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Malcolm Mills on the youth appeal of his YA novel Beyond the Shickshock Mountains

Malcolm Mills discusses how war, conflict and change pique the interest of young adult readers.

Thank you to Asteroid Publishing for submitting this interview with Malcolm Mills, author of the young adult novel Beyond the Shickshock Mountains: A Canadian Talon Saga.


Asteroid Publishing: Told in three parts, your historical novel occurs in the late 18th century, during the Seven Years War between France and Britain and focuses mainly on the lands that would become Canada. Why do you think this period will be of interest to young adults?

Malcolm Mills: War years produce change and young adults have traditionally been interested in change. Conflict and the resolution of conflict pique natural curiosity. Young and old are also interested in their great, great grandfather having been a hero or a mountain man. Curiosity is inherent especially about family. Just ask

The politics of Canada is unique and multilingual. The melding of four major social structures—for let’s not forget the aboriginal population and the American Loyalists—gave birth to what our youth are today, a harmonious blend of democratic buds blossoming from the roots of a well grounded, multi-grafted rootstock. Young Canadians who have had little to date to inspire them into examining their vivid and vibrant past may be inspired to do so now and where better to begin then the era their “great greats” built for them?

We rarely boast of our achievements in this great land yet we have more than enough fodder for our Canadian accomplishment canon, to do so. All I wish to inspire is pride in a people and a country who struggled against tremendous adversities with little external support in order to achieve the status of the respected and successful nation we are today.

Canada is their inheritance and who isn’t interested in an inheritance?

AP: What do you think your readers will like more in your heroes: adventurous spirit, machismo, or quest for justice?

MM: I believe it could quite easily split three ways. They will possibly cleave to all three. Canadians in general are intelligent and compassionate. Justice is important to them. They are also very human. Guys like a bit of being macho and incidentally many girl and women do too. The heroes in the story are just a little larger than life and that’s how we like them. Readers of all sorts (both guys and gals) also seem to enjoy a touch of romance in the mix. It’s all about being people, about struggle, success and feeling part of a greater good.

I hope I’ve achieved a fun read with subtle teachings weaved into the living tapestry which is essentially the fabric of Canada. Our moral character for instance is as real in fiction as in real life. Historically Canadians have been seen to be moral examples and remain well respected internationally. We live hard, we play hard but the Mounties always get their man. It’s a large part of being Canadian.

AP: Two reviews of your book dispute who the protagonists of your novel are. The ForeWord Review writes that “the book features the stories of Jean George Talon, Shannagan Talon, and Trevallion Talon, three fictionalized descendants of the first Intendant of New France.” However, the Canadian Review of Materials magazine says in its review that “It has nothing to do with Jean Talon, the Intendant of New France.” Who are your protagonists?

MM: The choice of the Talon name was deliberate, not to mislead but to draw attention to a master of political accomplishment, Intendant Jean Talon, a true to life political figure of New France as mentioned in the book Foreword.

The two viewpoints, although worded differently, appear not really to conflict as much as adopt a diverse expressive stance, it seems. Yes, the main protagonists are of the Talon surname but as the ForeWord reviewers noted, these characters were “fictional.”

And also true to the review, aside from having the same name as a living, breathing official who preceded them by decades, Jean George Talon, Shannagan Talon, and Trevallion Talon had nothing really to do with the Intendant of similar surname. Intendant Talon, you see never married. The reviewers probably knew that. Jean Talon died a bachelor in France in 1694. Did he have unheralded offspring? No one knows that and I’m not even speculating.

Keep in mind also that Shannagan Talon was a Talon only by adoption as indicated in the Masterless Men segment but details of that is in another story yet to come.

AP: You frequently traveled across North America, lived in Europe and China. You also were a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and done some teaching overseas. How your travels and experience in Armed Forces helped you in writing of your historical novels?

MM: In a word, yes. One of my mentors is Louis L’amour an American frontier writer. When I first read his biography I was amazed at the similarities to my own travels and exploits although he led me by a mile in most areas. I remain humbled by his natural ability to tell a story. He was also footloose in travel and diversified in trades. For myself—and I would guess the same of Mr. L’amour—seeds sown upon many lands tills the soil of a writers imagination. We often create best based upon what our own eyes have seen and where our own feet have taken us.

AP: What fascinates you in history of Canadian East?

MM: What fascinates me most in a word is the sheer accomplishment of our early settlers. Did you know that wooden sailing ships built in Eastern Canada once made us the fourth largest merchant sailing fleet in the world? The largest wooden sailing vessel in the world at the time was built in Maitland, Hants County Nova Scotia. It was the world’s first super cargo ship. People came from the US and elsewhere to view the launching of it.Eastern natives took scalps and eastern white men did the same. Squirms didn’t begin in the west, they began in the east. Tough eastern men traveled west to become tough western men.

The point is, eastern Canadians did what they did well and were recognized internationally for it even before there was Canada. The tide of exploration flowed westward but it began in the east.

AP: Have you gone to any wilderness trips in Eastern provinces to experience the sort of adventures, which was the daily reality of our first colonists?


MM: After researching another great Canadian hero of mine (Saint) Luc de la Corne, I once spent a frosty night on the beach on Cape Breton Island near where LaCorne claimed to have been shipwrecked in 1761. I wanted a firsthand experience of how a night on that cold northern shore might feel in October. For years I could show you the holes burned into my boots and sleeping bag from standing huddled too close to the fire to keep warm. (Which didn’t happen.) Yes, I attempt to recreate the conditions of my character as closely as possible so as to experience something at least of what they experienced. Just living in Fort Louisburg through a winter still baffles me though.

Actually until recently I often lit my fires out of doors with flint and steel and marvelled inwardly how early pioneers managed the task in wintery gales and sleet and rain storms. My respect for them grows on each occasion.

AP: Do you find any inspiration in the contemporary life of Eastern province for writing adventure historic novels?

MM: Indeed. I have some contemporary ideas for stories based upon historic adventures in Eastern Canada. There is one in particular which again stems from Newfoundland roots which I’d really like to bring into the 21st century. It involves the Beothuk Indian tribe but that’s all you get about it for now.

AP: How long have you been writing?

MM: I’ve been writing since I was about knee high to a short sheep. I would write weird and crazy poems and stories and share them at school and wherever I could gain an audience. I did newsletters in high school and that sort of thing. In junior high school my crazy material became well received enough that I began to place my material on the school bulletin board. Anyone remember “If you see the Hearse Go By?” Now that’s a claim to fame.

AP: Are you working on your next project right now? What is it? Is it for young adults?

MM: Yes, I have begun another project and yes and no regarding the young adult classification. My protagonist is a male in his mid twenties in a western setting. The second protagonist is a female about the same age. The conflict is high and I think it’s pretty amusing but so far that’s just my opinion.

Feedback from Beyond the Shickshock Mountains and also from my first novel High Hopes & High Tides has been fairly positive among all age groups who enjoy the genre. Most teens and adults seem to enjoy stories of people overcoming adversity and beating the odds.
Canadian history is all about success in the shadow of our bigger brothers and I’ve always found it to be a fascinating read.
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Born in British Columbia, Canada, Malcolm Mills has frequently traveled across North America, lived in Europe and China. He has worked in the Canadian oil fields moving rigs, operated bulldozers, tractor trailers, loaders, trained as a mechanic, worked in mines, operated Scooptrams and loaders and heavy equipment. In the Canadian military he drove buses, refueled military aircraft, operated SMP vehicles.

Today Malcolm lives in Nova Scotia with his wife Dolores where he continues to write of adventures in Canadian history.