As of 2018, Luanne Armstrong was the author of twenty-one books. She writes young adult books, fiction, nonfiction and poetry. She has contributed to many anthologies and edited a Canadian non-fiction anthology called Slice Me Some Truth. She has been nominated or won many awards, including the Moonbeam Award the Chocolate Lily Award, the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction BC Book Prize; the Red Cedar Award; Surrey Schools Book of the Year Award; the Sheila Egoff Book Prize and the Silver Birch Prize. Luanne presently lives on her farm on Kootenay Lake. Recent titles include Sand, a young adult book for Ronsdale Press, and A Bright and Steady Flame, The Story of an Enduring Friendship, from Caitlin Press. In 2018, she was working on a book of essays called, Going to Ground as well as a new book of poetry titled, When We Are Broken. She is also compiling stories of Kootenay Lake. She writes book reviews for an online magazine called thetyee.ca

As of 2016, Luanne Armstrong had published twenty books [see below] in a variety of genres. She won the 2014 BC Chocolate Lily Award for I'll Be Home Soon (2012) and other titles have received other nominations. Among them, her book of essays, The Light Through the Trees: Reflections on Land and Farming (2012) was a finalist for The Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

Kootenay-born-and-raised, Luanne Armstrong is an organic farmer on a fourth-generation family farm in the small community of Boswell, B.C. With her MFA degree from UBC, she has increasingly taught writing (as an adjunct UBC professor of Creative Writing, at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, and for evening courses at Langara College). Along the way Armstrong has worked as a feminist researcher, a freelance journalist, publisher and editor for Blue Lake Books and HodgePog Books.

Blue Valley: An Ecological Memoir (Maa Press 2008) describes her lifetime relationship with a heritage farm on the east shore of Kootenay Lake where she grew up, describing the history of the land, the disintegration of a community and the sadness of a shattered family. "I stayed in Vancouver for seven years," she writes, living in a landscape of cars and buildings and noise and exhaust fumes. When I left, it seemed odd to me that I had lived somewhere for so long and still couldn't find anything about it to love."

Armstrong's first juvenile novel, Annie, is about an heroic cowgirl in the early west. Similarly her juvenile novel Into the Sun is set in the Red River region during a terrible flood when 12-year-old Reine Lagimodiere must perform heroically save her younger brothers and sisters.

The heroine of her first novel for adults, Bordering, is 'bordering' on coming out as a lesbian, trying to find the courage to live in her smalltown and come to terms with the truth about her ex-husband.

The Bone House is a novel set in an apocalyptic B.C. where corporations rule. Vancouver has deteriorated into a landscape of gated communities, gangs, squalid squats and sinister welfare agencies. The heroine Lia flees to a commune in the Kootenays where she fights to keep the land. The Bone House was shortlisted for the Canadian Sunburst Award for Science Fiction and the Relit Prize for Fiction.

For reluctant readers, Armstrong has written Maggie and Shine, a girl-and-her-dog story set in the sheep-herding backwoods of B.C., as well as Arly and Spike, a girl-and-her-horse story. When Arly befriends a colt who has been mistreated, her mother tells her Spike will need a lot of care before he can be resold. Arly works hard to prepare Spike for a big horse show at the end of the summer.

Her YA novel, Jeannie and the Gentle Giants, was nominated for Canadian Library Association's Book of the Year; the Sheila Egoff BC Book Prize award and the Red Cedar award. It received honourable mention in the Silver Birch Award and was named by McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg as one of their top ten all-time best children's books. Her essay, Tuning the Rig, won the Canadian Author's Association first prize.

Her children's book, Pete's Gold, is a boys' adventure story based on a true tale of lost gold on her farm.

Her young adult novel, I'll Be Home Soon (Ronsdale 2012), follows the quest of a homeless but far from hapless girl named Regan who searches for her mother amid the perils of the inner-city. It's not a bleak tale of life in the shadows; Regan discovers compassion and help from a wide variety of people.

Morven and the Horse Clan (Great Plains 2013) is a teen novel set in 3500 BC. Centered around strong-willed Morven, the tale follows her and her tribe in the steppes of Kazakhstan as they fight to endure a drought. Along the way, Morven's natural affinity for animals leads her to form a bond with a herd of wild horses and realize that they are more than just food. While Morven wishes to use her newfound knowledge simply to survive, an ambitious young man from another tribe desires to use it for conquest.

In her teen novel, Sand (Ronsdale 2016), fifteen-year-old Willy Cameron is paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident. Demoralized, she takes up therapeutic horse riding and regains the use of her legs, developing a bond with a spirited rescue horse named Sand. Trouble arises when she takes Sand from the stable, against the order of the stable owner, to search for a missing friend.

 

Life in Boswell on a century-old farm


November 10th, 2018




Luanne Armstrong's memoir of an enduring friendship, both joyful and stricken.




A Bright and Steady Flame: The Story of an Enduring Friendship

by Luanne Armstrong

Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Books, 2018

$22.95 / 9781987915822

Reviewed by Lee Reid

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I first came across the Buddhist term Kalyana-mitra in the 1980s when, as a struggling single parent, I was desperate for creative stimulation. Kalyana-mitra is similar to the Celtic term Anam Cara, which means a "friend of the soul": the muse who confronts your own blindness and holds you accountable to your highest and most rigorous moral truth.

This is a fierce friend whose honesty and compassion forge a rare intimacy through suffering. For writers, their trusted and tough editor may well be the Kalyana-mitra who motivates their best work. For you, this new autobiographical book by well-known author Luanne Armstrong will have a Kalyana-mitra effect, so reader be forewarned!

In A Bright and Steady Flame, we meet Luanne, now aged 69, and her friend of over forty years, Sam. Like many Kootenay seniors, they live alone on large rural properties. Reflecting on their lives, loves, and aging, they realise that "Old age is about being broken" but, despite the challenges this presents, the two friends agree, "We are both joyful and stricken." As they review the diminishments and strengths that come with aging, Luanne comments, "It is an odd place, far beyond lonely." Since their twenties, both women have shared the hopes, breakage and renewal of their lives, with a friendship and love that has deepened and grown.

Their friendship infuses Luanne's new book with a warm glow. They are not resigned or meek about growing old. "The only reasonable reaction to the changes old age demands is sullen fury," Luanne says, setting a tone of obstinate and inspiring courage that weaves throughout the book. "We have never been old and in grief before, and we don?t know what to do with it."

Who is Luanne Armstrong? A Bright and Steady Flame tells the autobiographical story of a singular mother, grandmother, author, feminist, and environmental activist whose life periodically burns deeply with physical and emotional pain. She lives in rural Boswell, near Creston, and is the third generation of Armstrongs on a near century-old farm. She is held in the love and support of the surrounding community, which consists of an intriguing cultural mix of farmers, artists, intellectuals and writers, tradesmen, low income and well-off seniors, and many variations of government employees. Luanne is a farmer. Sam operates a woodlot. Like many at Boswell, they are environmental activists. Luanne is also a respected and published writer, whose commitment to her creativity is, in itself, a revelation about risk-taking and courage.

Both seniors have earned their joy. Having struggled through their twenties as single parent "trailer trash welfare mothers," having both grieved the untimely death of Sam's much loved husband Ralph (who was also Luanne's friend); having, in Luanne's case, suffered hospitalizations when she thought she would die or never write again, growing old is a poignant time. A time of sadness and blessings. They are proud to own their homes, they celebrate grown children and grandchildren, and they both continue to live independently and grow food on their land. Maintaining the properties they love is a considerable feat for many rural and urban seniors. It gets more difficult with aging, and it is more challenging for Sam and Luanne.

With each other's encouragement, the two friends have achieved remarkable careers. Luanne, with a Ph.D. in creative writing, taught for UBC, and she continues to mentor and provide editing for writers. Sam has achieved her dream of working as a dental hygienist. Throughout A Bright and Steady Flame, their efforts to become economically self-sufficient are a struggle that many rural women and seniors can certainly relate to.

Now, at the apogee of a lifetime of stewarding each other's children, work, souls, and the environment, they accept that, when they die, quite possibly their cherished properties will be subdivided or developed. They hope that their land will provide future financial benefits for their grandchildren, but they also face the sad prospect that they will not be alive to appreciate those benefits. Assessing what to hang on to, what to grieve, and what to let go of is a tough reality shared by many seniors who, in reading the book, will realize that they are not alone with their fears for the future. The two friends review each other's scars and achievements with gratitude for the vulnerability and strength that sustains their friendship. Standing at the shaky threshold of global crises and personal mortality, Luanne comments, "I have peace and silence, and I do not know the future."



Armstrong at Purple Mountain Festival, 2017




Luanne's autobiography unfolds slowly with details of her rough childhood in a poor family, eking a living on their family farm at Boswell. This smart, canny child felt she had no social skills, but she knew she wanted to write. This was a child who defied limitations. She tells us that she lived as though "living wild was better than dying in a cage." There was "No trap I couldn?t break out of," she recalls. She and Sam would hold each other to a commitment to independence and growth throughout their lives.

As her story evolves, we grasp that although life deals her and Sam formidable challenges, nothing would crush Luanne's commitment to writing and to friendship. Despite abusive relationships and painkiller addiction, Luanne kept writing. She raised four children with almost no money while pursuing advanced university education.

With characteristic chutzpah, during the 70s and 80s when rural women lacked both work and strong voice, Luanne took on the job of newspaper editor in Creston. There and in Nelson she carried forward the "Women and Words" literary conference that was initiated in Vancouver in 1983, thus encouraging rural women, writers in particular, to reach for their creative expression.

As we read about Luanne's years of intense chronic pain and depression, particularly throughout her mid-sixties, we are pierced with a question that Luanne asks throughout the book. Why is she still alive?

Luanne acknowledges that there were times when death seemed preferable to living in chronic pain. She spent many days alone, exhausted, lying down to avert pain and panic from a formidable combination of head injury, heart condition, and rheumatoid arthritis.



Armstrong and Caraigh




The lifelines that kept her creative and alive infuse us, her readers, with hope for our own aging. One lifeline was her horse Caraigh ("rock" in Gaelic) and the Therapeutic Riding Centre in Creston. They reconnected her to life and to herself. Helping her to heal from depression were friendships with Sam, her family and grandsons, and her multitalented community. So too was returning to the quiet sanctuaries on her family land where she could restore herself from the sheer effort of being alive. To this day, she walks the farm with her beloved dog and cat, and rides Caraigh along familiar forest trails.

I often find that, with creative people, the roots of entrepreneurial survival began young, often with youthful rebellion against the status quo. In Luanne's case, rebellion does not stop with old age. She describes aging as "darkly luminous." "It's a new world, you must think about death and pain but no one wants to talk about it or think about it with you." With this, we understand that Luanne the writer will, without fail, speak the unspoken. And the connection with Sam is a friendship that hides no secrets.

Both women have supported each other as lifelong environmentalists and feminists. Together, they wrestle through decades of grief and anger at the erosion of the natural world from climate change and from political or corporate greed. Luanne also describes the erosion of our collective social value because of pain or disability, or from the invisibility that accompanies discounting attitudes towards women and the elderly. A Bright and Steady Flame brings a voice to those too vulnerable to speak or be heard, and Luanne's story invites us into conversation with each other. We are compelled to talk openly about the frightening aspects of living, grief, change, and aging that many prefer to avoid.

Because A Bright and Steady Flame celebrates friendship and shared creative courage, you might be seduced to assume that it eventually melts into a heart-warming story about grandmothers and gratitude. A book to be savoured over many cups of tea. It does and it does not. Luanne and Sam are also the battle-scarred, "Apocalypse Generation," living, as Ian Brown aptly describes old age, at "The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning" (from Sixty, by Ian Brown. Random House, 2015).

In the 1970s, Luanne and Sam were caught between conflicting cultures. Sam and her husband represented urban refugees fleeing back to the land, and Luanne's family represented the established rural farm and labour culture. Despite or because of their differences, both women established a lifelong friendship. However, not everyone got along in the community. Luanne describes the cultural clashes with humour and honesty, but that was not the only apocalypse of those times: "We were the result of chemical experiments with DDT and radioactive iodine stemming from nuclear reactors." There were many other reasons to unite against danger to their community.



Luanne Armstrong in 2012. Photo courtesy Creston Valley Advance




Apocalyptic was the baby boomer generation who, in the 60s and 70s, electrified the continent with civil rights movements for social reform, peace, and a new environmental awareness. Together and separately, Luanne and Sam participated in protests for women?s rights and a toxin free environment; they protested infringing oil companies, and they protested abuse of the environment from pesticides. They objected to the Hanford complex of nine nuclear reactors across the border on the Columbia River that threatened the health of their community.

As part of a community of activists, they protected the integrity of Kootenay Lake and surrounding mountains and forests from pollution, logging, and invasive government development. Long before computers galvanized the world, Luanne's motif of creative entrepreneurship evolved at a time when rural women lacked the money, skills, or opportunities to forge lives autonomous from simply surviving, or from depending on men. As with many women seeking to take charge of their destinies, she and Sam were forced to leave their community to pursue education and opportunities in cities. In Vancouver, Sam trained in dental hygiene and Luanne discovered a vocation and identity at UBC.

Creative expression ignited for Luanne when, as a Ph.D. student in the creative writing program at UBC, she woke up to poetry. It was an epiphany. Poetry shows us how to make meaning from our own personal history. One passage (on p. 88) vibrates off the page when Luanne describes how every piece in a poem, every detail including punctuation, needs to be understood and valued in relation to every other part of the poem. The metaphor is apt for both writing and for old age, because both bring us to explore how all the parts of a story, or a poem, work together, and how we too can find unity and coherence in reviewing our regrets and our lives. Many parts of her autobiography read like exquisite poetry, especially her reflections on the comfort and peace she feels in nature. "I stood on our beautiful cliff face hill, looked out at the blue Selkirk Mountains, the golden stretch of grass and weeds, the shining blue sweep of Kootenay Lake to the north."

As we read, we feel as though we are standing with Luanne on the cliff face hill, sharing the pain, the beauty, and the mystery of growing old. With her, we too dig backwards to unearth parts of our original selves, and then move the pieces and punctuation forward into our memories and stories. In witnessing Luanne's life, our own creative expression brightens. We can offer that to each other. We can pass the torch. We can appreciate our friendships.



Luanne Armstrong




But A Bright and Steady Flame is not about resting in complacency. "The cure for any illness is to work," Luanne exhorts us, just when we are ready to bask in the comfort of friendship. She admits that old age has slowed her down; she is less driven. However, with old age, the comforts she could once rely on are no longer a given. Sleep, which brought nightly respite from days of pain, stopped working. To Sam and for us, her readers, she shares the learning: "Some things, like chronic pain and depression and anxiety do heal but slowly, over time. They have to be managed, walked through and cared for, every moment of every day."

The Apocalypse Generation expected to be annihilated in a nuclear war, but many, like Luanne and Sam, never lost hope that they could change the world for the better. "What we didn't envision was a future where we won so many small battles but lost the war anyway," Luanne says to Sam. Although the two women feel vulnerable with growing old, they still feel hope, and they still expect catastrophe. What endures is friendship. "The gift of true understanding is rare in this world, and friends provide that. Talking to each other is our drug, our exercise, our entertainment, our support. After, we feel better about ourselves and each other."

This book may well change your worldview about aging. It will certainly encourage you to live as creatively as you can, particularly as you grow older. It is a book about navigating personal annihilation, about being ground into ashes and almost disappearing from life, only to return to the world with a poetic and riveting story that will light a fire in readers' hearts.

If you have put a creative call on hold for "later," A Bright and Steady Flame will motivate you to get behind yourself and trust. Trust that life will respond, as long as you walk to the edge of that cliff with your fierce friend and reach out to the unknown.

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Lee Reid




Lee Reid, M. Ed, is a clinical counsellor in Nelson. In 2010, she retired from a career with Mental Health Services in order to enjoy growing old as a writer. She facilitates groups with seniors on creative aging and now, at age 72, she is an activist for intergenerational education. Lee recently completed a project that brought teens and seniors from ages 15 to 92 together at L.V. Rogers Secondary School in Nelson. Their extraordinarily honest and revealing conversations about purpose, aging, and relationships feature in her third book, to be launched in November 2018. Her three books are From a Coastal Kitchen (Hancock House, 1980); Growing Home: The Legacy of Kootenay Elders (Growing Home Elders Press, 2016) www.growinghomestories.com reviewed by Duff Sutherland in The Ormsby Review #369 (September 8, 2018); and Growing Together: Conversations with Seniors and Youth (Nelson CARES Society Press, 2018): www.kootenayseniors.ca

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DATE OF BIRTH: June 15, 1949

PLACE OF BIRTH: Creston B.C.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Blue Valley: An Ecological Memoir

BOOKS:

When We Are Broken, The Lake Elegy (Self-published 2020) $30 9780987838414. Distributed through Maa Press.
A Bright and Steady Flame, The Story of an Enduring Friendship (Caitlin Press 2018)
Sand (Ronsdale 2016) $11.95 978-1-55380-473-4
Morven and the Horse Clan (Great Plains Teen Fiction, 2013) $14.95 978-1-926531-74-8
The Light Through the Trees: Reflections on Farming (Caitlin, 2012) $24.95 978-1-894759-95-3
I'll Be Home Soon (Ronsdale, 2012) $11.95 978-1-55380-180-1
Pete's Gold (Ronsdale, 2008)
Blue Valley: An Ecological Memoir (Maa Press, 2008) $23 978-0-9685302-4-5
Breathing the Mountain, Leaf Books, 2003 (poetry)
The Bone House, New Star Books, 2002 (novel)
Into the Sun, Hodgepog Books, 2002. Illustrated by Robin LeDrew. (children's story)
Jeannie and the Gentle Giants, Ronsdale 2001 (young adult novel)
Maggie and Shine, HodgePog Books, (young adult novel)
The Colour of Water, Caitlin Press, 1998 (novel)
Arly and Spike, Hodgepog Books, 1997 (children's novel). Illustrated by Chao Yu.
The Woman in the Garden, Peachtree Press, 1996 (poetry chapbook)
Bordering, Gynergy Books, 1996 (novel)
Annie, Polestar, 1995 (juvenile novel)
Castle Mountain, Polestar, 1981 (poetry)

[BCBW 2018] "Kidlit" "Women"