By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
WEST COAST – Author Ida Linehan Young grew up in North Harbour, St. Mary’s Bay, and has turned her love of Newfoundland’s rich history into a thriving career.
Linehan Young has a main focus on historical fiction, but she has written non-fiction novels depicting a harrowing tragedy her family endured in 1980. The author, who is published by Flanker Press, said she always used to write poems and short stories in high school, so it was a natural progression to write.
“I’ve always been inclined to write, but between 2010 and 2012, somewhere around there, my daughter said to me – about our family tragedy – she said ‘Mom, there’s five gravestones and if you died tomorrow we wouldn’t know anything about your brothers and sisters,’ and that played on my mind a little bit,” said Linehan Young. “And then I saw a Land and Sea episode where there were some people from the Burin Peninsula who were in a fire, and I thought maybe I can write a story about how our community rebounded from the fire.”
The fire happened on a night in June 1980, when her family’s home went up in flames, which resulted in the loss of five of Linehan Young’s siblings. The tragedy not only shook the foundation of her family, but left the entire community reeling.
“I started to do some research, talking to people and things like that, and nobody could talk to me, and I was like ‘Why would I be thinking about somebody else when my own community hasn’t recovered.’ So the story ended up becoming my own, and in 2014 I released the book called ‘No Turning Back: Surviving the Linehan Family Tragedy’. So that was my first book.”
Linehan Young said her work has always gone through a publisher, and her journey to writing her first book started with a friend of hers who had actually gotten published himself a few years prior for his novel about the Newfoundland Railway.
“I asked him if he had a contact and ‘what did you do?’ and the editor from Creative Publishing at the time happened to be a girl that I knew. She had gone to school in Mount Carmel, which is where I went to school. So I contacted her and asked if they’d be interested, and they were interested immediately.”
Her first novel was completed and published within a year.
“I just sat down and started and before too long I had a book. The first one was about a year,” said Linehan Young, “which is pretty good in book terms. I knew the subject matter because it was about me. I didn’t have to research anything really. Most if it was already there. I did pick up a few things from the archives because we had some trial stuff I wanted to get. So I went and got that and I got my medical records to make sure that I was correct in the things I wrote, and it just confirmed for me the things I already knew. Most of it was in my head because it was my story.”
Linehan Young said that after her first novel, she moved more into historical fiction because she really loved her grandmother’s time.
“My father was born in 1917 and my grandmother was born at the turn of the century, and I often thought about how their lives were and how they got to our time, all the changes they would’ve seen. That era intrigued me, so I started. I put a stake in the sand and I said, ‘okay, 1900, 10 years either way of that,’ and I went backwards into the 1800’s,” said Lineham Young. “I did some research. There are things like the fire of 1892 in St. John’s. There’s a lot of things in there that I wove in that are real. One of them was the Spanish Flu, and before that it was an epidemic of diphtheria that had affected our community.”
Linehan Young said that when writing historical fiction, she tries to bring some of the little things that happened to people of that era back to life. With the release of her most recent novel, ‘If I Cry I’ll Fill the Ocean: The Catherine Linehan Story,’ the author’s book count has reached six.
The Catherine Linehan Story is her mother’s story and Linehan Young said it was a story that needed to be told.
“I wanted her story out there because, all her life, she lived with me for five years and said to me often, ‘if somebody had acknowledged that I lost five children, I wonder what way my life would’ve went,’ because at the time it was 1980, and you didn’t talk about things. You just moved on and nobody had really moved on. When my book came out in 2014 about the fire, we were a tiny bit more open about it.”
Linehan Young said it is a tribute to her mother, all her struggles, and the things she went through before, during, and after the fire.
“I would say to her ‘Mom, let me write your story,’ and she would say no, and I’d ask the following year, but last year she said all right. We sat down, had an interview, I got all the information, I kept checking with her, and I wrote it.”
Linehan Young said this book had special meaning, even though she is close to every book she writes.
“At the end of the book, everybody wrote a little story or had a little thing to say about how she (her mother) affected them. Grandchildren, children, daughter and son in laws, and so far, I am getting rave reviews. People who have read it are saying it really affected them. Mom never cried about the fire because, like she used to say, if she did, she would fill the ocean. So, somebody commented and said, ‘maybe we will all have a hand in filling it for her.’”
Currently the novel is on The Toronto Star’s bestseller list, and in the May 7 edition of the Globe and Mail it was listed as number eight on the Canadian non-fiction bestsellers list.
Linehan Young said she has a couple more book ideas still on the back burner and plans to continue writing historical fiction in the future.