Category Archives: Personal History

What I Found in My Research Today

One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the gob-smacking stories I find while researching. In the second book of the Loyalist trilogy I wrote about a true story found as I researched the burning of Niagara (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) when the American troops ended their occupation of Fort George and headed back across the border to the United States. The snippet was about an old woman, too sick to leave her bed that cold December night of heated tempers and hot flames. For me this was a nugget for my own story of Lucy and John’s experiences.

Here is how I integrated the story into The Loyalist’s Luck:

Soldiers ran from one house to the next, their flaming torches setting each and every building alight. The wind blew the flames as they ate up the insides, the roofs, the chimneys, and finally the walls themselves of the little town. Perhaps the cruellest cut of all came with the knowledge of just who was setting the fires. Along with the American militiamen a group of American sympathizers called the Canadian Volunteers tossed torches into their own neighbors’ homes.

People howled in the streets. When the torchers reached the house next door they learned that the old woman who lived there was sick and could not leave her bed. The soldier gave the order to carry her, bed and all, outside into the snow where she lay shivering under her blankets as her house burned to the ground. Lucy ran to the bed and heaped her spare blankets on the woman but they gave no comfort to the woman or to Lucy.

Just now my days are filled with searching for information about the early to mid 1800’s  in Upper Canada (Ontario). Part of that is trying to get a feel for just what was happening at the time with respect to settlers, crown lands, politics both local and across the ocean, escaping slaves, treaties with First Nations people, and especially day-to-day living in this part of the world. Yes, it’s a huge task.

Knowing that I’m studying my own history helps enormously. These are the times my people lived in.

I Came As a StrangerI Came As A Stranger: The Underground Railroad has turned out to be so interesting that I am reading the whole book even though much of it is about times after my field of research. Here are a few of the tidbits I’ve found:

  • Even at the time of the 1837 Rebellions in Upper Canada and Lower Canada the widespread fear that the United States might invade again caused  “coloured people” to come to Niagara by the wagonload and volunteer to fight in order to keep the Americans out of their new country.” (p.42) For us, today, that distinction between Americans and Canadians is just not present. How fearful the times must have been not only for blacks but also for those multitudes of whites on both sides of the border who abhorred slavery and did all they could to fight against it.

  • John Brown was one such white man who gave his life in his fight against slavery. (p.83)

  • Many slave owners resorted to illegal moves to entice their former slaves back across the border. I read of a turnabout. One owner was seized by his former slaves and whipped with the same number of lashes as the former slave brothers had seen their mother’s naked back receive under the owner’s hand. Following that he was sent back across the Detroit River presumably to return home. (p.95)

  • In Niagara a former slave owner trumped up horse theft charges against his former slave so that the slave could be extradited and punished in the United States. A huge crowd of blacks from the Niagara area freed their friend, taking the law into their own hands. Two of the rescuers were killed in the melee. (p. 97)

Wednesday I am lucky enough to be going to hear the author of I Came As a Stranger, Bryan Prince, speak at a library about a half hour away. Coincidentally this library is in the area where my next book takes place so I am doubly excited. I’ll be going early to check out the original documents which pertain to the area and to my own family history. Yes, the next book will have a large fictional component but how exciting for me to be recreating a world where my great great great grandparents first settled north of London, Ontario.

Once I finish Bryan’s book, I’ll be on to another and another and another as I spend the rest of February searching sources and spinning stories in my head for book three, The Loyalist Legacy. Let me know of any pertinent sources I should research and you could find your ideas in the next book!


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For All Lovers of Historical Fiction!

Book Two in The Loyalist Trilogy!

Purchase The Loyalist’s Luck Here.

The Loyalist’s Luck_cover_apr1.indd
John and Lucy escape the Revolutionary War to the unsettled British territory across the Niagara River with almost nothing. In the untamed wilderness they must fight to survive, he, off on a secret mission for Colonel Butler and she, left behind with their young son and pregnant once again. In the camp full of distrust, hunger, and poverty, word has seeped out that John has gone over to the American side and only two people will associate with Lucy–her friend, Nellie, who delights in telling her all the current gossip, and Sergeant Crawford, who refuses to set the record straight and clear John’s name. To make matters worse, the sergeant has made improper advances toward Lucy. With John’s reputation besmirched, she must walk a thin line depending as she does on the British army, and Sergeant Crawford, for her family’s very survival.

The Loyalist’s Wife, Book One in The Loyalist Trilogy!

by Elaine Cougler, winner of the WCDR 2014 Pay It Forward Scholarship

Short-listed for Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair’s Canada Self-Published Book Awards

The Loyalist's Wife_Kindle_1563x2500

When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.

With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.

Purchase The Loyalist’s Wife here.





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Another Reason to Write

Our Linda

Our Linda

For the last year and a half my family has borne the sadness of a sister diagnosed with cancer. We’ve all hoped and prayed only to have our best wishes come to a crushing end last week. You can imagine the sadness; it seems not one family can escape this dread disease.

Linda Garner VanWinden fought long and hard from the first diagnosis to the second news that the cancer was back and from the realization that this would be the fight of her life to the final bad news.  Pain was her constant companion, none of the multitude of drugs being enough to free her. But she held her head high, rarely stopped working on her next amazing project, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment she could with the many friends and family who loved her.

Such an outpouring of love, gratitude, and sadness has filled all of our lives over the past week that we all realize just how appreciated Linda was. A gifted soprano who could have had a stunning professional career, she chose instead a loving husband and family. She passed on her great musical knowledge to countless students and choirs and is treasured for all of those gifts and more.

So how does all of this relate to my writing?

Last week I spent as much time as I could pushing forward with revisions to The Loyalist’s Luck for one simple reason: I could lose myself there. I could escape from my wretched heart and work on my second book in the Loyalist trilogy: The Loyalist’s Luck. 

And hours before my sister passed, I had an epiphany. Linda was one who believed in my writing abilities early on. She stored my extra flash drive and swapped it out periodically as I revised. Her home was a safe haven for my backup. When The Loyalist’s Wife came out last summer, she read it and proclaimed far and wide her pride in me and my writing. And that was a very large audience. The church was full for her funeral. Five hundred people came to bid her farewell.

We left the sanctuary listening to a marvellous trio recorded only a year ago at a spontaneous concert for cancer research organized by one of Linda’s students. The trio? My brother, Keith on tenor, my famous sister, Donna, singing alto, and lovely Linda, whose soprano soared with hope and pure joy. Here is an admittedly imperfect video of the girls singing The Lord is My Shepherd a year ago. But listen, just listen.

The Lord is My Shepherd: Linda VanWinden and Donna Garner

Another reason to write? Well, actually, I’ve two: to keep my mind off my aching heart and to finish this novel that I’m so proud to be dedicating to my lovely sister.


Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Personal History


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Move on Over Writers, the Next Generation is on the Way!

From time to time I meet writers. Not surprising because there are a lot of us around these days. That’s amazing in itself.

Because of the world I grew up in, where being inside the box was mandatory if we wanted to succeed, my creative side has mostly bloomed since three things happened:

  1. My children grew into their own lives and their own homes.
  2. I retired from teaching.
  3. Computers took over from telephones and televisions as the next lifestyle changing revolution.

That third one is the most interesting. Did you know writers used to actually write? On paper, with pens (or quills), and without ergonomically correct work spaces? And that meant hours of painstaking toil, especially in revising and rewriting the whole thing out over and over again. My brain hurts and my writing hand is locked in a permanent claw just thinking about it.

Certainly today many more people follow their need for self-expression and take the writing plunge. Just look at the number of blogs which stream by on Blogger or WordPress or any of the other user-friendly (there’s a word from the past!) blogging sites. Hundreds of thousands seek self-expression where two hundred years ago you would have seen a lot fewer zeroes in those numbers.

With the plethora of writers flexing their fingers and their brains it seems self-evident that a huge number of them would be young. I don’t just mean twenty or thirty somethings, I mean teenagers or even younger. In my volunteer job in an eight-hundred-strong group who gather to hear speakers and youth speakers every month, I had the pleasure of securing and introducing an eight-year-old author who was selling her book to help children in Ghana. Imagine! And she was already planning her next book and where its proceeds would go.


Last week I had the distinct pleasure of reading a column written by a fourteen-year-old about my book, The Loyalist’s Wife. He loved it. Even though he does not fit my intended audience Nassem Al-Mehairi enjoyed my book enough to review it and, a few days later, to interview me on his blog. Take a look at his links for a taste of what a young teenager can do.

I started my formal writing career only a few years ago. I am awed by the thought of what Nassem will do by the time he is my age. Consider leaving a comment on my blog or on Nassem’s or even tweet, Facebook, or whatever other social media thing you want to let the world know about Nassem. He’s coming!


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The Truth and Nothing But the Truth?

photo (9)-68_edited

Here is a painting which hangs in my office just waiting for me to take a break and sit at the table. I run my fingers over the crisp cloth and smile expectantly as I wait for the server to appear. Ah, a cool beverage, perhaps with a couple of berries or cherries or even mint leaves to garnish it.

Oh, but it’s not reality, you say, only a painting. That makes me wonder about just what the painter saw. Was the reality exactly like this? Or did the painter create his/her own idea of the truth?

Perhaps this started as a camera photo from which some clever person painted what hangs in my office. Were  young lovers sitting at the table, or an old man alone with his thoughts? Was there only one door and one building and the steps simple and square?

What we see here is the result of what our minds and our talents can do, whether with paints or words. The pink pops of flowers, maybe bougainvillea, might have been a broken down string of parched ivy. We don’t know.

We do this in writing, don’t we? Historical fiction is an excellent example. We strip out most of the story we remember and just use parts. Our rendition will not be the truth as far as reporting a certain incident but it will shine with its own truth in the context of our story. My great great great great grandfather is listed as having fought with Butler’s Rangers in the American Revolutionary War. Further research shows this may or may not be true. For The Loyalist’s Wife I have chosen to make it true. Of course nothing else about John Garner in the novel is true but the details of that war are.

A good rule to use in historical fiction is to stick to the actual events as much as possible but weave fictional characters into them in a compelling way. John and Lucy are part of the mass movement of loyalist settlers who fought for the British King and ultimately lost. They represent all the real people who may have had similar experiences but are themselves creations of my imagination.

I have added details to round out the picture, just as the painter who created my painting could have done. How have you used truth and fiction in your writing?

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The Loyalist's Wife_cover_Mar18.inddPurchase The Loyalist’s Wife on Amazon here.


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Her Story Grows and Blossoms

Donna Garner photo

Donna Garner

She was only a teenager when she performed the irascible Aunt Eller in Oklahoma and, while that part is usually played by someone longer in the tooth, Donna Garner owned it. I was Music Director for that show and several of my family and friends were in that production, an energetic group who started what turned out to be a small but mighty local theatre in our area.

My youngest sister, Donna, went on to become a thoroughly professional talent on the North American theatre scene. She sings, plays piano plus a host of other instruments, and catches your eye every time she walks on stage in a character role. She is funny. As Vi Petty in The Buddy Holly Story at the Charlottetown Festival her performance rang with authenticity, talent, and just plain fun. I’ll never forget the vision of her playing a rollicking keyboard number, her body lying back almost flat, away from the keyboard, and the sound just a-cookin’. It was great.

Last Saturday my husband and I caught Donna in Once at the Royal Alex theatre in Toronto. Part of a year-long tour this off-Broadway show is visiting spots all across North America. Here is the link.

As the audience trickles into the theatre they have the option of going up on stage, buying a drink at the bar which is part of the set and hanging out there as the actors saunter in, grab their instruments, and begin to play. I suppose I could have joined the singing if I wanted, the atmosphere was just that comfortable and real. But I didn’t. Instead I stood on the stage and watched my sister, Baruska in the show, who, when she saw me, raised her eyebrows completely in character but just for me. I had not seen her since early August.

The show was cleverly written, lively, and well-performed on the adaptable stage. We loved it. Afterwards we waited for Donna before going for an early dinner so that she could get back and do the Saturday night show. And in the restaurant she was recognized! It was all thrilling. We so wished Mom was alive to see it.

Here are some pictures:

1. Donna as Fairy Godmother on Disney ship.

Donna Garner fairy godmother

2. Donna at one the the jazz concerts she often performs.

Donna Garner at mic

3. The poster outside the theatre with Donna in the picture. They have several, each one sporting different major characters.

Donna Garner in Once poster

4. My treasured program with my sister’s bio in it.


5. Donna after one of her jazz concerts this past summer in Toronto. Some of our family had gone to hear the performance. It was awesome.

Donna Garner and rest of us

Today’s post is a little far off the track for an historical fiction author but I know you’ll forgive me for praising my sister, just this one time. If you can, go see the show, Once, in a city near you. It’s a great story and will fill up your creative reserves, for sure.

Donna’s alma mater, Western University in London, is proud of her, too.

1 Comment

Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Just For Fun, Personal History


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An Invitation From John And Lucinda

IMG_7304“Mrs. Cougler, Mrs. Cougler!”

Wow, that’s formal. Who’s yelling at me?

“Hello, hello. Can you hear me?”

Well, yes, you’re yelling inside my head. Is that you, Lucy?

 Yes. John and I were just wondering if you would interview us before my book launch this Sunday?”

Your book launch? Didn’t I write The Loyalist’s Wife?

 Of course you did, Mrs. Cougler. We had no intention of making off with your glory.”

Well, John, you’re in on this, too, I see.

“He is just excited about the book, you understand. May we do an interview? Just a short one?”

I guess that might work. Will you answer all my questions truthfully?

 “We promise, don’t we, John?”


Does that grunt mean you agree, John? You strong, silent types crack me up. Well, here are your questions.

1.  What is your book about?

A young Loyalist couple living in the wilds of New York State have to fight for their very lives as he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her behind to look after their isolated farm.

The pigheaded man goes off and abandons her to face the war all by herself, you mean, John!

2.  Ah, was that a problem, Lucy?

Of course it was, you know because you wrote in as many terrible trials as you could. I still haven’t forgiven you for any of it, especially what you did to my father.

Hush, Lucy. She had to make it exciting, didn’t she?

3.  John, why did you choose to fight for the British anyhow?

Ah, you would ask that. Let’s just say there are things in my past that affect what I do today.

Or let’s say you have your reasons and I, as your wife, must abide by your decisions, no matter what it costs me as well as you. You’re lucky I’m so obedient.

4.  Will you both be at the book launch on Sunday?

Of course we will. It’s for us, isn’t it?

We will be most pleased to join your guests, Mrs. Cougler.


SUNDAY OCTOBER 6 2:00-4:00


2:00 Meet Elaine: Cash Bar; Snacks Provided

2:30 Readings from The Loyalist’s Wife

Lynne Dunlop

Matt Holmes

Sally Moore

Elaine Cougler

3:00 Mingle. Refresh. Snack. Relax. Enjoy.

Quality Inn, Woodstock, ON

The Loyalist’s Wife

by Elaine Cougler

Come out and help Elaine celebrate book 1 of The Loyalist Trilogy.

Watch for book 2,The Loyalist’s Luck, in 2014.

No Admission. Everyone Welcome!!

Door Prizes.

Elaine will be pleased to sign copies of her book.

The Loyalist’s Wife by Elaine Cougler

Available at and many other places

including the launch on Sunday!

Put in links and the flyer Ron made up.


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Author Chose Suicide Rather Than Slow Death

James King's Biography

James King’s Biography

I well remember the day many years ago when my morning newspaper told of my favorite author’s death. A confirmed smoker, she died of lung cancer, the article said. And I wept.

Really. Tears in my eyes and a thunk in my chest, I wept.

For Margaret Laurence was the one. When I first read The Fire Dwellers, on loan to me from my reader mother, I related to that housewife who stood in the bedroom, naked before the mirror, bemoaning the decline of her own body. And in A Jest of God, to the old maid school teacher who finally had sex in the grass on a one-night stand and used her mother’s ancient birth control apparatus to try to prevent pregnancy, after the fact.

The Stone Angel had a special part of my heart as I taught it to seniors for several years. There is no joy quite so visceral as delving into the depths of a treasured book with bright students who absolutely get the writer’s skill. Morag Gunn is a character name which I will keep forever as her pain and troubles with her life, her lover, and her recalcitrant daughter made for an award-winning final novel for this amazing author.

I had to realize, that sad morning, that my dream of meeting Laurence and telling her in person just how much her writing had affected my life would never be. But today, I tell the world about this clever and talented writer whose work I treasured so much.

My title, above, is the headline for an article in The Toronto Star which announces James King’s The Life of Margaret Laurence.

And her suicide.

Even at her end, suffering from lung cancer, she made the unspeakably difficult decision to end her own life. I suppose she wanted to save herself and her family the suffering she knew was coming. Courageous and fully aware of how horrifying suicide might be to some of her followers, she took control, herself, the best of the intrepid female characters she created.

Margaret Laurence, (born July 18, 1926, Neepawa, Man., Can.—died Jan. 5, 1987, Lakefield, Ont.), Canadian writer whose novels portray strong women striving for self-realization while immersed in the daily struggle to make a living in a male-dominated world.


Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Authors, General, Personal History


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