Prize-winning authors talk feminism and happiness through historical characters

On April 14, BC Book Prize finalists Jordan Stratford and Alix Hawley presented their nominated works at Vanderhoof schools.

Jordan Stratford reads an excerpt from his new mystery series to the Grade 5/6 class in Sinkut View Elementary on April 14.

Jordan Stratford reads an excerpt from his new mystery series to the Grade 5/6 class in Sinkut View Elementary on April 14.

Spotlighting lesser known historical heroes, visiting authors discuss feminism and happiness with Vanderhoof students this spring.

On April 14, BC Book Prize finalists Jordan Stratford and Alix Hawley presented their nominated works at Sinkut View Elementary and Nechako Valley Secondary respectively.

With his new mystery series The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, which features 19th-century tween girls Mary Godwin and Ada Lovelace solving mysteries with their knowledge in science and math, Stratford looks to make the idea of feminism accessible to the younger population, he explained.

“Feminism is simply the acknowledgement that we are all human, we can all learn things, that existence and learning has value, and applying that learning has value regardless of gender,” Stratford said. “It’s a very transformative and provocative word, and I give that to kids to give them power.”

The series is named after 18th-century political philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and argued that the moral and intellectual value of a woman was equal to that of a man.

In real life, Mary Godwin, later marrying English author Percy Bysshe Shelley, eventually wrote the novel Frankenstein, and Ada Lovelace became one of the world’s earliest computer programmer.

“These are young women who changed the world as young women,” Stratford said. “They didn’t wait to get a PhD, they didn’t wait to grow up or have kids.

“In the Regency Era where their lives as women were extremely circumscribed, they live in a very small box and they manage to detonate that box, through their intellect and education, through the power of their ideas.”

It’s also about encouraging women in STEM careers — science, technology, engineering, and math, Stratford added.

“When we look at kids in North America and we ask them at six to nine years old, we have a pretty good gender balance who want to be scientists and veterinarians,” he said. “By the time you get to 14, they become boys who want to be veterinarians and girls who want to be veterinarian assistants, or boys who want to be pilots and girls who want to be flight attendants.

“So we are losing women’s interest in STEM at this really critical age, and by talking about feminism with boys and girls, we can shore up the number of resources and educated people that we’ll have at the end of this process.

“That’s my great feminist conspiracy all laid out.”

Ultimately, it’s about keeping curiosity and creativity alive, Stratford said.

“Don’t ask for permission, just go be awesome, ask questions, and invent something,” he said. “Ask for help, but there’s no need to wait or delay…everything is science, everything is creativity.”


Hawley: the pursuit of happiness

On April 30, Hawley’s All True Not a Lie in It was awarded the Ethel Wilson Fiction Price for the best work of fiction this year in B.C.

Set during the American Revolutionary War and featured pioneer Daniel Boone, Hawley’s first book of historical fiction shows readers that the human condition remains universal through time.

“In 250 years, people are still looking for happiness, trying to find the world that they want,” Hawley said. “It doesn’t always work the way you think they will.”

First time visiting north central B.C. as well as engaging with schools, Hawley shared tips on writing fiction with students, such as messing up a memory, changing the point of view, dirtying up a pretty detail in a story, and asking the characters a thought-provoking question.

“It was cool to share my book to students I might not otherwise meet,” she said. “I get them to look at that one portrait that remains of Daniel Boone (painted from life by Chester Harding) and get them to say what that person might have been like…one student said he looks like a person who doesn’t run away.

“I thought that was fascinating because he did run away from things a lot, but he never ran away from his key goal of trying to make a paradise for his family.”

The idea for the book came from a recent memory recall, Hawley explained.

“I remember looking at a picture in a National Geographic magazine when I was 10 years old, and it suddenly came back to me, and it turned out the picture was Daniel Boone,” she said. “I haven’t thought about it in 20 years, but then I looked back into his history and it was so fascinating.”


Inspiring students to write more?


For English teacher Richard Boles of Nechako Valley Secondary, the author visit was an opportunity for students to meet those who make a living writing books.

“It seemed like a foreign concept,” Boles said. “We had students with talent, but they didn’t have the confidence to pursue it.”

Grade 11 student Ian Douglas finds the book interesting, though he normally reads fantasy fiction — has read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit six to seven times, he said. “I think it’s really cool they can have a story in history,” Douglas said. “They can change the history in it, so it’s not just the facts.”