From the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, from ghosts to Canadian Robin Hood, Ponoka students were given the chance to explore them all using only their imaginations.
Jacqueline Guest visited Diamond Willow Middle School to talk about two of her newest novels, Ghost Messages and Outcasts of River Falls.
Guest has been writing for the last 20 years. Many of her young adult books contain Métis history, as well as other portions of Canada’s history, along with mystery and adventure.
Ghost Messages is about the factual revolution of worldwide communication via a submarine cable and a young, fictional Irish girl, Ailish, who’s trapped aboard a ship, disguised as a boy and looking for treasure stolen from her.
The book is set in 1865 when the Trans Atlantic Cable was run from Valentia, Ireland to Hearts Content, Newfoundland.
The Great Eastern, the biggest ship of its day and the first double hull ship built was used to place the cable at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also the ship Ailish is trapped on.
“I wanted to make sure she was a sympathetic character,” explained Guest. When Ailish was trapped on board Guest wanted readers to be involved in Ailish’s struggles and hoping for her survival.
Along with being historical, Ghost Message is a suspenseful mystery. “I like to make page-turners.”
Guest also knows the trick to writing a successful mystery. She uses action parts like a rollercoaster and slower parts to advance the plot and character development. This helps to keep the suspense high in the novel, said Guest.
Along with balancing a mystery, writing history can pose a challenge for Guest. “Writing history can be a double-edged sword because you can’t change it to suit your story.”
Guest also wanted to start Ghost Messages in a fast-paced city but couldn’t because neither Valentia nor Hearts Content was a city.
However, Ghost Messages did allow Guest to write about a ship special to her. She holds the Great Eastern with high regard over another world-famous ship, the Titanic.
During one of her runs the ship hit an underwater mountain and tore a gash in its hull more than 70 feet long. “But it was built correctly and didn’t sink,” said Guest.
The Great Eastern was repaired and sailed for many more years.
Guest also favours the captain of the Great Eastern, James Anderson, over Titanic’s Capt. Edward Smith. “Anderson is a magic man.”
When the cable broke, Anderson was able to fish it out of the ocean three times using only a sextant, an astrolabe and grappling hooks. “As far as I’m concerned you should remember that name, not the captain of the Titanic.”
Guest also told the students how, even though she couldn’t change history, it provided her with factual events that lead into and contributed to components she wanted in the book.
In her book, Guest wanted a great fear that the cable could be sabotaged. In history an Irish group, the Fenian, who later became the Irish Republican Army, wanted all English people out of Ireland and decided to hold Canada hostage until their demands were met. They were unsuccessful.
The Fenian situation provided Guest with the tension she needed for Ghost Messages.
When the Great Eastern was finally dismantled, a shocking discovery was made and Guest used that to end her book with a bang. “True history provided me with the best ending ever.”
Ghost Messages won a gold medal at the Moonbeam Awards in 2001.
Guest’s newest book, Outcasts of River Falls, also received a gold medal Moonbeam Award, which surprised Guest because the Moonbeam Awards are American. “This is a particularly Canadian book.”
Outcasts of River Falls follows a young girl who discovers she’s Métis when she goes to live with her aunt in River Falls, a Métis road allowance community. Road allowance communities where ditches between government highways and private land owned by recognized citizens.
After the Battle of Batoche, when Métis citizens fought for their rights against the government and lost, Métis people were not welcome in many communities and were forced to live in ditches.
Guest published her first book in 1997 and along with history and thrilling plots believes in the educational value of reading.
“The reason I spend so much time writing is simple, I want you guys to read. Reading allows you to grow up and have your dreams,” Guest told the Grade 7 class. “Reading prepares you for the future. It’s the foundation of all learning.”