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A Place To Call Home
Cover photo by Melanie Wills

A Place To Call Home


A great read for the holidays!
by Anne Forrest,
editor of NUACHT, Community Newsletter of St. Patrick's Society
November 2004 Vol. 17, Issue 4

Once in a while a novel grabs the reader's attention from the opening pages to long after the final words have been savoured. Such is A Place To Call Home, an historical novel by Gabriele Wills that follows the O'Shaughnessy family members for over 50 years as they cope with cholera, fires, prejudice and the many hardships of pioneer life.

Gabriele Wills, a former teacher of history and English, has written a compelling story whose feisty yet engaging heroine, Rowena O' Shaughnessy, develops into someone to whom readers can readily relate. Sibling rivalries and petty jealousies are handled with sympathetic understanding and Rowena's various love interests are depicted in a sensitive manner as she is trapped by the unyielding conventions and barriers of the rigid class system of the 1800s.

Set, for the most part, in Launston Mills (a fictional community loosely based on the writer's home town of Lindsay) there are also several vignettes of life in Toronto and Peterborough. As the family attempts to set down roots, it is faced with problems unfamiliar to today's reader but which can be appreciated nonetheless. How the family contends with these rigors while still experiencing homesickness for the lush green hills of Ireland, earns respect.

However, it is Wills' ability to create believable characters that is most impressive. No two persons are alike and each comes to life through vivid description and convincing dialogue. Some deserve contempt for their callous behaviour, but others are to be admired for their resilience of spirit. Wills cleverly weaves several real historical figures into the novel who give the story a strong sense of authenticity.

A Place To Call Home is a long but satisfying read. A novel that is so detailed yet not boring is a rare gift. It takes the reader back to that period about which too little is known. It leaves him wishing he could join Rowena and her family for a further 50 years.

Writer's Digest Magazine

A Place To Call Home is a gripping and fascinating saga about an Irish family's immigration to Canada and the building and founding of the [fictional] Ontario town called Launston Mills. Wills masterfully traces the development of the town, told through the eyes of Irish immigrant, Rowena, and her son, Keir. The historical facts were flawlessly researched, but rather than it reading like a series of facts, Wills peopled the book with vivid and very real characters whose experiences captivate the reader. .... an exceptionally well-told story. ...A Place To Call Home offers a delightful glimpse into Canada's past, told through characters who come to life and jump off the page. Very well done.

The Lindsay Daily Post, Sept. 19 & 23, 2005
and The Peterborough Examiner, Sept. 16, 2005
by Theresa Kelly, Bobcaygeon News Columnist

I read a book that I just loved so much that I read it a second time and have had very interesting e-mail chats with the author. Gabriele Wills wrote A Place To Call Home, a historical novel of early Irish immigrants covering five decades and two generations, set in her home town of Lindsay. I also bought a copy for my sister’s birthday and one for my daughter, Kelly, who has been working on our family history for several years. Our Ryan ancestors came in the 1830s and settled in this area, but not for long. I felt that A Place To Call Home would help Kelly fill out the bare bones of statistics of births, deaths, marriages, with real people.

The superb novel gives you a feeling that you are there among the characters at that time. The book is carefully and thoroughly researched to provide a realistic portrayal of what life was like for those indomitable pioneers, from food and clothing to transportation and architecture. Getting here was definitely not half the fun!

Along with incidents typical of any pioneer community, the author incorporates real events like the riots at the mill, the devastating ague epidemic, the invasion of Orangemen from Omemee, the Peterborough Militia searching Lindsay for William Lyon Mackenzie, and the great fire of 1861. There are also great dollops of love, marriage, jealousy, illicit affairs, betrayals and revenge, and the day to day struggle to survive in the primitive backwoods of Upper Canada. Employing artistic licence, she called Lindsay "Launston Mills" in the novel.

Gabriele lives in Guelph now with her husband and her daughter, who is a scholarship student at the University of Guelph. She followed this book with another, Moon Hall, set in the Ottawa Valley, and is currently researching and writing another set in Muskoka in the summer of 1914. "I’ve included descendants of Rowena O’Shaughnessy (A Place To Call Home) in this book and ancestors of my main character in Moon Hall, so I’m having lots of fun with it" she said. Gabriele has also written a young adult novel and two children's picture books.

I asked Gabriele, "How do you enforce the discipline on yourself to get through writing a book?"

"The research stimulates ideas and characters," she said. " I find that I never end up with what I had originally envisioned, as my characters start to take over the tale and dictate the conflicts and interactions. It’s great fun, for I’m never quite sure where they will take me. So it’s an adventure for me as well! I try to dedicate at least three or four full days to writing per week, but that doesn’t always happen."

She was kind enough to answer my questions about locations in the story. Some were real and others fictional. For example, "Main Street" is Kent Street. The settlement at Punkin Hollow was around the current Rainbow bridge, at the end of Russell Street.

Holder of an honours B.Sc. and a B.Ed. in the social sciences and English, Gabriele has taught in secondary, elementary, and private schools, and worked as a literacy coordinator for two newspapers, The Lindsay Daily Post and The Peterborough Examiner. She currently owns and operates Mindshadows, which specializes in website design and copy writing. She has been an active volunteer in her community, particularly in helping to preserve its heritage. As a public service, Gabriele has created a website designed to preserve and document social history, www.inmylife.ca

Born in Germany, Gabriele was bought to Canada at an early age. In dedicating the book to her parents, Katie and Paul Tavaszi, who were pioneers in their own right, she says, "Thank you for choosing Canada."

For Theresa Kelly's review of Moon Hall, click here.

See also Readers' Comments


Copyright © 2008 Gabriele Wills, Photos Copyright © 2008 Melanie Wills