Local Author Pens Her Debut Novella

By  | February 11, 2015 | 0 Comments | Filed under: Writing/Local Authors


Every once in a while it is good to step outside of the box, so to speak. While I normally write about and cover all things poetry-related, this month I am digressing a bit by reviewing a bit of prose, more specifically a novella by a local author.

Seemly Justice is a recent self-published effort by Cambridge author, Lee Anne Johnston. A long-time member of the Cambridge Writers Collective, Ms. Johnston has penned a gripping historical novel, set in Victorian-era Galt, Ontario. It tells the story of Miss Penelope Clearwater, a woman of means who travels from England to visit her sister, Caroline, living in the quiet industrial town of Galt.

While Penelope establishes herself and settles in to this new home she becomes aware of unseemly goings-on in Caroline’s household.

Ms. Johnston deftly spins a tale of domestic violence, cloaked with a thin veneer of Victorian restraint and piety and depicts strikingly this world of decorum and gentility.

Ms. Johnston also displays skillful research, with a keen eye to local historical detail. Her depictions of day-to-day life in 19th century Ontario are meticulous and vivid without becoming tiresome and trite.

As a character, Penelope is a well-rendered balance of Victorian propriety, strong-willed feminism, and Christian devotion, doling out “seemly justice” by her own moral and defensible means.

Part two of this trilogy, The Poisoned Gift, follows Penelope five years hence. Now married to Dr. Gordon, She has returned to Galt after years in the Canadian prairies. This time she becomes embroiled in the poisoning death of a young child, Amelia Smythe, and the subsequent assault on the child’s mother.

Once again, Ms. Johnston wields deft brushstrokes of character development with our now-familiar heroine. Penelope is a woman moving forward, dealing with a still-guilty conscience, while working through the social intricacies of the day.

Ms. Johnston’s depiction of the death of Amelia is both engrossing and unflinching.

Through it all, Penelope’s Christian faith shines through. It was a time when the church carried considerable influence within the communities, maintaining a rigid class structure that, in some small ways, still exists.

The Poisoned Gift is a clever sequel to Seemly Justice and in its own way neatly wraps up the saga of Penelope (Clearwater) Gordon.

The third piece in this collection, My War, takes a decidedly different tack altogether and introduces a new character, Alice Cunningham, planting her firmly in the escalating madness of World War II London, England.

Johnston once again has plied an eye for period detail and paints a painstakingly vivid portrait of wartime England.

Alice Cunningham is a bright 28-year-old nurse in Preston, Ontario at the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Shunning the day-to-day routine of homefront Ontario, she follows the lead of her soldier brother and enlists for overseas duty, but as a nurse.

What follows is a striking portrait of a young nurse caught up in the ebb and flow and intrigue of life in war-torn England.

All in all, this book is a compelling read. For local history buffs the pages bring to life images of Galt, Preston, and Hespeler in their industrial and historical heyday. For fans of well-written, compelling characters and narrative, this is a book to be read, re-read, and thoroughly enjoyed.

It is currently available through Amazon.com/

Finally….A big shout out to my young friend, Phillip Biedermann. Phillip, all of nine years old, recently placed 2nd in the Leonard Wilhelm memorial Junior Verse Award and also placed 2nd for the Poetry Original Verse – Elementary at the Kiwanis Music Festival in Stratford, Ontario.

Phillip has the arts in his blood. His older sister, Bonnie Casey, won the 2012 Bernice Adams memorial Award for music and is, herself, a rising star on the Canadian reggae music scene.

Here’s hoping we’ll see and hear (…and read) more from Phillip in the months and years ahead.

Congratulations, Phillip.


Bill Ashwell has been a member of the Cambridge Writers Collective and a volunteer tutor with the Literacy Group of Waterloo Region since 1995. He was a contributor for FM 98.5 CKWR’s Monday Night with the Arts radio program and has served as Literary Coordinator for the Cambridge Arts Festival. His work has been published in the Writers Undercover Anthologies, The Cambridge Wartime Scrapbook, and in Ascent Aspiration Magazine’s Aguaterra Anthology of poetry and fiction. In 2007 Bill was awarded the City of Cambridge’s Bernice Adams Memorial Award for Literary Arts.

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