Campbell, Miji – Separation Anxiety: A Coming-of-Middle-Age Story
Veldhuis, Oriole A. Vane – For Elise: Unveiling the Forgotten Woman on the Criddle Homestead
Ziegler, Maggie – The Road to Keringet
I would have been content with the honour of a nomination to the longlist. I congratulate all the authors. In truth, I am delighted that For Elise is a finalist. My hope is that women’s role in the settlement era, but primarily that my great-grandmother is gaining recognition for her real contribution to the Criddle family. As I unraveled the tangled web of life on the their homestead I felt compelled to tell this ‘stranger than true’ story. I self-published because at my age I didn’t have the time to send out manuscripts to publishers and wait for letters of rejection, or acceptance with changes. And I realized early in my process that to write this story as I thought it needed to be written—with footnotes and letters, pictures and documents—it would not fit neatly into a genre, or into any publisher’s idea of a book they would produce. I wouldn’t compromise in order to have it published. Time was at an essence, my son urged me on. “Hurry up mother. Finish your book before all the people who want to read it are gone.” I was writing the book for our family, and although I did not finish it in time for my mother, who died at 104 years of age, several almost as old elders did read it before they departed this world.
Like the little red hen in the children’s story I said, “Ok then, I will do it myself.” And I have, but with a great deal of help from others along the way. Wendy Wilson and Leone Banks of Prairie Pathfinders helped with the original chapter and page design. Keep in mind, I dreamed of writing a book and had no idea of the process, or work involved. Yes, I had read countless books and admire good writing, but that is not the same as sitting down and creating one’s own from scratch. Where to begin the story and how to piece it together all had to be worked out. Writing to truth against the accepted story is not so simple. There were conversations about puzzling documents—the same letter in the hand writing of Percy and Elise. Or more confusing, a document date, April 17, found at the back of Karl Harrer’s will which had been settled and closed the previous December. That form provided a great deal of information. Since Percy couldn’t risk having Elise translate from the German, it revealed that he didn’t understand enough German to know it was only proof of receipt of the legal letter. He had that very day forced Elise to write to her family rejecting her claim. Her letter was filed with Karl’s will. The postal form therefore was redundant. Although there were other post officers nearby, who could sign for him he was afraid they would notice Elise Criddle’s name and signature and raise questions. He waited the six months until Mrs. Bellhouse obtained legal permission to sign and thus guarantee no further arrival of letters addressed to Elise Criddle. Percy forged her name, and mailed the form back to Germany where it was placed at the end of Karl’s file for me to locate over a hundred years later. Percy’s diary describes the imminent threat of a prairie fire that afternoon which provided the background needed to get the distracted postmaster’s signature without raising suspicion.
The story flows smoothly now but detective work, ingenuity, and intuition were needed to get to the bottom of what really happened. Creative non-fiction gives the facts of history; the paper trail is the evidence that the events happened. The ‘creative’ part links the characters and historical facts into narrative. Through the power of story many readers have been touched by Elise’s sacrificial life.Her descendants have replaced shame with pride. I am thankful. I appreciate that there is for the first time an award given for independent publishers, enabling not only For Elise, but other worthy books to have a wider platform.