Author Tags: Fiction
Born in Victoria in 1946, Donna Jonas Milner was raised in south Vancouver before moving to Rossland where she married and started a family. She also worked as a real estate agent for 25 years. Upon retirement, she decided to pursue her life-held ambition of becoming a dedicated writer. Her first novel, After River (HarperCollins, 2009), has subsequently been published in twelve countries and translated into eight languages.
Upon the publication of After River, Milner's husband, Tom, decided to build her a “writing room" on lakeside property in the Chilcotin that he'd owned since the 1970s. He envisioned a one-room cabin below his rustic old cabin. By the time construction had started, plans had evolved to build a year-round residence. She agreed to try it for a year, living off the grid. They sold their four-thousand-square-foot home and moved to an area without power lines where they had to rely on solar panels and gas-fired generator for electricity. Communication and internet access are only available via satellite. Eight years after that, she had released her fourth novel...
Her first novel, After River (HarperCollins 2008) is about a woman coming to terms with the disintegration of her family some 35 years after a young American draft resister named River crossed the border into Canada and changed their lives. Prejudice against the gentle River Jordan in a rural B.C. community mixes with the fear of homosexuality, leading to the rape of the teenage protagonist, 15-year-old Natalie Ward, daughter of the town's milkman. The novel was shortlisted for two awards and published in twelve countries.
Donna Milner's second novel The Promise of Rain is about a motherless daughter dealing with the after-effects of her father being captured as a prisoner-of-war in Hong Kong. "By the time I was six years old," writes the narrator Ethie, "I knew my father was not like other fathers."
Narrated by a former realtor, Donna Milner's highly credible Somewhere In-Between (Caitlin 2014) follows the efforts of a couple to purchase an idyllic but remote ranch in the Chilcotin. We gradually learn they are attempting to recover their marriage after a tragic family loss. Julie O’Dale tries to support her husband Ian's dream to escape from the big city in favour of the company of a team of draft horses, four cow ponies, and the range cattle. Trouble is, their six-hundred-acre ranch includes one very problematic, long-time tenant, Virgil Blue, who doggedly occupies an old trapper’s cabin. This novel was slated to be published by McArthur & Co. before that Ontario firm went belly-up.
The protagonist of A Place Called Sorry (Caitlin 2015), Adeline Beale, grows up in the 1930s leading a sheltered life. Her grandfather Chauncey Beynon Beale believes his cattle ranch can supply Addie with everything she could want or need. Twelve miles away there's a little town called Sorry. Life is simple--but tragedy and secrets intervene. When her grandfather slips into blindness and dementia, Addie's life darkens, too. There's no such thing as a sheltered life when family secrets are allowed to fester.
After River (HarperCollins 2008) $29.95 978-0-06-146299-3
The Promise of Rain (McArthur & Co. 2010) $24.95 978-1-55278-840-0
Somewhere In-Between (Caitlin 2014) $21.95 978-1-927575-38-3 / 1-927575-38-9
A Place Called Sorry (Caitlin 2015). $22.95 978-1-927575-94-9
The Promise of Rain
from Sage Birchwater
Following her debut novel After River, about an American draft evader who comes to Canada during the Viet Nam war, Donna Milner’s The Promise of Rain (McArthur $24.95) recalls how nearly two thousand poorly equipped Canadian troops were sent to defend Hong Kong during World War Two.
“The eager young Royal Rifles and Winnipeg Grenadiers who sailed out of Vancouver harbour in late October, 1941, to answer Britain’s request for reinforcements for Hong Kong, were not ready for combat,” Milner says. “They sent our least-trained troops.”
A month after the rookie Canadian soldiers arrived in Hong Kong, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour (December 7, 1941). By Christmas, the Japanese had captured Hong Kong, and the Canadians who weren't killed in battle were sent to Japanese prisoner of war camps. Of the 557 Canadians who did not return, 289 died during the eighteen-day battle for Hong Kong. The remaining 268 perished in the POW camps in Hong Kong and Japan.
As in After River, Milner juxtaposes two different time sequences. The main storyline takes place in 1962 when the mother of three children and the wife of Japanese POW survivor, Howard Coulter, mysteriously dies. The story is told through the eyes of the youngest child, eleven-year-old daughter, Ethie.
Interspersed are chapters depicting the drama, anguish and adventures of Howard’s wartime experiences and the suffering and hardship he and fellow POWs endured during their four years of captivity.
One of the main characters in the novel is Ethie’s older brother, Kipper, a fifteen-year-old with Down’s syndrome. The author does a masterful job of humanizing an individual with this chromosomal anomaly, explaining how this condition is caused by an extra, twenty-first chromosome in a person’s cellular make up. Milner shows with sensitivity and caring how a Down’s syndrome person can be meaningfully included into the family mosaic.
Milner credits former Williams Lake city councillor and seniors advocate, Hazel Huckvale, for inspiring her to write the novel. She is also grateful to surviving Hong Kong veterans Aubrey Flegg, Dick Wilson, Robert (Flash) Clayton, and Jan Solecki, having sought help from the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association.
The Promise of Rain is an uplifting and intriguing story that will touch your heart. Milner launched her book at the Open Book Store in hometown of Williams Lake. 978-1-55278-840-0
- by Sage Birchwater