Renowned author to read at Blyth's Queens Bakery on May 25
BY DENNY SCOTT
Dorris Heffron, a celebrated author with ties to the Blyth area, will be reading from her most recent work, City Wolves, at the Queens Bakery on May 25.
Heffron, who still has family in the area, is the youngest daughter of Bill and Kay Heffron, names that some Blyth residents may remember.
Bill dreamed of owning a clothing store and, when Dorris was four years old, the family had saved enough money to pursue the dream, moving into the floors above what is now the Queens Bakery and operating a store below.
Unfortunately, the dream was shortlived, as Heffron explains, saying that her father didn’t make friends or family pay their bills and the business had to be closed. Carrying the debt from the venture, Heffron’s family moved in and around Toronto several times before settling in Woodbridge, now Vaughan, where Bill worked and paid off his debt and bought a home.
Heffron says that, from her upbringing, the biggest lesson she took away was “no excuses.” She set out to make her mark on the world, earning an Honours Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Arts in Literature and Philosophy from Queen’s University, before marrying and moving to Oxford, England in the 1970s.
She was a tutor at Oxford University and the Open University, teaching literature. There, she wrote three young adult fiction books which were acclaimed as pioneers in the genre.
The titles included A Nice Fire and Some Moonpennies (1971), Crusty Crossed (1976) and Rain and I (1982).
The books have since been translated and used for education around the world.
In 1980, Heffron returned to Canada, moving to Toronto, where she served on the National Council of the Writers’ Union of Canada, the Board of Directors of PEN Canada and the Writers’ Trust of Canada, among other positions. She was eventually named chair of the Writer’s Union of Canada in 2013.
Since returning to Canada, Heffron has published A Shark in the House (1996) and City Wolves (2008).
She currently lives on a farm two hours north of Blyth she calls Little Creek Wolf Range.
In an interview with The Citizen, Heffron explained that her presentation and reading will focus on how Blyth and her life story has impacted her writing
The tale of the event being set is one of local connections, Heffron explains, saying that a man named Reginald reached out to her about the Very Definitive Biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, a book Heffron had given to someone as a gift.
“He said he found it interesting to trace who gave books, he found, to people,” she said. “He e-mailed me, and we chatted, and it turns out that he takes Alice Munro out once a week to the Queens Bakery for a treat.”
Les Cook, one of the co-owners of the bakery alongside Anne Elliott, overheard Reginald mention Heffron’s name shortly after Cook had read City Wolves, which Heffron says Cook calls one of the best books he’s ever read.
“The story ended with Les and Anne inviting me to read at the bakery,” she said.
Heffron said that her experiences growing up in Blyth and moving multiple times have had a significant impact on her writing.
“What those experiences taught me, moving from a village like Blyth, to the big city, then to a farming community and to a small town, was that I had to fit in,” she said. “Because of that, I’m naturally not a shy kid. I learned to move in all different kinds of communities and learned that people are pretty much the same everywhere.
“I learned how to get along with people in different communities.”
She said that her life made her “uncommonly comfortable” in any circle, whether it was the academic world of Oxford, or the business world she brushed with through family.
“Having to move from Blyth and move all over the place propelled me into exploring and learning to be comfortable, as well as learning about every kind of community,” she said.
Blyth has played a special role in her life since leaving, Heffron said, as she always returns to visit relatives. She also enjoys visiting because of the Blyth Festival and the works it produces, and even before the Festival was struck, her mother was on stage performing.
As far as specific influences, she said that, in one novel, she did recreate some scenes from her own childhood in Blyth, and that in her upcoming work Bear With Me, she will draw on those experiences again.
“When it comes to how Blyth fits into my works, it’s really about the values I learned there,” she said. “That helped me all my life.”