Gabriele loves to recreate an era in which she can immerse herself (and readers), by weaving compelling stories around meticulously researched facts. Her characters are best friends, whom others are now calling "cherished friends". If you want a glimpse of her world, visit her book trailers on YouTube - for the first 2 Muskoka Novels and for the third.
Not being able to leave all her extensive research on the Great War behind, Gabriele has created a website of quirky facts - Odd, Intriguing, Surprising Facts About WW1 - which is being used by international researchers and educators.
Gabriele was born in Germany and emigrated to Canada as a young child. With degrees in the social sciences and education from the University of Toronto, she has had a varied career as an educator, literacy coordinator, and website designer, and has been an active community volunteer, particularly in heritage preservation. But writing fiction has always been her passion. Her first short story, "Mrs. Beresford's Disgrace", won an Honourable Mention in the Canadian Authors Association short story contest, and appears in the Winners' Circle 5 Anthology. In the fall of 2001, she produced a feature, nominated for an award, on CBC Radio's "Outfront".
Gabriele has done presentations to many organizations, and is happy to teleconference with book clubs.
Follow her blog - The Obsessed Writer - where she talks about research, writing, and life in general.
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Top Christmas Reads
by Gabriele Wills
I’m a sucker for those Christmas cards that depict elegant Victorians strolling past gingerbreaded shop-fronts in idyllic villages, or tranquil, snow-powdered country scenes with horse-drawn sleighs and carefree kids skating on mill ponds - images that harken back to seemingly gentler and simpler times. So the stories that I prefer to read during the Christmas season are ones that transport me into the past.
How appropriate, then, the charming tale of The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot – or any of Herriot’s delightful and amusing stories about life as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales. I never tire of reading them, or watching the splendid TV series based on his books.
But with the withering daylight and deep, dark nights, I also love to curl up with brooding, Gothic tales, like Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn or Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which I first read in the frost-bitten days of a bleak and dying November. In fact, I associate that time of year so strongly with the Brontë moors that I even have characters wandering them in November of 1916 in Elusive Dawn. What fun that was to write! So this year’s holiday book will be Emily’s Ghost: A Novel of the Brontë Sisters by Denise Giardina. It’s been on my shelf for a few years, because when I’m immersed in my own research and writing, I read only within the period I’m covering. Other books have been piling up!
Including another one of Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles set in medieval Cambridge. Not surprising that I prefer those mysteries as winter reads, since I begin playing Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen’s haunting medieval chants around Halloween, and carry through until the days start to grow significantly longer again. It’s rather a joke in our family. But I think it’s my way of connecting to the spirituality of the season. How delicious to sit by a cozy fire and hear the soaring music reverberating through ancient churches and crypts (seriously!), while reading about a time when life was difficult and brutal, but never boring.
And despite revisiting this faithfully ever year, I am never bored by Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. From the moment I began reading this classic many years ago, I was completely enchanted. It’s a wonderfully nostalgic memory of Christmases past brought to life through such dazzling imagery and lyrical language that it leaves you almost breathless.
It contains within its pages all the elements that evoke a heartwarming feeling about a memorable season - large family gatherings, rich feasts, children’s snowy adventures, caroling at a spooky house, tall tales and music by the fire – so that you just want to be invited in.
What a delight it was to discover a film version that is not only true to the text – word perfect, in fact - but also so beautifully acted and filmed that it more than does justice to the story. It is a classic in its own right. Watching this has become a cherished Christmas tradition at our house since it first appeared on TV in 1987, and indeed, our daughter grew up with it. When we speak of “the Uncles” or the “horrible-whiskered cats” or Miss Prothero and the firemen, we need say no more, but chuckle in fond remembrance. And anticipation.
You can hear Dylan Thomas reading his story at this link, but do be sure to check out the movie with Denholm Elliott as the grandfather who tells the tale to his spellbound grandson on Christmas Eve.
So on our Christmas Eve we will once again be mesmerized by the “bandaged town” with “powder and ice-cream hills” by the “carol-singing sea”.
It’s the Age of Elegance in the summer playground of the affluent and powerful. Amid the pristine, island-dotted lakes and pine-scented forests of the Canadian wilderness, the young and carefree amuse themselves with glittering balls and friendly competitions. The summer of 1914 promises to be different when the ambitious and destitute son of a disowned heir joins his wealthy family at their cottage on Wyndwood Island. Through Jack’s introduction into the privileged life of the aristocratic Wyndhams and their illustrious social circle, he seeks opportunities and alliances to better himself, including in his schemes, his beautiful and audacious cousin, Victoria.
But their charmed lives begin to unravel with the onset of the Great War, in which many are destined to become part of the “lost generation”.
This richly textured tale takes the reader on an unforgettable journey from romantic moonlight cruises to the horrific sinking of the Lusitania, from regattas on the water to combat in the skies over France, from extravagant mansions to deadly trenches – from innocence to nationhood.
The Summer Before The Storm, the first of the epic Muskoka Trilogy, evokes a gracious, bygone era that still resonates in this legendary land of lakes.