First in the trilogy
7 Russell Hill Road
7 Russell Hill Road is the first book of the trilogy. It’s a multi-generational story of humble beginnings in France, a camp in Germany after World War 11, rural Jamaica, Vietnam, Sweden, USA and an old farm north of Toronto, Canada.
By 2007, through sheer circumstance, the individuals of this culturally and racially diverse Canadian family eventually find themselves living on a leafy street in the upscale neighborhood of Forest Hill Village, Toronto.
Nigel Royal, a Supreme Court justice who is hiding from life within the Canadian Witness Protection Program meets a single woman who has knocked around the world her whole life without attachments and is quite unable to form them. She takes to his expense account like a duck to water, enjoying the Elmwood Spa and the Fuzz Wax bar on a very regular basis.
Their on-again off-again relationship starts in the Aroma Espresso Bar on Spadina Avenue quite by accident. Nigel surprises her with a birthday trip to Paris, where the two star-crossed lovers stay at the Four Seasons George V Hotel. Paris took its toll on these two bumbling, nervous new lovers and we find Nigel back at home, single again, licking his wounds in the Aroma Espresso Bar where they met for the first time.
Their crippling trust issues force them to choose the wrong fork in the road, time and time again.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Q & A
7 Russell Hill Road
Q. What was the origin of the idea of placing your story of immigrants in an upscale neighborhood in the big city of Toronto?
A. I wanted to write about successes that our immigrants have, rather than their plights, so my story called for the characters to live in an upscale neighborhood. And I know this neighborhood. I live here. Every night as I complete my three km walk, I pass all the big, fancy houses, and imagine the trials and tribulations of the people that live in them. I know from my own life experience, that those same trials and tribulations are not unlike the rental-apartment dwellers on the other side of Bathurst Street. So why not give credit where it’s due? Over the years, our immigrants have built all of our neighborhoods, fancy ones and not. I wanted my characters living the good life. They deserve it.
Q. What is the nature of your fascination with Forest Hill Village?
A. When I was thirteen, I was living with my family, in a small town north of Toronto. My parents sent me to live with an older Jewish couple who lived on Rosemary Lane in Forest Hill. It was during this brief time that I fell in love with city life, and the people and the big houses that they lived in. It was my first experience living within a different culture. I learned how to eat Kosher, and I participated in the Friday night Shabbats, right along with the rest of their family.
It was a different world altogether from my small, rural community where everyone went to the same church and you found yourself at the age of nineteen, married to, or pregnant by a high school sweetheart.
Q. What sort of research did you do for this book?
A. My interests lie in experiencing diversity firsthand. Racial and cultural diversity is what makes a big city like Toronto tick. The Forest Hill Village community used to be mainly a Jewish enclave. When I went to public high school there, there were only two Christian students in my whole class.
Time changes. Neighborhoods change. That same high school now boasts a healthy mix of Asian, Jewish, and Black students. They’ve replaced the Hebrew classes with English as a Second Language and the cafeteria has just as many noodles as they do latkes.
When it came down to naming my characters, my research told me that my character’s name, Nigel Royal is typically Jamaican. Another character’s name, Martina Hansson, is typically Swedish.
As for the research that went into the sex scenes, I’m not going to tell you if I crafted them from research or from personal experience, as I learned early in life that ladies don’t kiss and tell.
Q. What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?
A. Once I developed the two central characters, Nigel and Denni, they seemed to take over my life. Every time I went into the Aroma Espresso Bar down on Spadina Avenue for my favorite cup of Joe, I would look for them. It was totally ridiculous, but I’m told that this happens to writers all the time. And, if this is my biggest challenge in crafting a book, so be it.
Q. Does the book have a central theme?
A. Not per se. The book is meant to be character-driven. But if you press me for an explanation further than that, you could say that the central theme is self-invention. The two central characters are misfits who meet through a fated encounter. Out of necessity, they cobble together their own new family structure, as both of their biological family units had already crashed and burned. Others join in along the way. It’s a story of people of different races and cultures bonding together to form family units in the big, diverse city of Toronto.
Q. Can you describe your process?
A. I’m like a dog with a bone. Can’t leave it alone. There were days when I didn’t get out of my pajamas.
Q. Did you structure the book on a timeline?
A. The structure was tricky, as it took me some time to organize the travel patterns of the character Denni, and the stay-at-home-at-all-costs character Nigel, who is definitely a homebody. The book has a three-year timeline, beginning in 2004 and ending in 2007.
Q. How many books are in this particular series.
A. This is a trilogy. The first book is 7 Russell Hill Road, the next is 49 Parkwood Avenue and the last book is The Irish Nanny. All three stories take place in Forest Hill Village, and the central characters carry on family tradition by still going to the Aroma Espresso Bar on a daily basis and the Four Seasons Hotel to celebrate their weddings.
Q. How did you know what locations to choose for your book?
A. I used locations that I know intimately. Throughout the first two books of the trilogy, an old farm north of Toronto is where one of the central characters goes when the going gets tough. When I was born, I lived with my parents and my great-grandfather on an old farm in a hamlet called Brown Hill. (All that’s left of the farm now is a twenty-acre patch of bush, but I still visit it regularly. Call me crazy – but it speaks to me somehow!)
Another farm in the first book, 7 Russell Hill Road, where the suicide takes place is located in Marlbank, Ontario. In the real world, I owned this farm back in the ’70s, and yes, indeed, the old farmhouse did burn down to the ground, just as it does in the book.
I lived for a time in France, so when the character lives in Nice, I know that same apartment where she lives.
When the characters are in Paris during their first sex-capade, I had them share a meal at my personal favorite restaurant in Paris, le Grand Colbert. Why not? Every chance a writer has to be authentic deserves a little nod of approval, doesn’t it?
When the central character Nigel gets shot, down at the river at the big ancestral chateau in France, I know that route down to that river. I’ve hiked it myself. My friends own a big old chateau in the south of France, so I couldn’t miss an opportunity for the character to take her man there to experience the magic of chateau life firsthand, even though it almost killed him in the process
Q. Did you base your characters on real people that you know?
A. In 7 Russell Hill Road, the central character, Denni is reading out her father’s favorite poem, The Need of Being Versed in Country Things by Robert Frost. This, indeed, is my own father I’m writing of, and that was his favorite poem. And he loved my farm just as much as I did at that time.
The great-grandfather’s spirit that the character speaks of throughout the book is based on my own great-grandfather, George Leitch, who was a farmer in Zephyr and Brown Hill.
The old couple, who are known as Harford and Bernice that live in London in the book, are based on my grandparents, Harford and Bernice Leitch. Although they never lived in London, and he never was a banker, he did smoke a pipe, and she did wait on him hand and foot.
The main character Nigel Royal, who emigrated to Canada in my story when he was nine years old is fictitious. I chose a popular Jamaican first and last name for this character to authenticate him. I chose the name Nigel, because I used to know a Nigel from Jamaica. I chose the name Royal, because I also used to know a Mr. Royal from Jamaica. My fictious character’s only similarity to both the very real Nigel from Jamaica and Mr. Royal from Jamaica is in name only, other than I wrote the character as being a very good kisser. (I based that part of the character on fact, not fiction.)
49 Parkwood Avenue is the second book of the trilogy of an immigrant family saga that live in Toronto. By 2008, the multi-generational members of this growing family still find themselves mired in the ups and downs of life in a complicated, diverse family structure.
The central character, Nigella Hansson, is a Swede, born in 1975 to a single, profoundly deaf Swedish woman who grew up in an orphanage. Armed with the experience of being brought up on welfare and many meals that came from the back door of restaurants at closing time, our protagonist earns a scholarship and graduates with a law degree.
She finds her birth father at the age of thirty and embarks on a new life with a five-year-old daughter in tow. She turns her back on her law degree and decides to grab all life has to offer on her own terms, come hell or high water.
49 Parkwood Avenue will be available for purchase in early Fall, 2021.
In the summer of 2007, Maureen O’Reilly, a nineteen-year-old who had lived in the small border town of Strabane, Northern Ireland her whole life, packed her suitcase.
After a couple of Skype interviews, she had been offered the position of nanny for a family that lived in Canada, the frozen hinterland. She wasted no time in accepting their offer.
After all, she knew there was no future for her at home. Strabane was nothing but a little, used-up and forgotten border town, where “the troubles” back in the ’60s had bombed the main drag out and graffitied the town beyond recognition. You either had to work in the bar, the daycare or in the mill, like her parents. And the cat was out of the bag around town as to her being bi-sexual. She was sick and tired of being in the closet, but as inexperienced as she was, she knew that this was no way to come out. She had finished her journalism degree early and had an acceptance letter in her hand from the University of Toronto.
As for the position of being a nanny to small children, she had no doubt that she would have them dancing to her tune within a week. Bring it on.
She snapped her suitcase shut and patted herself on the back. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
The Irish Nanny will be available for purchase in Spring, 2022.
7 Russell Hill Road
Dad and Great-Grandad George were the first men in my life to love me unconditionally. Their spirits ride shotgun as I barge through the thick and thin of it.
Over the years, my girlfriends and I have picked each other up, dusted each other off, and laughed and cried so many times that I can’t remember. What I do remember, however, now that the dust has settled somewhat in our lives, is my love, respect and admiration for each and every one of these remarkable women.
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