A Creston-based author and journalist recently had her third book published in August, which is a historical fiction novel that explores and fictionalizes certain events surrounding the real-life murder of her great, great, great grandfather.
“The Haweaters” author, Vanessa Farnsworth, is the descendant of William Bryan, a homesteader who was brutally murdered alongside his son Charles by father-and-son duo George and Laban Amer on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island in 1877.
“It came to me as family lore. I got it from my mother who got it from her mother,” said Farnsworth. “There’s a lot of exaggeration, so you’re not sure what’s true and what’s not. The journalist in me decided to go back to source documents: the trial documents. No one seems to be consulting them.”
While the murders are fact, what Farnsworth fictionalized and examines is the motivations behind the killings.
“We don’t really know what happened that night. I can’t say 100 per cent what happened that night,” she said.
The novel revolves around 10 different points of view that all come from the trial testimony, resulting in 10 different versions of the story.
“There are 10 chapters and each chapter is told by a different person’s point of view, and it covers 24 hours leading up to the murders and then immediately following the murders,” she said.
She added that one of the reasons why she decided to fictionalize certain aspects of the story was because of all of the lying that had gone on after the murders had taken place.
“Even during the appeals process, a lot of people were misrepresenting the truth. Here I am almost 150 years later, trying to figure out what really happened on that night,” she said. “The answer is that you can’t tell 150 years later. We got 10 different versions of what happened, and the question was who’s telling the truth? Because they’re not all telling the same story.”
She was first introduced to a modern interpretation of the story in 1993, through a booklet series published in Manitoulin Island called “Through The Years.” The version of the story featured in the booklet was written by Farnsworth’s grandma’s cousin.
“My grandmother died in 2011, and I decided to take another look at this story. That’s when the research process started,” she said. “There wasn’t one repository of all this information. I didn’t even know if this was a real event. It seemed like a real event.”
Farnsworth, who moved to Creston from southern Ontario 15 years ago, began to seriously research the story in 2013, which primarily revolved around tracking down trial documents.
“It took about five years of research to track it all down. Some of it was done in libraries in Toronto. Some of it was done in Ottawa at the Library and Archives Canada,” she said. “Other research was done at the Archives of Ontario in Toronto. Of course, on Manitoulin Island, there’s a whole bunch of museums there, so a lot of information I got from museums.”
While she completed her detective work on the story in 2018, the writing process for the novel began in 2016 and was finished in 2019.
“Having done my research, my family does not come off real well. They maybe weren’t the nicest people on the planet. They did a lot of terrible things,” she said.
Despite the nature of the story, she described the novel — which was published on Aug. 1 — as a fun read.
“Forget about the part that it’s about real people — it is fun and interesting, the trouble they caused for each other,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it ended in murder, but so much of it was just petty. People setting fires and burning down peoples’ fences.”
Now that the book is published, Farnsworth said that she plans on returning to the world of science journalism for the next while.
“I hope readers have a good time,” she said.
“The Haweaters” is available for purchase on Amazon and at Indigo bookstores.
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