Corinne Jeffery has always been enthralled with a narrative.
When she was a child, she would sit by her grandmother asking for stories about her family. By the age of five, she could read and began devouring books.
More than six decades later, Jeffery is a bestselling Canadian author about to officially release her fourth novel, Lords and Lepers. The 600-plus page tome follows Francine Stonehenge as she is taken from her Maritime home following the deaths of her parents. She is moved to the Westman area of Manitoba to live with her aging twin uncles.
As she recovers from her family’s trauma, Francine develops a friendship with three local girls. The book follows the characters through 30 years of their life.
Jeffery’s story – described as an “epic prairie saga” – covers many themes, including bullying, elopement, prodigious talent, fraudulent greed, heartbreak, death, joy and deep love. The book follows the girls through 30 years of their life.
“First of all, Lords and Lepers is a coming-of-age story, but it is also part social commentary,” Jeffrey, now 72 years old and a resident of St. Albert, Alta., told the Westman Journal recently.
“I wanted to show how, all too often, we place value on what we have and what we do rather than for who we are. I think I achieved that. Plus, I just like to write a real engrossing, compelling story with compelling characters. I want to take ordinary people and make them extraordinary in the way they live their lives.”
Lords and Lepersis set in Souris, Hartney and Brandon. Jeffery was born near Melville, Sask., but moved when she was six to a farm located along the Assiniboine River Valley near Brandon. After graduating high school, she was educated at the Brandon Hospital School of Nursing then moved to Winnipeg to attend the University of Manitoba.
As a nurse educator, Jeffery wrote extensively within the field, composing curriculums, reports, programming and other source material. She achieved a life-long goal of writing fiction in her late 50s by starting the historical fiction trilogy, Understanding Ursula. The series is based on her family’s experiences on the Prairies.
Beginning in 2002, Arriving: 1909-1919, Thriving: 1920-1939 and Choosing: 1940-1989 were published over the next decade. By her 68th birthday, she was a bestselling Canadian author in the historical fiction genre.
“When I was seven, I was telling everyone I was going to write my own book one day,” she said. “No one took me seriously, but they do now, because the trilogy has sold almost 14,000 copies.”
Jeffery has always loved historical fiction. One of her favorite authors is Barbara Wood, a historical romance writer with 25 titles in her bibliography. Woods is well known for spending time in the countries where she sets her novels, getting to know the people and the culture.
“I just love that as a base to start from,” Jeffery said. “I have always loved history and I think I do because I know what has happened. I’m one of those people who has more questions than I have answers for, but that’s what I like about history. You get the answers.”
After finishing the Understanding Ursula trilogy, which is based on the experience of five generations of her family, she sought to create characters from nothing.
“It was a personal challenge to write Lords and Lepers,” she said. “When I started to write Understanding Ursula, there were all these memories that came to the surface. My grandmother was the real storyteller in the trilogy. I would sit with her starting when I was four and have her tell me all these stories… I decided I wanted to see if I could create a story that was based on characters exclusively made up from my imagination.”
She says she met the challenge successfully with Lords and Lepers. She didn’t need any outlining or character development before setting out to write the book. She simply sat, watched and listened to what the characters did and said.
“I kept getting woken up in the middle of the night by two characters in the book that wanted more air time,” she said about the experience of creating a story out of whole cloth. “They don’t become part of the main foursome of friends, but I was amazed by what they ultimately did.”
Whatever direction her literary work takes her, she has one goal in mind; to tell the story of the ordinary Canadian using this country’s history for context.
“Everybody tells me they can relate to these characters, and they can because they’re us,” Jeffery said. “Readers have told me I’ve succeeded in becoming the voice of the ordinary people.”
Lords and Leperswill officially be launched this Saturday in St. Albert, Alta. The book is available from FriesenPress and most major online retailers like Amazon, Chapters.Indigo.ca and BarnesandNoble.com.
Ebook versions of the work are available through Kindle, iTunes, Nook, Kobo and GooglePlay.
For more information on Jeffery and her work, visit www.corinnejeffery.ca.