The Marjorie Simmins Interview

Marjorie Simmins is the author of Coastal Lives, a memoir about living on Canada’s East and West Coasts (2014), and Year of the Horse (2016), which details her life with horses in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. In the spring of 2020, Simmins’ third non-fiction book, Memoir: Conversations and Craft (2020) was published. Somebeachsomewhere: The Harness Racing Legend from a One-Horse Stable, is Simmins’ fourth book. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Miramichi Reader: Tell us a bit about your background, education, employment, etc.

MS: Thanks so much for your interest in my writing. Born in Ottawa, raised in Vancouver, I am a Maritimer now by luck and by choice. I’ve had the good fortune to attend the University of British Columbia, Dalhousie University, and Mount St Vincent, focusing on English literature, adult education, and memoir studies. I have been a freelance journalist and teacher for many years. I came to writing books later in my writing career – and have had a grand adventure with each book. I have several writing projects on the go at the moment.

MR: Tell us about some of the books, authors, poets or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.

MS: I come from a family of readers and writers so I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t happily reading. My family were also mad letter writers and keepers of journals. So writing, too, was a daily part of my life since I was a girl. From there I began writing articles and essays for newspapers and magazines. Because so many of my essays were personal stories, and because I loved reading biographies, I developed an interest in memoir writing. I continue to put on memoir writing workshops around Nova Scotia, and when possible, at venues across Canada. I love teaching and I love learning from both emerging and established writers. And yes, I now teach on Zoom, too!

MR: Your newest book, Somebeachsomewhere, while it was about a horse, (an animal dear to your heart), it really was a new type of venture (or adventure) for you. Can you tell us how long it took to compile it into the final story?

MS: I have been a lifelong equestrian and have written many personal stories and one book, a memoir, on my life with horses. So it was a logical next step to write a non-fiction book on a superstar Canadian racehorse, using my skills as a journalist. It was a lot of work and included a lot of adventures. I did fifteen major interviews and many other ones I wanted to use but did not have room for. From start to finish the book took over a year to write.

MR: Where were some of the places that research for the book took you?

MS: I travelled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to attend the Harrisburg Yearling Sale, where I met with some of the principals in the story and learned so much about the Standardbred breed and industry. I also went to Hanover Shoe Farms, in Hanover, Pennsylvania, where Beach stood as a stallion for nine years. Of course, I spent time in Truro, where Beach was developed, talking to some of the co-owners who live there. And I did a lot of interviews on the phone, including calls to Avenel, Australia, where Beach stood at stud for six months. I also visited Nova Scotia’s three harness racing tracks – Northside Downs in North Sydney, Inverness Raceway, and Truro Raceway, to talk to people and learn more about the industry.

MR: Harness racing: was it something you were familiar with before writing Somebeachsomewhere?

MS: I was aware of harness racing before I wrote the Beach book, but I hadn’t been involved in the industry or been to a racetrack in some years. Once I realized that Somebeachsomewhere was the Secretariat of harness racing and that he was owned by six Maritimers, I couldn’t wait to get started on the story.

MR: Were you able to meet any of Beach’s offspring?

MS: I met perhaps the most famous of all his offspring, Captain Treacherous, who stands at stud at Hanover Shoe Farms. Apparently, he even sounds like Beach when he whinnies, and he sure looks like him: big, strong, and handsome. I also get messages on Facebook on the time, from people showing me photos of their horse, all related to Beach in some way.

MR: Do you have a favourite book (or books), one(s) that you like to revisit from time to time?

MS: I have some favourite children’s books I return to now and again, and these include horse stories. But mostly I like to read new books, especially Canadian fiction and non-fiction. We have an astonishing amount of writing talent in Atlantic Canada, and in Canada overall. It is particularly exciting to read the work of First Nations’ writers, in all genres. Whenever I need a reminder of how beautiful and meaningful writing can be, I return to the work of the late Richard Wagamese. The younger generations of aboriginal writers are amazing in their range and power.

MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

MS: There are actually two biographies I would like to write of two particular Canadians – but I don’t want to say of who they are, because who knows? I might even be able to write these biographies, and I don’t want to give away the surprise!

MR: Tell us about your writing space. (Do you always write in the same area? Do you use a laptop or a desktop computer, etc)

I write every day. I have a very nice office on the main floor of our house. In it, are three big bookcases, my guitars, and if I am lucky, a Sheltie or two who wants to keep me company. I use an old laptop that serves me perfectly.

MR: Covid question: how have you been coping with the pandemic? What changes (if any) has it made in your life?

MS: Well, I guess I am coping with pandemic not too badly, though, like everyone else, I’d love for the world to be an easier, less hostile place again. I haven’t seen my family, who live in ON, AB, and BC, for a year and a half. That’s been hard. I am grateful I had a very small bubble of friends to help me through the worst times of the pandemic. And I am very grateful to have had my two vaccinations.

MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing (or reading)?

MS: I like to be outside! Walking, boating, riding horses, going to the beach, hanging out at a horse barn, working and learning. And I love going to the harness races!

MR: Thank you, Marjorie!

(Photo of Marjorie Simmins with “Lady” taken by Rhonda MacGrath)

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