First-time Novelist Brings History to Life
Monday, June 16, 2003 12:44:00 PM
by Bonnie P Toews
|Novelist turned to
written word to help
Out of adversity can come accomplishment. And so it is for Bonnie Toews, first-time published novelist whose life could easily have taken a downward turn.
"In my 40s, I actually had a heart attack," says the candid author from her Wilmot Creek home. "It was the kind that also affected the blood flow to the brain causing slight aphasia."
This frightening event would have been devastating for anybody. But, when it hit the career woman whose advertising job depended on the spoken word, Mrs. Toews had to make some changes.
Although it was difficult to come up with the words she wanted to say verbally, when she wrote them down and checked the dictionary, she was delighted to find she was right. She then started doing exercises using a Thesaurus.
"I could recognize a word when I saw it," she says. "But, I couldn't work...I had to change my attitude and lifestyle to survive."
That's when her husband, Wally, suggested she "do something she always wanted to do."
The rest, as they say, is history. Literally.
History was the route Mrs. Toews took to pull achievement out of what could have become a disabling disease. She had always wanted to write, and the result is, "Treason & Triumph."
Fascinated by the stories of two of her childhood music teachers, who worked as undercover agents during the Second World War, the plot for her book started to take shape. She then found herself in a Toronto library totally absorbed by the Spanish Civil War.
The novice fiction writer soon found her characters driving the story forward. "When I started, I didn't know who the traitor was,"she admits, adding she didn't find out until she was "three-quarters through."
Two women emerge to take the reader back in time to the Second World War. One was a journalist, the other a relative of the British king. Though the book is fiction, it is based on actual events and inspired by real people and experiences in Mrs. Toews own life.
"I had an uncle, who was a fighter pilot for the U.S.," she recalls for example. "When I was 10, we went to visit him in Texas. He gave me the creed for flight nurses. I was also 10 when I wrote my first novel and remember how angry I was that I wasn't old enough to be an army nurse in the Korean war. I used to have maps of the battles pinned up in my room."
Alas, joining the Navy reserve as a teenager was her only chance to serve. And although her father thought a bumpy trip on a DC-3 might dissuade her from wanting to take up flying, she only asked for more. By age 25, she had earned her private pilot's licence.
Being told she couldn't do something has never deterred Mrs. Toews. In 1994, she traveled to war-ravaged Rwanda in central Africa. As editorial director for Southam Publishing's Business Information Group, she felt it was important to the transportation and logistics publication her company put out that the story about aid distribution be told.
As fate would have it, she and her photographer landed amid the carnage after 10 Belgian peacekeepers had been killed by theRwandan army. "I saw horrible things when we landed in Kigali. In the air traffic control tower, you could see bits of brains on the ceiling," she recalls.
"Tutsi rebels had just regained control of the airport. The Canadian peacekeepers (led by now-retired Lieut.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire) were working under primative conditions."
Although Mrs. Toews had only researched genocide, in Rwanda she met survivors of a bloodletting, in which extremist Hutus used machetes, knives and picks to kill upwards of one million Tutsis, moderate Hutus and Pygmies.
"One of the things I did recognize because of working on the novel is that the Holocaust was not just a result of Nazi madness. In Rwanda we saw it again. And Holocausts are happening in the Congo now and around the world in many places. We lied to the world when we said it would never happen again. It is. Every day."
Mrs. Toews is working on a second novel that evolves from her first. In this one, the daughter of the main character of her first book goes to Rwanda. Her story begins with murder at her dinner table.
Treason & Triumph