Wednesday 31 January 2018


It's the season of snow in our part of North America. In fact, I have another date with our snowblower this morning.

As I put on my hat with ear flaps, my face warmer, my heavy coat, my thick and lined gloves, and multi-layered, extremely warm boots, I can't help but think of conditions in Finland 100 years ago.

At this time in the winter of 1918, neighbours and friends were sorting themselves into sides. Red vs. White. Labourers vs. landowners/independent farmers/white-collar workers.

People had begun to talk about Finland in terms of "us" and "them." Helsinki had become the capital for the Reds. Vasa was the de facto capital of the White side.

And they'd begun to talk about fighting--how many, where, when. It had become apparent that young men would be conscripted to fight for the Whites.

In SILENCES, a group gathers in the basement of a church after a funeral. They share news. And they know that soon, they and their friends will be on a battlefield.

Without the kinds of cold-weather gear I put on this morning.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Why Write SILENCES--and Why Write About Silences?

At the launch for SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR, I mentioned my father and my mother. Here's part of the story I told then, which also explains, in part, why I wrote the novel.

One day--probably on a Sunday afternoon in the summer, in what could have been 1955 but may have been a couple of years before that--my father and I were sitting on the front steps of the house. I had been playing war with my friends. Some of their fathers had served in World War II, and I wondered if my father had, too.

So I asked: "Were you ever in a war?"

To understand the significance of the question, you have to know that my parents never lied to me. To them, if a child asked a question, the parent must give a truthful answer. No lies, no dissembling, no "ask me later."

My father hesitated, then he said, "Yes, but it was not the Second World War. It was another war." He seemed tense.

I tried again. "What war was it?"

He said, "It was in Finland. The same time as World War I, but it was not that war."

"You were a soldier?"

"I was in the artillery."

"Who were you fighting?"

"The Russians."

"Did you kill anyone?"

"I don't know."


"We didn't see where the shells landed."

This is where my recollection of the incident ends. I know that at some point I was back in our house, and my mother was telling me that I shouldn't ask my father about the war because it upset him.

My father would have been 18 when the Finnish Civil War began. He likely fought in it on the White side. His younger brother, Elmer, would have been about 15. I have a picture of Elmer in a military uniform, wearing a white armband. He might have been in the war as well--or maybe not. I may have been told by my mother that Elmer had to be cared for by his mother because after the war "his mind was not right."

When I began looking into the Finnish Civil War, I discovered that an artillery school had been organized in Jacobstad early in the war, just a few kilometres from my father's home. Pictures of the school are available online, with men milling about, in the snow. Whenever I look at it, I try to see if one of them looks like my father. But I can't see him.

And, of course, my father is no longer around to ask.

I wrote this book, in part, because of that conversation with my father. Because he didn't want to talk about the war--understandably. But it was part of his experience, and it was important in his life, and that made it important to me.

Wednesday 10 January 2018

My First Review!

Local writer, artist, and reviewer Michael Sobota reviewed SILENCES: A NOVEL OF THE 1918 FINNISH CIVIL WAR this past Sunday. The review, linked here, appeared in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal.

With this sentence, Michael got to the heart of the story: "There are secrets in those silences."

As I hear back from readers--and thank you, everyone who takes the time to contact me--I recognize that many have questions like this one: "But what was THE CAUSE of the Finnish Civil War?"

That's such a difficult question to answer. I can only return to the scene in which Jussi first hears of Finland's December 6 Declaration of Independence, after the long years of The Great War, what we (sadly) have re-named World War I.

[Jussi's] mind was full of thoughts of war. The Reds would think that the country had been given to them; the Whites would think it was theirs.

The early years of the 20th century were a time of great social change. The early years of the 21st century have been, as well. Let's all hope that we can resolve differences in ways that don't require us to stay silent.