Judith van Berkom –
Westboro’s Brenda Chapman has always loved mystery stories. As a child, she read mystery classics by Enid Blyton, and in her teens, was deeply influenced by Hemingway, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
“I read to get out of doing housework,” she says with a smile. As an adult, she likes to read about police procedures – books by author Michael Connelly are among her favourites – where the life of the police officers are developed in as much detail as the lives and actions of criminals.
Chapman’s lifetime interest in the mystery genre combined with an investigative mind and years of honing her writing skills, has resulted in the publication of 14 books thus far, with many more to come.
“Nothing gives me more pleasure in my professional life than writing,” she says. “I like to think of people reading what I’ve written.”
Chapman grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario, on the north shore of Lake Superior. She attended Lakehead University, majoring in English literature. In her third year she took a year-long creative writing course and started writing poetry and short stories.
In Kingston, the setting of her latest mystery novel, Butterfly Kills, Chapman attended teacher’s college. She moved to Ottawa in 1983 and taught special education for the next 15 years in a private school, working with children and adults – adults she says were often quite brilliant, but not literate. She met her husband, Ted, in Ottawa and stayed at home with her two daughters while continuing her English literature studies part-time at Carleton.
While at Carleton, the university awarded her a prize for outstanding part-time student of English. During this time, Chapman wrote humorous articles for Homebase, an Ottawa magazine for parents at home, and completed her first children’s mystery novel, Running Scared, in 2004.
She also made a dramatic change in her career in 1997, shifting from work as a teacher to writer/editor with various departments in the federal government – in communications with the Department of Justice, as a complaints and investigations officer with the Canadian Transportation Agency, and a briefing analyst and communications advisor at Health Canada. Today she continues to work full-time with the government, authoring in the evenings and on weekends.
Butterfly Kills is a work of fiction, however, in her acknowledgements, Chapman describes how her work in communications in the federal government introduced her to issues of family violence. This sparked the germ of an idea for the overarching story line.
The second in her Stonechild and Rouleau series, Butterfly Kills is set in Kingston. The first in the series, Cold Mourning, takes place in Ottawa.
“When I was writing [Butterfly Kills] I had three plot lines going. I knew how two were going to intersect, but wasn’t sure how the third would fit it. I didn’t see the linkages.”
During the writing of Butterfly Kills, Chapman and her husband, Ted, travelled to Kingston in search of the murder scene. The murder takes place in a basement, she explains, but many of the houses in Kingston don’t have basements. “We searched until we found it,” says Chapman. “A street with old houses with basements.”
Chapman develops her mystery novels starting with the crime – and they’re usually based on a news item that sticks with her.
“Years later a story emerges,” she says. “I like to underwrite, like Hemmingway,” she adds.
Her mystery novels have quite a few characters and Chapman sees the emergence of these characters as the story evolves as part of the creative process.
Her third, forthcoming novel in the Stonechild and Rouleau series, Tumbled Graves, is expected to be on the shelf next January. Book bloggers are invited to download an advance copy on her website. Chapman is also writing a literacy series, set in Hintonburg and Westboro, which has won several awards.
Brenda Chapman’s launch of Butterfly Kills will take place Feb. 8 at Whispers (249 Richmond Rd.), from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information about the author, go to brendachapman.ca.