Unlike many artists who now live and work in Prince Edward County, I didn’t move here to start a new life. I was already here. My family has lived here for generations. I live next door to my great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s original land grant. (So we’re not exactly rolling stones.)
The County has always been fascinated by its own history, and over the years we have been well-served by writers dedicated to documenting it. Each generation has thrown up a handful of people who marshaled their research into valuable works of non fiction. But for a long time, fiction was a different story. There just weren’t many books set in The County.
When I began writing, I didn’t have any intention of writing fiction in the usual sense. I started where almost everybody else started – with the history of the place.
I also didn’t start with the written word. I started on stage, as a storyteller. I took a bunch of wonderful Prince Edward County stories, fashioned them into performance pieces, shanghaied my musical buddies to provide live-version soundtracks for them, and had a wonderful time acquainting and reacquainting County folks with the stories that were, essentially, about them.
But there were some stories that were too complex to fit into that format, and I struggled with what, exactly I should be doing with them. One of these was the story of The Palace of the Moon, a dancehall at what is now Sandbanks Provincial Park. A lot of local folks would get dreamy-eyed whenever they talked about The Palace of the Moon. Others would sniff and claim that it “wasn’t the sort of place I would ever go”. Either way, it was notorious, with a fabulous dance floor, live music and one-armed bandits, but no liquor license. The drinking was done on the dunes outside. I sat down to write a back story, in the hope that I could somehow get a handle on how to approach the material. A hundred pages later, I realized that I had a novel on my hands. Okay, so a story has to be what it wants to be, so I forged ahead.
When it came out, people seemed to really like it because it was about here. But in spite of the fact that it had the words “A Novel” on the front cover, everyone seemed to assume that it was a thinly-disguised version of something that had really happened. And the most speculation that took place concerned the identity of the hero, Len Collins, a handsome ne’er-do-well teenager who grew up to be a shady businessman.
“That’s really so-and-so,” they’d say. But every time someone floated out a conjecture, it would be a different name that was offered.
“No, it isn’t,” I’d say. “It’s not anybody. I made him up. It’s called fiction.”
“Sometime, we’ll hafta sit down for a coffee and then we’ll talk,” they’d say with a knowing look.
But the important thing for me was that people liked this notion of reading a story set in a geography that’s familiar. And from then on, it seemed as though fiction was off and running. I haven’t stopped writing novels since. And in the same way that the County has always supported its own, I’ve had a huge amount of help along the way. Books & Co. (originally Books on the Bay) www.pictonbookstore.com not only sells the books of local writers, but also helps promote them with launches and signings and through the Prince Edward County Authors’ Festival www.pecauthorfest.com The Prince Edward County libraries www.peclibrary.org not only carry and recommend local authors to their patrons, they sponsor launches and workshops and talks. 99.3 County FM www.993countyfm.ca our local radio station, airs regular features with writers, and with readers who have hooked into County literature.
And now that The County is no longer “Ontario’s Best-Kept Secret”, writers have been drawn to the community, in the same way that painters and potters and musicians have, lured by the promise of a saner, more relaxed life. Far from being isolated from the big-city beat, the big city has made The County a destination for writers of every stripe. Picton has been a stop for the International Festival of Authors several times now.
This fall, a brand new festival that features women who write in the crime/mystery genre will debut. The Women Killing It Crime Writers’ Festival is slated for Labour Day weekend 2017, and we have hopes of it becoming an annual event. And poet Al Purdy’s A-frame cottage in Ameliasburgh www.alpurdy.ca now serves as a writers’ retreat – as long as the weather’s not too cold.
At any given moment, authors – local, national, international – can pop up at various venues to talk about their books. Because it’s easier here. People support you. Organizations and businesses and other writers give you a leg up, whether you’re writing a story that’s set here, a writer who lives here or even if you’re just a writer who decided it would be a nice place to visit.
It looks like The County has finally got the hang of fiction.
Janet Kellough is an author and storyteller who has performed in numerous stage productions that feature a fusion of music and spoken word. Her published works include The Legendary Guide to Prince Edward County, two contemporary novels, The Palace of the Moon and The Pear Shaped Woman, and the popular Thaddeus Lewis historical mystery series. You can check her out at www.janetkellough.com or on her Facebook page Thaddeus Lewis Mysteries Janet Kellough.