Born and raised in the heart of Southwestern Ontario’s dairy country, Elaine is a graduate of Western University and a former high school teacher. She taught French, English and Computer Studies at various schools across the province. Writing is Elaine’s pleasure and her obsession. She has written two books of family memories, a cookbook, a children’s book, and her two historical novels: The Loyalist’s Wife, which was published in June of 2013, and the sequel, The Loyalist’s Luck, launched in October, 2014. She is currently working on the third in the Loyalist trilogy, The Loyalist Legacy. The Loyalist’s Wife was a finalist in the Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair’s Self-Publishing Awards and Elaine is a recipient of the Writers Community of Durham Region Pay-It-Forward Award. A lover of people and especially writers, Elaine delights in speaking to groups large and small. Her teaching skills make her a natural at leading workshops on writing. On Becoming a Wordsmith is Elaine’s writing blog where she writes about the journey to publication and beyond.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Elaine. Tell us about yourself.
Elaine Cougler: I was born a WASP but raised by open-minded parents who encouraged me and my siblings to explore and question. I came to writing novels later in my life after my teaching career when my yearning to write seriously took hold and led me to explore my own loyalist history.
Vinita Kinra: What prompted you to write a trilogy?
Elaine Cougler: At first getting the first book written was the only goal I had but, as the story took hold, and as I studied the book world a little more, a trilogy became necessary. This is a huge story—the birth of one nation through revolution and the birth of a second as a consequence of that revolution, all told by and through one central family. I was most interested in how we, the little people, are forced to cope when kings, nations, presidents, or prime ministers make decisions which threaten and can absolutely terrorize us.
Vinita Kinra: Talk to us about The Loyalist’s Wife – book one in The Loyalist Trilogy.
Elaine Cougler The Loyalist’s Wife is the story of a young couple in the wilds of 1778 New York State. John decides to join Butler’s Rangers and fight for the British and to leave Lucy behind to try to hold on to their isolated farm. It is the story of John’s struggles with his conscience and his physical deprivation as a soldier, but it is also the tale of Lucy’s courage fighting loneliness, farm accidents, wandering thugs, and birthing her child there ten miles from her nearest neighbour.
Vinita Kinra: Can your books be read as standalones?
Elaine Cougler: Absolutely! I have, however, structured the trilogy to extend and expand John and Lucy’s story so that reading all of them in sequence naturally adds to the experience.
Vinita Kinra: Who is your most loved historical fiction writer and why?
Elaine Cougler: Sharon Kay Penman has enthralled me since her Sunne in Splendour many years ago. The quality of her research informs her writing so thoroughly that, even though her books are very long, I never want them to end. Recently I was privileged to meet Sharon and spend quality one-on-one time with her. She did not disappoint.
Vinita Kinra: What is your advice to writers aspiring to tackle this genre?
Elaine Cougler: Research, research, and research; but remember, the story is the thing. If it’s not a good story, the research really won’t matter.
Vinita Kinra: If you were marooned on an island with just one book, which would it be and why?
Elaine Cougler: Oh, such a hard question! You’re talking to someone whose hardest job, when downsizing our huge home a few years ago, was to get rid of many of my books. We actually had a library filled with books on every wall right to the ceiling. But to the question: it might be the bible, although I haven’t read it in more years than I care to say, but it is so full of stories. And those stories can be taken in many different ways. Wouldn’t that be interesting on a desert island? Also, it would give me such an insight into how people thought over two thousand years ago. This might be pretty interesting; hopefully it would keep my mind occupied while I waited to be restored to my computer and my smartphone.
Vinita Kinra: What is your favourite marketing strategy and why?
Elaine Cougler: I like to speak to groups about the loyalists because I love people and I sell lots of books after my talks.
Vinita Kinra: Give us a taste of your writing. Our readers would like to sample an excerpt from one of your books.
Elaine Cougler: [John’s friend arrives at the cabin on Christmas with a horrific story. As Frank made his way home he had found his father’s body by the trail.]
“I managed to find some dry pine cones and low branches with little snow on them. Luckily a dead tree sagged to the ground near me and I pulled at it in the dark to break off as much as I could to get the fire going. Its tiny light helped me see and I gradually added more dead wood until I had a roaring blaze.
“The idea came to me as I stood bathed in the fire’s heat. I couldn’t bury my father in the frozen ground and I sure couldn’t take him with me. There was nothing else to do. I would burn his body.” Frank stopped a moment, swept his hand over his broken face, and carried on. “His clothes weren’t worth saving but I stripped the buttons off his jacket and slipped them into my pouch. I would have kept that jacket, if I could. He had worn it forever. I…liked it.”
Frank sat at the table and caressed his coffee mug as he stared at something far away from the cozy cabin. “You don’t know how long I stood there. I knew what to do but could not do it. The fire started to burn lower, though. I had to throw him on.
“Finally I just grabbed his shoulders and dragged him over. He was no weight to lift, like he was just a wraith already. His body hit the coals with a sickening crack and I didn’t know if the breaking sound was his back or the wood underneath. A spray of sparks shot up in the dark night. The flames grabbed at him, swallowed him up.”
Frank paused and stared at his hands on the table. In a monotone, he continued. “I flung more and more wood on the fire. I was crazed. It was worse than anything I ever had to do in battle. To burn my own father.” He dropped his head to the table and his shoulders shook with sobs.
Lucy went to his side and touched his head. “Frank, it took courage. You had to do it.”
“Yes, you did what you had to, Frank. And I think your father would have approved.” John stood by the table.
Vinita Kinra: Where can readers buy your books or get in touch with you?