Gail Anderson-Dargatz does for the family farm or ranch in B.C. what many authors have done for rural life in the prairies or smalltown life in Ontario, magnifying the elements of life that are special and, in that process, revealing some of the underlying mysticism of the region.

Born in 1963, the fifth of five daughters, Gail Anderson-Dargatz grew up in Salmon Arm, B.C. where she realized in her teens that her father Eric Anderson, a sheep farmer, was not her biological father. Her mother Irene Anderson confirmed this. Her parents divorced in 1981. "Dad never made me feel anything other than his daughter," she told Maclean's magazine in 1998.

That situation was mirrored in her novel A Recipe for Bees. After Anderson-Dargatz showed each of them a copy of the manuscript separately, the former spouses starting talking to one another again and remarried, on the sly, sending faxes to their children to spread the news.

When she married Floyd Dargatz in 1990, the author adopted her double-barrelled name. The couple lived on a dairy farm near Parksville. [See Personal Background information below.] Her first collection of fiction in 1994 was nominated for the Leacock Medal for Humour. In 1996, her folksy magic realism was immediately cheered by readers who made her first novel a surprise bestseller. Expanded from an award-winning short story, The Cure for Death by Lightning ($28.95) is a whimsical, bold, moving tale of 15-year-old Beth Weeks, growing up on an isolated farm in fictitious Turtle Valley, near Kamloops, during the Second World War. Bizarre events, recipes and eccentric characters abound, and a cure for death by lightning is provided: "Dunk the dead by lightning in a cold water bath for two hours and if still dead, add vinegar and soak for an hour more."

The Cure for Death by Lightning won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the VanCity Book Prize, the Betty Trask Prize and was shortlisted for the 1996 Giller Prize and the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award.

During the writing of that first novel, Anderson-Dargatz' husband suffered from a brain tumour and underwent surgery. Royalties from the book allowed the couple to purchase a farm near Millet, Alberta where he recuperated and learned beekeeping. A Recipe for Bees ($32.95), also nominated for the Giller Prize, is the life story of elderly, Courtenay-based Augusta Olsen and her enduring marriage to her husband Karl, a farmer near Kamloops. Their daughter is the product of an adulterous relationship that Augusta had, but Karl loves her anyway. A testament to the 'farm marriage', the story includes lots of information and lore about bees along the way, as well as a character who undergoes brain surgery.

Anderson-Dargatz' third novel, A Rhinestone Button ($35.95), follows the fortunes of Job Sunstrum, a shy, angelic-looking blond who loves to cook. His skill as a farmer allows him to survive in the rough-and-tumble Baptist world of Gosfinnger, Alberta.

Although her stories contain some fantastical elements, Anderson-Dargatz remains grounded in the family farm of the recent past for her inspiration. From the work of born-and-raised-in-B.C. novelists such as Anderson-Dargatz, Jack Hodgins and Anne Cameron, it's possible to surmise that constancy is not an option in British Columbia. As the Raven and Coyote stories of First Nations in B.C. already attest, it is a place for conflicts, epiphanies and transformations.

"My mother was hit by lightning when she was a girl," Anderson-Dargatz recalled in 1996. "She talked about ghosts and premonitions. I was surrounded by stories of a time that completely disappeared."

Consequently Gail Anderson-Dargatz expressed her affinities for ghosts when she published her novel, The Spawning Grounds (2016), another intimate family saga rooted in the Thompson-Shuswap region.

"It's largely about the watery boundaries between the ordinary world and the world of the spirit," she wrote, "Those who know my writing won't be surprised. I've written about the wandering soul that travels between these realms in almost every one of my novels.

"In The Cure for Death by Lightning, a transforming spirit chases Beth. Augusta travels out of place and time in A Recipe for Bees. And in Turtle Valley, Kat and her family are haunted by ghosts from their past. So naturally readers are inclined to ask if I believe ghosts are real.

"In the years immediately after my mother died, I dreamed of her. In these dreams, we often walked a familiar street and talked about writing, about my kids. My mother offered advice as she always had.

"Then we embraced and she left me, again.

"Once, my father was with her. In one of those lucid dreaming moments that are so rare I asked, "How can you be here? You're both dead."

"My mother said, 'We're not real.'

"But they both felt so real, so very real. I hugged them and said, 'I miss you both so much.' I woke, heart-wrenched and convinced I had spent a few precious minutes with my parents.

"These are the moments in which we say our goodbyes.

"So, do I believe in ghosts? No. I don't believe our souls survive death. But ask me again. Do I believe in ghosts? Yes. We see the ghosts of those we love in our dreams, and in our grief, we see them walking on the street. They appear at the foot of our bed in the wee hours hovering in that space between sleep and wakefulness. Sometimes these encounters frighten us. But for the most part I believe that within these final visits with our beloved dead we find solace and closure.

"I know for a fact my mother's spirit lives on, in the stories I tell, in the bits of wisdom I pass on to my children. I see my mother in my own lovely daughter, in her haunting grey-blue eyes, in her grace, her humour, her will, and her ability to read the emotion of a room. I know when my life ends, my daughter will carry my stories and sensibilities forward. She will see me in her own children, and just as I carried on my conversation with my own mother long after she was gone, my daughter will visit me within her dreams."

Gail Anderson-Dargatz's first novel in a Rapid Reads series [reading level:3], Search and Rescue (Orca $9.95) features Claire Abbott, journalist and sleuth. Claire is not just a reporter with "radar for crime"; she has a secret, a familial sixth sense that will lead her to the truth. When a young woman disappears from a local trail, Claire insists search and rescue are looking in the wrong direction. When the local fire chief doesn't believe her, Claire and her mother set out to follow Claire's intuition, placing themselves and others in danger.

REVIEW: From Scratch by Gail Anderson-Dargatz (Orca Books $9.95) 2018

Review by Carol Anne Shaw

Gail anderson-dargatz's From Scratch is a recent release from Orca Books' Rapid Reads Program-a genre of short, high-interest novels penned by bestselling authors with the aim of helping adults improve their literacy.
It is the story of a single mother, Eva (aka "Cookie), a hardworking woman who finds herself facing unemployment when the owner of the local bakery where she works is forced to sell.

Money is tight, and with a daughter in college and no promising job prospects in sight, protagonist Eva is understandably stressed. Factor in the frustrating, going-nowhere-chemistry she has been sharing with Murray, a regular customer to the bakery, and Eva is feeling pretty hopeless about her future.

Sure, she dreams of taking over the bakery herself; she's talented enough, and the little shop is the heartbeat of the small community where she lives. But Eva is a realist. She has no capital and no real entrepreneurial skills. It doesn't matter how good her cookies are because money talks.

But when her daughter Katie convinces Eva to enrol in some college courses as a mature student, it isn't long before her horizons begin to look a little brighter. Soon, what started as a pipe dream becomes something that just might be possible after all.

With Katie's help and the support of her teacher and classmates, Eva rolls up her sleeves and starts "from scratch."; It's overwhelming at first, but little by little, Eva learns what she needs to bring her dream to fruition. And with knowledge, comes power.

While From Scratch is written using simple language, the story is strong and the characters believable. Readers will immediately find themselves on Team Eva, and alongside her, will learn just what it takes to start one's own business.

From market research to a solid business plan, to a professional website and advertising, readers will discover how to tick all the boxes on a shoestring budget.

Perhaps most importantly though, is the message of hope in this little book. As we follow the highs and lows of Eva's challenging adventure, we come to understand how consistency and true passion are so often the sparks that bring a dream to life.

While the novel contains a romantic element, the story is never saccharine or overly sentimental. In fact, readers will relate to the very real but often awkward chemistry between Eva and Murray-I know I did. And while they are both quite vulnerable, each with their own insecurities and personal demons, they are also refreshingly honest and strong of character.

From Scratch is a quick and touching story of pride and perseverance, as well as a novel that offers a lot of practical information. Readers struggling with English as their second language will be drawn easily into this story about a woman who, with a little support, reaches her true potential while realizing a life long dream.

And finally, there is a wonderful recipe on the final page of From Scratch, for "Cookie's Oatmeal Doily Cookies."; (Because, as we all know, you can never have too many cookies.)


Carol Anne Shaw is the author of the "Hannah"; books, all from Ronsdale Press: Hannah & the Spindle Whorl (2010), Hannah & the Salish Sea (2013), and Hannah & the Wild Woods (2015).


The Miss Hereford Stories (Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1994)
The Cure for Death by Lightning (Knopf Canada, 1996)
A Recipe for Bees (Knopf, 1998)
A Rhinestone Button (Knopf, 2002)
The Spawning Grounds (Penguin Random House 2016) $32 978-0345810816
Iggy's World (Orca 2019) $9.95 978-1-4598-2139-2
The Ride Home (Orca 2020) $9.95 978-1-4598-2142-2


The Stalker (Edmonton: Grass Roots Press $9.95) 978-1-926583-29-7 Reading Level 4,5.
Coyote's Song (Grass Roots Press)
Bed and Breakfast (Grass Roots Press)
Search and Rescue (Orca 2014) $9.95 9781459805767
Playing with Fire (Orca 2015) $9.95 9781459808423
From Scratch (Orca 2017) $9.95 978-1-4598-1502-5
No Return Address (Orca 2018) $9.95 978-1-14598-1858-3


Shortlisted, Giller Prize, for The Cure for Death by Lightning, 1996.
Shortlisted, Stephen Leacock Humour Award, The Miss Hereford Stories, 1995.
CBC Radio's Literary Competition, short fiction, for "The Girl With the Bell Necklace."
Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, 1997
VanCity Book Prize, 1997
Betty Trask Prize, 1997

[BCBW 2019] "Fiction" "Classic" "VanCity"


The Cure for Death by Lightning: a play adapted by Daryl Cloran from the novel by Gail Anderson-Dargatz (Talonbooks $18.95)

Talker's Town and The Girl Who Swam Forever: Two Plays by Nelson Gray
and Marie Clements (Talonbooks $18.95)

The cure for death by Lightning is an adaptation by Daryl Cloran of Gail Anderson-Dargatz's 1996 novel of the same name which became a bestseller and award-winner in Canada and the U.K. Adhering to the book's plot, the action begins with John, Mother (never named) and fifteen-year-old Beth Weeks tenting on the Adams Plateau, defending themselves and their sheep from a grizzly bear. John emerges from the bush in his attempt to kill it, wild-eyed and forever changed.

"The year I turned fifteen,"; narrates Beth, "the year the world fell apart and began to come together again...";

The family returns to their farmhouse in a Turtle Valley plagued with fire, suicide, inexplicable deaths, and seemingly possessed animals and humans. John becomes increasingly deranged, combative, and tyrannical, and repeatedly subjects Beth to physical and sexual abuse. When he takes a shotgun to a neighbour whom he blames for his woes, he is apprehended by the authorities and temporarily removed from the community. Mother barely manages to keep the place together, coping through denial, communing with her dead mother, and keeping distant from Beth.
Beth's complicated relationships with the two Indigenous hired hands, cousins Dennis and Filthy Billy, and their Indigenous /settler cousin Nora add to the tumult of her initiation into adulthood. All three have been damaged by intergenerational trauma. Dennis, who copes by drinking, and Nora, who, as the descendant of residential school survivors and "not a real Indian anyway,"; retreat from society. They provide potential companionship and romantic partnerships for Beth.

They eventually elect to escape to the city. Filthy Billy, who displays symptoms of Tourette Syndrome, is the one shining light in Beth's life. He is steadfastly loyal to her, helps her make sense of things through storytelling, and is a counterbalance to her otherwise troubling home life. More revelations ensue.

Empowered by the support of Filthy Billy and a belief in the curing power of storytelling, Beth takes matters into her own hands... The play ends with the quartet travelling to nearby Blood Road, which is blanketed with turtles that Billy and Beth help up the embankment where they will lay their eggs. Action replaces paralysis; cooperation with nature replaces fear of it.
The dark tone of The Cure for Death by Lightning is tempered by the occasionally humorous and touching relationships between Beth and her peers. There is also magic realism conveyed by animal puppets that layers a spiritual element onto the realist template.

In a production note, playwright Cloran credits the puppets with creating the "magic of the show."; Having seen the play (under Cloran's direction) by Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops in 2017, I can attest that the vivid visual descriptions transfer successfully to the stage.

Cloran's preface identifies the core of the play: "the relationship between Canada's settlers and Indigenous people and our shared connection to the land-all seen from the unique perspective of a fifteen-year-old girl.";

In his introduction to Talker's Town and The Girl Who Swam Forever, Nelson Gray makes a similar statement, but with an important difference: he sees his work as a settler, and that of Marie Clements, who is Métis, as together "enacting ... a cross-cultural dialogue.";

Gray acknowledges that, even after he consulted written accounts by Katzie elders and developed face-to-face relationships with several members of the Katzie nation, his attempts to create a female Katzie character for Talker's Town were futile. After consulting with Clements, he saw the solution: to commission her to write a play about the same events as those in Talker's Town.

Loosely based on Gray's experiences in the 1960s as a fifteen-year-old in a rough Fraser Valley mill town, "where the men all smelled like sawdust and the women washed it out,"; Talker's Town is a memory play in part about the unreliability of memory-and a great deal about the viciousness of racism and the lasting repercussions of colonialism. The narrator-talker recounts being on the fringes of a tough group of boys in the superstitious town. He is not fully accepted because he was a talker rather than a doer.
The play's point of attack occurs when a pregnant Indigenous teen, Roberta-Bob, with whom Talker had a poignant Platonic night-time encounter at the wharf, disappears from the Catholic school and the town. Piecing together the past events, Talker recalls reporting to police that he had heard her wailing inside the house of Leroux (a slightly older tough guy) but receiving no follow up report. He also recalls the girl's brother, Raymond-Bob, seeking revenge for her disappearance. More memories and revelations ensue.

In a powerful, disturbing denouement, Talker, like Beth in Cloran's play, achieves adulthood by taking action -action that is disturbing, ambiguous, and complete with spirits and sacrifices. Although this ending is a purging and a personal cleaning for Talker, it is also, ultimately, a scathing indictment of the ethos of the town and, by extension, of the project of colonialism.

As is patent in both the preface and the play itself, the actual events on which Talker's Town are based are difficult for Gray to both recall and to process into a fiction that, in turn, is not pleasant for the reader to process. However, confronting the horrors of racism is a necessary step to eradicating racism.

Marie Clements takes oral history from Katzie elder Old Pierre as her starting point in The Girl Who Swam Forever. The daughter in the first human family to live on Pitt Lake swims on the lake and is transformed into a sturgeon. She is the original fish on the lake and the mother of all sturgeon. Her brother, grief stricken at losing his sister, is transformed by their father into "an owl-like bird that can only be seen by the Katzie descendants."; Only humans can take a sturgeon's life, and only after they seek the power to do so from the brother.

Clements interweaves this story with a version of the more contemporary one in Talker's Town. The setting is both above ("reality";) and below ("dream";) water, and both the 1960s and the beginning of creation. The Old One acts as a narrator/chorus/guide to the reader, introducing the story by revealing the play's structure, gradually telling Old Pierre's story, and eventually being revealed as the original sturgeon.

In the 1960s story, Forever, a pregnant and orphaned residential school student, has the spirits of her grandmother and the Old One to guide her. Forever escapes from the residential school, revealing her situation through dialogue with her brother Ray (Brother Big Eyes) and with the white boy, Jim, the baby's father. More memories and revelations ensue...

The richness and breadth of The Girl Who Swam Forever is typical of Clements' style. In works such as The Unnatural and Accidental Women (2000) and The Edward Curtis Project (2010), for example, she masterfully conjoins different worlds, erasing barriers of time and place and producing works that are at once strong condemnations of the project of colonization and jaw-droppingly beautiful affirmations of the resilience of Indigenous cultures.

The Cure for Death: 9781772012057;

Talker's Town/The Girl Who Swam: 9781772012019

Review by Ginny Ratsoy, an associate professor of English at Thompson Rivers University specializing in Canadian literature.