Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Brent Connelly

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Ten Questions with Brent Connelly

Brent Connelly is a retired forester and the author of Holy Old Whistlin: Yarns About Algonquin Park Loggers (General Store Publishing). His most recent book, Finer Than Hair on a Frog: More About Loggers and the Like, was published by General Store Publishing in 2007. In his interview with Open Book, he discusses his reading and writing, and he describes a remarkable friendship he developed with one of his readers.

OB:

Tell us about your latest book, Finer Than Hair on a Frog: More Yarns About Loggers and the Like.

BC:

I am a retired forester having been employed for four decades on logging operations in Ontario's Algonquin and Lake Superior Parks. The book talks about the relationships that I enjoyed with many colourful characters who I worked with during that time (bulldozer operators, truck drivers, and logging camp cooks etc.) It is anecdotal with many humorous accounts of the on-and-off the job antics of these hard working and fun loving men. There is also some historical content which outlines the changes in logging and forest management practices over the last half of the 20th century.

OB:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you write?

BC:

I thought mainly of small town and rural Canadians such as farmers and loggers and their families who would know what it is like to sit around a kitchen table with a pot of tea and some fresh oatmeal cookies to share tall tales with friends and old timers. I also expect that many city folks who enjoy the outdoor recreation experience of these two wonderful provincial parks could warm up to this book.

OB:

How did you research your book?

BC:

I had taken some notes throughout my career but relied heavily on memory and extensive personal contact with others who worked in the forest industry in seeking out their experiences.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

BC:

Sipping on a fresh mug of tea made from loose tea leaves early in the morning before the neigbour's rooster has had a chance to clear his throat.

OB:

What was your first publication?

BC:

Holy Old Whistlin': Yarns About Algonquin Park Loggers.

OB:

What are you reading now?

BC:

Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and its People by Roy MacGregor.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a "Welcome to Canada" gift what would those books be?

BC:

a) Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and its People by Roy MacGregor,
b) What is a Canadian? by Irvin Studin and
c) The Last Spike by Pierre Berton.

OB:

What's the best advice you've received as a writer?

BC:

From Tim Gordon, publisher, General Store Publishing House - "Always stay humble".

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you've received from a reader.

BC:

As a sixteen year old boy I worked on a log drive on the Rouge River in West Quebec. During that time the well known pointer boat was used by the log drivers to release log jams from rock outcrops in the fast moving current of the river. The heavy wooden row boat held 4 men and was pointed on each end. It could be readily moved over land and it has been said it could float on a heavy dew.

I was signing books at a Pembroke mall book store one day when a shy little man in his mid eighties approached me with a book to sign. We had never met before but had something in common; he had also worked on a log drive as a young man and we chatted about our experiences for a few minutes until a few more people arrived at which time he stepped back from the crowd and stood off to the side. Whenever there was a break, he would return and we would talk some more. After about an hour, I looked around for him and found that he had left. I was a little disappointed that I had not had the opportunity to tell him how much that I enjoyed his company. He probably had some shopping to do and I felt a slight tinge of sadness.

In about a half an hour, Mr. Burchart returned and approached me once again. He had something in his hand. It was a beautiful scale model of pointer boat which he had crafted himself. "Here, Brent," he said, " I want you to have this." And he passed it to me. I was thrilled and offered to pay him for it but he would have none of that. (I learned later from a friend that he lived closed to the mall and had walked home to fetch the boat.)

Several months later, I was asked to make a presentation at a charity event in Pembroke. I brought along the pointer boat to use as a part of my talk. A friend told me that Mr. Burchart had wanted to attend but had taken ill a few weeks earlier. On our way home that night my wife, Heather, and I stopped in at the nursing home where he resided. He had suffered a very serious stroke and was unable to speak but he recognized me. I asked him to sign the boat for me. As I steadied his hand to hold a pen he made a small dot on the bow of the boat and then he smiled good bye. A few weeks later he passed away.

That pointer boat sits proudly on my desk and I can think of nothing in this world that could make me part with it - a memorable response from a very nice little old man - my friend.

OB:

What is your next project?

BC:

Telling stories about loggers is like compound interest. Tell one story and you get three in return through feedback. Maybe I'll whittle out another book some day, although at this time I have nothing specific in mind. I may have to go back to work in the bush to meet some more characters.

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