… so many friends

It’s October, 2020, and I feel ancient. I have so many friends.

These have been my friends:

The young Indigenous man who gently undertakes a ceremonial fast in front of a provincial legislature, fighting not the noisy battles of treaties and nation-building, but a quieter battle to support mental health in his community.

The cop whose idea of a perfect day is one spent caring for the community he loves before returning home and being cared for by the family that loves him.

The young reporter who lies violated and charred in a ditch in a faraway country, executed for the crime of investigating corporate malfeasance.

The apprentice mechanic with first aid training who requested two hours off this afternoon to take the town ambulance to a high-school game.

The Sailor First Class who has been deemed emotionally unfit for service and discharged for having the temerity to report her own rape by a senior officer.

So many friends. They blur together with the passage of time. How did I meet them? Did they turn up in the bar one night, like the cute little babe with the nice boobs and the red hair? Or – wait a minute – maybe that one turned up on page 312 of my second novel. Or maybe not. I think she was in the second chapter of the first book. If it’s her, she was more blond than red, but whatever.

Never mind. They are all my friends. Well, maybe not all of them. Some of them were downright evil, no friends of mine. Killers, thieves, misogynists. Nobody would call them friends, not even I. But, after all, I am a writer and I need friends, so I’ll just write about them differently: soldiers, politicians, priests! There, that’s better. So many friends.

Do you remember the old guy at the garage, the one who could fix anything as long as it didn’t have a computer in it? I do. And I remember his wife, too… the one with the sad eyes. They didn’t have kids, but there were rumours that long ago they had a daughter. There had to have been a story there, but I never did find out. Or maybe I ran out of space. So many friends.

In 1637, or maybe it was 1644, French philosopher René Descartes wrote I think, therefore I am. (Latin scholars amongst us will have first heard it as Cogito Ergo Sum, but it means about the same thing in English.) Actually, Descartes was French, so at first he actually wrote, je pense, donc je suis but in the interest of maintaining a snooty sense of clarity it is most often quoted in Latin. Really.

In any case, for me it is a piece of crap wrapped up in a pretty language, apparently for the sole purpose of reinforcing a false distinction between different classes in society… between all my friends, in fact. Hell, horses think. Even cows think, only slower. Not even counting the four-legged ones, all my friends think. But the thing that makes them unique is how they feel. How they feel makes them who they are. Indeed, some of my friends may not even think as well as the dumbest of cows, but they all feel, and therefore they are.

These have been my friends:

The coastguard officer who retired early to start his own business at a village in cottage country.

The brilliant young biologist who is passionate about birds and wild places, wrestling with greedy politicians and bureaucrats in an effort to measure the harm human beings inflict on our tiny globe.

The oilfield truck driver with a somewhat warped sense of justice but a heart of gold.

The elderly lady who took a young man to bed one night, sharing wisdom and comfort.

It’s still October 2020, but now I feel even older as I realize that some of my friends may have physically moved on, even as they linger in my soul, or on my pages, or both.

I feel them close, therefore they exist.


Where the heck is Awan Lake anyway?

I thought long and hard about where I would set my first novel. I wanted a location that I knew so I could build the story and characters around familiar surroundings, and my own passion for small communities near inland lakes and rivers suggested my two favourite lakes: Big Rideau Lake along a canal system in eastern Ontario where I spent some time growing up, and Redberry Lake, close to where I now live in Saskatchewan and which has been somewhat of an obsession for over 30 years.

So, Why not choose Redberry Lake? I hear my neighbours asking. Well, one reason is, in fact, my neighbours: there are not enough of them! No matter how many disclaimers are present (like All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental) people in a small community are inclined to recognize themselves or their neighbours, for better or for worse! And with good reason: a storyteller – certainly this one – usually draws heavily on past experience.

There were other, more technical reasons. I wanted a setting with a lakeside community. My home town in Saskatchewan (Hafford) is 10 kilometers away from the lake, and there is no harbour. Also, I wanted the looming presence of a controversial industry located on a substantial waterway. That is not to say that the industrialized agriculture around Redberry Lake  isn’t controversial and may not impact the water, but optically it is framed as a peaceful rural area with tractors and cows spread out for miles and miles!

So I looked at Big Rideau Lake as an option: Lakeside community – check; Harbour – check; Substantial waterway – check; Nobody knows me – check. Things that are missing: Familiar surroundings – in deep memory only. Controversial industry – not at all sure.

Hmm. I need to create a community like Portland-on-the-Rideau, but not there. I need to create a lake that is larger than Big Rideau, but more remote. I need to name this lake. Foggy Lake – boring. Hey – Awan is foggy in Ojibwe so there we go: Awan Lake. I need to name the town – I knew a town in Alberta called Spirit River. There isn’t one in Ontario by that name, and that way I also get a name for the river that feeds and drains Awan Lake. Check!

So there you go, I have a place for my characters to live their lives and get involved in mysteries, and I won’t insult anyone. Welcome to Spirit River at Awan Lake, which is now as imprinted on my soul as Portland-on-the-Rideau is, in my fondest memories!


Sunset at 20:47 is the first novel in the Awan Lake series and is available in print through Amazon and as an e-book (cheaper!) pretty well anywhere. Nobody Drowned is book number two and is slated for release in March. You can find more information at www.peterkingsmill.ca

Awan Lake: on planning a novel (!)

I’ve really only just started work on my second novel. Awan Lake was the working title of my first book as I was writing it, and it stayed that way until I wrote “End” on the last page, when I realized I had created a mystery with a two-week time-line that finished at sundown just after quarter to nine (20:47 navy time). Changing the book’s title was an instant decision: Sunset at 20:47. Seemed so logical, I could hardly believe it was my idea; I certainly didn’t plan it that way.

In case you hadn’t noticed, “plan” is a four-letter word. At a number of points in my varied career, I have been involved with developing plans: business plans, marketing plans and community development plans. I have sometimes had the dubious pleasure of doing this work for people who used a lot of four-letter words but none of them was the word “plan”. One fellow even explained his hatred of the planning process as follows: “I hate f**king plans; every time I plan something it f**king screws up!”

Perhaps he had something there. For me, writing a novel can often feel like walking a tightrope in a wind storm: the plan is straightforward – get to the other end – but an awful lot can happen along the way. So I don’t plan my novels; I just start at the beginning and build from there. However, I do like my characters from Sunset at 20:47: Anderson is like a special friend I am lucky to have met, and Marjorie is a person he needs in his life. Arnold and Marion are two of those salt-of-the-earth people we are all lucky to find in our own neighbourhoods (and their neighbourhood is typical of most rural villages in Canada if not everywhere: welcoming but cautious, proud of its past and worried about its future!)

So here I go again. I like my lake and my village and I know my main characters have more stories to tell. And so, again, the working title is Awan Lake but you can be almost certain that will change!

(And oh yes, I plan to have it published in January. But you know how plans are… please stay with me!)



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