Dream to write book turns into library of ink

One might picture historical novelists as research-oriented, introverted people who create while toiling among dusty archives.

Corinne Jeffery is more likely to stir up dust than toil within it.

The dynamic author of the Understanding Ursula trilogy of historical novels has been touring to promote her three books, and promote them she does.

“Hello sir, how are you? May I tell you about my book?”

Such is her extroverted approach at book signings, among them an appearance at the Lethbridge Chapters bookstore last month, where she rarely sits down and always maintains a conversation.

The three books, titled Arriving, Thriving and Choosing, documents five generations of the Werner family, starting with the patriarch who homesteaded land near Neudorf, Sask. The novels also involve locations in rural Manitoba and Alberta.

Jeffery said the first two books are creative non-fiction, while the final one is autobiographical.

She published the first one, covering 1909-19, in 2011, followed closely by the second, covering 1920-39 in 2012 and the last, encompassing 1940-89, in 2013.

Jeffery spent a year researching her novels and nine years writing them.

Her first career as a nurse educator involved writing reports and nurse training manuals. She began writing novels at age 57, although her authoring aspirations began much earlier.

“It was my dream. By the age of seven, I was telling everybody I was going to write a book. Nobody ever took me seriously. And it was supposed to be one book,” she said.

“When I began writing my Understanding Ursula trilogy, it was really for me…. It was a healing journey that I was embarking on. (But then) the whole idea of the healing journey sort of disappeared in the characters.”

Jeffery won’t reveal whether she is the eponymic Ursula. That is for readers to discover, she said.

Jeffery was born in Saskatchewan, raised in Manitoba and now lives in St. Albert, Alta. She said her farm background and life on the Prairies form the core of her novels: its hardships and its triumphs.

“I had first-hand experience with much of what pioneers experienced,” she said, noting there was no running water in the home where she grew up and the original homestead still has no electricity.

“That’s all real for me. My editor is convinced that my trilogy was in my heart and my mind and my soul all this time, and I agree with her. Everything in my life has culminated in this trilogy.”

The books, each of which has appeared on bestseller lists in Edmonton and Calgary, are published by Roadie Books of Edmonton.

Though Jeffery said readers have asked her to write prequels and se-quels to the three books, she is ambivalent about the idea, partly because she is working on two other books.

Lords and Lepers is about “the condescension, sometimes subtly, but more often blatantly conveyed by those who are aware that they have a lot and others have less and therefore that makes us less.”

The other one, Aidan’s Notebook, is a collaborative work she is writing with her grandson, Aidan. She intends to publish that one only for family.

Then again, Jeffery didn’t initially intend her trilogy to go beyond her own desk. With encouragement from her daughter, Sara, she came to take the advice she sometimes writes in dedications to buyers of her books:

“Become the master of your destiny, not a victim of your history.”

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