American journalist Barbara Walsh told her father she wanted to write a book like “The Perfect Storm” and quickly learned she didn’t have to look far for a similar story — there was a devastating storm in her family’s past.
It was a 1935 hurricane took the lives of more than 40 schooner fishermen from this province. Among them were members of the Walsh family from Marystown.
“It was a great story. I knew I had to tell it. It was fate,” says the New Hampshire native who now lives in Maine.
But her dad, Ronald Walsh, also alluded to another storm, and a very different one at that. It concerned his father, Ambrose, a man who abandoned his family twice, a man who lost brothers in the 1935 tempest, and a man her father couldn’t forgive.
Walsh tried pushing away the story about her grandfather, who immigrated from Marystown to the United States. “I just wanted to tell the story of the storm because it was much easier. But my grandfather’s story kept pushing back in, so I had to tell it, too.”
Nine years later, Walsh has fused both tales together in the non-fiction book, “August Gale: A Father and Daughter’s Journey into the Storm.”
Walsh was in St. John’s and Marystown over the weekend giving talks on it.
The author told The Telegram Friday she has written many challenging stories during her three decades as a journalist — including a Pulitzer Prize-winning series about a convict and Massachusetts’ furlough program — but the book is the hardest thing she’s ever done.
Part of the challenge was tackling the anxiety over what relatives, including her father, would think of how she handled the subject matter.
“It’s been hard because the story he never talked about is out for the world to read.”
Another challenge was piecing the tales together through extensive research.
Walsh conducted more than 200 interviews to collect memories of the storm and of her grandfather.
She also enlisted experts, such as Chris Fogarty from the Canadian Hurricane Centre and two Newfoundland fishermen, to ensure details were accurate.
“I obsessed 24/7,” she says.
Her fact-finding took her to Marystown. There, she and her dad connected with relatives they didn’t know. That was challenging, she said, especially for her father.
“On the plane, as we’re nearing, you could see the island, I said, ‘Did you ever think you’d be coming to Newfoundland?’ And he said ‘not in a million years,”’ Walsh recalls.
“He was worried. What are these people in Marystown that knew his dad going to say to him? And they said he’s a great man. He said ‘well he abandoned us twice.”’
But things worked out well in Marystown for the author and her dad. Walsh says they were immediately treated her like family. She ended up making two more trips there to conduct research.
“It’s brought us closer in giving us a family bond.”
The early response to “August Gale” has been encouraging, with positive reviews such as the one in the Portland Press Herald out of Maine.
“(Walsh’s) thoroughly researched book of personal non-fiction is so intriguingly readable that it’s likely to be a chart-topper in this state and elsewhere,” it reads.
And, as of noon Sunday, the book was No. 7 on Amazon.com’s list of best sellers in Canadian historical biographies.
The author is hopeful. She said she dreams of it becoming a best-seller and a movie. She said she thinks people will enjoy it because it’s a good story. She said she also believes many will be able to relate, because families are complicated.
Walsh, who also released the children’s book “Sammy in the Sky” last summer, says “August Gale” taught her she can write a book.
She said she plans on doing more non-fiction. She said there are so many great stories to be told.
“I don’t think I’m going to write about family for a while,” she notes, “because that made this book so complicated, along with the two stories.”
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