Most people in Newfoundland and Labrador have someone in their family who has worked “in the woods.” Some of these workers were employed seasonally—they fished in the summer and headed to the lumber camps in the winter—while others were full-time loggers who worked year-round. Camp 13: Working in the Lumber Woods captures a time and place in this province’s not-too-distant past, illustrating in fine, well-researched detail the day-to-day friendships, struggles, triumphs, and tragedies of a hard-working people employed in a way of life that is long gone but never forgotten. Recently AE spoke with the book’s author Byron White.
What inspired/motivated you to tell this story?I’ve always loved history. I’ve always thought it important to know your heritage, your roots, and your past. I have a strong belief that if we don’t know where we come from then we don’t know where we’re going. This book, Camp 13: Working in the Lumber Woods, is based on historical fact; it serves as a window to peer back into a brief segment of our history.
Where did the characters come from?Because this book is historical, it is based on real people. Over a period of fifteen years, I interviewed numerous men who worked in the lumber woods in Newfoundland and Labrador. Many of these surface in the book, but the story is centred around a few prominent characters who work at Camp 13 in the Southwest Gander River area of Central Newfoundland. Many families in rural Newfoundland had men who worked at such camps. My family was no exception. I knew many of the book’s characters personally. The book was a labour of love.
Did the work come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?Both. I have research material that covers a 50 year period; I found it difficult to bring together a coherent book that would do justice to that time frame. When I narrowed the time frame and focused on a three year period at Camp 13, the book came together fairly quickly.
What was the most challenging aspect of the process?For me, the most challenging aspect was self discipline. I have many interests and I’m a terrible procrastinator. In order to write the book, I had to treat it as a job. I set aside time in the early morning and night and scheduled myself in to write in those time slots. Some of my friends thought that was a bit weird, but it worked well. Writing is serious business and it requires serious thought; if you’re going to be a writer you have to treat it as such.
What was the most rewarding part of the process?The most rewarding part was being able to transfer mental images from your head to the written page. When you get it right, you know it! It’s a great feeling. The second most rewarding aspect is having people read and enjoy what you have written. It makes all the long hours worthwhile.
What did you learn during the process?I learned that writing takes work, commitment, and discipline. You have to love what you’re doing to be successful.
How did you feel when the book was finished?I felt like “Wow!” I’ve finished. Writing a book is something like rearing a child. It’s always there and it takes a lot of TLC to get it to stand alone. You feel happy and proud to see it done correctly.
What has the response been like so far from critics and family?So far the response has been totally positive. I’ve had emails and phone calls from family, friends, and total strangers. Gratifyingly, I find that the book has appeal in other logging regions such as Maine and New Brunswick. It’s been very encouraging and the book is selling quite well!! Of course, I expect to get a few negative comments along the way. Hopefully, they won’t be too harsh and I can learn something and move on!!!!!!
Has there been any discussion about bringing the book to the big screen?No. The book has only recently been released, but it would be a good discussion to have.
What’s next on your creative agenda?My first book was a work of poetry. This book, Camp 13, is historical fiction. The research for Camp 13 brought in a wealth of material. If my publishers at Flanker Press are interested, I may do a sequel, another book of historical fiction.
What made you want to be a writer?I can trace my love for writing back to my high school days. I had a teacher, Mr. Cyril Cuff, he’s still alive and living in Lewisporte, Newfoundland. He had a great gift for language; he would stand in front of the class and orate and recite poetry and quote Shakespeare… He made the whole experience lively and magnificent and enjoyable! He passed his passion on to me. He was the first to tell me that I had “a gift” and could become a successful writer.
What makes a good book?I guess the easy answer is sex and violence and scandal. That seems to sell well! A really good book, of course, is more than that. Such a book finds an idea to dissect and explore in an attempt to wrestle it to the ground and expose some deeper truth. Hopefully, the writer can make it interesting for the reader at the same time.
What are your thoughts on Canadian Literature?Canada has produced a fine stable of writers, writers that measure up well against any in the world. A common criticism is that Canadian writers are too provincial or regional or nationalistic. I disagree. The first rule of writing is to know your topic; Canadian writers simply follow that rule, in doing so they often deal with universal themes. Four of my favourite Canadian writers are: Ray Guy, Stephen Leacock, Lawrence Hill, and Mordecai Richler. Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version really appeals to me. And Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negroes is a tremendous rendering of historical fiction.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?Yes, I do. If you can write and you have an idea bouncing around inside your head like a ping pong ball that won’t settle, discipline yourself. Set aside time, do up a schedule and write! There’s no other way.