Interview with Ed Butts

Ed Butts is the author of numerous non-fiction historical books, including Murder, Line of Fire, Running With Dillinger, True Canadian Unsolved Mysteries, and The Desperate Ones, which was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award. He has a Bachelor of Independent Studies from the University of Waterloo, where he was a founder of the university’s literary magazine, The New Quarterly. Sheri Doyle, the Director of Communications for Friends of Vocamus Press, interviewed him in Guelph, Ontario.

sd: Could you tell us a little bit about your newest book?

EB: Wartime: The First World War in a Canadian Town focuses on Guelph to explain what was happening in communities all across Canada during the war years. It discusses such issues as recruiting, conscription, shortages of food and fuel, fear of enemy agents, discrimination towards non-British immigrants, the loss of family members fighting in Europe, and how the city changed over the course of the war.

sd: What is the story behind this book?

EB: The book evolved from a series of articles about the names on the Guelph Cenotaph I started writing for the Guelph Mercury in 2014. I learned so much about the city and the people who lived here during that period that I thought there was a book in all the information I’d accumulated. Much of my research was done on the internet, particularly at Library and Archives Canada’s website pertaining to the First World War; but most of my information came from the microfilmed archives of the Mercury in the Guelph Public Library. If I include all of the time I spent researching the Mercury articles, I could say this book was three years in the making. But from the time the publisher gave the go-ahead to an outline I submitted, until the time I submitted the final manuscript was about a year. The biggest challenge was going through four years worth of newspaper editions searching for facts that would help tell the story. The most interesting moments came when I met people who were related to men whose names are on the cenotaph, and they showed me family heirlooms like medals, letters and photographs.

sd: What is your writing routine?

EB: My writing routine, such as it is: usually I start working at my computer in the morning. After noon I go to the library to work at the microfilm reader, and then do any errands I need to do downtown. I like to write for a few hours at night, with a pen and a stack of paper.

sd: Which authors have influenced you most?

EB: Authors who have influenced me? I guess I’ve been influenced to some degree by almost every writer whose works I’ve read. But among my favourites are Shakespeare, Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain and Jack London. The late Canadian writer Harold Horwood, with whom I collaborated on two books, was also a mentor.

sd: What writing advice can you offer writers who are just starting out?

EB: My writing advice? The same advice almost every writer receives and passes on: revise, revise, revise; learn from your errors and don’t be discouraged. To anyone writing non-fiction (or even authentic historical fiction), I’d say don’t rely strictly on the internet for research. It isn’t an all-knowing, universally comprehensive god. Learn how to use the public library and all the sources available through it.

sd: What are you currently reading?

EB: I’m currently reading The Vimy Trap, a book about how we mythologize, glorify and sanctify war; and The Comedians, a history of American comedy. I’ve also been browsing through some great books I picked up at the Guelph Public Library’s big book sale, such as The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language.

sd: What are you working on now?

EB: I have a couple of potential book projects that are in the early stages. In the meantime, I’m researching articles for my monthly column in the Mercury-Tribune about Guelph history.