Words on Words: An interview with Barbara Walsh

5 mins read

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Barbara Walsh, who is also the author of two terrific new books, one an Adult non-fiction book, August Gale, and the other a children’s picture book, Sammy in the Sky, will be appearing at The Wilton Public Library for a reading and book signing this Thursday evening at 6:30 pm. More information you say? Our interview with Barbara is below!

KennySammy in the Sky belongs, at least in part, to a special genre, Canine Tear Jerkers. Great picture books such as Sammy in the Sky and Samsara Dog are rare in this area, but there are quite a few novels, such as Old Yeller, Big Red, and my own personal favorite Where The Red Fern Grows. Are there any dog books that were a big part of your childhood?

Barbara: Old Yeller was one of my favorite chapter books as a child. But I was especially partial to Lassie and stories about the intrepid and loyal collie. I watched the Lassie show each Sunday evening with my mother and sisters and I remember sobbing during the shows where Lassie was lost. I never thought the poor dog would make it home and the thought tormented me.

Kenny: Tense moments to be sure! There is a powerful dynamic at the heart of August Gale, a father’s pain over his father’s failure, and his daughter stepping into that void with him. The idea of the storm being both a event and a metaphor pervades the book, even into its subtitle. Can you talk about the concept of closure in the context of your story.

Barbara: Writing and researching August Gale was one of the most challenging stories of my journalism career because I was writing about my family, my ancestors who died in the 1935 gale. The book is divided into two storms: real storm and family storm. Initially, I did not want to write about my grandfather, the man who created his own tempest and abandoned my father, uncle and Nana twice. But I found that I could not ignore his story or my father’s painful past.

There were many similarities between the two ‘storms.’ The 42 children who lost their fathers at sea during the 1935 hurricane mourned their dads most of their lives. For 65 years, my father tried to bury his bitterness towards his dad. He refused to speak about his father until we began taking journeys together to research the 1935 gale. Though my dad has shared many stories about his past, he still cannot forgive the heartache his father caused his mother.

And the children of the gale never let go of their memories or grief. During the night of the storm, one doryman’s daughter dreamt of her father drowning in the roiling sea. She listened to his screams, saw his hand reach out for her, pleading for help. She continued to have that dream until she died.

So, I don’t think either of the August Gale children or my dad ever experienced ‘closure.’ While talking about their grief helped ease some of their pain, there are some events and losses in life that cause wounds that never fully heal.

Kenny: If you were going to make a storm preparedness checklist what would be the top five items on it?

Barbara: If I were preparing for a storm, I would have matches, water, candles, flashlights and plenty of Triscuits, my favorite cracker.

Kenny: You’ve had a very rich career as a journalist, and a columnist, did you stow away any future book topics along the way?

Barbara: I have always gravitated toward telling true stories. I am looking for another historical non-fiction story to tell, perhaps a story of the sea or one involving an Irish character or event. Most of my ancestors were Irish and I used to live in Ireland, so I am fond of all things Gaelic.

I also am working on another dog book. Not sure if it will be a children’s picture book or a young adult novel.

Kenny: Thanks so much. We’re looking forward to your event on the 26th?

Barbara: I am looking forward to meeting book-lovers, readers and writers in the Wilton and Farmington area this week.

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