Lesley Choyce and Nova Scotia: Shaped by the Sea
The original edition of Lesley Choyce's Nova Scotia: Shaped by the Sea was published to acclaim in 1996. In a brand new edition, Choyce updates the story, exploring a new politics, economy and global climate. Choyce graciously answered our questions about new editions:
Atlantic Books: This book was first released nearly 25 years ago. The history hasn't changed (other than we've had 25 more years of it), but has your perspective on it? What's different with this edition?
Lesley Choyce: Well, I’m a bit older and when I moved to Nova Scotia in 1978 I was wide-eyed and gaga in love with the place. That part hasn’t changed but my perspective has somewhat. I can see how our current “history” is very much a continuation of events in the past. But, more than ever, we have sadly been absorbed into the larger world and there’s no denying it. 2020 proved that in a big way.
I still see Nova Scotia as a sane and wonderful safe haven in a crazy, dangerous world, but clearly the dangers have found us this past year. But that was also true of both World Wars in the 20th century and in global political turmoil of previous times as well.
Without getting too misty eyed about it, I still do believe there is a unique spirit here that is very much alive and I see it most in the creative people I deal with every day – the writers especially. I also still feel it, see it and smell it in the small coastal communities of our province. We still have trees, fresh and salt waters, blue skies (sometimes) and a growing (not diminishing) passion for this piece of rock once scraped clean by the glaciers.
I hope my version of our history leading up to and including 2020 endorses that in a big way while reminding readers about how many bad decisions down through history. They have come and gone but left us strong enough to celebrate and protect each other and the best things about the province where we live.
ABT: As a writer you're prolific and diverse, never one to be pigeonholed. What made you want to take on historical writing?
LT: I never trusted history. Growing up, it seemed like the stories I was told in grade school and high school were fabricated fairy tales. And most of them were. I was just lucky enough to be asked by Penguin a quarter of a century back to have a go at telling the story of Nova Scotia as I interpreted it. I was not a historian and still can’t claim to be. I was poorly equipped for the job except for a desire to root out as much of the truth as I could (with some help of researchers) and to put it forward as a unified narrative.
ABT: It is the personal elements of this book that, I think, make it so enduring. Can you tell us briefly about your own relationship with Nova Scotia's history and culture?
LT: It was originally my connection to the sea as a surfer, strangely enough, that drew me here and made me curious about most every aspect of the province. Out of that grew a love for the place, the people, the culture but not a love for the history.
Delving into the past, I had to confront so many horror stories, scoundrels, wars, injustices and cruelty that it fully tarnished my newfound utopia. But I believe I was a better person for it.
The new edition begins with a quote from my old friend, Farley Mowat: “It is in our nature to travel into the past, hoping thereby to illuminate the darkness that bedevils the present.” So, I guess for me, that meant that I was properly forced to continue my love affair with Nova Scotia, warts and all.
ABT: You're also a publisher so if you could put on your book selling hat a moment: why does this book make a good Christmas present?
LT: It shines a window into the past and highlights the grand moments, the personalities and the events that are usually considered “history,” but it also pokes a flashlight into many dark corners that were once glossed over but have now come back into our consciousness.
The book is the result of a storyteller expressing his version of centuries of human lives intersecting in one small corner of the world. It is our story as best as I can tell it. And I feel honored to have my shot at the job through four editions, knowing that many more will attempt the tale down into the future.
If I did my job, the reader will still be entertained. The 360 pages are jam-packed with details that I hope make history come alive. But, beyond that, the history of Nova Scotia is a story so gripping that the fiction writer in me could never come up with something this captivating.