A World War I Performance For the Elora Festival

This summer I’ll be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I with a concert performance on July 19th at the Elora Festival.  Canada, Fall In! The Great War Remembered in Words, Images and Song will tell the story of Canadians in WW1 through their letters and diaries as narrated by me and actors Christopher Newton and Brigitte Robinson, complemented by a screen show of remastered footage and archival images. The Elora Festival Singers under the baton of Noel Edison will bring to life the music of the period, from forgotten Canadian songs like ‘Canada, Fall In’ and ‘Boys from Canada’ to familiar favorites like ‘Tipperary’ and ‘Roses of Picardy’ to haunting choral anthems by Healey Willan and Benjamin Britten. I know this will be an unforgettable experience for any Canadian.

Saturday, July 19th at 1:30 and 4:00• St. John’s Church, Elora•Pre-concert talks by historian Terry Copp at 1:15 and 3:45• Tickets $35• Available at www.elorafestival.com or by phone (519) 846-0331• Also a Mary Morton Bus Tour from Toronto: www.marymortontours.com

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‘From Vimy to Victory’ is off to the Printer

My latest book, From Vimy to Victory: Canada’s Fight to the Finish in World War I is now being printed and will be published by Scholastic in September.  It is in the same highly-illustrated style as On Juno Beach, At Vimy Ridge and DIEPPE, and was designed by Gord Sibley and packaged by me in co-operation with Scholastic and my eagle-eyed editor Sandy Bogart-Johnston. It tells the dramatic story of the last 20 months of World War I, where the Canadians had become the shock troops of the British army, leading the way to victory, in one battle after another. I’ll be giving lots of talks about the book this fall.

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‘Gilded Lives’ Now Available in Paperback

I’ve just received finished copies of the paperback of Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage  (in Canada, RMS TITANIC:Gilded Lives on a Fatal Voyage).  The US and Canadian editions both have different jackets as they did in hardcover and the jacket price is $15.00 in the US and $18.99 in Canada. Both will be in the stores by late March of 2013.

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‘Unsinkable’ a Hit at Elora Festival

Two performances of ‘Unsinkable: The Titanic in Words, Images and Song’ were greeted with prolonged standing ovations on July 14th at the Elora Festival. Distinguished actors Christopher Newton and Brigitte Robinson assisted me in narrating the story while images and footage played on a large screen. Musicians and soloists from the Elora Festival Singers under Noel Edison evoked the music of fatal maiden voyage in a haunting and beautiful way.

The show will remounted on Friday October 12th at Casa Loma in Toronto as part of ‘A Night to Remember’ Gala for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. This will be the ultimate Titanic dinner along with the performance of ‘Unsinkable’ in a memorable evening of Gilded Age drama and splendor. For more information go to: www.tmchoir.org/gala.

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‘Prisoner of Dieppe’ is one of two novels to launch Scholastic’s new I AM CANADA series

Hugh Brewster at DieppeOver a year ago, Scholastic asked me if I would be interested in writing a novel for a new historical fiction series they were starting for 9-12-year old boys. It would be similar in style to their Dear Canada series which has been very popular with girls. I’d never written much fiction but was pleased to be asked. Scholastic thought a war book might be a good idea and I instantly said I could write a novel about the Dieppe Raid.  I had just done a non-fiction book DIEPPE: Canada’s Darkest Day of World War II for Scholastic and knew there were lots of stories told to me by veterans that I didn’t have room for in a 48-page book. I also knew that kids were fascinated by the stories about prisoner of war camp and how the men dug tunnels and made amazing escapes.

With Ron Reynolds at a Port Hope Book talk in September '09

So I submitted an outline and sample chapter for a book to be called Prisoner of Dieppe. Scholastic approved this and I spent most of ’09 working on it. And I found I really enjoyed doing it. I used a lot of dialogue for which which I think I have a knack. Having done a lot of Dieppe research for the non-fiction book I thought I would have a headstart.  But I soon found I needed to do a whole lot more. Invaluable help in this was provided by my Dieppe veterans, particularly Ron Reynolds of Port Hope.  I would call Ron several times a week with questions about tiny details (what kind of uniform did Lord Mountbatten wear?, did you have toilet paper in POW camp?) etc. Even at 90 Ron’s memory was crystal clear – and he never exaggerated or embroidered any of the details, he always told it like it was.

I had decided to dedicate the book to Ron but sadly, I had to change the dedication to ‘In memory of Ron Reynolds’ since he died on April 18th.  I gave a eulogy at his funeral on the 22nd and read a few excerpts from the book that incorporated Ron’s experiences. Some men were broken or embittered by their POW experiences but Ron retained his kindness, sweetness and irrepressible high spirits through all his 91 years.

Prisoner of Dieppe will be available in September 2010.

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Starred Reviews for Prisoner of Dieppe

To my great relief, Prisoner of Dieppe, a novel I’ve written for Scholastic’s new I Am Canada Series has been receiving excellent reviews. Quill and Quire gave it a starred review and said that it “makes history come alive through an expert mix of fact and fiction.”  CM Magazine gave it 3 1/2 stars out of 4 and said that “its lively writing style will maintain reader interest throughout.”  And Susan Perren in the Globe and Mail on Nov. 6 said it was “very good indeed” and “utterly engrossing.”  Whew!

Scholastic Canada has prepared some excellent videos on Prisoner of Dieppe and the I Am Canada series that can be seen on their website.

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Launching ‘Deadly Voyage’

Deadly Voyage, my latest novel in the I Am Canada series from Scholastic, tells the story of Jamie Laidlaw, a boy from Montreal who is returning home from England on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic.  On the night of April 14-15, 1912, Jamie find himself in the freezing north Atlantic as the giant ship sinks before his eyes.  Jamie is a fictional character but most of the people he meets on board the Titanic are real.  As with my first novel in the IAC series, Prisoner of Dieppe, I’ve made this book as accurate and true-to-life as possible.  When I give school talks, my readers always want to know, “Is this story real?” Having worked on so many Titanic books — from Robert Ballard’s The Discovery of the Titanic to Polar the Titanic Bear-– I have a fair bit of detail in my brain about this famous shipwreck.  And I also asked George Behe, a Titanic historian par excellence to review it for accuracy.  And the result, I believe, is a novel that is engaging and exciting as well as a realistic depiction of what happened on the April night almost a century ago.

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Launching ‘Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage’

It’s been 25 years in the researching and two years in the writing. My brand-new book about the Titanic’s most fascinating passengers  is set to launch in March in time for the centenary of the sinking on April 15, 2012. The book will be published by Collins in Canada (where it’s titled RMS TITANIC: Gilded Lives on a Fatal Voyage) by Crown in the US and by Robson Press in the UK. It’s also being pubbed in France, Italy and Spain.

For the 100th anniversary there will be a slew of other new books, TV docs, a Julian Fellowes mini-series and James Cameron’s epic movie remastered in 3D.  In this tidal wave of Titanic-iana, you might well ask, how will Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage stand out? I have had a few sleepless nights about this, but my early readers have been most encouraging. I’ve had remarkable help with this book from some of the world’s best Titanic historians and they tell me that they found the book to be fresh and compelling and that it reveals much new information.  (see comments below). And another acquaintance who has read virtually everything ever written about the Titanic said that Gilded Lives was the most intimate account yet and it made her feel as if she were actually on board.

I’ll be giving dozens of talks in Canada, the US and the UK in coming months and hope to meet many of you and share thoughts and stories about this greatest of all lost ships.

Some advance comments on Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage:

“Full of delicious details, from champagne flutes to the careless luxe of furs and satin, this is a spellbinding story, fresh, original and totally absorbing.”” —Marian Fowler, author of In a Gilded Cage

“A fascinating and engaging account of the Titanic disaster that also focuses some much-needed attention on the vessel’s Canadian passengers and their way of life. This outstanding book is a definite “must-read” for the centenary of the Titanic disaster, and I feel certain it will quickly be regarded as a standard work on the subject. “ — George Behe, author of On Board RMS Titanic and The Carpathia and the Titanic.

“Hugh Brewster writes a compelling account of how this select group of names came together in one enormous tragedy.” –Don Lynch, author of Titanic: An Illustrated History and Ghosts of the Abyss.

“…a welcome, interesting addition to Titanic-related literature.”–Kirkus Reviews

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Starred reviews for ‘Gilded LIves’!

I’m both relieved and delighted that the first reviews for ‘Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage’ have been so positive. Here are a few quotes:

“This is one of those rare books on the subject that provides information both new and relevant, in a scholarly but readable way. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the social history of the early 20th century.” – Library Journal (starred review)

“Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember and James Cameron’s award-winning movie set the Titanic bar high. Hugh Brewster clears that bar with ease and shows again why the story never gets old.”—Newark Star Ledger

“[A]n impressive amount of information, often directly pulling from firsthand accounts. The author vividly renders the collision, the sinking, the chilling wail of unseen swimmers calling from the cold water and the shipwreck’s aftermath….a welcome, interesting addition to Titanic-related literature.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Do we really need more books on the Titanic? Hugh Brewster answers this question with a resounding “yes”… Brewster’s writing is always engaging, always clear and a pleasure to read…one of the most interesting and important Titanic books to come out in  recent years.” –Inviting History Book Reviews


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A New York Times Review for ‘Gilded Lives’

Having a book of mine reviewed in the New York Times Book Review has been a secret fantasy for years. So it was a real thrill that ‘Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage‘ was one of only two new Titanic books they selected for  a full-page review on April 15, 2012. (The other was Andrew Wilson’s excellent ‘Shadows of the Titanic.) Of Gilded Lives, reviewer Holly Morris said: ”
“Brewster’s nuanced account introduces us to a plutocracy frolicking in the sunset of England’s Edwardian era and America’s Gilded Age.  He pushes past stereotypes to vividly describe the elite realm on deck.”

This was perhaps the jewel in the crown of all the reviews but here are some other great endorsements:

“will bring a tear to your eyes.” –Daily Beast, Hot Reads

” The greatest ship-borne collection of celebrities of its time… classy, delicious, wonderfully readable”
Christian Science Monitor

“You needn’t be an avid Titanic scholar or enthusiast to find this story spellbinding.  No fiction author could ever concoct a tale of greater tragedy, irony, pathos, ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys,’ heroism, cowardice, wealth and poverty.”
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

“[A] brilliant account of the first-class passengers who went down with the ship, giving us a glimpse into a Gilded Age about to disappear forever….Brewster’s method is simple and highly entertaining.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

‘This is one of those rare books on the subject that provides information both new and relevant, in a scholarly but readable way. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the social history of the early 20th century.”
Library Journal (starred review)

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‘Prisoner of Dieppe’ wins Hackmatack Award

It was both a surprise and a thrill when I heard my name read out as the winner of the 2012 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Award for English Fiction on April 27th in Moncton, New Brunswick.   Since Prisoner of Dieppe is my first novel I was particularly happy and doubly pleased that it was a book that kids had chosen as their favourite. It was a great way to wrap up my reading tour of PEI and Nova Scotia. I Am Canada: Deadly Voyage is nominated for Hackmatack ’13 so I’m hoping to be asked back!

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