Enjoy this recording of my talk with historian Adam Bunch and find out about my creative non-fiction novel, Hangman: the true story of Canada’s first official executioner
Tag Archives: writing
Explore a Dark Part of Canada’s History: Hangman
Vancouver author’s new book explores a dark aspect of Canadian history
Halloween has become a light-hearted celebration of all things ghoulish. But as late as 1910, members of the public, including children, entertained themselves by attending real hangings.
New Westminster, BC (October 21, 2022) – Hangman: The true story of Canada’s first official executioner, from Vancouver author Julie Burtinshaw, examines capital punishment in Canada through the lens of John Radclive, a notorious figure who both fascinated and repelled citizens across the country.
A former British sailor, Radclive was appointed Canada’s first official executioner in 1892, a position he held until his death in 1911. In BC, he executed criminals in Victoria, New Westminster, Kamloops and Nelson. Over the course of his career, Radclive worked tirelessly to bring mercy and dignity to the condemned. He was an outspoken critic of selling tickets – a lucrative and widespread practice that resulted in several riots – and eventually succeeded in establishing private, indoor hangings. A family man, Radclive was also a bombastic figure who enjoyed being a public figure, never wore a mask, refused to apologize for his profession and delighted in pointing out the hypocrisy of the elites. He eventually came to oppose capital punishment and died of cirrhosis, abandoned by friends and family.
Julie Burtinshaw is the award-winning author of seven books for young adults and teens and is an active participant in the local writing community, having served as a judge for the BC Book Awards and Red Cedar and mentored many emerging writers. Hangman is her first work of creative non-fiction, published by New Westminster-based Tidewater Press.
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Filed under Events and Readings, Uncategorized
ABC Bookworld Biography: Me
I loved that this popped up, but have to admit, I don’t think I look like this anymore!
Still, I’m very grateful they for the mention of my books, especially the new one, soon to be in bookstores everywhere!
Burtinshaw’s first creative non-fiction novel, Hangman: The true story of Canada’s first official executioner (Tidewater, 2022) tells the story of John Robert Radclive. After immigrating to Canada in 1890, Radclive became the country’s first professional hangman in 1892. He proved to be a reluctant hangman and took on the job to ensure that death came quickly to convicts sentenced to hang. In Birtinshaw’s story, Radclive comes to question the Canadian justice system and his role within it. From publicity: “Based on extensive historical research and contemporaneous newspaper accounts, Hangman recaps the history of capital punishment in Canada and the ambivalence of public attitudes toward it through a highly personal lens.”
Filed under Events and Readings, My Books Reviewed
She Means Well
Assignment 1: University of Iowa Free Online Course How Writers Write
I offer her a cup of tea, because this is what her type expects. Of course, she refuses in the way that people do when they want something. There is more to language than words, so I pretend not to hear her “Don’t bother,” and push myself up from the sofa.
It’s hard to be dignified with a walker, but I think I mange quite well. Eyes forward, back straight; left foot in front of right. Remember not to trip on the carpet. Six steady steps to the kitchen, or six unsteady steps to the Care Home.
Being old is a lot like being young. A single mistake can cost so much.
My daughter-in-law’s watchful eyes keep me upright. It takes so much effort to propel myself forward that a part of me wants to give up, to crash to ground.
Like before. They all thought that when I broke my pelvis, they’d get their way, but here I am, back in my apartment. This is where I plan to die.
My daughter-in-law follows me to the kitchen, but there isn’t room for two, so she presses herself against the doorframe, arms folded across her chest. Her left hand is hidden, but the chewed nails on her right hand glare at me. She offers to put on the kettle, but I stop her. The truth is, I’d rather she does it, but I know she’ll just add that to catalogue of ‘Things I can’t do on my own.’
Like I said before, the spectrum narrows with age.
Her eyes monitor my every move. The effort it takes me to keep my hands steady as I pour the boiling water from the kettle into the teapot surprises me. Life lesson: there is no crime worse than putting a teabag in a mug. I learned that and then I rushed out and bought the chipped Brown Betty from the thrift store. I only use it when she is here.
Milk in the creamer, sugar in the sugar bowl, two past-due-date biscuits on the tray, before I shuffle past her back to the sofa. She trails behind me, tongue clicking as she clears the coffee table and puts the tray down. While we wait the requisite ten minutes for the tea to steep, (not nine or eleven) my daughter-in-law casts her eyes around the small room, finally settling on the six plants that line the windowsill. “Have you watered those this week?”
“Yes,” I say, meaning no.”
“Oh,” she says, “I’ll do it before I leave.”
I let her pour the tea. It’s a small concession, but I won’t risk a life sentence in a care home over Earl Grey. She slops milk into her tea and sips. “That hits the spot,” she says.
“Yes,” I say, even though it’s too hot and too strong and burns my tongue. “Wonderful.”
We didn’t drink tea at my house when I was a girl. My parents were coffee drinkers. Instant. Nowadays, the faintest wisp of Nescafe transports me to girlhood.
Before Papa went away, he and Mutter sipped their coffee together every morning before he started his work. After he left forever, but only four years, Mutter always made a cup of coffee for him, but she drank it herself. Still, she had no energy. It wasn’t decaffeinated either. They didn’t have that in those days.
By the time she’d finished her own steaming mug of coffee and moved on to Papa’s, it was cold. She hated cold coffee. She hated it so much It made her cry.
My daughter-in-law doesn’t drink Instant. She has a bad-tempered machine that spits out droplets of dark coffee into tiny cups, that she throws back like a shot of schnapps.
I don’t understand until she pushes a tissue toward me. “It’s leaking.” I take the tissue and press it to my eye. Thank God she can’t see my other leaking parts, because even this disgusts her. I can see it in her downturned lips and hear it in her sigh. “Stop scratching. It will just make it worse.”
I take a past-use date biscuit and bite into it, chewing carefully to protect the few teeth I still have.
“Those can’t be good,” my daughter-in-law picks one up, smells it and puts it back on the plate. That’s not manners, but I hold my tongue. Mutter would have never allowed such rudeness. Or wastefulness.
My daughter-in-law pulls her phone out of her pocket and looks at it. It’s a phone and a clock and camera and a music machine. I wait. Will she make a call, show me a photo or is she checking the time? The answer comes in the form of an eye roll. “Did you make me a shopping list? I have to go soon.”
How could I have forgotten to do that? “Yes.”
She shakes her head. Holds out her hand. Her wedding ring could do with some resizing, or she could eat a little less. “Can I have it?”
“It’s on the table, I think.”
While she searches through the debris on the table for the list that doesn’t exist, I shut my eyes. I’m tired, but I also need to get away from her for a bit.
It’s a trick I often witness Mutter do; close her eyes and shut out the world. Mutter teaches me important things. “It’s okay to lie sometimes. Sometimes you have to bend the truth. Sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.”
I am never allowed to speak German, even at home, even if Mutter and Papa whisper to each other in the old tongue, when they think I can’t hear them.
Walls are thin when ears are young.
In Germany, my dad wore a handsome uniform, but in Canada he wears an old suit they bought at the second hand store. “Papa is a financier.”
I know this is not a good job. Other children at school have fathers with good jobs. They work in shops and hotels and drive cabs. They always have nice clothes and new shoes. Papa works at home in the kitchen alcove. His notebook bursting with columns of numbers and letters.
We don’t have many visitors in our Bloor Street apartment, but when we do, Papa trusts me to take special care of his notebook. I put it under my pillow, then l lie on my bed, reading or daydreaming until the visitor leaves.
Usually, the visitor is the landlord. He announces himself with a loud rap on the door. “Hello, Mr. Clarkson. Please come in. It’s so nice to see you.” Mutter hates Mr. Clarkson, but she always greets him as a friend.
It is my job to turn the picture on the wall above the fireplace in the living room over when someone visits. “Make sure it’s not crooked,” Mutter tells me when I am learning how to do this quickly and efficiently.
I am happy to turn it over because I prefer the picture on the reverse side. A tall, leafless tree stands in the middle of field of flowers. A wide river flows beside it and in the distance gentle slopes roll into tall mountains. A lone bird soars in the blue, cloudless sky. Mutter cut it out of a magazine. She says the original is even more beautiful, but I can’t believe that. She says it hangs in a gallery in Dresden, across the sea and maybe one day she will take me to see it.
I long to go across the sea to the Fatherland where everything is better, but Mutter says we can’t go until we win the war.
After Papa left for four years (but it felt like forever), I didn’t turn the picture back for days and days and maybe even months, so I got to enjoy the fields and the trees and the river and the mountains whenever I felt like it.
I hoped Mutter wouldn’t notice, but one day I came home from school, and she’d done it herself. She wasn’t happy with me. “That is supposed to be your job. You’ve let your father down.”
“Where is Papa?”
“I told you. He is away on business.” Her voice shakes and I know she’s had too many coffees.
“Don’t cry, Mutter.”
“You must call me ‘Mama’ now.” She begins to leak out of her eyes.
“But you are Mutter.” My face stings from her slap. But not for long. A cold washcloth takes care of that. Inside it hurts more. It still hurts when I think about her anger over that stupid picture on the wall.
“Wake up!” I open my eyes.
“Mutter. I know you wanted to protect me, but you should have told me. I know who that man in the picture was.”
Adults mean well when they hide things, but they usually get it wrong.
My daughter-in-law gives me that look she saves for when I get mixed up in time. As if it’s a crime to go backwards now and again. “I wasn’t asleep.”
“No matter. I can’t find the list and I have to go.” She’s taken the tea tray back to the kitchen and the windowsill is damp from where she’s overfilled the flowerpots. “I’ll pick up some milk and a frozen dinner for you tonight; chicken, but find that list, or else you’ll starve and if you don’t eat… well, I’ve told you what will happen if you can’t look after yourself.”
Her lips brush my cheek. I know I’m rotting on the inside. I just didn’t realize she could smell decay on my skin. The thought makes me sad. I always take such pride in how I look and I never forget to splash Eau de Toilette over my in the morning. Mutter taught me to be clean.
She taught me to sew when she found out that the girls at school teased me about my clothes.
Mutter and I go together to find material for a new dress for me once every four months with the seasons. Spadina Street is rich in garment stores. We only buy fabric that is on sale. A week before Papa came home, Mutter splurged. She bought enough material for two dresses, blue with yellow flowers on it for her and pink with white stripes for me.
On the day before Papa came home after four years (that felt like forever), I helped Mutter clean the apartment. I dusted the picture that hung on the wall over the fireplace and Mutter gave me a cloth soaked in vinegar to clean the glass.
Even the man in the picture with the funny moustache that looked like a toothbrush and the bleached dead eyes sparkled the day Papa came home from camp.
On the day that Papa came home for the first time in forever, Mutter didn’t have to drink cold coffee in the morning.
She didn’t cry, not even a single tear.
I must have stretched out, because when I wake up, I’m alone. “Mutter,” I call and then I remember.
The daughter-in-law has let herself out. And just like Mutter used to do, she’s thrown a soft blanket over me to keep me warm while I sleep.
I shouldn’t be so short with her. She means well.
Filed under Uncategorized, Writing Tips
Stiwdio Maelor; Wales Writing Residency
One of the greatest gifts a writer can have is being invited to spend time in a Residency. Last year, I applied and was accepted to an International Writers’ Residency in Wales. The process of applying seems so long ago, but suddenly it’s only a month away. My heritage on my mother’s side is Welsh so in a strange way, it feels like I will be travelling to a country that feels familiar, even though that familiarity is a product of stories I heard as a child and my imagination.
I’ll have the precious gift of time to write and I hope to keep up a blog while I am there, so check back for news and stories of my time in Wales.
I’ll be at stiwdiomaelor, and no, I can’t pronounce it yet, but that will change when I arrive mid-May. Thank you to Australian artist Veronica Calarco for giving me this wonderful opportunity to Write in Peace.
Filed under Events and Readings, General, Travelling In the World, Uncategorized, Writing Tips
No News is, Well, It’s No News. Deal With It
One of the most difficult things about being a writer, at least for me, is the time between sending out a new manuscript and waiting for a response from an agent or a publisher. It’s always the same level of anxiety for me and the longer it takes to hear back, the more insecure I become. Of course, I worry that the manuscript that I thought was so polished and readable was actually riddled with errors and dead boring. Or maybe it’s really good, but it somehow didn’t make it to its destination. Instead it is lost somewhere in the cyber world. Of course I know this is not possible, as I did receive an email confirming it arrived safely, but none the less….
I know I could work on my next book. I know I should be working on that manuscript, but for some reason I just can’t. That’s not exactly true. I just won’t. Not for a little while at least. Not until I can’t stop myself. Not until my computer pulls at me like a magnet and begs that I tap out those first few words, the easy ones: “Chapter One”.
The good thing is that I’ve had enough experience to know that this will eventually happen. It’s close. The characters that have been dancing about in my imagination want me to show up at the page and give them a chance at a life of their own.
Everyday I resist the urge to call my agent. I don’t want to be a pest. She will call me. I just have to be patient.
But it’s so hard.
Maybe if I just forget all about it and begin that new book; the one that’s taking up so much space in my imagination. Okay, here goes.
Filed under Writing Tips
Canadian Children’s Book Centre Writing Contest for Teens
Book Week Writing Contest for Kids & Teens Grades 4 to 12
Deadline approaching: February 1, 2013!
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s annual *Book Week Writing Contest for Kids & Teens is now open. This national contest is a much anticipated part of TD Canadian Children’s Book Week.
Young writers are invited to send in a sample of their best writing. Judging is done by noted writers from across Canada and the winner from each grade will receive a $250 gift certificate for the bookstore of his or her choice.
Two honourable mentions from each grade category will also receive $50 gift certificates.
All entries must be postmarked by February 1, 2013.* The winners will be announced during TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2013.
Contest details and entry forms can be found here
Filed under Stuff to do, writing contests
Happy Birthday Christianne’s Lyceum of Literature and Art
On Saturday, August 18th, Christianne’s Lyceum in Vancouver, celebrated its 5th birthday with bubbly, scrumptious eats and a line-up of local authors reading from their work. I was excited to be one of those writers and read a short piece from a work in progress. Other readers included Irene Watts, Gayle Friessen, Sarah Ellis, and many more. As the first reader, (racing to catch a water taxi to Bowen), I had the opportunity to thank Christianne for her huge contribution to the children and young adults in the Vancouver Literary scene – she’s done so much over the past five years to bring books and art to young people.
Throughout the year, the Lyceum offers bookclubs (often with an author visit), workshops and much more. Because Christianne wants everyone to have the chance to participate, she often holds fundraisers so that she can offer scholarships when necessary.
For authors interested in reading their work (and sometimes that’s the best way polish a manuscript, there are open mic nights for both teen and adult writers on Friday nights. Check out her website for dates and times.
And if you love literature, art and kids, there are always volunteer opportunities.
Over the past five years, I have been lucky enough to have facilitated a few bookclub meetings and I’ve also taken part in other events at the Lyceum. I am so thankful both for the support I’ve received, but more importantly, I am grateful that there is someone who is giving kids who love art, reading and writing a supportive, interesting and encouraging place to be creative. I’m sure that if I had had that as a kid, I would have started my writing career much earlier!
Filed under Events and Readings