Amanda Hale (right) is holding a local launch of her new novel Mad Hatter at the Courtenay library branch on Nov. 29, while Evelyn Gillespie and Laughing Oyster Books will have copies for sale. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Hornby Island author’s tale delves into family, father’s past during war

Amanda Hale is holding a reading for Mad Hatter at Courtenay Library this month

To say Amanda Hale has a different tale to tell is an understatement.

While there have been many stories of England around the time of the Second World War, her family’s experience was different from many.

Hale is a novelist and poet who has published several books and was also the librettist for the opera Pomegranate, which premiered in Toronto in June.

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The part-time Hornby Island resident has tapped into her family’s past to put together Mad Hatter, a tale of obsession and intrigue – one that surrounds the mystery of her father. The character of Christoper Brooke in the novel is based on her father, who came from a family that owned a hat-making firm.

“I’d always wanted to write something about my father,” she says.

Like her real father, Christopher becomes a follower of proto-Nazi leader Oswald Mosley, who started to attract support in England during the 1930s.

For his beliefs and activities, particularly once the UK was at war with Germany, Christopher faces trouble and is sent to an internment camp. If his beliefs were understandable before or even during the war, his devotion moves beyond Mosley after the fighting, as Christopher sees Hitler in almost evangelistic terms as a scourge sent by God.

Ultimately, his time in solitary has transformed him. Hale thinks in real life this was what broke her father to the point where he could no longer turn back on his beliefs.

Christopher Burke’s narrative arch only forms part of the story though.

Much of it follows Mary Byrne, a young Irishwoman who comes to work for the Burke family until things reach a breaking point.

Mad Hatter is also very much a story of the mother character, Cynthia, based on her own mother, and the feelings she fights over her estranged husband and how his extreme beliefs have affected her and the family.

“I saw her in a very stuck place,” Hale says. “She was very volatile emotionally.”

Complicating everyone’s life is the presence of one’s of Christopher associates in the movement, a man named Thom Baker, who ultimately threatens to undermine the marriage and family, even down to their finances. He, too, is drawn from real life.

Facing the family history to produce a novel was a challenge, and as the youngest child, Hale barely knew her father.

The writing process helped to unravel some of the mystery, but not all of it.

“It is a quest novel….. He remains an enigma,” she explains.

If the novel is set in the mid-20th century, Hale feels much of it is relevant in today’s political climate, with the rise of extreme right-wing leaders in the political world.

“It’s very timely now politically,” she says. “Everything finds its right time.”

There were twists in real life as in the novel, including one that brings Mary back into the lives of the family, but readers will just have to delve into the story.

So far, Hale has been getting a great response to the novel, and she has appeared at events such as Toronto’s International Festival of Authors this fall.

Hale will be holding a reading at the Courtenay branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library on Friday, Nov. 29 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. As with her other readings, she will again have Laughing Oyster Books on hand with copies of Mad Hatter.

“Laughing Oyster always comes to sell books,” she adds.

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Mad Hatter is published by Guernica Editions.

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