The “McCrae Effect” continues…

I was telling McCrae biographer, Dianne Graves (A Crown of Life: The World of John McCrae © 1996 – Vanwell Publishing) about some of the extraordinary “coincidences” that have happened to me since I started my research on John McCrae in 2005. She said she was familiar with this phenomenon and referred to it as The McCrae Effect. I have about 5 typewritten pages going back to the beginning, of coincidences and synchronistic events that give everyone, including me, goosebumps. They happen on a regular basis and are part of what makes this whole thing such a thrill.

So…I was invited on short notice this last Saturday by Sheelagh Matthews from my MMWG writers/publishing group, to go and hear Terry Fallis – Stephen Leacock Humour Medal winner, at the Sheep River Library in Turner Valley, Alberta. It was part of Calgary’s festival of books and authors, WordFest. It was great, and he is a very funny writer and speaker. He read from his new book, Up and Down, and also told the humorous and exciting story behind his medal-winning book, Best Laid Plans.

After, I was talking to him and mentioned my new book, Bonfire – The Chestnut Gentleman. I gave him a book mark which he studied for a second and then exclaimed, “My grandfather served with John McCrae in WWI.” “You are kidding!” I said. He said he was not, and that his grandfather, Leslie Clinton Fallis, had brought one of John McCrae’s spurs home from the war and his family still had it. Unbelievable. 600,000 soldiers went to war from Canada and this guy’s grandfather served with my subject, John McCrae!

Speaking of the Stephen Leacock Humour Medal, it was fun to tell Terry that John McCrae and Leacock were friends and used to belong to a writers club in Montreal called, The Pen and Pencil Club. They would meet every two weeks and share their poetry, essays, short stories, etc. In the Bonfire book, Colonel Morrison says, “The Pen and Pencil Club was actually code for the Scotch Drinking Club.”

the note was written by Terry Fallis’s late mother

I went straight home and logged onto Library and Archives Canada, and found his grandfather’s attestation papers. Then I looked in the official book/war diary of the hospital where McCrae worked after he was taken out of the artillery and yep, there was Terry’s grandad in a list of reinforcements to the hospital in 1916. Every other day there is something like this. If you are seized by a fascination with a subject; an event or person, and devote time and intense focus on it, stuff starts to happen. I mean powerful, thrilling, sometimes otherworldly stuff. Who said research was boring?

Terry and his family are generously going to loan me the spur and it will be at the book launch! along with other fascinating WWI artefacts. But to have an actual, personal item that belonged to John McCrae when there are so few – all of his personal effects from WWI were sunk and lost with the torpedoed ship, LLandovery Castle – this is special! Stay tuned for more…happenings.

Bonfire – a smattering of advance praise, and some interior pages

Part One

The book design guy is doing a stellar job. Love his two page spreads for each of the five parts.

Praise so far has been uniformly positive. It’s getting exciting!

I’m reading your awesome book and loving every page! I LOVE it and it NEEDS to be in stores! –Gracie, 12

This story is entertaining and very informative, and Bonfire is a likeable character who offers a unique perspective on the horrors of war. –Lynne, 26

Oh, my this was well done! I really enjoyed the voice of Bonfire and the archival pictures added a lot to the authenticity for me. –Sandy Day, 59

I’m all misty-eyed! Just finished reading Bonfire – I loved it! The writer has done an amazing job. The equine point of view felt realistic, believable and fun. I found the story very touching. One can tell how much research is behind this. I certainly learned a lot. Younger readers will surely be affected emotionally by details of the war. Fortunately there’s humour liberally thrown in to ease the serious subject matter. –Paula Kroeker, 52

As I began reading it, my mind flew back to my boyhood experience of reading Anna Sewell’s “Black Beauty,” and what a gripping hold that tale held on my mind. “Black Beauty,” was much longer than this book, but in places, the vivid narrative about the battlefield disasters, the military bureaucracy wanting to deprive commissioned medics (of) the use of horses, and the ghastly suffering of combatants was just as compelling. –Ralph Hancox, one-time editor of Reader’s Digest Canada, and latterly the President and CEO

That one will be on the back cover! Stay tuned.

Part Two, The 10th Battalion ( now Calgary Highlanders)

preparing to launch! Bonfire – The Chestnut Gentleman


I’m back! I haven’t blogged for ages because I’ve been going hammer and tongs on this book. It’s going to launch in the first week of November, 2012. I held off with this announcement until the last possible minute because two big publishing houses were interested in it. But small publisher MMWG, wants to take it and work with me to have it out this November. I’m grateful and it’s very exciting to have been considered by the other two also. That can only be a positive endorsement of the book.

Preliminary reviews of the manuscript have been uniformly positive and I’m getting excited about having the first hard cover copy in my hand. I believe this book will inject new life into our practice of Remembrance. The poem, In Flanders Fields, and the wearing of the poppy are about to take on new meaning for many who don’t know the real story behind them. Stay tuned for book news!

Preliminary Praise for Bonfire

“I’m reading your awesome book and loving every page! I LOVE it and it NEEDS to be in stores!! – Gracie, 12
“The story is entertaining and very informative, and Bonfire is a likeable character who offers a unique perspective on the horrors of war.” – Rachel, 26
“Oh, my, this was well done! I really enjoyed the voice of Bonfire and the archival photographs added a lot to the authenticity for me.” – Sandy, 59
“I’m all misty-eyed. Just finished reading Bonfire – I loved it!” – Paula, 52

Bonfire was a character who had a penchant for carrying things; hats, swagger sticks, and other items.- illustration by Penny Corradine