For Scarborough author Rosemary Aubert, the truth is often more fascinating than fiction and forms the basis for many of her internationally-acclaimed novels.
The author, whose work includes the popular Ellis Portal mystery series set in Toronto, was present at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Port Union Community Recreation Centre on Sept. 22 and spoke with an audience made up of people from the Port Union community as well as members of the two Port Union Library book clubs about her writing craft, and about the joy of translating historical research into gripping fiction.
Aubert shared with the audience how, for her novel Leave Me By Dying, which is set in 1967, she had to forgo her own memories and instead do intense research on events that happened in that year.
“I looked up the Vietnam War, I looked up fashion, I looked up the Beatles. It was amazing,” she said.
When writing that book, Aubert said that she relied on the Toronto Public Library branches and magazine files dating back almost 40 years to give the story an authentic historical background. However, she admitted with a laugh that her research habits have changed since she started using the web to do research.
“It’s amazing how quickly you use the Internet and you forget the other techniques.”
In her latest book, The Judge of Orphans, Aubert’s historical research took a personal twist when an old photograph taken by her father in 1959 became the defining image of the novel. It has a special significance though — her father’s fingerprints, left on the original negatives from back when he was an amateur photographer developing photos in the family washroom.
“The picture literally fell at my feet,” she said of the photograph she found when organizing her father’s belongings.
The novel’s narrative spans generations, but begins with the true story of young children in 19th-century New York forced by patrons reminiscent of Oliver Twist’s Fagin to work as street musicians in order to survive.
“The story is about vulnerable children who are really tough,” she said.
The photograph, which shows a young boy running determinedly towards ships docked at a harbour, captured this idea of defenselessness wrapped in a layer of bravado, said Aubert. For this reason she chose it as the cover photograph for The Judge of Orphans.