Interview with Nancy M. Bell, author of Canadian historical mystery Discarded
When the British arrived in Winnipeg in the 1800s it was convenient for the men to take Metis wives. They were called a la vacon du pays – according to the custom of the country.
These women bore the brunt of ensuring survival in the harsh environment. Without them the British army and fur traders would not have survived the brutal winters. However, as society evolved it became accepted that wives must be white, schooled in British ways, fashionable in the European sense and married by the Anglican church.
The Metis wives and their ‘country born’ offspring were thrown out and forced to fend for themselves. The unrepentant husbands continued to live comfortably with their ‘new’ wives. It was inevitable that some discarded wives did not accept their fate quietly and hard feelings on both sides were unavoidable.
When the bodies of two discarded Metis wives, Marguerite and Marie-Anne, are found floating in the Red River, Guilliame Mousseau, sets out to get to the bottom of his sister Margueite’s murder.
Excerpt from Discarded
“Marguerite, you must go to him. Ètienne needs medicine, the fever is eating him up,” Marie Anne urged her sister.
The younger woman shook her head, wringing out a cloth in cold water to soothe her child. “How can I? The English woman, she is there now, I doubt Miles will even speak to me.”
“He must, Ètienne is his son!” Marie-Anne insisted.
“No longer.” The words were bitter. “He has disowned the bebes and me, discarded us like so much offal. Now that his fancy English lady has arrived.”
“Still, Marguerite, you must go and ask. I will come with you. Together we will convince your Miles to either send the British doctor or give us money for the medicine.” Anne Marie pulled the dripping cloth from Marguerite’s hand and threw it on the pounded earth floor. “Look at him! You cannot just let him die. If you won’t go yourself, I will go in your stead.”
Marie-Anne whirled around, grabbing two thick shawls from the back of a chair, and wrapping them around her shoulders. She planted her hands on her hips and glared at her sister. “Are you coming?”
“Yes, oui, of course. I know you are right. It is just my pride that stops me. For how long was I his wife in every sense of the word? If not for me, and you, and others like us, those soft Englishmen would never have survived their first winter. It was our relatives who brought them buffalo and other provisions to see them through, and us who cared for them, chopped wood, carried the water, bore their children…” Marguerite broke off, her throat closing in frustration and sorrow for all that they’d lost. Angrily, she swiped the moisture from her cheeks and straightened her back. “Come, we go. Alexandre! Come watch your brother while I go to your papa to ask for help.”
The older boy poked the dying fire one more time before crossing the small room. He picked the sodden cloth up from the floor and wrung it out. After rinsing it with some water from the bucket by the bed, he wiped his little brother’s face.
“Maman, he’s burning up.” Alex looked up at her. “Will Papa come and take him to the doctor? Why hasn’t he come to see us lately?”
“Your papa will not be coming, nor will he take Ètienne to the doctor. The best we can hope for is that he will send the doctor or at least make provision for the apothecary to give me some medicine for him. I have tried the best I can with the willow bark, but it isn’t enough.”
“Will Ètienne die like Elizabeth?” Alex glanced at the empty cradle still sitting by the hearth.
“Not if I can help it,” Anne Marie promised. She took Marguerite’s arm and pulled her toward the door. “Put this on against the cold.” She thrust a Hudson’s Bay blanket into the other woman’s arms.
“Oui, yes, we must go. You are right.” Marguerite wrapped the woolen blanket tightly around her, and after one last look at her children, followed her sister out into the bitter wind blowing down the Red River, howling around the eaves of the small buildings and sending snow flying into their faces.
Alex’s last words echoed in Marguerite’s head as she shouldered her way against the wind. “Tell Papa I miss him.” She snorted, as if Miles cared about them anymore. Even little Elizabeth, dead at six months of age, hadn’t moved him to contribute to her burial. It was the English woman’s fault. She was the one who turned Miles against them. Charlotte Windfield, what sort of name was Charlotte anyway? Grief stabbed her for a moment, not Windfield anymore, oh no. Miles married the salope in the church two weeks ago. So now she was Charlotte Ashmore. Lady Ashmore, the pute.
Interview with Nancy M. Bell
-What inspired you to become a writer?
I think I’ve always been a writer. It’s something that I’ve just done since I was very young. I still have a very beat up scribbled story I wrote in Grade 8 about an old cowboy, a wild stallion and a pine tree. My first publication came in a small local newspaper when I was in Grade 10. Some poetry and a few short stories. I can’t not write, if that makes sense. I once took the dogs for a walk and came home with a poem in my head about mist rising from a plowed field on a cool April day. It was called April Earth and the first line is I saw the Earth breathe today. My characters tend to spring from the page and direct the action, often taking off in directions I never intended. But they’re usually right. It’s their story after all, they’re just entrusting me with bringing it to life..
-If you could visit your book’s world for a day, what one thing would you do?
I would have to say I’d love to go to the buffalo hunt at White Horse Plain near St. Francis Xavier Manitoba, Canada. How cool would that be? Not the actually killing, but to see those vast herds of buffalo covering the plains as far you can see. To see them up close, smell them, hear the thunder of their hooves. Learn how to make jerky and pemican, to tan hides. Hard work, but it would be way cool to experience it.
-It’s two in the morning. What does your protagonist reveal in confidence? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell.)
Guilluame would confess to me that he has feelings for Fèlicitè but he isn’t sure how to deal with those feelings.
-Which of your characters would you go out for drinks with?
Definitely Guilluame and the saloon owner Hugh O’Lone. It would be pretty cool to go for drinks with Louis Riel too. We could spend the night in O’Lone’s saloon, drinking and playing cards. (Hopefully I would win some and not lose my life savings)
-You’re in a tavern, and a dwarf challenges you to a duel. What do you do?
Hmmmm. Check to see if I have my sword and dagger within reach. Then tell him/her “Let’s take this outside.” Of course, I’d have to make sure my mates were taking bets on me winning before we start fighting. Can’t pass up an opportunity to make a bit of easy money.
-Is there a genre you could never write? Which and why?
I would have to say high Sci-Fi. I could never get my head around all that technical space stuff. Or robotics, or AI, or well you get the idea. I am so not technically inclined. My poor characters would most likely die of their space craft imploding or lack of oxygen or some other dire happening because I neglected to provide the essentials of life somehow.
About Nancy M. Bell
Nancy Marie Bell is a proud Albertan and Canadian. She lives near Balzac, Alberta with her husband and various critters. She is a member of The Writers Union of Canada and the Writers Guild of Alberta.
Nancy has numerous writing credits to her name, having three novels published and her work has been published in various magazines. She has also had her work recognized and honoured with various awards, and most recently, a silver medal in the Creative Writing category of the Alberta 55 Plus Summer Games in 2013.
Nancy has presented at the Surrey International Writers Conference in 2012 and 2013, and at the Writers Guild of Alberta Conference in 2014. She has publishing credits in poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
Nancy blogs on the first of each month at the Canadian Historical Brides Blog and on the 18th of every month at the Books We Love Insider Blog. Please drop by and say hi.
You can find her on Facebook at http://facebook.com/NancyMBell
Follow on twitter: @emilypikkasso
Nancy M. Bell will award a $25 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner.