Hugh Brewster, author of From Vimy to Victory: Canada’s Fight to Finish in World War I and an upcoming IFOA participant, answered our five questions!
IFOA: Did you always know you wanted to be a historical writer, or were you interested in other genres?
Hugh Brewster: Historical fiction was my favorite reading as a child and I’ve always had a passion for the past. Before becoming a full-time writer I had a long career as an editor and book producer, but even then the titles I worked on mostly had historical themes. It wasn’t until I began writing full time about a decade ago that I realized writing about history was what I’d always wanted to do.
IFOA: How do you tailor historical writing to different reading levels?
Brewster: “Finding the story in history” is one of my mottoes. I think if you can create a narrative arc with engaging characters, you can convey a lot of historical information to even quite young children. I’ve had seven year olds tell me about the dimensions of the Titanic and correctly pronounce the long names of their favourite dinosaurs.
IFOA: Explain the inspiration for your historical concert performance, Canada, Fall In!
Brewster: In 2007, I adapted my book Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose as a play with some charming Victorian songs. It occurred to me that this could make a good concert performance, and I pitched the idea over dinner one night to choral conductor Noel Edison. Noel is the artistic director of the Elora Festival, and in July 2010, we did a performance of Carnation, Lily there with a screen show, some Shaw Festival actors and the Elora Festival Singers. It worked very well and Noel immediately said, “What can you do for us next year?” I’ve done a different concert performance each summer since. For 2014, a show commemorating the centennial of World War I seemed an obvious choice. I began researching Canadian music of the period and was surprised by how much there was. The jaunty recruiting song “Canada, Fall In” provided the title. The show had a very powerful impact on Elora Festival audiences, and I trust will do so again on November 1 at IFOA.
IFOA: What do you enjoy most about reading to a live audience?
Brewster: How much you learn. Young audiences, in particular, let you know immediately when you’ve lost them. So I refine my presentations constantly. And I do the same for adults—you soon learn what works ––even though they may not fidget quite so quickly.
IFOA: Are you working on any new projects?
Brewster: I have two plays in need of revising, a museum show I’m guest curating for 2016 and a number of book ideas on the simmer.
Hugh Brewster is an acclaimed war historian and the author of several award-winning works of fiction and non-fiction for younger readers. On November 1, catch his unforgettable concert performance that tells the story of Canadians in WWI through their own letters and diaries.