Article published on March 6, 2015.
Patrick Gale is one of our most underrated writers. He is extraordinarily prolific with sixteen novels to his credit and a massive following of dedicated readers. His new novel A Place Called Winter has its genesis in a family mystery which had long puzzled Patrick who grew up with stories of his mother’s “Cowboy Grandpa” in Canada. It was only years later, quizzing his elderly grandmother about her childhood, that he discovered she had been raised by aunts and uncles when her mother died of breast cancer. After her death, he inherited a chest of drawers packed with family papers, including the little exercise book in which his grandmother had started writing her memoirs.
Her father, Harry Cane, had inherited a fortune from his father’s horse-drawn omnibus company but then something went wrong and Harry was obliged to leave the country, taking up a new life as a homesteader in the prairies of the Canadian west, without his wife and daughter. Only once in the 1950s did Harry return to see his family but the visit was uncomfortable and his daughter was reluctant to take her black-sheep father in and only too ready to send him back to Canada.
The novel began with Patrick researching every detail he could possibly find out about Harry. He travelled across Canada, tracking down his homestead, still a working farm. He then took the decision to resolve the mystery by projecting his own personality back into his ancestor’s situation. He wanted to come up with a credible story which his grandmother would never have found out for herself.
The novel is a departure from the profoundly English landscapes which are the setting for most Gale novels and yet it is here, isolated in a harsh landscape, under the threat of war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has known before. In this exquisite journey of self-discovery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love described by its author as a hybrid of Maurice and Brokeback Mountain.
Patrick Gale © Daniel Hall
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