43 pages of this book as a pleasant exercise.
After that, well ....
I should probably mention my own quest for knowledge at this point. When I began to get really annoyed with this book (more on that later) I spent the better part of an afternoon doing internet research on both Alling and Pybus. The late Don Sawatsky wrote a pretty good article on the mystery woman back in 1997. In addition, there are quite a few other articles floating out there as well as a review of a play called “All the Way to Russia With Love” by Susan M. Flemming, which played at the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2002.
There are a lot of references to Pybus as well, and the general laudatory tone of most of them made it still more difficult to understand how this book got into print. She’s a historian of note, a writer with controversial views, an editor and (hard nosed) critic of other peoples work. It was reading a couple of her dissections of other peoples' books that made me decide to write this column.
Having set us up for a good exploratory journey, Pybus instead serves us up a book which is mostly concerned with how she and her travelling buddy, Gerry, find out that they aren’t compatible companions after all these years. They squabble over food, sleeping arrangements, hikes in the bush and just about everything you can think of between Vancouver and Dawson City, where they finally part company. This tale is more like Pybus’ revenge than anything else and should certainly guarantee that the two keep a continent between them from now on.
Up to their arrival in Dawson, though, I was still having a bit of fun with the book, regretting what might have been, to be sure, but not ready to run.
Her first sight of Dawson, as described from a bluff above the town, doesn’t exist. There is no bluff along the Klondike Highway leading to town (it's in a valley, you see) and no way she could have taken her Pathfinder anywhere to see what she describes. Her description of the Yukon River Hostel rings true, though White Ram Bed and Breakfast will probably not be pleased by her account of that establishment.
For here on, however, it all goes to hell pretty quickly. There are places in Dawson where you can use the internet, but the Visitor Reception Centre on Front Street is not one of them. Nor is it possible to take a shower there, (though some of our summer transients have been known to wash their hair in the washroom sinks). Pybus claims to have done both.
She also claims to have spent a lot of time in the library, which she somehow fails to notice is a joint school/public facility (my wife was the teacher-librarian at that time). While there she merrily romps though books that the library doesn’t have, including a set of memoirs by John Franklin and archival quality copies of the Dawson News. Ripping through local folklore she completely dismisses as a fabrication the well-documented story of the Bishop Bompas, the Bishop Who Ate His Boots, and ventures a variety of half-baked and ill informed opinions on numerous subjects, waxing eloquently about the “one man tourist industry” built around the legend of Jack London while ignoring totally the fairly obvious references to Robert Service, Pierre Berton and an interesting Austro-Hungarian chap named Jan Welzl, who is worth a book by himself.
From the top of the Midnight Dome she manages to describe the Yukon River as “milky”, making one wonder if she ever actually looked at it, or was even here. “Murky” would be the right word most of the time as it is full of silt from rivers upstream.
Oh, she was here. I have verified this from talking to a few of the recognizable people who are described in the book. But her account of the town is downright sloppy for someone who is supposed to be a bright light on the Australian academic scene.
Later on, I met someone who had lived in Atlin for a time and had a similar litany of complaints to make about her handling of that town. If two of the places she wrote about were badly handled, I thought, how can I have any confidence in her account of the rest of the trip?
The simple answer is that I can’t, and I don’t think you should, either. This book got lost on the trail of a mystery woman, and should probably have stayed that way."

- review courtesy of Dan Davidson
Dan Davidson, who writes a book review column called Bookends and runs in the Whitehorse Star, Fort Nelson News and online at Yukonbooks.com (Mac's Fireweed Books).

Graphic Novel about Lillian Alling by Kerry Byrne

Here is a review of Kerry Byrne's graphic novel, Lillian the Legend. The review was written by Dan Davidson, who writes a book review column called Bookends and runs in the Whitehorse Star, Fort Nelson News and online at Yukonbooks.com (Mac's Fireweed Books).

Lillian the Legend
by Kerry Byrne
Conundrum Press
64 pages

"There have been numerous books about the strange tale of Lillian Alling, a Russian immigrant woman who turned up in New York City in the 1920s, got very homesick while working menial jobs in the New World, and decided she would walk home. Refusing all opportunities for rides, she walked to Chicago, to Minneapolis and to Winnipeg, after which there's a blank space in her legend until she turned up on the Yukon Telegraph Trail. There she was arrested and sentenced to prison for vagrancy by a judge who, is it generally felt, did that to keep her from dying on the trail in the winter.

Released in the spring she continued on her trek, arriving in Dawson in the fall of 1928 and wintering there. According Susan Smith, a Quesnel writer working a book about her, Lillian left here in 1929 and was eventually reported in Teller, Alaska and Providenja, Siberia.

Kerry Byrne's graphic novel version of Lillian's story ends there and with a bit of a mystery, because no one knows if she kept walking until she reached her eastern European home or not.
The book is a bit crowded and static. When she allows herself to draw a big panel Byrne is at her best to my taste. The work does, however, do justice to the story and is worth the read.
Byrne spent several summers and a winter in Dawson in the early 2000s, and was involved with the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. She produced some tiny graphic stories in 6 cm by 6 cm panels which make up the last 12 pages of this book. One is the true story of a would-be gold miner who drowned under the river ice while diving for gold in the middle of the winter."

- review courtesy of Dan Davidson
To find out more about this graphic novel, please go to:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Used books, Ted Eames: his journey and his poem

Went to the museum's used book sale today. It is a fundraiser for the Friends of the Museum, and there were thousands of donated books. I got two bags full, and some are directly related to my background research in Lillian. Got a totally fascinating book on Russian history, one on travel in the Alaska-Yukon corridor, another on Yukon place names, and a few books on writing non-fiction.

The Yukon chapter is shaping up (slowly). I'm enjoying the process of thinking about how I want to write this chapter. Of course, the way I originally imagined it is not working. So now, I must just write to see what comes out. And see what information and background I'm missing.

So many people are interested in Lillian. Just got a wonderful email from a Ted Eames who is writing a book about his travels in Northern BC and area. He was here in 2007, and will be back probably September 2009. He sent me a narrative, imaginative poem about Lillian's travels and troubles. I just loved it!

If he doesn't use it in his book, maybe he'll let me use it in mine. Ted? Are you reading this? :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Handwriting or typewriting

I love the computer, I'm on it all the time. I'm also a really fast typist. But when it comes to writing a first draft of this book, I find it much better for me to write it out by hand. I think there are a few good reasons for that.

First, I like to be able to spread out my research and background papers around me when I'm writing. That way I can look up references, or remind myself to include that special point I want to write about.

Second, the slowness of the handwritten process allows me to slow down my thought processes and be more methodical. As sometimes the only exercise I get all day is jumping to conclusions, I find this enforced slowness very useful.

Finally, I like to lie on the couch and write. And though I see many people in many commercials with their laptops on their knees, I just can't do that. It's too cumbersome, and besides, it's a hassle to unplug the laptop. I prefer to leave mine in the office where it belongs. This also makes he handwriting process more like leisure, because the computer represents work to me.

Anyway, what I have is all my research and notes for each chapter in a file. When I'm ready to write that chapter, I take that file, re-read everything in it, then start writing. As I'm writing, I refer back to all the info, make further notes of what info I still need, and pull out stuff that I think should go into another chapter.

It really is quite a speedy process, because the chapter size is limited to everything that's in the file, so you don't write on and on and on and ramble (like this posting). It really surprised me that I was able to finish the first two draft chapters so quickly and gave me a lot of confidence that I would be able to finish the book in a timely manner.

However, each time I write, I always want to find out more about Lillian. I hope that I will hear back soon from some of the researchers, and they can shed some more light on the many gaps in Lillians tale.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Worldwide research

I am in contact with Sherry Coffey, who is writing a novel about Lillian. She works in the library at Athabasca University, and has won an Emerging Artist award to work on her novel (which was based on her thesis). To read more about Sherry, click here:
And thank you to Sherry for all her helpful emails.

I have also heard from a writer in France who has done some work on Lillian, and I look forward to hearing more about this later on in the week.

My work progresses on the Yukon chapter, extremely enjoyable to write, such interesting times, places and people.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Looking for Lillian

Well, I've got my research fingers out in a lot of archival pies right now. I've enlisted the help of some people in faraway places, in the hope that they can help me find a few more hints on where Lillian came from and where she went.

I've been following every lead, no matter how slim or how obscure. And sometimes these tiny glimmers of hope turn into surprising finds. Other times, they fizzle out like a sparkler in the rain.

I want to thank David in Ontario for the information on his father, it was great. And a huge, huge thank you to Peter in Hyder, Alaska for the thoughtful and well-thought out responses to my questions. I really appreciate the guidance and help.

I also want to triple thank the Quesnel Library's Inter-Library Loan system, what a great service! I've been able to access some extremely rare books through ILL, and this has been wonderful for background research.

Right now I feel I'm on the cusp of getting some great information, and hope that my insistent doggedness is not irritating too many people.

Although I'm still waiting for more information from Yukon on Lillian, I'm starting to do the first draft of that chapter this week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chapter Finished

I finished the first, hand-written draft of the Chapter: "British Columbia, 1928." It was an interesting one to write, because Lillian met up with so many interesting characters that were representative of the time and place. She met provincial policemen, telegraph linesmen, old miners, prospectors, homesteaders and more.

For many of these people, her story was passed on through generations and she is remembered still as "the woman who walked to Russia."

I'm pretty happy that this chapter is roughed out. When I do the first typed draft, I'll incorporate some more information that I have.

Now, I am planning to go through my recently acquired research material for Ontario. I'm really looking forward to it!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

British Columbia, 1928

It's been a long time since I've written anything here. I've been busy with work (other work, not Lillian), and have been mulling over ideas for the chapter: British Columbia, 1928.

This is one of the better-documented areas of Lillian's trip, but still fraught with inconsistencies, tall tales, fabrications and possibly some outright lies (well meaning, but lies nevertheless).

It is great fun to go through the second-hand accounts of people who met Lillian, or knew someone who did. Obviously she made a lasting impression on many people she met on her way. A lot of them are very colourful, well-known characters in their own regions, and I'm very excited to be able to learn more about them.

The first draft of this chapter is well underway, though new information arises all the time, and can be and will be incorporated later.

I would like to thank Dietger for his article he sent me, it was of great help and very interesting, as well. So many people are interested (obsessed?) in Lillian, and I enjoy talking to all of them.

Thanks also to Harley for talking about his uncle's memories of Lillian. It's marvellous to know that Lillian's memory and legacy have been passed on through the generations, by someone who only met her briefly. She must have made quite an impression!

I'm backlogged by about 6 inches high of documents, notes, photocopies, letters and more that I've either found or received in the past few months. Once the chapter "British Columbia, 1928" is finished in its first draft form, I can go through all of that paper. So I apologize to anyone that I haven't answered. I'll be responding in the next week or so.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Crossing to Siberia

I have just finished the first, hand-written draft of the chapter, "Crossing to Siberia." Edits and additions will come later, but for now I will let it rest.

Because I have just started working with a cartographer on a map for 1928, when Lillian was in British Columbia and Yukon, I will start writing those chapters next. There is a lot of information known about Lillian during this time, so I'm expecting at least two, or possibly three chapters to be needed.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Wonderful new year

Things are going very well with the writing, it's great fun going over all my research notes and seeing how things tie together.

This is a good opportunity to mention how wonderful some small museums and archives have been in providing assistance (even if it was just to tell me they don't have anything!). The Hazelton Public Library and in particular librarian Eve Hope has been wonderful in providing background and photographs.

Bill Miller, author of the excellent book "Wires in the Wilderness" about the telegraph line through British Columbia, has been so kind and efficient in his role as archivist for the Atlin Archives. The photos he has shared and the advice he has given has been very helpful.

In addition, the staff of the Yukon Archives in Whitehorse, Yukon and the staff of the Carrie McLain Museum in Nome were marvellous in the speed and comprehensiveness of their responses.

And now it is up to me to make sure Lillian's true story (or at least as close as we can get to the truth 80 years later) gets told.