20 questions with Trudy Morgan-Cole

Josh Pennell Josh.pennell@thetelegram.com
Published on February 17, 2014
Trudy Morgan-Cole, with 20 novels to her credit, is working on a new one, with a working title “The Sudden Sun,” due for release this fall. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Trudy Morgan-Cole isn’t afraid to take a time consuming and inherently difficult task — writing — and make it that much more challenging. The author of more than 20 novels now focuses on historical fiction.

“It takes a huge amount of research,” she says.

Especially for someone like Morgan-Cole, who really likes to get the smallest details right.

If she writes about a street passing through a certain neighbourhood in one of her books, she wants to be sure that street passed that area during the time in which her book is set. Setting a historical novel in this province like her soon-to-be published book means having a lot of experienced eyes verifying the details, she says.

“If you get things wrong, there are people who will be bound to tell you,” she says.

It’s the circumstances she wants to be historically correct more so than the people.

“I like to focus on real events but usually focusing on fictional characters.”

Her last novel, “That Forgetful Shore,” was inspired by postcards found in a house in outport Newfoundland. It won the Newfoundland History and Heritage Award. Her cousin, Jennifer Morgan, is a visual artist who is about to open an exhibit of prints based on the same postcards. On March 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Red Ochre Gallery in St. John’s, the cousins will talk about using the postcards as inspiration for their art.

Morgan-Cole has twice been shortlisted for the Best Atlantic-Published Book in the annual Atlantic Book Awards.

Her latest novel, which has the working title “The Sudden Sun,” is set during the struggle for women’s vote in Newfoundland. She expects to have it out the fall.

What is your full name?

My full name is Trudy Joanne Morgan-Cole.

Where and when were you born?

I was born in St. John’s in 1965.

What is your profession?

I’m a teacher and a writer. I teach full-time at the (Brother) T.I. Murphy Centre. I teach in adult education.

You hold several degrees. Do they all combine in the type of writing you do?

I have degrees in English and in history, which turned out to be really useful for writing historical fiction, although I have to admit I probably learned more history from reading other people’s historical fiction than I ever actually learned in university. And my other degree is in counselling psychology which I don’t really use much except that it helped me get the job I have now. But when I was doing that degree in counselling, I got really interested in narrative therapy. I’m interested in the whole idea how our lives are essentially the stories we tell about ourselves.

Which person, living or dead, would you like to spend the day with?

I think the problem with this question is you immediately think of hugely famous people who are your heroes like Gandhi or Jesus. I think Gandhi would actually be a pain to spend the day with. Jesus probably not so much a pain. Really, by the time you get to my time in life you tend to think of the people in your own life that you’ve lost that you’d like to spend the day with. I would give anything to spend the day with my mom, who passed away last year, or one of my best friends who died three years ago.

What is your biggest fear?

In terms of serious fears, because I have kids, like most parents I would say my biggest fear is anything bad happening to one of my kids. Day-to-day life, this is probably my biggest fear right now. I really hate talking to people on the phone, but this is going quite well so I passed a lot of the anxiety now (laughing).

What has been the scariest moment of your life?

Hands down, when my son was born he didn’t breathe for the first, I think it was, 30 seconds, but it felt much longer than that to me. That was definitely the most terrifying moment in my life. They got him up and running very quickly and he was perfectly normal. I have two (children). A boy who is 16 and a daughter who is almost 14.

If you were an animal, which would you be?

I’ve always felt a kinship with the giraffe but that’s mainly because of the long legs and long neck, but they’re also known for being really silent which I would not (be). … I’d make a terrible giraffe.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

I have many. Like most people, I’d say my parents, and there are a lot of writers who’ve influenced me, but honestly, on a day-to-day basis, my biggest inspiration is my students. I teach young adults who are generally very, very bright and capable but who have experienced a lot of obstacles in life towards getting their education. Knowing what some of them have been through and are still going through, just seeing them get up and come to school every day and try to make a better future for themselves — that’s incredibly inspiring to me.

When and why did you start writing?

I cannot remember ever not writing. I learned to read really early so I think I learned to write really early, as well. I can always remember telling stories to myself in my head so I can only assume that as soon I was able to write I started writing to try and get the voices in my head down on paper.

How do you know if you’ve got a novel-worthy idea?

I have a lot of ideas. To me it’s the things that keep coming back time after time. And sometimes that can be over a really long period from the time I first have an idea before I ever write about it. My last novel — “That Forgetful Shore” — was inspired by a collection of postcards that were found in an old house around the bay. It was probably 25 years at least from the time I first saw those postcards till I actually started writing the novel.

What’s your favourite food?

My dad’s lasagna.

What has been your biggest disappointment?

I’m very lucky in that I have not had a lot of big disappointments in life. To be honest, and I bet if most writers were honest they’d answer this question this way, I have sometimes been disappointed at not having more success or reaching a bigger audience with some of my books.

If you had a life motto, what would it be?

I don’t know. I have not come up with anything worthy of being put on a T-shirt or bumper sticker. My philosophy of life cannot be boiled down to a motto. I’ve had ones that I’ve considered and discarded over the years.

Do you learn more from reading a good book or a bad book?

Definitely a good book. I read with a critical eye, whether I think it’s a good or a bad book, and try to learn something from it. But I definitely learn more from the good ones.

What kind of setting

do you like to write in?

I really like writing in coffee shops. And I have a specific spot in a specific coffee shop that I like to write in. And it’s because at home and at work — where I obviously have access to a computer both places — I also play a lot of other roles, whereas if I go with my laptop to a coffee shop, I’m not anything there but a writer and nobody has any other expectations of me.

What is your favourite place in the world?

St. John’s is my very favourite place in the world. I love travelling. I’ve visited so many great places and I hope to visit a lot more, but every time I come back from anywhere I always feel like I’m coming back to the best place on Earth. I’m a hardcore townie, and for me, St. John’s is the centre of the universe.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a loving wife and mother. A good friend. A dedicated teacher. But I guess I’d like to be remembered as a writer whose stories made an impact on people. At least on some people.

What is something you still want to do or accomplish?

Oh, so many things. I have a lot more books I want to write and I hope to get them into the hands of a lot of readers who will enjoy them. I love the work I do teaching, but I’d like, maybe in retirement, to do some things even more directly involved in community work. And on a completely unrelated note, I really want to go to India.

What has been your most exciting experience to date?

Excitement isn’t something that I seek out or value really highly. I value contentment a lot more than excitement. And I’m very happy to say that I don’t live an exciting life because most exciting lives seem to me to have an awful lot of trouble in them.