Saturday, November 2, 2013


I've been looking forward to writing this letter as I finished up your excellent novel, The Chaplain, earlier this month. As you might imagine, it was such a rare and  exciting adventure for me to "set sail" with your Uncle Jack for parts unknown.  It's been a great honor and privilege, and I will most definitely be adding the book to the "4A Library" (a prison block) next week so that all 800+ men on the yard can freely check it out for one month at a time. 

Let me share my thoughts now, and it's amazing to me that  I have this opportunity to actually "speak" directly to the author of such an  interesting (and educational) historical novel.  Before reading  your book, the only thing that I had heard was that there were some atrocities by the British at some point, apparently during the two years after the  Canadian Regiment left as you pointed out in the "Afterword" (when the criteria  set out by Saint Thomas for a "Just War" were overlooked).

From the start, I was very encouraged and inspired in the faith by your  Uncle Jack. The great public support for the Royal Canadian Regiment and how  young men were urged to become missionaries to "win the world for Christ"  inspired me right here in my prison cell to do the same with the men in prison  whom God puts before me.  You must be incredibly proud (as I am) of Jack's  desire to "do the right thing" and volunteer himself at the last moment,  leaving the consequences to God.  You included the hymn, "Onward Christian  Soldiers," when the men were giving voice to the coming battle. We have that hymn right here in our "All-American Church Hymnal," but I've never learned to  sing it; now I will.

When Jack couldn't sleep, he picked up a copy of John Bunyan's classic, THE  PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, which had been a comfort when he had served on the Labrador coast. I smiled when reading this as John Bunyan wrote that book while he was in prison, and I first read it right here about a dozen years ago. Many times  I pulled out my World Atlas to familiarize myself with all of the towns, cities, and coastal regions mentioned in THE CHAPLAIN.

Jack's persistence impressed me, and he had no idea what he might be facing (in  battle) when he finally was given permission to go. The fact that his roommate onboard the ship, Capt. Forbes, was an atheist and "didn't need God to make him  happy" hit home with me because my first cellmate here likewise had an "I don't  want to hear about God" type of attitude. How interesting it is that Jesus  taught us to "love your neighbor as yourself," and then He puts us next to a  neighbor who challenges us to obey that very commandment. Thanks to you, I was  introduced to the islands of Cape Verde and St. Vincent, both unknown to me  before.

It was a poignant scene for me when Jack walked into the church in Bloemfontein  to pray, admitting that he was "angry at the Savior" over the injustice of it  all: the bad water, enteric fever, the way the suppliers were treating the men,  the killing and maiming in war, et cetera. I appreciated the honesty in how you wrote Jack's self-realization that "yes, to be angry at Christ is  horrifying" (but it was the truth!);  I empathized because I, too, was "angry at  God" when I lost my entire family at the memorable age of 21 when everything in  my past and future was so promising, bright, and blessed. I have often written to people what a mistake it is to be "mad at God" and to "push away from Him" when we experience great tragedy. We should do the exact opposite. My father's older sister, Betty, passed away four years ago in Ohio. It was Aunt  Betty who taught me (in response to the above) that the question for us is not  "Why me, God?"; rather, it should be "Why not me?". This question can be  tough, and thought-provoking, but something that Christ taught us to ask  ourselves.

Finally, I sure enjoyed the extensive "Acknowledgements" section at the end of  your book because you mentioned the fascinating research that you did, reading  archives and even holding some with those white gloves. Hearing about your discussions with cousin Ted brought many smiles since I am blessed to have seen him in photos along with his fava beans, cabbage, and  wood-splitting.  It was very, very endearing, and romantic that you dedicated this novel to Joan.

For the remainder of my life, Paul, I will never, ever forget reading The  Chaplain in the fall of 2013 right here in Cell 16 as it took my mind and heart far away from this prison and made me think a great deal about you, your Canadian family, ancestry, and about an entirely different period in history not well-known to most Americans in my generation. Thank you, thank you, and  thank you again for this unforgettable experience.  It was a great pleasure to  get to know your Uncle Jack during such a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience for him.  It was also inspiring to hear about your plans for the next three years with The Gunner, The Hero, and The Inheritor to take you right up to your 85th birthday. I'll be praying with you for your upcoming book signings in the next few years. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

London Visit, September 2013: Jenny Joseph

Friday night, we gave Jenny Joseph (an Oxford chum) dinner...
...with Prudence Raper, Mitch Raper's sister. He was the top poet
 in Oxford. Jenny is the best-known poetess in England. 
The poem that begins: “When I grow older, I shall wear purple” 
is known  by everyone! When I took her to the National 
Theatre production of Edward II on Sunday matinee, I murmured 
to the usher so that Jenny wouldn't hear, because she hates that sort 
of publicity, that she was the famous Jenny Joseph.  
I quoted that line and even an usher at the National Theatre 
knew it. Not to mention everyone else we've spoken to. 
Imagine our little Jenny! She was married, has two children, 
and now she lives in Gloucestershire. She uses a walker, 
but believe it or not, insisted on taking the bus to our place 
for dinner, and walked in pouring rain for several blocks 
from Victoria Station. I took her to the 
theatre on Sunday.  

Here's Jenny reading her famous poem:

London Visit, September 2013: Taxi Tony

Leaving Los Angeles in Upper class on Virgin Atlantic was quite splendid. 
They have a bar, so one can go and have a drink with interesting people.  
I talked with a fascinating Belgian Internet mogul, Philippe Delhez, who 
used to be a French fighter pilot in the Serbian-Croatian conflict.  
Fascinating guy, spoke perfect English, He said the American pilots 
were very trigger-happy, and the French pilots tried to stop them 
from killing a lot of civilians...
The next day, at noon, Tony Walker, the famous Taxi Tony from 
7-Up and 56Up, picked us up in his cab and drove us all over London.
He first showed us EVERY house Winston Churchill lived in (!) 
and photographed Joan with the famous statue in Mayfair 
of Roosevelt and Churchill.  
We drove past St Pauls and on into Bethnal Green and Hackney, 
a formerly blue-collar area in London’s famous East End, now inhabited 
by Somalis, Pakistanis, and so on. We visited Tony’s 
Mowlem School where I filmed him at 7 years old
 (they treated him like royalty).
Mowlem School in Tony's day.
In the evening, we had a lovely reunion with David Samuelson, 
who was my cameramen on 7-Up, and is now late 80s, and very frail.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Shigawake Agricultural Fair, Bonaventure, August 15-18, 2013

The Bonaventure Agricultural Society Division “A” Fair 
is in its 105th year. How long has the LA County Fair 
been going? Only 89 years.

And among the herds of goats at the fair, a First 
and Second for Fran and Marie, Paul & Ted's goats.
The author of The Alford Saga at the fair...
...has won, with his cousin Ted, fourteen 
prizes for vegetables!
Paul’s goddaughter Cassie Scott 
and partner Helene Vosters....  
...showing the arrangement they did.
Famous Canadian Poet and author 
of many books Pete Dale Scott visiting Paul.
Ted brought Fran and Marie in the back of his car.
Marie was really surprised to get a first prize. "Who, me?"

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Yak Farm, Saint-Elzéar, Gaspésie, August 2013

To buy meat for dinner with Professor Danielle Cyr, 
my translator of The Alford Saga into French. we visited 
a yak farm far back in the woods.
Yak has less saturated fat (3%) than beef, or even 
chicken. And 40% more protein (by weight) than beef.
What fat they do have contains omega 3.
Jean-Guy Duchesne and Guylaine Babin say they have 
the only Yak farm in all of Canada.
They worked in the Arctic, saved up, and only ten years 
ago came to the Gaspe Coast, cleared land, built barns, 
and bought yaks.
They built their house.

A yak bull costs $50,000. It weighs 1700 lbs. 
They have three.
A yak cow costs $3,000. She weighs only 600 lbs, 
and I was surprised to find her rather small, 
about four feet high. They have 90 head.
Yaks consume about 1/3 as much as beef, and eat 
only grass or hay. How ecologically sound!
Yak tastes like moose and deer, but more delicate. 
It must be cooked RARE! They only butcher males.
Danielle Cyr confessed she loved yak meat.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Winter's Wood, July 2013

Cousin Ted ordered huge piles of wood. 
Fisherman and sage Jeffery Vautier obliged.
Jeff got his aged trailer to tip up and dump the wood.
He and Ted gossiped, of course.
Cousin Glen came along to help.
Ted has his work cut out for him.  
Imagine cutting all this for a stove!
A lot of work! Ted will use the splitter...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New Richmond Talk about The Chaplain, July 2013

The evening started with a bang – MP Philip Toone 
presented the Queen Elizabeth medal to Joan Dow, 
Founder of the British Heritage Village (BHV) 
in New Richmond.
Joan and Philip talked together about the Village.
Then Joan Dow spoke about the beginnings of the village.
The BHV is now run by the dynamic Kim Harrison, 
a descendent of the Deserter and thus a relative. 
She has built the Heritage Village into a thriving institution 
commemorating the contribution of the British Isles 
to the now mainly French Gaspe Coast.
Then we moved to the small but vibrant 
church of St. Mary Magdalen.
Philip introduced me to Doreen Bird-Daley, 
the dynamic United Church minister.
Philip is undoubtedly the best Federal MP 
our region of the Gaspe has ever had. Doreen, 
new to The Alford Saga, bought all five books!
First Philip Toone, Federal MP, introduced me 
with a talk about how churches are 
the backbone of his territory.
I spoke to the tiny community, which nonetheless 
bought over fifty copies of The Chaplain 
to support their church.
Joan Dow busily kept track of the books she had sold.