From a Good Home: A St. John’s Family Saga

There are only so many hours in a day. I have time to read only a limited number of books.

My reading interests are eclectic. As a former clergyman, I enjoy books with a theological flair. As a historian, with a graduate degree in Newfoundland and Labrador history, I read a lot of books in this category. Biographies are a perennial favourite. Fiction is near the top of my reading list, especially when I need a break from more academic treatises. But, with the large number of novels being published, where does one draw the line? My pile of to-read books is about to collapse.

I recently read Trudi Johnson’s From a Good Home. Actually, I should say Dr. Johnson, from-a-good-homeas her doctorate, from Memorial University of Newfoundland, is in NL history.

So, I asked her, how does one go from being a Ph.d. in history to being a novelist.

“The two roles are very much intertwined,” she responds.

Two events influenced the direction of her first novel.

First, her mother and many of her female relatives and friends worked in service.

Growing up in the capital city, listening to many of their stories, she was fascinated by their courage and commitment.

Second, after a decade of teaching high school, she went back to MUN and earned her doctorate. Her specialty: matrimonial law and inheritance practices.

“There, I was drawn once again to the narrative of people’s lives, how each one of us perceives the world around us.”

While writing her dissertation, she “wrote fiction as a distraction from academic writing,” not unlike my reason for reading fiction, as a respite from theology, history and biography.

Using the characters she had known most of her life, she crafted a family saga.

Rather than write narratives for academic journals – as important as they are – she writes in the genre of fiction.

“Narratives may be recognized as valid historical accounts to some extent,” she explains, “but the academic world continues to place higher value on quantitative research.” Fiction gives her a broader readership.

The story she tells in From a Good Home revolves around Hannah Parsons, who leaves her home in Bonavista Bay in 1935, to work in service for Charles and Virginia Sinclair, a wealthy St. John’s family. Hannah catches the eye of the household patriarch, after which her life takes an unexpected turn.

Trudi has specific hopes for her readers.

Obviously, she wants them to enjoy the stories, “to simply finish the book with a smile, feeling that they have just spent some time with interesting people.”

Then, she wants them to appreciate how much we are influenced by our past.

“People come into our lives and leave them,” she says, “but some make lasting impressions.” The characters are complex. And all of us need to “present a particular face to others, and even to ourselves, as we respond to life’s events.”

Finally, she wants them to “appreciate the untold stories of themselves and their family members.”

Trudi is only on the cusp of what she has in mind. Books 2 and 3 are yet to come. All Good Intentions and Share and Share Alike are bound to appeal to a wide audience, as well. In From a Good Home, I found a couple or three people I know. I wonder who else will show up in her series.

From a Good Home resonates with me on a very personal level. My late mother, born on 15 November 1914, left Cutwell Arm (now Beaumont South) at around thirteen years of age and went in service for a family in Bishop’s Falls in 1930.

It’s obvious that Trudi enjoys writing fiction.

“Writing is both challenging and enjoyable for me.”

She has whetted the reading appetite of many. As she rises to the challenge of continuing to put her pen to paper, or her fingers to her laptop, undoubtedly our imagination will race in many directions. “They want to know what happens next!” she exclaims. “And so do I….”

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