Novelist Humphreys surprises audience

On Oct. 9, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series presented poet and novelist Helen Humphreys (right). Series organizer John Unrau of the English Department, Atkinson School of Arts & Letters, sent the following report.

The second event in this season’s Canadian Writers in Person series featured Helen Humphreys, reading from her bestselling novel The Lost Garden. Set in rural England, but featuring an attractive Canadian soldier/love object, the story tells of a group of “land girls” who spent the years of the Second World War growing food crops for the war effort.

On the abandoned estate chosen for this venture, the protagonist discovers an intricate but hidden garden and becomes obsessed with reclaiming the garden itself along with the stories she correctly surmises are hidden there.

Humphreys’ reading was followed by a lively question period, during which it emerged (to the great surprise of the class, its course director and members of the public who were drawn to the book because of its central gardening metaphor) that the author knew almost nothing about gardening before writing the novel, and created the convincing gardening narrative entirely on the basis of her research in books and questioning of friends.

A book-signing session followed the question period, during which the author spoke individually with many members of the audience.

The Canadian Writers in Person series of public readings at York, which is free and open to the public, is also part of an introductory course on Canadian literature.