Bob McCarthy is a former educator and history buff whose wry sense of humour is evident in his stories. His service to education and the community has been recognized with many awards including the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada and recognition on the City of Sarnia Mayor’s Honour List. Since his retirement from teaching, Bob has been active in making the history of Lambton County available and interesting to students and others through his writing, radio talks and visual history projects.
B: It was in 1967, the year of Canada’s Centennial, that I began gathering information about the genealogy of my family with the intent to write a story placing each one of them in the context of the time in which they lived. That book never became a reality until 2007 when I published The Corneille Papers, a story about my paternal grandmother’s family covering over 300 years. But that was not my first attempt at writing. A few years prior to that, as a part of sesquicentennial celebrations here in Lambton County, I gathered together more than a hundred stories I had been telling on the radio about Lambton history and, working with grade 7 and 8 students, put together a book with illustrations titled 101 stories of Lambton County. That came out in 2001, my first effort at writing.
G: How do your previous work and life experiences influence your writing?
B: Like everyone else, I write what I am. We cannot help but bring our own experiences into our writing, either into the words that we create are the ideas that brought them about. Having spent 30 years as a teacher in Lambton County, having a strong interest in Canadian history and having been raised in a middle-class working family, this comes out in my writing as I tell stories reflecting heritage through the eyes of everyday people, people here in Canada who had to work hard to survive and raise their families.
G: What are the genres in which you write? Do you have a preferred one?
B: To date, all that I’ve written has been in the form of historical fiction, or as I prefer to call it, historical faction. Through research, I discover details about some aspect of Canadian history and then try to imagine how the facts I know might have come about. This way, as I’ve been told by others who read some of my work, I am able to take the dry facts of history and make them become more alive and more interesting.
G: Are you working on a project currently?
B: I am working on a follow-up to CASE 666, the story of Elizabeth Workman, the only woman hanged in Canada after a jury had recommended mercy, a person who in today’s terms, would have been described as a battered woman. This story will follow the lives of her two children and their descendants, exploring the effect down through the generations of abuse within the family setting.
G: Do you have a favourite location for writing?
B: While my research is done in many different locations, I usually write at a roll top desk in an area my wife refers to as my office.
G: What kinds of books do you read?
B: I prefer to read books in the same genre in which I write, that of historical fiction, with a particular interest in stories relating to Canada of any generation, the period of medieval times in any part of the British Isles, and stories about early settlement of North America by the first peoples. As well, I enjoy reading action adventure type stories, be they set in prehistoric times or be telling stories that might be happening today.
G: Do you wish to share anything about your personal life?
B: Only that I am fortunate to be blessed with a life partner who allows me to pursue my interest in writing.
G: Have you participated in writing contests?
G: What works have you published to date?
B: 101 Stories of Lambton (2001), Stories of Lambton (2002), The Corneille Papers (2007), Dinner For Nine (2008), Early Days in Oil Springs (2008), Strands of Time (2009), Murder at Ulster Arms (2010), Poppa Caz Remembers (2011), Voices of Lambton (2012), CASE 666 (2013).
G: What are your thoughts on traditional vs indie publishing?
B: All of my books to date have told stories about my family or Lambton County. As such, I have found it simpler to publish books myself having them printed by local businesses.
G: Anything else you wish to elaborate on?
B: I would only like to add here my appreciation to some many other writers who live here in Lambton County, and who over the years have taken the time to listen to what I’ve been writing and to offer suggestions for improvement. Their insight and assistance has certainly helped me and so many other local writers to become better at what we are all trying to do.