Tag Archives: Rachael Preston

Project Bookmark Canada #16 -Rachael Preston’s The Fishers of Paradise

It was a flourish of activity as Hamilton City Councillor Aidan Johnson and author Rachael Preston unveil Project Bookmark Canada #16 to adoring fans along the Desjardins Trail.

It was a exciting day for me on June 9, 2016 as I took the time to attend to two of my favourite activities: traveling and tending to my library. I had the pleasure of making my way to Hamilton, Ontario to witness the unveiling of Project Bookmark Canada’s plaque in honor of Rachael Preston’s book The Fishers of Paradise. (Link to my review)

Not only did I get a chance to meet Preston and get my copy of The Fishers of Paradise signed. I had the opportunity to learn a bit about the Project Bookmark Canada program (Link to their website where they are “literally” trailblazing Canlit sites across Canada) And I had the pleasure of meeting some of Hamilton’s cultural figures who told me about some of their city’s authors. I then made my way down to J.H Gordon Books (Link to their site) to purchase some of those books. No doubt I will be blogging about some of those books soon!



Rachael Preston honored the crowd of her fans and well-wishers by reading a selection from The Fishers of Paradise.

It was a great day, a productive one and certainly an enlightening one as well.


Scanned image from my copy of The Fishers of Paradise. Signed: To Steve, Thanks for the fabulous review and for trekking out to the unveiling all the way from (London, Ont.) Best Wishes, Rachael Preston

Link to Rachael Preston’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s webpage for The Fishers of Paradise

The Emotions of the Past | Review of “The Fishers of Paradise” by Rachael Preston (2016) James Street North Books – Wolsak & Wynn


It is very easy these days to drive over a bridge, walk along a sidewalk or even relax in a park and not realize that there were once people who once lived in that spot. These people  once toiled, anguished and lived their lives in that very area we rush over and barely consider.  But Rachael Preston has given us a narrative to consider about one such area in her novel The Fishers of Paradise.

Page 1-2

The sledgehammers fall silent and the house shifts forward with a wooden groan. Like an aged swimmer anticipating the starter’s pistol, it wavers a moment in the wind, knees creaking with the newly uneven weight, and then, in a slow choreography, the stilts fold under themselves and the house slides into the marsh. Water and birds explode into flight, squirrels leap from bare trees. The sound, magnified by the geography of this enclave of lake and forest, by the stillness of the grey morning preceding it, ricochets a warning. The surface churns, and muskrats and beaver dive to the muddy bottom where carp and pike and bass huddle in the reeds. Water rushes over the porch of the two-storey home, washing against the door and window as the house lurches drunkenly in it own wake.

No sooner has the lake settled than the thrum of an engine, expensive, throaty, cuts through the silence that has claimed the small crowd gathered on their docks and porches to say goodbye. A gleaming mahogany powerboat noses out from between a set of weathered boathouse stilts like some exotic, temperamental animal and guns into the marsh, leaving behind the heady scent of gasoline. The boat alone, a Grew recently confiscated from bootleggers who ran contraband liquor across Lake Ontario, is worth standing outside in the November cold to see. Its current owner claims he can still smell the cordite along the three grooves carved portside by glancing bullets.

The driver circles the floating house, making it bob again, then eases back on the throttle and slows to an idle. His passenger turns in his seat to face the front door.

Everyone watches and waits.

Five minutes pass. Six.

Egypt Fisher stands at the shoreline, thinking her eyes might dry out from the wind if the door doesn’t open soon.

I always get grumped at if I don’t post a review for a while which usually means that I am savouring a book. And this book is worth savouring. Preston has truly crafted an engrossing story around a section of Hamilton, Canada that most people may not be aware that existed. Set in the hardships that occurred in the 1930s, teenage Egypt Fisher must deal with the gentrification plans that the city has planned for her boathouse community along the Dundas Marsh. And while that is going on, she starts out being thrilled that her estranged father has returned to the family fold, but it is soon apparent that events will soon rip her life completely apart.

Page 84-85

Egypt sits with her knees hugged to her chest, shins pressed against the table edge, and watches her mother from behind the veil of her hair. Blurred. Slamming cupboard doors, banging pots and dishes. Laura marches back to the wash basin and repeats her earlier scrabble through the mess of Russian dolls, lipstick tubes, envelopes, hair clips and pencils that sits on the odds-and-ends shelf below the mirror. Aidan watches Egypt pushing the cooling lumps of porridge around her bowl. She throws him a warning glance and then gathers a spoonful and dangles it beneath the table. George pads over to investigate, sniffs and flops down again by her feet. When Aidan giggles, she glares at him. Then at her mother’s back.

“So did you kick him out or did he leave again?” Her words part the air and free-fall slowly, landing with such a force that she stares at the kitchen floor, expecting to see a small crater. Her mother leans across the table and pulls Egypt’s hair back from her face.

“Your father has always marched to his own drummer.” Egypt recoils from her sour breath, her ragged, chewed-on lips. “And if you believe anything I have ever done or said has any influence on whether he comes or goes, then you haven’t been paying proper attention.”

“I heard everything you said last night.”

“No, you just think you heard everything. Aidan, go back upstairs while I talk to your sister.”

“But -”

“But nothing. Go.”

“But I can hear everything you’re saying from upstairs anyway,” he mumbles, dragging his feet towards the stairs.

“Now both my children talk back to me,” she says when Aidan has finished thudding up the stairs. “I suppose I have you to thank for that?” She’s back to searching drawers, inside the tea caddy, the pockets of jackets hanging by the door.

“And who do we thank for our absent father?”

Preston has mixed the right combination of historical and coming-of-age novel together here. Her words are vivid – not only in describing scenes but also in expressing emotions of her characters. There is at times a clear feeling between what a character is feeling and the reader experiencing it themselves. This is a book that should be read at leisure – not to be raced through- in order to appreciate the carefully chosen words and phrases that Preston has used.

Page 128-129

As far as home goes, she doesn’t trust herself not to snap around Laura. She even mention your grandparents? Not a word. Quite the feat when you think about it, keeping your parents from your daughter, your daughter from her grandparents. A virtuoso performance. Bravo, Mother. Egypt swallows a needle or rage. Ray presents another set of problems: years of pining over her father’s absence, of remembering and reconstructing her childhood in obsessive detail, and now that he’s here, in the flesh, Egypt finds herself chafing at the invasion of her home. He swings between a tetchy abrasiveness and protracted bouts of grim silence. Impossible to ignore, his moods, like tainted water, affect everyone who comes into contact with him, bar the bleary-eyed and leering friends he collects like stray dogs, and whom Egypt often finds (or hears) snoring on their couch in the morning. He can dismantle a room  – and its occupants – just by standing in the doorway. A blue pall of cigarette smoke hangs in the air even when he isn’t around. It’s as if half a dozen people have moved in with them. And he’s beginning to scare her. Having woken at the crack of dawn yesterday, she was first downstairs. Ray was sitting at the kitchen table, red-eyed and muttering to himself. His cot hadn’t been slept in. He looked hunted, cadaverous. The flesh had shrunk from his face in the night.

And yet, like the pricking wax and wane of nausea, Egypt senses the devastation she would feel if he left again. Ray Fisher is her dad, her family and though he wielded the news as a weapon – to hurt her or to make her stay and listen, she can’t decide which –  he has brought more family in his wake. A month ago, Egypt’s family numbered three. Now it stands at six.

The Fishers of Paradise by Rachael Preston is a read worthy to savour. It is vividly description and emotional and in a subtle way enlightening. In short, a pleasure to read.


“I would say having lived in a lot of places affects what I write about, and the kinds of stories I’m drawn to: displaced people, the marginalized, those who don’t quite fit it” | Q&A with author Rachael Preston

Link to Rachael Preston’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s website for The Fishers of Paradise




A Ship Comes Ashore | Review of “The Wind Seller” by Rachael Preston (2006) Goose Lane Editions


Small towns can be such intriguing settings for books. The high seas have also provided keen adventures for literature. Mix the two together with a bit of historical fact and a wonderful novel will arise from the blank pages. And that is what Rachael Preston has done with The Wind Seller.

Page 13

When Hetty was a girl, schooners and their square-rigged forerunners moored cheek to cheek across the Halifax waterfront, as much a part of the scene as the Citadel and the town clock, their bows nodding with the swell, masts and rigging criss-crossing the sky from the north-end train station almost all the way out to Point Pleasant Park. Since she moved to the village Hetty has seen the odd ketch stranded, waiting patiently on the mud for the tide to buoy it up again. But never a vessel on this scale. There’s something menacing in the way the schooner, painted black almost to her keel, consumes the wharf she is moored to, the way her bow angles above the horizon as if she’s mounting the bank, threatening to climb ashore.

Drawing closer, Hetty makes out people on the tilted deck, leaning their bodies into the ship for balance, calling to each other; she catches only the cadence, their words hollowed out by the wind. The damage Laura spoke of appears confined to the bow. The jib sails hang shredded amongst twisted ropes and splintered wood, and the bowsprit is but a jagged stump. Perhaps the Esmeralda – Hetty catches the schooner’s name as a gust billows the errant and tangled sails – has been in a collision.

As the path rounds the bow Hetty sees what was hidden from her view before, dozens of people milling about on the wharf. Normally she would avoid such a large congregation of Kenomee villagers, but today Hetty is as curious as her neighbours. And for once she isn’t the focus of their gaze. Some nod at her approach, others step back to let her pass. As she wends her way through the crowd, she catches snippets of the men’s conversation – “widow maker’s snapped right off,” “squall in the bay,” “if she didn’t catch the flood.” The carnival-like excitement in the air, the buzz of speculation, lifts her strange mood.

Preston has quite the story here surrounding the principal two characters; Hetty Douglas and Noble Matheson. Both are confused by the codes of conduct they are suppose to be following in their little Nova Scotian town as the 20th Century unfolds. Douglas is in a ‘marriage of convenience’ and Noble is a casual labourer suffering from a tiresome family life yet dreams of literary glory. Both witnessed the Halifax Explosion and are trying to deal with the horror of the event. Yet all their frustrations seem to take a back turn as the odd schooner and it’s crew come to town.

Page 72-73

Butler slaps Noble across the shoulders and holds out the whiskey bottle. A peace offering. “For you, my friend, a swallow of of Scotland’s finest.” In the moonlight Butler’s eyes glitter with menace. Noble licks his lips, which have dried and cracked since this afternoon, and takes the square-shaped bottle from his friend. He recognizes the label. Bushmills.

“This is Irish whiskey.”

“Irish. Scotch. It sure as hell beats Cyrus Warner’s moonshine.”

Corn liquor. Butler got his big mitts on a bottle once but Noble couldn’t take the way it scorched his throat and the lining of his stomach. He wasn’t much of a Scotch drinker to begin with – though Warner’s hooch hardly qualified as such. He liked ale and not much else. Though he’d enjoyed champagne once. Lawson’s doing. They’d shared a bottle during his brother’s leave; it was shortly after Noble’s release from hospital and just before the build-up to Vimy. Lawson told him how what was left of his company had stumbled into a shelled-out village and taken cover in one of the few remaining buildings with a roof. And a wine cellar. Empty but for a dozen bottles of champagne buried under a pile of wood. Five men grateful to be alive and one blissful giddy drunk. Laughter. Bubbles up their noses. The sweet smell of hay in the stable, a welcoming bed. Soft and dry.

Noble raises the Bushmills to his mouth and takes a swallow. His eyes water, but the kick behind his rib cage is  welcome, as is the slow, delicious feeling that he’s growing another layer of skin beneath his own. It’s been a rough day. And it’s been a long time. Because of Prohibition, any kind of legal alcohol has been near impossible to get hold of outside Halifax since the war, a fact that doesn’t sit well with a few he can think of, and no doubt a lot more besides,  no matter how it might have looked three and a half years ago to the vote-counters. He hadn’t voted himself. Not many had if you looked at the numbers. Mainly the women and those with enough money to lay in a five-year supply before the law changed. Bankers. Lawyers. Doctors.

Preston has captured here the clash of ideals and thoughts that make up the human condition. Urban versus rural. Desires versus norms. Tradition versus progress. Even love versus hate makes an appearance here. Added with a right amount of historical facts and details, a reader is thoroughly engaged with this book.

Page 155

Whitecaps have gathered in the bay. Waves slap against the sides of the Esmeralda, which in turn rubs and bangs against the wharf. Her jib stays, spanking new, tremble and twang in the stiff breeze. The job boom lifts and drops, and the bow of the schooner shudders and creaks. Noble, intent on his whiskey hunt, ears filled with wind, does not at first hear the footsteps along the wharf. Then he stiffens. Could be one of the crew, or a villager on the prowl for another bottle. He hunkers down in the bushes, heels knocking against the bottle, which he grabs, holding his breath until the person comes into view. It’s a woman, all dressed up in fancy evening attire and carrying some fancy wrap. Hetty Douglas? But then she pulls her hair from her neck and he can see it is Esmeralda.

Esmeralda in a sparkly dress and men’s boots. A contrast that common sense tells him should look absurd but which instead is unsettlingly erotic. The dress, despite lines designed to hide her curves, slithers and shimmers as she moves. Swaying fringe at the hem grazes her thighs. There’s nothing more seductive than a woman unaware she’s being watched, Noble thinks. Was the dress for Butler’s benefit? He hopes not, for Eliza’s sake more than his own. But if Esmeralda has been with Butler, why is she walking back to the schooner alone?

Rachael Preston has brought together a great novel with The Wind Seller. A perfect amount settings, intrigue and historical fact here sets the reader in a enlightening read and a memorable one.


Link to Rachael Preston’s website

Link to Goose Lane Editions’ website for The Wind Seller


“I would say having lived in a lot of places affects what I write about, and the kinds of stories I’m drawn to: displaced people, the marginalized, those who don’t quite fit it” | Q&A with author Rachael Preston


1) First off, could you give an outline of The Fishers of Paradise?

It’s the story of Egypt Fisher and her family, who live in the boathouse community, a
collection of squatters’ shacks that line the shores of Cootes Paradise, a marshy
wetland at the head of Lake Ontario and the city limits of Hamilton, and what happens
when politicians try to drive them out to make way for a new bridge. And then a
handsome drifter settles in the community, as handsome drifters do, and Egypt and her
mother both fall under his spell. As if this wasn’t trouble enough, Egypt’s gambling con-
man father, Ray, suddenly returns after a mysterious six-year absence. Ray sorts by
self, the kind of man whom trouble follows. Unhinged by jealousy and a harrowing brush
with the local mafia at a cockfight, he reveals a family secret that sets Egypt’s world off-
kilter and poisons her relationship with her mother. When Egypt tries to turn the
situation to her own advantage, her lies set in motion a series of events with devastating

2) How long did it take you to write The Fishers of Paradise? Is it a work of pure imagination for you or did you include any real-life events into the story?

A long time. Eight years from start to finish. Not that I was writing every day during this
time. Far from it. Several times months would go by when I felt unable to move forward.
Partly because I felt hamstrung by real-life events. With the exception of politician
Thomas McQuesten and his family, all the characters are fictional. But the boathouse
community did exist and the city did eventually drive them out. Without giving anything
away, one of the big turning points in the plot is based on a real event. But I struggled
with deciding who in my story was ultimately responsible. I used a lot of real settings—
industries, stores and cafes that existed at the time my novel is set—1930-1. Laura
works at Hand & Company Fireworks, another character at Greening Wire. The normal
and model schools feature prominently.


3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

My favourite writers change all the time. A novel I read in the last year or so that is still
with me is Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager. I read a lot of Canadian authors,
and I love big sweeping historical novels: Three Day Road, The Last Crossing, What the
Body Remembers. And novels about relationships: Bitter Lake, All Times Have Been
Modern, Annabelle, The Girls. I’m currently reading Helen Humphreys. I love her work.
Such powerful books.

4) Your biography has this book listed as your third novel. Has your writing changed since you started publishing? If yes, how so?

My writing process has certainly changed. I trust story more, trust the process. And I
can juggle more storylines now. Writing when you haven’t been published is very
different to writing once you have. I think every writer experiences this—the
expectations are different. What you expect from yourself and what others expect—or
what you believe they expect from you. That can mess with your head. My head,

5) Are there any plans for a book tour for The Fishers of Paradise? If yes, are there any events you are excited to partake in? Are public readings/discussions of your books something you enjoy?

I just returned from Hamilton where I took part in gritLIT, Hamilton Writers Festival, a
festival I actually chaired for two years, many moons ago. I also had a library event in
Burlington. I love reading from and discussing my books. I tend to freeze in front of the
camera, but I spent over twenty years teaching, so once my hands stop shaking, I warm
to the audience and take my cues from the energy they bring. gritLIT was exciting too,
because I haven’t read at any public events in ten years—if you don’t count Talent
Nights and Choir Concerts (on Saturna Island where I took the opportunity to read from
manuscript pages).
I’m scheduled to return to Hamilton in June for what is the biggest moment in my career
The Fishers of Paradise has been chosen by Miranda Hill’s Project Bookmark
Canada to be Bookmark #16. The plaque will be unveiled June 10th along the
Desjardins Waterfront Trail. Other events are to be rolled out during this time, including
a Hamilton Public Library event, the official launch for Fishers and a new imprint launch
—James Street North Books—by Wolsak & Wynn. Fishers is actually the first book
published under this imprint.

6) You seem to be an active participant on Facebook and The Fishers of Paradise is part of a giveaway promotion on Goodreads. How do you feel about using the internet as a means of promoting your works? Will you be expanding your social-media presence to other sites (i.e. Twitter) soon?