Trudi Johnson was born and grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland though her family’s roots are in Bonavista Bay. Currently, she is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University, where she enjoys teaching pre-service teachers and researches effective teaching and teacher efficacy. Trudi lives in St. John’s with her husband, Albert.
Her first book, From a Good Home, a St. John’s Family Saga, was recently published by Flanker Press. It takes us back to 1935 when a girl named Hannah moves to St. John’s to work “in-service” (as a domestic) for a wealthy family, the Sinclairs. A small indiscretion between her and Charles, the master of the house has repercussions down through the years, and as much as the secret is tried to be kept, it is upon Charles’ death in 1995 that the truth gradually trickles out. The story deftly deals with the emotions between Hannah and her daughter Jeanne as well as the other Sinclair family members as they come to grips with a shocking revelation that threatens to ruin their good name in St. John’s society and leave the family divided.
I very much enjoyed reading From a Good Home, and gave it 4 out of 5 stars at Goodreads.
Trudi kindly agreed to take a few moments to respond to some questions I had for her.
Miramichi Reader: Tell us about your background, education, employment, etc.
Trudi Johnson: I was born and grew up in St. John’s, a city that was much smaller and class-oriented at the time of my youth. Both of my parents came from the small Newfoundland community of Greenspond, Bonavista Bay where I often enjoyed summer vacations.
I attended Memorial University and graduated as a high school teacher. I taught in White Bay and in Labrador City for ten years before I returned to university to complete a PhD in Newfoundland Legal History focusing on property and inheritance law. I worked as a publisher of a journal on educational technology in the 1990s. I currently hold the position of Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education where I teach pre-service teachers. Until this novel, my writing was exclusively academic.
MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that influenced you to become a writer.
TJ: As a child, I loved to read. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have at least one book in progress. My Grade 7 English teacher once told me that I was destined to write novels. She didn’t explain why, just that I would, and I have never forgotten her words. As a teenager I was drawn to British novels and made a personal commitment to read as many of the classics as I could during my summers. When I came across the series, The Forsythe Saga by John Galsworthy, I became determined that someday I would write a series based on several generations of a family. I enjoy mysteries and novels about families and relationships.
MR: Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
TJ: My love of history drew me to Mary Wesley’s books, especially my favourite, The Camomile Lawn. In recent years, my favourite writer has been Canada’s Louise Penny.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be?
TJ: If I could write biographies, it would be about people who are typically hidden from history, rather than those who make headlines. These are people who commit to their community and display heroics in ways that often go unnoticed.
MR: What are you working on now?
TJ: During the summer of 2016, I am writing a sequel to From a Good Home. It picks up about three months after the first one ended and explores the relationship between the mother and daughter who found each other after almost sixty years. The sequel, entitled All Good Intentions, brings a new character into the lives the Sinclair and Steffensen families, representing another hidden aspect of our history and having a lasting impact on the lives of the characters.
MR: There seems to be a plethora of new titles constantly streaming out of Newfoundland & Labrador. Why do you think Newfoundland is such a hotbed of writers? What is special about Newfoundland for you?
TJ: I think that Newfoundland has a rich culture of story telling, originally in the oral tradition and more recently in print. Our collective humour in large measure hinges on our ability to tell stories. Friends encourage me to write novels that above all, have characters that they’d like to meet. One of the nicest compliments I have received about From a Good Home is from a reviewer who said every reader will meet someone they know in this book.
Newfoundland is special for me because it is small in terms of population and we all seem to be connected to each other, by our past and by our present. We take each day as it comes, the weather and the economic ups and downs, along with the peaceful surroundings and the friendliness of the people. We have gained a reputation for being charitable and determined. And as one of my characters comments, “we live in hope.” That’s not such a bad reputation to have in the midst of a culture of fear that seems to have permeated the world.
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
TJ: When I am not writing, I have my teaching that I truly love. It is time-consuming but well worth the effort. I wrote From a Good Home as a distraction while I was writing my doctoral dissertation on women and law in Newfoundland history. In my spare time, I am an avid baseball and hockey fan, I try to coax flowers to grow in my small garden, and I travel around Canada and the United States with my husband. Writing is not work for me and it is stress-free. I take my characters with me wherever I go. While my book is set in Newfoundland, I think it has a universal theme. I am interested in how people face their everyday challenges and are affected by their past. Ultimately, I want my reader to smile.
Note: Trudi Johnson will be in New Brunswick August 5th (Chapters Moncton) and 6th (Chapters Fredericton), signing copies of From a Good Home.