I am thrilled that the Winnipeg Free Press has selected Ravenscraig as one of top fiction titles in their annual “Best of the Year” book list.
The Canadian version of the book will soon be going to reprint through Manitoba publisher, Heartland Associates.
This has been a very exciting year for me in watching the book gain an audience outside of Canada. Few things are more exciting for an author than to have people you’ve never met tell you how they enjoyed reading your story.
The Kindle version of Ravenscraig, published in the US by Franklin and Gallagher, has had more than 12,000 downloads in 2012.
I am most thankful to those who take the time to post their reviews on Amazon. Ravenscraig is rated as 4.7 stars out of 5 with 21 reviews.
5.0 out of 5 stars Ravenscraig
I read this book whilst in hospital and really enjoyed it. It combined a good yarn with a bit of social history in regard to the persecution of the Jews, their immigration from Europe, and their hardships and successes in Canada and the U.S.A. in an easy to read form. I am looking forward to reading book two!
I have been invited by Mary to answer questions about my current book and then to tag five other authors about their Next Big Thing.
What is the title of your book and what is it about?
Ravenscraig, is an historical novel that pitches rich against poor as two families from different worlds become inextricably tied together.
Rupert Willows buries his cruel past and schemes his way to wealth and power. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of czarist Russia.
At the center is the feisty Maisie, who hides her Jewish roots to enter the world of “The English” and a better paying future at the opulent mansion, Ravenscraig Hall. Love, anger and determination fuel the treacherous journey ahead.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Winnipeg, my home town, has a fantastically interesting history. It was a fur trading post that quickly evolved into a western saloon town and ultimately became one of the fastest growing cities on the continent. A century ago at the height of the immigration boom, the city was divided with a strong wealthy class clashing against a burgeoning “foreign born” population. My fascination with the social history of Winnipeg together with my background as a journalist ignited a passion for telling a fictitious story about real events in those interesting times.
What genre does your book fall under?
Ravenscraig is categorized as historical fiction, Jewish fiction and family saga.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What a fun question. Rupert Willows has been described by some of my readers as “the man you love to hate.” He is very handsome, powerful and manipulative, and utterly charming.
I have most often heard suggestions of Daniel Craig who does such a great job as Bond, and Jon Hamm who is a favorite
among those who love the Mad Men series.
Personally, well, I am rather partial to Josh Holloway. I was watching Lost while I was writing a significant scene in the book and somehow Josh Holloway’s character, Sawyer, became an influence in Rupert’s allure. I think it was the southern accent that really got me. Josh
Holloway is to be directly blamed (or credited) with Rupert’s stay in Atlanta during his youth.
For Chadwick the butler, I see Michael Caine.
As for the women, this is more difficult.
Someone special with the guts and grace would be needed to play Maisie.
The image I had of Beth Willows is Billie Burke, a fantastic actress of years ago.
I welcome suggestions from Ravenscraig readers! Please voice your opinion in the comments below.
Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?
I am not represented by an agency. Ravenscraig was published by Heartland Associates in Canada, and by Franklin and Gallagher in the USA.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About 7 years of researching and writing, followed by almost three years of rewrites.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Because this is historical fiction and a family saga, Ravenscraig is appealing to fans of stories like Downton Abbey, the mini-sieris, and to books like Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, and the Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Younger readers tell me it fits their appeal for books like Anne of Green Gables, by Lucie Maud Montgomery.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I have a deep appreciation for the stories in my own family history. My ancestors came to Manitoba to farm in 1896. I am very grateful for the many sacrifice they made and the great hardships they endured so that their children and grandchildren would have a better life.
I became interested in learning about the early days of Winnipeg and a fascination grew that led to creating story based on true events.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you happen to be a Titanic fanatic, you might enjoy this novel. The story about the Fortune Family in Ravenscraig is based on the true account of this wealthy family traveling on the Titanic. I spent a great deal of time learning about this disastrous shipwreck and continue to read about it.
Links to other authors I recommend:
Here are some of my favorite authors. Please see their work and find your own next best read!
Sally J. Ling is author of The Cloak, the recently released Shea Baker biblical mystery, which is set in Florida and gives the reader a fast paced and inviting read about a likeable writer, and accidental sleuth. I thoroughly enjoyed The Cloak and look forward to other upcoming adventures in the series. In the meantime, Sally’s latest book is a non fiction book that will be released this month. Out of Mind, Out of Sight:A Revealing History of the Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee and Mental Health Care in Florida.
Sidura Ludwig is the author of the novel Holding My Breath (2007), a wonderful book about The book has been published in Canada (Key Porter Books), the US (Shaye Areheart Books) and the United Kingdom (Tindal Street Press). Sidura was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and has lived in Toronto, Ottawa and Birmingham, UK.
Martin Crosbie is a Canadian Indie author who has created quite a sensation with embracing the Kindle Select Program on Amazon that led to more than a hundred thousand downloads of his first novel, My Temporary Life. You can read about Martin’s new novel My Name is Hardly, here. Martin already participated in the Next Best Thing Blog Hop, but because I am a fan of his work I could not possibly leave him off of this list.
Terry is a PR professional with a gift for humorous storytelling. His first two novels are a delightful behind the scenes look at Canada’s Parliament Hill. Wonderful and highly recommended. His new novel, Up and Down, is on on my “to read” list.
So those fancy new $20 bills in Canada are pretty snazzy. I laughed out loud when a grocery store cashier in Winnipeg gave me an impromptu review and a warning. She jabbed a finger at the new bill and stared me down. “Make sure you don’t leave that new 20 in a pocket and put it through the washing machine. It melts in the dryer, you know.”
She thrust the grocery bag at me as I was overcome with the memory of finding an American single in my freshly washed jeans some years ago. It made it okay. As did the electronic key to my husband’s car. Whew! So you can run a high-tech German car key and an American bill through the laundry, but make sure to guard those Canadian bank notes.
I wouldn’t doubt it. The bill is made of a special slippery substance, which is like plastic and features clear windows and some high tech graphics.
I found this background video that explains the choice in the artwork and how this the new bill offers increased security. I think this is pretty neat. And yes, I will always check my pockets before I do laundry.
I went to Weston Elementary School when I was little and living on Gallagher Avenue in Winnipeg. One of my strongest memories from grade three was the start of creative writing. Our teacher would cut out pictures from magazines and paste them on construction paper. The picture would be passed around from one desk to the next through the classroom and our assignment was to write a story about it. The pupil with the best story was awarded the picture as a prize. How great is that?
Over the years I have developed a rather keen interest in old photographs. So it is that I find that I have spent countless hours poking through old picture collections. One of my favourite places to search is the Manitoba Archives. The staff are excellent and very helpful.
Here are a few of the pictures I found. This one is part of the Sisler Collection and was taken in around 1915. The note on the file says “Clearing Land South of Elma.” I am using pictures in my video montage that will be presented at Tarbut tomorrow night at the Rady Jewish Community Centre. The others are early pictures of Downtown Winnipeg.
I am so happy for the wonderful response I am getting to the upcoming program, “Fiddler in the Golden Land”. This is set for Thursday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 at the Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture at the Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg.
Inspired by the stories in the novel, Ravenscraig, the evening will feature the marvelous Jane Enkin who will sing songs in Yiddish. We’ll talk about the early days of Winnipeg, and in particular, the hardships and triumphs of the early pioneers who settled in the foreign quarter, later to be known as Winnipeg’s famous North End. Please join us.
I had a most unusual experience the last time I was in Winnipeg.
It started with a wonderful event arranged by the Armstrong’s Point Residents Association, where I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon in September talking about the early history of the neighbourhood with residents, history enthusiasts, and readers.
A couple of days later I wound up in the hospital with an emergency appendectomy. A little scary, and very disappointing as it interrupted my planned meetings and visits in Winnipeg, but it wasn’t all bad. I was in and out in less than 48 hours and all went well. I also had the pleasure of extending my visit and recuperating in my mother’s house, while she baked pies with apples harvested from her backyard. How wonderful is that?
While I thoroughly enjoyed the time with my mother, and the rest of the family, it was disappointing that I had to miss a book club event at home in Florida that had been in the works for some months. Jane, who had invited me to speak to the club, sent on some questions and promised to read the answers in her “best Canadian accent” to her book club members. Following are the questions and my answers. By the way, if there is anything you would like to know about the story in Ravenscraig, please email me at Sandi.Altner@gmail.com.
Thank you, Jane.
Why did you decide to title your novel Ravenscraig? What other options did you consider?
Finding the title was challenging. My first working title was Willows on the Crescent. After that there were a number of titles that related to the Titanic. Finally I settled on Ravenscraig because it was the name of Rupert’s home (Rupert Willows is the lead character) and because it just seemed to work better than any of the other titles I had on my list.
Ravenscraig Hall (a fictional home) is located in the real neighbourhood of Armstrong’s Point which has a charming history and truly was a sought after residential neighbourhood. On the location that I placed Ravenscraig Hall there originally sat a mammoth home known as Bannatyne’s Castle. How unfortunate that only the gates of that home are still in existence today. I took the name Ravenscraig from Ravenscraig Castle in Scotland, which is big, ugly and was among the first built to withstand cannon fire. Once I tripped across that, I knew it was perfect for the mansion. Coming to the conclusion that it was the right name for the book took much longer.
Naming characters was a similar problem. I know all of the baby name sites on the net. I also did extensive searching through archival materials from Ellis Island, the Canadian Census reports of 1901 and 1911, the Jewish Genealogy website and City of Winnipeg archives.
What is your greatest pleasure – researching the historical underpinnings of the plot or creating the characters and dialog to communicate the historical elements?
I love the research. The idea of writing a novel first came from stumbling across a great story about the scandals involved in building the Manitoba Legislative building a century ago. Great story. The more I learned the further back I needed to go. What I learned about the conflicts between rich and poor, and English and everyone foreign during the height of the immigration boom (1896-1914) became so interesting that the focus of my story naturally shifted to the stories of that time.
There was such extreme poverty and so little political will to do anything about it that it just seemed unbelievable. I read stories of 40 or more people living in boarding houses of 800 sq ft or less and thought it impossible that this had happened. Moreover it made me wonder that if it indeed had happened, how had I never heard of that before? The 1911 census is an amazing document that lays out the truth. Then, knowing the extent the overcrowding existed set a different colour to the many essays and memoires that I had read and new materials that I sought out. What I had seen as perhaps exaggerated through a nostalgic memory suddenly came into focus as an undertold story of suffering. I wanted to bring that story to life.
This led to learning about the Typhoid epidemic in 1904-1905 when Winnipeg had the highest rate of typhoid per capita in the western world. I first learned of it in a book by Dr. Alan Artibise, titled: A Social History of Winnipeg, 1874-1914. There truly was a Dr. Jordan called in from Chicago to investigate the health crisis. I ordered a full copy of his report from the Manitoba Archives and was shocked to learn that he did not condemn the use of dirty river water being brought into the water mains for use in fire control. He did say the water should be used “as little as possible”. Equally interesting was that the Winnipeg newspapers produced no screaming headlines demanding to know the source of the typhoid. It appears the city leaders just didn’t want the shame on a national scale.
Which is easier for you, description or dialog?
Dialogue is much easier for me. There comes a point where you spend enough time with your characters that you understand their morals, failings, strengths and misery. I don’t mean to sound nutty, but I got to like a lot of them, especially the ones I spent a lot of time with. So then, with the kind of research I did in Ravenscraig, you have a real story that you need them to react to. You create a circumstance, place the people in it and then listen…and type. There was one night I remember where I had had a particularly productive day. I work outside on the patio most of the time when the weather allows. I was working away and was quite overcome by what unfolded. It was dark. The pool light was on, as was a lamp on the patio table. Katiana, my daughter, came out to ask a question and caught me as I wiped the tears from my eyes. “ARE YOU OKAY, MUM?”
I think that when we think that these are not just stories, but that each of us has someone in our own ancestry who suffered, who fled, who persevered so that future generations would have a good life, it becomes something worth learning. Each of us has a history worth knowing. Sacrifice is a big word and it counts for a lot. It enriches your life when you contemplate the suffering that was done on your behalf.
Who do you imagine as your ideal readers?
Wow. To be totally honest, this was a selfish pursuit. I wrote something I had searched out to read and couldn’t find. I thought if my mom read the book I wrote I would be happy. It pleases me to no end that the story has touched others and that it has sparked interest among some readers to learn more about their own histories. Historical fiction is not one of those BIG genres publishers are clamouring to publish.
As an author are you more interested in portraying the history of a period/place or in drawing “life lessons” from historical events and suggesting parallels to present issues?
I think there are life lessons in every circumstance and I wanted to tell a story that was historically correct. I was very concerned about reflecting the attitudes of the day, particularly in the impact on women and the underclass. I like the idea that readers might learn something new that makes them think about the immigrant experience, whether it be a hundred years ago or in 2012.
Even in the most seemingly objective narrations of history, the historian has a point of view, a bias, a cautionary message.As an author working in the genre of historical fiction, how would you characterize your moral slant or philosophical position.
I think it is very humbling to look at all of the difficulties that were borne by our ancestors. I have little interest in anyone who might whine about not having the latest Smart Phone. Freedoms are too easily characterize as entitlements. I look back at that time a century ago, and imagine who or what I might have done or been. My heart goes out to the unfed children, the women who gave birth with their hair frozen to a wall in an unheated shack, and to all of the men that drove themselves to find any way possible to provide for their families. All of those who faced the tremendous challenge of putting down roots in a country where so many people were against them, simple because of your name, your religion, or your ethnic background. I think if I were to have lived in that time I would have thrown all my might behind Nellie McLung and the group of women who saw to it that Manitoba would be the first province in Canada to gain the right of women to vote in 1916. Can you imagine we haven’t had the right to vote for a hundred years yet?
Why did you choose to conclude the book the way you did? Did you consider other options?
The ending came at the very end. I had an earlier version that I was not happy with. I have a deep affection for certain characters and it was very troublesome to learn what happened. I was quite shocked, I must say, when I finally learned.
How does the ending reflect on or influence the themes of your novel.Family, Loyalty, Education, Integrity, Politics, Gender Issues (changing role of women, suffrage, etc.), Responsibility, Community, Work Ethic, Luck, Chance, Identity… personal versus social, ethnic, religious, economic, gender, family connections and expectations.-
Because the ending was the last of the book to be written, I cannot say it influenced the themes. It does influence thoughts of a sequel. I am interested in the Great War and its impact on the city. I am greatly interested in the work and strength of the women particularly through the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, and the suffrage movement. Sam Bronfman became Canada’s best known Jewish leader after he became known for Seagram. He and his family started out in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in a variety of jobs which ultimately led to the the hotel business. He became the owner of the Bell Hotel in Winnipeg when he was in his early twenties and ultimately became Canada’s most famous bootlegger. Lots to research in this area. And then there is the matter of the 1915 scandal of the building of the Legislative Building.
Who are your favorite authors, particularly in the historical fiction genre?
Most of what I read is non-fiction, but I very much admire and enjoy: Chaim Potok, Ken Follett, James Michener, Allan Levine, Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, Carol Shields, Irwin Shaw, Alice Munro among others I have forgotten to mention.
Perhaps the greatest enjoyment in writing a book is getting notes from readers who are touched by the book. This weekend I received two special notes that I would like to share.
The first is from Heidi, a friend from my early days in radio in Winnipeg.
“I lent my book to my 82-year old father who just returned it today. He’s a German immigrant who was a Wpg transit bus driver his entire working life in Canada and spent many a year driving in the north end. He LOVED your book, and that’s high praise from someone who doesn’t have English as his first language.”
The second note is from someone I only know by reputation for her fantastic Deli on Corydon in Winnipeg, Marla Bernstein of Bernstein’s Deli. (I’ve edited the note to be sure there are no spoilers.)
I finished your wonderful book this evening on the way home from the lake . As a Jewish Winnipegger I knew that I would love RAVENSCRAIG from the first time I heard about it…(I actually do not remember if it was a review in the Jewish Post, or Free Press, or CBC Radio).
Having Grandparents who immigrated here from Eastern Europe about 20 years after your Ravenscraig characters came to the Golden Land I can appreciate the Jews who were the first and how horrible it was for them at the beginning. By the time my Family arrived here I would think that a lot of groundwork must have been done and although poverty stricken they must have had more of a support system in place than your immigrants did.
I love the story of the allotment of acreage for those willing to farm. I love the story of the Zigman Family.
Ravenscraig is a wonderful saga. It even prompted me to take a slow joy ride through Armstrong’s Point, which I have never paid much attention to in the past.
Thank you Sandi for providing me with such a good story.
Thanks for hearing me out ! Enjoy life ! When you are back in Winnipeg and you get hungry during the day I would love to invite you to my Deli for a sandwich and a bowl of soup,(another reason I love the Zigman family)>
Armstrong’s Point is among my favourite neighbourhoods in Winnipeg and was the ideal choice for the location of the fictional home Ravenscraig Hall in my novel Ravenscraig.
Tucked into a bend in the Assiniboine River, the lush landscape and expansive lawns of “The Gates” as it is often called, have continued to inspire new generations of homeowners for more than a century. There is no other place quite like this, and it fascinates me.
You will get a sense of the luxurious homes that were built in Armstrong’s Point at the turn of the 20th century if you read the opening chapter of Ravenscraig, which you will find here on line.
To this day, Armstrong’s Point remains a distinctly beautiful and peaceful residential area, hidden away from the busy streets of downtown, yet a short walk to the city centre, public transportation, fine restaurants, bakeries, walking paths, as well as churches and a synagogue.
No, you will not find a real Ravenscraig Hall, there, but I can tell you exactly where it would have been located had it existed.
I wanted to share this short video to show what Armstrong’s Point looks like today. It was produced by Compass Digital Media of Winnipeg and is narrated by Bill Richardson. I hope it will help you understand why the residents association of Armstrong’s Point remains so fiercely protective of their historic neighbourhood.
The following notes were posted by Compass Digital Media to accompany the youtube video.
Historic Armstrong’s Point received its name in the mid-1800s, when the land was first granted by the Hudson’s Bay Company to Captain Joseph Hill.
When Captain Hill returned to England five years later, he left his boatman James Armstrong in charge and the area gradually came to be known as Armstrong’s Point. In the early 1880s when Hill heard that land values were escalating in the Canadian west, he returned to Winnipeg, reestablished his title to his property, and sold it to a syndicate headed by J. McDonald and E. Rothwell.
The Armstrong’s Point Association was formed 54 years ago to “preserve the residential nature” of one of Winnipeg’s most cherished neighbourhoods. Over the years, residents have come and gone, but still somehow, this peaceful, naturally beautiful setting remains, cherished by all who live here and visit here.
Of the 123 homes on the Point, 75 are on the city’s Inventory of Historically Noteworthy Buildings. The ornamental Tyndallstone gates were erected in 1902 and were designated by the City as historically significant in 1993.
The Cornish Library, a Carnegie library built in 1915, was named after Winnipeg*s first mayor, Francis Cornish. Ralph Connor House, home to the University Women*s Club at 54 West Gate, has been designated municipally and provincially and was recently named a National Historic Site. Beechmount at 134 West Gate is on the Canadian Registry of Historic Places.
This blog celebrates the history of Winnipeg, my hometown, and occasionally allows me to indulge in some wider observations of the world that catch my interest.
Here you will find stories about Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century when the Manitoba capital declared her glory as one of the fastest growing cities in North America. The research behind the stories you will find on this site was done over many years and became the basis for the storyline for my novel, Ravenscraig. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The early years in Manitoba were very exciting, with Winnipeg recognized as the gateway city for people and goods traveling west to the new frontier. From these years of rapid growth in Winnipeg, 1874-1914, there developed a large group of millionaires and the crop of mansions they built to impress each other.
Historian, Dr. Alan Artibise, referred to these captains of industry as “the commercial elite” and truly Winnipeg was seen by those “down east” in Ontario, as the place to be for those seeking to make or increase their fortunes at the dawn of the 20th century.
But not everyone had a shot at the big money in Winnipeg.
On the other side of the tracks, newly arrived immigrants struggled to overcome the horrors of poverty, disease and anti-foreigner sentiments as they fought to put down roots in the New Country. It is from this determination of the newcomers to survive and prosper that the famed Winnipeg North End came to be.
To help understand the rich mosaic in this colourful history, I’ve included a selection of films, featuring such topics as Jews in Winnipeg, life in a Ted Baryluk’s store in the North End, and a terrific NFB film about a man whose job was to keep the tracks clean for the Winnipeg street cars.
Titanic, I must say, is my true love in research topics so you will find a number of postings about Winnipeg’s Titanic connection, and Titanic in general. In all there were more than thirty passengers on the ship who were on their way to Winnipeg to return home, stay for a visit, or like survivor Eva Hart’s family, to settle in Manitoba as immigrants.
I was a child when I first learned about the Titanic. My dad took us for a drive to point out Mark Fortune’s house on Wellington Crescent and told us about the six people from the Fortune family who were on their way home to Winnipeg when the great ship struck an iceberg and sank. I was horrified, and instantly hooked.
Ravenscraig, the blog, (and title of my novel) is taken from the name of a fictitious home, Ravenscraig Hall, in Winnipeg’s Armstrong’s Point and owned by Rupert Willows, the lead character in the book.
About the novel:
Ravenscraig is about two families: the Willows—wealthy, powerful and anti-Semitic, and the Zigmans—newly arrived Jews, struggling to put down roots in Winnipeg’s North End.
Click on the image below to see the book trailer for Ravenscraig.
I am very excited to announce that I will be participating in the Jewish Book Council Network. What a fantastic organization. The Network program supports authors who write books that are of appeal to a Jewish audience.
From the JBC website: For authors, this is an opportunity to go on an all-expenses-paid book tour around North America. For program directors, it is the source of a wide selection of interesting authors who will speak in your community without an honorarium.
In June they will bring together a couple of hundred people from all over Canada and the US who are looking to book authors for events and speaking engagements. Authors, like me, will have a two minute opportunity to make an impression that will hopefully lead to invitations to speak. It has been described by one participant as a combination of the Gong Show and Speed Dating. Can’t wait. Here’s a little video about the event.
More to come. I will update you on all of the details of my trip. I am set to present on June 3rd. It happens that my daughter, Katiana Krawchenko, will also be in New York, so I am looking forward to memories that will be made. Katiana is a journalism senior at the University of Florida and has been granted a ten week internship at CBS News in New York. How proud are the parents?