Yukon Eighth Grader Published Her Second Book And Writing Many More

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Ursula and Rachel Westfall with their newest book

Ursula Westfall is a Yukon 8th grade student with a very bright future ahead. She’s co-written two books with her mother Rachel Westfall and has plans for many more.

The Westfall ladies are a Whitehorse-based daughter-and-mother team. They’ve successfully collaborated on their second published work, which is the book, A Trail of Dreams. This work was published in autumn of 2015. Before they wrote A Trail of Dreams, this team published their first book, which is titled, Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall has a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany from the University of Victoria in B.C. and her daughter, Ursula Westfall, is a student in the city of Whitehorse. Rachel now works with the Yukon government as a senior statistician.

I met young Ursula and her mother, Rachel, in Whitehorse’s Starbucks coffee shop during the month of December 2015 for a conversation about their newest book.

Rachel introduced the book by giving a quick and fascinating summary, which actually included information about both published novels:

“The main characters in both of these stories are the residents of a village which is an intentional community living in the wilderness. They’re people who have rejected modern society, which in the story is quite dysfunctional. It’s a bit of a dystopia. And, in A Trail of Dreams, one of the residents of the village starts having dreams that something terrible is going to happen to the village and she thinks that it’s coming from the direction of the city, but she can’t figure out what it is.

So, she goes on a journey to try to figure out what the threat is and whether she can do anything about it. So she gets to the city and meets a bunch of very strange characters, finds out what the threat is, but she can’t actually do anything about it. So she has to go back to the village and in the village there’s been some drama going on involving a Sasquatch who has befriended some of the villagers. But other villagers don’t know the Sasquatch exists. So there’s some funny scenes there. And then a solution comes their way.

So both stories have that tension between nature and city life, there’s that tension that really sets the stage for the stories.”

Rachel and Ursula’s second book is a stand-alone story as well, so if you haven’t read the first book, the second book will still makes sense. However, the same characters appear in both novels and they also share the same setting. So, this new story is interconnected with the last tale, but it’s still an independent story.

Rachel told that they did most of the writing over a period of about a year, off and on, after they published the first book in 2014. They got the second book published in the fall of 2015 through the publisher, Createspace. This book is also available at Amazon and in hardcover as well.

“Finishing one story, we were inspired with ideas for the next story,” Rachel mentioned that she and her daughter were inspired by the first book. “And it’s the same with the third story that we’re working on now. As soon as we finished the second story, we got inspired to write another one. And you get a lot of energy from finishing a project. And it gave us— I guess we felt encouraged that we could write more.”

“I usually write every evening in my free time, like I set aside some time for writing,” remarked the accomplished Ursula, after she was asked to explain how she balances school work and writing. She said she wrote non-stop, even on Saturday and Sundays, and, to date, she has written a lot of fantasy tales. The subjects of Ursula’s fantasy writings are things like dragons, with a lot of complex lore. She creates the lore and creatures and realms and loves creating fantasy stories which may be classified as “dragon fantasy”.

Ursula said that they were planning to make three books in the series and they would complete the whole story in the third book. They are expecting to complete their third book in the fall of 2016.

The Cover of Ursula and Rachel Westfall ‘s Book
The Cover of Ursula and Rachel Westfall ‘s Book

On the question of next projects after the third book is written, Rachel said that her daughter Ursula has got a number of novels that she’s working on right now and some short stories as well:

“If we decide to do another collaborative project, that would be great, too, but right now we’re just trying to get the third book…that’s what we’re focusing on right now, is the third book in the Halftree Village series. And then we’ll see after that.”

Rachel is originally from Victoria BC and grew up in Quesnel, in central B.C. She has lived in Vancouver and Victoria and she moved to Whitehorse ten years ago. So, Ursula’s really grown up in Whitehorse.

Rachel said she also had a passion for writing since childhood. However, most of the writing she did as an adult has been technical writing, which is a more academic type of writing. In addition, she wrote quite a lot of poetry as well. However, writing fiction is fairly new for her:

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And Ursula’s really opened that door for me because of her passion for fiction.”

On the question of challenges of collaborating with immediate family, Rachel said that they teamed up really well, “I think if we didn’t we would not have been able to finish these books. There’s no way we could have if we were arguing about what was going to happen or how we were going to write it. It wouldn’t have worked.”

Equally excited, Ursula concluded, “We urge each other on.”

Rachel further elaborated how her family is working as a team to make writing a family affair. She told me that her son is also involved, as a proofreader.

“Where he’s involved is we bounce off a lot of ideas off of him. He helped proofread the new book. We all read it out loud together as our bedtime story over a period of a few evenings and he helped to go through that process and we cleaned up a lot of things that didn’t make sense at that time.”

On the question of hobbies other than writing, Ursula said, “When I am not writing I am usually playing music or reading. I also play the piano and the flute.”

“When I am not writing, I am busy raising my new baby,” Rachel added. “I like gardening, silversmithing, music. I also play the piano and things like that. I have more interests than I have time for. Right now I’m focusing on the writing.”

Yukon’s Eighth Grader Published Her Second Book And Writing Many More

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Ursula Westfall is a Yukon 8th grade student with a very bright future ahead. She’s co-written two books with her mother Rachel Westfall and has plans for many more.

The Westfall ladies are a Whitehorse-based daughter-and-mother team. They’ve successfully collaborated on their second published work, which is the book, A Trail of Dreams. This work was published in autumn of 2015. Before they wrote A Trail of Dreams, this team published their first book, which is titled, Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall has a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany from the University of Victoria in B.C. and her daughter, Ursula Westfall, is a student in the city of Whitehorse. Rachel now works with the Yukon government as a senior statistician.

I met young Ursula and her mother, Rachel, in Whitehorse’s Starbucks coffee shop during the month of December 2015 for a conversation about their newest book.

Rachel introduced the book by giving a quick and fascinating summary, which actually included information about both published novels:

“The main characters in both of these stories are the residents of a village which is an intentional community living in the wilderness. They’re people who have rejected modern society, which in the story is quite dysfunctional. It’s a bit of a dystopia. And, in A Trail of Dreams, one of the residents of the village starts having dreams that something terrible is going to happen to the village and she thinks that it’s coming from the direction of the city, but she can’t figure out what it is.

So, she goes on a journey to try to figure out what the threat is and whether she can do anything about it. So she gets to the city and meets a bunch of very strange characters, finds out what the threat is, but she can’t actually do anything about it. So she has to go back to the village and in the village there’s been some drama going on involving a Sasquatch who has befriended some of the villagers. But other villagers don’t know the Sasquatch exists. So there’s some funny scenes there. And then a solution comes their way.

So both stories have that tension between nature and city life, there’s that tension that really sets the stage for the stories.”

Rachel and Ursula’s second book is a stand-alone story as well, so if you haven’t read the first book, the second book will still makes sense. However, the same characters appear in both novels and they also share the same setting. So, this new story is interconnected with the last tale, but it’s still an independent story.

Rachel told that they did most of the writing over a period of about a year, off and on, after they published the first book in 2014. They got the second book published in the fall of 2015 through the publisher, Createspace. This book is also available at Amazon and in hardcover as well.

The Cover of Ursula and Rachel Westfall ‘s Book
The Cover of Ursula and Rachel Westfall ‘s Book

“Finishing one story, we were inspired with ideas for the next story,” Rachel mentioned that she and her daughter were inspired by the first book. “And it’s the same with the third story that we’re working on now. As soon as we finished the second story, we got inspired to write another one. And you get a lot of energy from finishing a project. And it gave us— I guess we felt encouraged that we could write more.”

“I usually write every evening in my free time, like I set aside some time for writing,” remarked the accomplished Ursula, after she was asked to explain how she balances school work and writing. She said she wrote non-stop, even on Saturday and Sundays, and, to date, she has written a lot of fantasy tales. The subjects of Ursula’s fantasy writings are things like dragons, with a lot of complex lore. She creates the lore and creatures and realms and loves creating fantasy stories which may be classified as “dragon fantasy”.

Ursula said that they were planning to make three books in the series and they would complete the whole story in the third book. They are expecting to complete their third book in the fall of 2016.

On the question of next projects after the third book is written, Rachel said that her daughter Ursula has got a number of novels that she’s working on right now and some short stories as well:

“If we decide to do another collaborative project, that would be great, too, but right now we’re just trying to get the third book…that’s what we’re focusing on right now, is the third book in the Halftree Village series. And then we’ll see after that.”

Rachel is originally from Victoria BC and grew up in Quesnel, in central B.C. She has lived in Vancouver and Victoria and she moved to Whitehorse ten years ago. So, Ursula’s really grown up in Whitehorse.

Rachel said she also had a passion for writing since childhood. However, most of the writing she did as an adult has been technical writing, which is a more academic type of writing. In addition, she wrote quite a lot of poetry as well. However, writing fiction is fairly new for her:

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And Ursula’s really opened that door for me because of her passion for fiction.”

On the question of challenges of collaborating with immediate family, Rachel said that they teamed up really well, “I think if we didn’t we would not have been able to finish these books. There’s no way we could have if we were arguing about what was going to happen or how we were going to write it. It wouldn’t have worked.”

Equally excited, Ursula concluded, “We urge each other on.”

Rachel further elaborated how her family is working as a team to make writing a family affair. She told me that her son is also involved, as a proofreader.

“Where he’s involved is we bounce off a lot of ideas off of him. He helped proofread the new book. We all read it out loud together as our bedtime story over a period of a few evenings and he helped to go through that process and we cleaned up a lot of things that didn’t make sense at that time.”

On the question of hobbies other than writing, Ursula said, “When I am not writing I am usually playing music or reading. I also play the piano and the flute.”

“When I am not writing, I am busy raising my new baby,” Rachel added. “I like gardening, silversmithing, music. I also play the piano and things like that. I have more interests than I have time for. Right now I’m focusing on the writing.”

Director Leslee Udwin speaks from the heart about India’s Daughter

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Gurdeep Pandher: Thank you so much Leslee for agreeing to talk to me for this interview! Thank you so much!
Leslee Udwin: It is a pleasure and Sat Shri Akaal!

Gurdeep Pandher: Sat Shri Akaal! Before I start learning more about your documentary, please let me know little bit background about your previous works as an independent film maker!
Leslee Udwin: Okay, I started off making campaigning documentary dramas for television and first film I made was called Who Bombed Birmingham starring John Hurt. It was for Granada and HBO. It was a film that campaigned for the release of six innocent Irishmen who had been wrongfully imprisoned in one of the biggest miscarriages of justices in Britain and had been imprisoned for 17 years, and my film helped to release these men from prison.

The very first film I ever made taught me that film is an incredibly powerful medium that can actually change things in the world. That’s a lesson that I carried forward. Then I made another film which campaigned for tenants rights which was about a landlord who harassed, in fact this was a real story that had happened to me, and I had made a television screen too for BBC.

Then I moved into feature films. My first feature film was called East is East, and it is a wonderful substantial comedy drama about cross cultural relations and cultural identity, the seven children of a Pakistani man who settled in England came as a migrant laborer to earn money and send it back home to his family in Punjab. He settled in England. Married an English woman and had these seven kids were caught between the two cultures, the British culture and the Pakistani culture.

The lead in that film, the father George Khan was placed by Om Puri. It was really through Om Puri that I guess my love affair with India began because he was such a dignified and extraordinary man and then I started visiting him in India. We became very close friends as a result of what we were so closely together. Then I kept sent to India by the British Film Council, The British Council variously to do seminars with writers in India and talk about how independent films could crossover, because East is East was an incredibly successful film. It won the British Oscar, the BAFTA and several other awards worldwide and did very well.

Then, I continued to make some more feature films including the sequel to East is East called West is West which I actually shot in the Punjab. We based ourselves in Chandigarh and we shot Punjab for Pakistan, and I lived there for six months amongst the extraordinary generous and welcoming and wonderful Punjabi people.

Jyoti Singh's photo from childhood | Photo: Leslee Udwin
Jyoti Singh’s photo from her childhood | Photo: Leslee Udwin

Gurdeep Pandher: To make a documentary like India’s Daughter it was a very big and risky project, no doubt, how was idea of making this documentary formed. What were main factors behind that?
Leslee Udwin: I was moved to make this documentary India’s Daughter because I was absolutely bowed over with respect, with admiration and with gratitude to the Indian men and woman who went out on the streets to protest in response to this particular horrific gang rape of Jyoti Singh, and it wasn’t the rape that took me there. It was the protest. It was knowing that there was incredible optimism and hope for change and people were demanding change and it seemed to me sitting across the other side of the world that these people are actually out there protesting for my rights as a woman, for autonomy and respect for women.

I felt moved by this to go to India, lend my energies to amplify their voices and trying for change around the world. The other impulse I had was because I went inspired by the protests I still decided that I would be looking at the issue of rape and why men rape through the prism of this particular case because the protests were in response to this particular case. I resolved really to speak to rapists because it seemed to me to understand them is absolutely crucial if you want to change them.

You have to know what the mindset is. You have to go to the source of the action and find out what has it, what view do they have of women that allows them to behave with such uncivilized flagrant breach of any kind of civilized conduct and treat woman in this appalling way so that was I suppose the other impulse, and that is why I resolved to interview the rapists in this case.

Gurdeep Pandher: How long did it take for you to complete the whole documentary starting from inspiration to the final product?
Leslee Udwin: Two years until I finished the film and delivered the film, two years. I took the decision to make it probably around Christmas of 2012, about a week to 10 days into the protests when I saw this protestors not just going out and protesting but actually continuing through day after day and then I saw the protest tip into riots. I mean it felt like civil war could ensue. The passion was so great, and the numbers were so unprecedented.

It was so sustained that was I think the extraordinary thing about it. It went on for over a month and we have all seen inspiring protests in our time. Quite recently we watched the television and so there is astounding crowds who came out for freedom of expression in the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, and that was utterly inspiring to see people united around the cause with so much commitment and fervor and determination, but they did that for one day and the protest in India went on for over a month and that seemed to me to be extraordinary.

Gurdeep Pandher: It was indeed! You went to Tihar Jail. Tihar Jail in Delhi is the highest security prison in India. Was it easy to get the consent to interview people from there, so what was the whole process?
Leslee Udwin: It was very easy. It was surprisingly easy. I wrote a very impassioned letter to the director general. The director general happened to be a woman. That probably helped because I think that she understood from my letter that this was indeed in the public interest. It was an important thing to do. It was a documentary film that was seeking change, and she understood the imperative, the need to interview the rapists, and she agreed and it is almost as simple as that.

Gurdeep Pandher: In the jail, when we actually went to the jail so there was no problem accessing those people. Right?
Leslee Udwin: Absolutely none. I mean, I did first had to get the agreement of those convicted prisoners who I interviewed and I interviewed seven of them. Let me just make this clear in my mind, yes they were seven. Four who were not in any way allied to this particular case and three who were and on film I interviewed five. I did that over seven days. Mukesh I interviewed for three days, 16 hours, and in total I interviewed them all for about 31 hours.

Gurdeep Pandher: You had met and talked to a person who was convicted of brutal murder and rape. It clearly shows in your documentary that he has or those people they have no remorse or guilt of any action they did. After you finished your conversation, what were your own reflections on that?
Leslee Udwin: Well, I was absolutely appalled and shocked that there was no remorse because you would imagine even if somebody had so little respect, saw a woman of so little value felt that everyone was doing it so why shouldn’t they do it which is all true of what they told me were their reasons for raping in the case of Nirbhaya, for raping and dealing with her so brutally, teaching her a lesson as they put it.

In the case of the other four rapists who were not related to this case again very similar themes emerged. It is the mindset of the society. It is what you learn as a boy to think about a girl that step by step leads you as an adult to think you can do this.

Gurdeep Pandher: The most heart wrenching part of your documentary was watching stories from Jyoti’s parents and seeing their strong emotions. Please describe the whole atmosphere when you were with them as they spoke about those stories of their beloved daughter!

Jyoti Singh's parents Badri Singh and Asha Devi | Photo: Leslee Udwin
Jyoti Singh’s parents Badri Singh and Asha Devi | Photo: Leslee Udwin

Leslee Udwin: Well it was absolutely utterly heart breaking and again there were surprises. There were always surprises when you go with a certain set of expectations and then you meet the real people. It is always different. What was extraordinary to me was how stoical they were. How absolutely dignified they were in their grief. I mean the grief that they are still carrying because they have no closure. Day in day out they are having to live with an unresolved situation, and they were promised a fast track case.

Now the session’s court moved relatively quickly. I think it was nine months before the convictions and the sentencing were concluded. Then the high court dismissed the appeals again relatively quickly but the supreme court has not had a single day sitting on this case, and I think the supreme court action started in March of last year so it is year stuck in the supreme court, and we know that there is a massive backlog of cases, I think a 125 cases waiting in the supreme court, and they take the cases on a historic basis.

It is just appalling for those parents. Their pain is so palpable. It cracks the heart. It is also incredibly humbling because I sat there as a mother thinking if this had happened to my daughter I can’t believe that I would have this sort of forbearance, the sort of dignity that they have. I think I would be so attaintly angry. To make sense of it they see that she is actually healing the world through her sacrifice, and that gives some meaning to this utterly meaningless and atrocious, hate filled act that snatched their daughter away form them.

Their daughter was an incredibly special person, not that all daughters are to parents but she was the very main stay of their family. She was the glue that held them all together. They had utmost respect for her. She was just qualified as a doctor. She was about to make good on her promise that she would be taking care of the family. They themselves were a very poor family. The father worked as a loader at the airport, earned very little money and all of this hope was snatched away from them. They are also incredibly poetic particularly the father, very poetic in his expression. Remarkably intelligent, enlightened civilized people because they have withstood all their societal pressures, the same thoughts that are fed to those lawyers, those awful defense lawyers and the rapists and most people in that society, the same thoughts that are fed about the fact that you shouldn’t celebrate the birth of a girl. A girl is a burden. You shouldn’t educate a girl. The boy is who should educate and put your energies and support into. They rose above that.

They withstood all those pressures within the family, within the society and they allowed their girl to be educated and they supported that. They sold a piece of their ancestral land to ensure that she could gain her admission to medical college. There are extraordinary human beings.

Gurdeep Pandher: I saw poetic nature of her father when he was saying that now they are just like birds without wings. They can’t do anything. It was so much heart touching to hear those words. It is unfortunate that the government of India banned this documentary which should have been watched by everyone in India and around the world. I watched this video and this documentary has power to spark a thought provoking debate within the Indian society with regards to rape, social inequality and pros and cons of justice system, what do you want to say about that?

Leslee Udwin: The fact that they banned it, it is such a misguided terrible mistake. I am very confident that the court will later turn the ban and I hope that will be an end to it, because the ban has no reasonable or legal grounds to it. The ban was a knee jerk reaction by people who had not seen the documentary that is crucial distress. They could not have seen the documentary because at the time they banned it, I was there in Delhi cutting the India version of the film for NDTV and the film existed at that point only on one pen drive. That pen drive was with me in my purse, and unfortunately when this was brought to the attention of the home minister he must have know that I was in Delhi or his department must have known because I was giving interviews one after the other. I was very visibly being interviewed by the press in Delhi. All they had to do was call me in for questioning, and I would have happily and fully cooperated in answering their questions and explained to them.

Gurdeep Pandher: Do you have any clue or idea why this documentary was banned? Is this because of image issue government of India worried about?
Leslee Udwin: Well, I think it can ultimately only be an image issue. I think they reacted or it wasn’t this government, it was Congress government in that case. There was a similar reaction to the film Slumdog Millionaire. I think that there is a sense that is mis-praised that criticism means shame. The mark of a strong and mature democracy, even a young democracy, the mark of maturity and confidence in the democracy is allowing debate, allowing there to be discussion when things go wrong and when things are not as they should be in a country.

Now it seems that Prime Minister Modi has no problem telling his people on Independence Day, and this is exactly what he said that when you consider the question of rape in India, he said we Indians should hang our heads in shame. He said that. I didn’t say that. My documentary is not about India. My documentary is about a mindset that is prevalent the world over and the evidence for the fact that I was motivated to make a film about the issue globally is that I ended my film with these all important statistics from around the world of atrocities against the women of all various kinds not just rape.

That’s because having gone on to make a film about rape and about the incredibly admirable response to that rape of the Indian people, I discovered the insights that I believe led me to understand that rape was a very narrow question and actually real problem was why the patriarchal society which gives a certain set of learned attitudes to women, programs boys and girls in a particular way that leads to a lack of respect and atrocities against woman.

The minute that conclusion in the course of my inquiry was clear to me the film became about much more than just rape, and then the choices I made in the edit reflected that, and knowing that this is the problem the world over, I put those statistics at the end of the film so that no viewer at the end can be let off the hook and think, oh this happens to those people over there. It happens everywhere in every single country in the world, and I am currently traveling the world going from country to country.

I have been to Sweden. I have been to the US. I have been to Denmark. I am about to go back to the US, and this is what I am doing. I am campaigning around the world to try and use the documentary as a powerful tool for change everywhere. In a way it is a coincidence that those protests which inspired me happened in India about this case, because the truth is that if those protests had happened anywhere else in the world about any other atrocity against a woman, I would have gone to that country and made the film about that atrocity. That’s the truth.

Gurdeep Pandher: That’s indeed it is really a powerful tool for change. After the news of this documentary spread in India, were you ever threatened for making such a documentary there?
Leslee Udwin: No, I wasn’t threatened. There has been a lot of hate spieled out against me. It is sad that that happens. I mean I am old enough and mature enough to know that there are what my kids would call trolls everywhere. It is a great sadness the people should spend their energy on a hate campaign against me or spend their energy looking in the wrong direction.

I mean, even revered and respected feminists in small numbers but significant feminists who I very much admire and respect for all the great work they have been doing over decades in India, even they have been looking in the wrong direction and criticizing the title of the film. There is nothing wrong with criticism, but there is something wrong when you reject something that is so clearly a belief for change, a change that you have been working so hard for and then you somehow don’t focus on that big issues when it comes in a big huge tsunami.

It is not just a way that is being created here. It is utterly massive and of course the ban has made it bigger. The documentary itself, you must not forget, the documentary itself is so powerful and so shocking and so moving that that would have happened anyway. It has just been exaggerated by the ban as of course the minute you ban something you mean there is a controversy there is interest. It sensationalizes it in a sense.

I think that it is really sad that people are looking in the wrong direction. I mean, I can give you the example of Jaya Bachan who is not just by some revered member of society married to a very revered, loved, influential man in India, but is also an MP and a very educated woman. When you see her interviews about me she turns into some kind of gosh I mean I can hardly, it is a witch-hunt she has against me. She calls me gori with great disdain and complete lack of calm or reasonableness and you understand that this done something absolutely terrible to her psyche, it has disturbed her in such a way that, she is on a real tirade against me, and nowhere is she actually discussing the film, and the reason for that is that she hasn’t seen the film. She admits in these same interviews to not having seen the film and not wanting to see it, but I mean that’s just childish actually.

Gurdeep Pandher: The day of December 16, 2012, will remain one of the darkest days in India’s history. It was shocking to watch those two defense lawyers support the accused rapist action and used derogatory words towards the women, so what were your reflections towards those lawyers?
Leslee Udwin:  Well, you see many people have seen the documentary say that they are more shocked by what the lawyers said. Then by what the rapist says. To a large extent a lot of hysteria in terms of this negative response to this film has been about how dare you give a platform to a rapist to say such hateful things about woman, but if you actually look at what the rapist says about women it is pretty much the same as what politicians have stood up in parliament and said about women.

Gurdeep Pandher:  You were very brave to sit and listen to those heartbreaking stories from all people, all walks of people you went to. How did you manage to process all of the pain, crying, emotions coming from different type of people or did you manage to put everything together, it was really brave? I want to know more about this.
Leslee Udwin: Well, I think the truth is Gurdeep that probably I haven’t fully processed it yet. I mean, I have been on a journey that has not stopped for one day. I still now, what is the time now, it is half past midnight here that early for me because I sit and work till 5 a.m. I have got 1300 starred emails, not just in my inbox but the ones that I put exclamations against and that I have to answer. I have a backlog now of the 1300 of them.

I am travelling all the time. I am doing screenings. I am doing interviews. I am talking to people, encouraging film makers to make more documentaries in their countries so that this film starts a trend of doing that because it is really, really important to keep the conversation going. I am about to go to the UN for a number of meetings. I am about to go to the women in the world conference in New York, to a festival in Chicago where the film is being shown, to a screening in Atlanta. It is nonstop. It is relentless.

I can’t stop doing it because I am so utterly committed to this issue and especially at a time now when I see so many changes already having taken place and it is not even four weeks since the film was released, so I am way at the beginning of this campaign, and I suppose if I stop and process it at any stage and I haven’t had a day off since I started this process in well certainly since July 2013 because of course when I started conceiving of it in late December-January 2013 I was planning it. I was still at home in Copenhagen at that point, and I wasn’t working at this fury speed.

Without a doubt since June-July I have been at it utterly nonstop. I think processing it is going to take a lot of time. When I am processing it I mean processing the pain rather than the insights that I have gleaned from it. As I went long of course I have had explosions of depression and anguish but somehow I picked myself up and dust myself off and keep going with it because it is still important to break down over.

Gurdeep Pandher: What are your plans for the future? Do you want to create more documentaries like this from other parts of the world regarding social injustice?
Leslee Udwin: I certainly want to inspire other documentaries, and I have agreed so far with two people, one in America and one in the UK that I will exec produce for them. In other words I will advice them and point them in the right direction trying to help them fund their documentaries and advice them on the edit once they have shot their material.

I cannot put more of my time and life into making another documentary. It takes a long time. It takes the two years it took me. I have to campaign. Campaigning now with this film is more important than making another documentary because in a way you have to see the journey through. This film has every propensity to change people’s mindsets just by seeing it.

I will tell you one story, when I showed the film in Delhi in May 2014 when the film wasn’t nearly finished yet, and I just had my first cut of it and it was a long cut. It was 90 minutes long and I gathered together some of the people who I had interviewed in the documentary really to get their opinions and try to learn whether they felt that the documentary was well balanced, whether they had any ideas about how I could improve it. How they felt India would respond to the documentary.

I showed at a very small conference room in a hotel where I had hired the screen and the projector and part of the deal was that I got snacks for my 15 guests and there were three waiters in the room who were putting out the snacks just before the film was about to start, and I went up and asked them please to come back one and a half hours later and to do the snacks then, because I didn’t want the film to be disturbed by the cluttering of plates.

Then I took my seat and the film began and about 5 minutes later I happened to turn to the side and I saw that these waiters were rooted to the spot watching this film and they didn’t move for 90 minutes. At the end I went up in the lift with one of them with my credit card to go and pay the bill, and he was absolutely visibly shaken. He said to me very gently, he said, “Ma’am you have made a beautiful film, a heart touching film”.

I thanked him for saying that and said look what’s really important for me to know and please tell me the truth, will it make you think about how women are treated. How women are treated in your family, in your community, in your country. These are the exact words he said to me Gurdeep, he said, “Ma’am it surely will and I will surely change”. He was shaken when he said that, and he was utterly sincere.

The fact is that I know the film has the power to change people’s attitudes, to challenge their attitudes, to make them see things from the point of view of another, and I think everyone sees this documentary sees things from the point of view of Jyoti’s parents. They understand that loss, that pain, that life is given such a big value by the documentary whereas in the society it is not given much of a value because she is a girl.

I think it really challenges people in a particular way, and I think the way it challenges them most acutely is by reflecting to them things they know they are guilty of thinking.

Gurdeep Pandher: Yeah, that’s true. Thank you so much Leslee for talking straight from your heart. The whole conversation was so great. It was so beautiful! Your documentary is well done. It is great piece of realistic film making because we need real movies about real people of what’s happening in the society and we need to promote that type of work and thank you so much again for this interview!
Leslee Udwin: Well, I am thrilled that you say that, and I thank you for your support, and we must just keep on the conversation, keep talking about it, keeping stoking those files because really the time is now to change things for women. It has been far, far too long. We have dealt with slavery, but we haven’t dealt with women’s rights. We have to do that know. On that note, I think I will end with Chack De Fatte.

Gurdeep Pandher: Yes, Chack De Fatte!
Leslee Udwin: Love to meet you Gurdeep!

An Interview with Karina Inkster- Author of Vegan Vitality

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Karina Inkster is a Vancouver-based author, fitness coach, certified personal trainer with a master’s degree in gerontology, specializing in health and aging, and music lover. When she was 11, she became vegetarian and after 5 years, she became completely vegan. She embraced a plant-based lifestyle and recently wrote a beautiful book entitled Vegan Vitality. As the name suggests, this book provides detailed information about benefits of a vegan lifestyle, how to adopt plant-based diets, quick vegan recipes with photos for busy professionals, and many inspiring stories from her personal life about healthy living. She calls herself a friendly kick in the butt that inspires and empowers her clients to live healthy lives. I would like to share with my readers an interview I did with Karina about her book and her work as a fitness coach – Gurdeep Pandher


Gurdeep Pandher: Congratulations on writing this book! Please introduce your book!
Karina Inkster: Well thank you! Vegan Vitality is a cookbook and active living guide for vegetarians, vegans, or really anyone interested in eating a more plant-based diet and leading an active lifestyle at the same time. It includes health and active living advice and workouts, more than 100 recipes, nutritional considerations for vegan athletes, and interviews that I did with 16 vegan athletes and fitness professionals.

Gurdeep Pandher: Great! How did the idea of writing this book Vegan Vitality enter into your mind?
Karina Inkster: That’s a really good question because I don’t really remember the process, but I do remember that my husband and I were in Hawaii for our honeymoon, so that must have been in October 2011. I guess I was thinking about my next career step, I was just finishing up my masters degree and about to launch my health and fitness business. I guess I was in a bit of a frame of mind where I was thinking about what my next steps were and writing a book was always something that I wanted to do. I noticed that there were countless vegan cookbooks out there, but hardly any of them bridge the gap between nutrition and fitness, approaching health more holistically. I thought there was a gap in the marketplace and that I could fill it.

Gurdeep Pandher: How long did it take for you to complete this book?
Karina Inkster: I started writing notes for it basically right away, which was in October of 2011. So from taking those first notes to having the finished book in my hands was just over three years – so it was quite a long process.

Gurdeep Pandher: Yeah, writing a book is a long journey. Did you face any challenges during your writing process?
Karina Inkster: Well, I think that my main challenge in writing was being able to carve out long blocks of time because I was working more than fulltime to establish a new business that had nothing to do with writing a book. I found that I work best in long chunks of time as opposed to several shorter blocks of time. So I decided to work 12-hour workdays in my business every weekday except for Wednesdays, when I would work only half a day at the gym and then dedicate the rest of the time to writing. That “writing Wednesday” schedule worked so well for me that I still maintain it now. Really, the time thing was the most challenging for me.

Gurdeep Pandher: Cool! Who published your book, was it an easy journey to find a suitable publisher?
Karina Inkster: My book is published by Skyhorse Publishing in New York and you know what? It’s never easy to find a publisher. It’s kind of how it works. First, I needed to find a literary agent to represent my work because most publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited proposals from authors. I sent out 60 query letters to agents and I got one person who was interested in the project.

Gurdeep Pandher: Wow! 60 letters?
Karina Inkster: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy but it seems like it’s part of the business. I read somewhere that the first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 different publishers so it all seems like it’s all within the business, but it’s definitely hard work and that actually took a lot of time. It took about nine months where I wasn’t actually working on the book; I was just waiting to get an agent and then a publisher.

Gurdeep Pandher: You wrote in your book that you always wanted to be an author. Please tell me more about your dream and career in writing.
Karina Inkster: I’ve known since a really young age that I wanted to publish at least one book, but it was never really fully formed into a career aspiration. I’ve always known it was something I wanted to do even if I had a different career taking up most of my time, which is what I’m doing now. Today – which is more than 20 years after first dreaming about becoming an author – I see writing books as a secondary branch of my main business of health and fitness coaching. It’s not my main career but it’s something that’s included in my health and fitness business.

Fruit Salad with Ginger and Mint
Karina’s recipe: Fruit Salad with Ginger and Mint | Photo by: John Watson

Gurdeep Pandher: You have been a vegan for a long time, so what made you to choose this lifestyle?
Karina Inkster: That’s a good question, it’s kind of a loaded question! I became vegan for three main reasons, and the first one is the most important. The first one is that it’s a moral decision for me. I believe that we have a moral obligation to not impose unnecessary suffering on animals, and I think that eating animals (in our western world at least) is entirely unnecessary and in fact unhealthy. When I was 11, I went vegetarian mostly for this moral reason to stop supporting the torture and the mistreatment of animals inherent in animal agriculture. Then four or five years later, I realized that there is really no moral distinction between meat and other animal products – they are all related. One industry supports the next industry, so I went fully vegan pretty much immediately, which was 12 years ago. I’m always reminded of Paul McCartney’s quote, who said, ‘If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian’. I think there is some truth to that because as I say in the book people typically avoid learning about how animals are treated and the suffering that is involved in getting meat onto their plates. Once we take responsibility to become aware of what happens behind those slaughterhouse walls, a lot of people stop eating meat on the spot.

The second reason I went vegan is straightforward: concern for our environment. Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas per year than all forms of transportation combined. There are a bunch of other reasons under the environmental umbrella, like one third of our planet’s arable land is occupied by crops that are given to livestock, not people. I read one calculation that the USA alone could feed 800 million people with the grain that the livestock eat. To me that just means that there’s complete mismanagement of resources, at least in part. Other environmental problems include deforestation of rainforests and pollution.

The third reason I went vegan pretty simply is for health reasons. There are a lot of studies that point to health benefits of an entirely plant-based diet, assuming you do it properly to get enough nutrients and protein and all that. It’s an easy one for me personally because I don’t react very well to dairy, so once I figured that out I was already vegetarian, so it made sense to me to take the full step to vegan.

Gurdeep Pandher: My next question is kind of related and you’ve already covered it a bit. Animals are still subject to awful torture in North America, I think everywhere in the world. They are slaughtered for humans to eat despite so much awareness these days in the Internet and other media about abuse against animals. Why is there not enough being done practically to stop cruelty against animals?
Karina Inkster: That’s a really great question and it seems not a lot of people think of that aspect of things. I think unfortunately it’s because money comes first in the animal agriculture business, not animal welfare. This includes things like government funding for livestock and dairy businesses even though there has actually been a huge decrease in demand for meat and dairy, but they are still given government subsidies, not to mention their own interest in creating profits. More humane conditions for factory farm animals usually means that there is higher cost and lower production rates for these companies, which is not something that this business wants. Then the other factor is that based on our huge population and demand for animal products (even though it’s decreasing), I don’t think that there is a way to produce enough animal products for that demand in a so-called humane way. A lot of it has to do with how the entire animal agriculture business is set up which is kind of unfortunate. I think it’s a good question to consider for animal handling standards and that kind of thing.

Gurdeep Pandher: I have seen many videos on the internet showing the misbehaviour with animals, and a lot people watched those videos but still they are not doing enough to stop animal suffering. I have read somewhere that one vegetarian saves an average of 100 animals a year. What do you want to say about this statement?
Karina Inkster: I think that it’s a good idea; the actual number is probably different, I mean it’s pretty hard to estimate how many animals you would save, but the general idea of that statement is a good one. It’s probably more likely that one vegetarian prevents the future birth of 100 animals per year by not supporting the animal industry, it’s basically a supply and demand case. At any rate, I think that one person’s actions can add up over time and I think the actions of many people add up, too. Like I said, demand for dairy and meat products has drastically decreased over the last few years, so there is something to that statement. It reminds me of a quote I read somewhere which says that saving one animal doesn’t change the world, but it does change the world for that one animal. Even if you are only saving one animal a year it still makes a difference.

Gurdeep Pandher: They also have lives like we humans and they should have the right to live their lives, too.
Karina Inkster: Exactly, yeah.

Gurdeep Pandher: Now let’s turn towards your own business. Please tell me about Karina Inkster Healthy Living Academy. 
Karina Inkster: In my business, which I call the Healthy Living Academy, I provide in-person and online personal training, nutrition counselling and healthy living coaching. Basically, I call myself a friendly kick in the butt that inspires and empowers my clients to live healthy lives. I train at a state-of-the-art gym facility in the Arbutus Ridge area of Vancouver but I also have options for phone, Skype and email coaching and consulting, which I do with a lot of people who are not in the Vancouver area.

Karina Inkster during a workout
Karina Inkster during a workout | Photo by: John Watson

Gurdeep Pandher: I had read in your book about different kinds of allergy problems you face in your life. Do they create any barriers in your goals towards health and writing?
Karina Inkster: Sure, my allergies are one of my main barriers to active healthy living. I have pretty severe seasonal allergies and asthma for most of the year, a good nine months a year. Mind you, this is getting better with allergy shots though, so it’s something that can be changed. For the most part, it means that I have to do all of my exercise indoors. I’m also at risk for something that’s called food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis. What that means is that a potential sensitivity to a food that I may have can turn into a full-blown anaphylactic reaction up to eight hours after having eaten the food if I am working out. It means that really intense exercise can bring out an allergy that wasn’t there before. Basically, that means that I need to train in the morning before having had any food just so that I’m not at risk for this anaphylactic allergy reaction.

That’s a huge barrier because I basically had to create my client training schedule and my workweek around accommodating that problem. I don’t train people in the early morning because I have to do my own workouts then. I think it’s not a huge effect on my writing work, though. I mean sometimes allergies are really bad and I have vertigo or what I call “brain fog” where you feel lethargic and not up to doing much. I’ve been getting regular allergy shots for a number of years, and they’re really helping. It’s a slow process but it’s definitely worth it.

Gurdeep Pandher: That really inspires me. I had read in your book about many quick recipes for busy professionals. How did you create those recipes and who inspires you?
Karina Inkster: Those recipes are all ones that I use myself, and a lot of them were actually created while I was in graduate school fulltime, working three jobs, and still trying to work out and eat healthy food. Now I work 40 to 50-hour workweeks and need to make time for healthy food preparation and exercise, which can be pretty challenging. A lot of the recipes stem from my own need for quick, healthy food.

Thai Peanut Curry with Veggies
Karina’s Thai Peanut Curry with Veggies | Photo by: John Watson of Image Maker Photographic Studio

The recipes in my book are super easy to make, use common ingredients, and also of course they taste delicious! My health-minded friends and I are always trading easy and delicious recipe ideas. I’m also constantly inspired by my own clients at the gym, many of whom are experimenting in their own kitchens with healthy eating. They report back what they’ve been experimenting with and what has worked and what hasn’t. So it’s my friends and clients and just my own personal need for this really quick healthy food.

Gurdeep Pandher: Great! Apart from writing and fitness, what other hobbies or interests do you pursue?
Karina Inkster: Other than kicking people’s butts and working out and writing I would say that music is my main outside interest. I play accordion, Australian didgeridoo, and piano. My current musical project is a cover band with my friend Heidi. We are putting together a whole bunch of music from the French movie Amélie that we are going to perform at some local venues this year. My interests are mostly music but also a bit of visual art; I do paper filigree, which is called quilling, creating miniature sculptures.

Gurdeep Pandher: I am a big fan of music. Where can people go to buy your book?
Karina Inkster: It’s being sold at most major bookstores. It’s at Chapters, and the Book Warehouse, but you can also get it on Amazon.ca. You can just type in Vegan Vitality or Karina Inkster and it will pop up on Amazon.

Gurdeep Pandher: What’s the price of the book?
Karina Inkster: In the States, it is $19.95 and then in Canada it’s $23.95.

Gurdeep Pandher: Are you writing more books in the future?
Karina Inkster: Interesting you asked that because my second book is actually coming out this May.

Gurdeep Pandher: This May?
Karina Inkster: Yeah, it’s from the same publisher and it’s about foam rolling. It’s a type of physical therapy exercise, intended to decrease muscle tension and prevent injury, so a lot of high performance athletes and very active people use it. It’s a very specific type of exercise that the publisher requested that I write about. So it wasn’t my idea, it was the publisher saying, “Hey we need a book on foam rolling, do you want to write it?” I decided I would do it. It was a very quick project compared to the first book. It’s coming out May 5th.

Gurdeep Pandher: That’s great that your publisher requested that. It means the publisher recognizes that you have a great writing skill.
Karina Inkster: It was definitely an interesting opportunity and I thought that I would take it because those things don’t come along very often. I am taking a break from books for a while but there will be more in the future, but for the next year or so I feel like I should focus on my business. It’s been a little neglected because of those books so I haven’t had a lot of time to focus on business building.

Gurdeep Pandher: Writing a book takes a lot of time and energy!
Karina Inkster: It’s true.

Gurdeep Pandher: Thank you so much for participating in this interview! I really appreciate your time.
Karina Inkster: No problem, you are welcome! Thanks for getting in touch. I like what you are doing with your website.

A twelve years old writer and already writing 5 books

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A twelve years old writer and already writing 5 books

A literary dialogue with Ursula and her mother Rachel Westfall

Ursula is a twelve years old published author. She has a passion for writing and is already working on 4-5 books. Ursula’s mother Rachel Westfall is also an author and an avid fiction reader. Mother and daughter were going on walks through the forest in the evenings, they were trading thoughts back and forth, many characters were being evolved, and finally came up with an idea of writing a book together based on a Sasquatch tale. Mother-daughter team met me at the Yukon College campus to talk about their book and future writings. So here is a literary dialogue  – Gurdeep Pandher


Gurdeep Pandher: Congratulations to you and your mom for writing this book!
Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Gurdeep Pandher: Tell me about your book, what’s your book about, and what’s the title of the book?
Rachel Westfall: It’s called Estella of Halftree Village: A Sasquatch Tale, and the main characters are a couple of young women who live in a village, and their village is an intentional community that broke away from the city to get away from all the crime and violence that was going on in the city life. So they live in a very old-fashioned way – very low-tech society – and they’re in the middle of the woods. And there are sasquatches living in the area, but they’re still sort of a legend, so not many people know they’re real. But a sasquatch starts to make friends with one of the girls and starts leaving presents and things for her. And they develop a friendship and then some bounty hunters come from the city and they’re looking for sasquatches. They want to catch a sasquatch to take back to the city to sell to some researchers. So there’s a lot of the story is built around the tension between the city life and the village life, and the struggle to keep the sasquatches a secret. And there are other secrets there as well that they have to keep from the city people. They don’t want the city people to know about certain things about the area because they want to preserve their lifestyle

Gurdeep Pandher: What inspired you both to write this book?
Ursula Westfall: We always go on walks through the forest in the evenings. And we trade ideas back and forth. Like ideas about stories and things. Me and mom were just having a nice walk in the forest. We started talking about this book and then we got enough ideas collected together that we decided to write a book. So it was an ongoing, continuous dialogue.

Gurdeep Pandher: Can you let me know how this idea was developed?
Rachel Westfall: Really, like Ursula said, we go for walks every evening together, and we talk and we share a lot of story ideas. And when we started writing the story, it was really a romance in the beginning, and then as the story developed, we started to build a lot more drama into it and a lot of humour. So a lot of our conversations in the woods were around character development, or around funny scenes, things that could happen that would be entertaining. And then we took turns doing the writing. So each of us would write a scene and switch back and forth. Like most of the sasquatch scenes, Ursula wrote, so she really created the sasquatch’s character. It just evolved like that. Once we had enough ideas, we started writing it right away. We wrote almost the whole first draft over the winter holidays.

Gurdeep Pandher: When did you start writing this book and how long did it take for both of you to complete this book?
Rachel Westfall: So it was over the winter holidays, and it took us about a month to do the first draft. And then after that it needed editing and proofing. And so there was probably about another month of that type of work before it was polished up. It took about two months, I think, altogether.

Gurdeep Pandher: How did two of you work together to write this book? Did you face difficulty working together to write a book? When we work together, especially in a closest family relationship; like son or daughter, sometimes people face some sort of challenges teaming up for a mutual project. Did you face any difficulties, challenges, or things like that?
Ursula Westfall: We didn’t really. We worked together really well.

Rachel Westfall: Yeah, it was beautiful. Yeah. There weren’t any problems working together on it. If anything, we kept each other going, because both of us have started novels before, but we never finished them. And so, to do it together, we were really able to work together, work through any of the blocks that we ran into, the challenges. And I think it was much more successful because we worked together.

Gurdeep Pandher: Who contributed more to this book, you or your daughter? Is this 50-50 percent contribution, or one contributed more and the other contributed less? 
Rachel Westfall: I did most of the editing. But I think we shared the writing a lot more evenly. I just have experience as an editor, so for me to do the editing and make sure that the voices float smoothly, and that kind of thing. I did most of that. Ursula did a bit of editing. It was more around the story and what happened in the story. So each chapter has a few scenes in it, and we switched by scenes rather than by chapter. We set up the chapters after all the scenes were written.

Gurdeep Pandher: This is a question for you, Ursula, specifically. Was it easy for you to balance the work of writing this book and your school work? 
Ursula Westfall: It was easy, because I usually don’t get much homework. So right after school, I’d just start writing.

Gurdeep Pandher: Is this your first book?
Rachel Westfall: Yeah. I’ve done academic writing and published that before, but this is my first fiction novel.

Gurdeep Pandher: What is the hardest thing about writing, according to your experience?
Rachel Westfall: I think envisioning the whole project, and getting beyond that first three chapters. I think that’s the hardest thing; to be able to envision where you’re going with it, and then just make it happen, give yourself time and room to do that. Because it’s so easy to start something, and it’s so hard to see it through to the finish. So I think it’s envisioning that product to the end, and then getting there.

Gurdeep Pandher: Is this the final story scene which you envisioned the very first day, or is the final story different than the first day?
Rachel Westfall: It’s definitely different. It got a life of its own.

Gurdeep Pandher: Who published your book?
Rachel Westfall: We published it through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon group. So it’s self-published, and it’s available through Amazon and on Kindle. And I can order copies through CreateSpace, so Mac’s Fireweed Books carries it.

Gurdeep Pandher: Is it mainly in electronic format?
Rachel Westfall: It’s paper and it’s also available through Kindle, as any book. Most of the sales so far have been the paper version though.

Gurdeep Pandher: How can readers discover more about you and your book in the town, and where can they go to buy your book?
Rachel Westfall: So in Whitehorse people can buy it at Mac’s Fireweed Books. If they’re outside Whitehorse, they can go through Amazon – any of the Amazon sites, so amazon.com or amazon.ca. We also have a website: sasquatchtales.com.

Gurdeep Pandher: Do you read much? And, if so, who are your favourite authors?
Ursula Westfall: We read almost every day. We read very often. And my favourite author is Brandon Sanderson.

Gurdeep Pandher: Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction? 
Ursula Westfall: Yeah, mainly fiction.

Gurdeep Pandher: Science fiction too?
Ursula Westfall: Sometimes.

Rachel Westfall: I love fantasy, the whole genre. I’ve read all the sort of famous epic fantasy books. Ursula is named after Ursula Le Guin, who is an epic fantasy writer. I really like Steven Erikson – he’s one of my favourite writers right now, he’s Canadian. Again, a fantasy author. Together we read a lot of Brandon Sanderson. We’ve read Ursula Le Guin, we’ve read Tolkien. Who else? Lloyd Alexander. All these fantasy genre writers, we’ve read out loud. As a family we read a lot of the books, so we take turns reading out loud.

Gurdeep Pandher: Are you both planning to write more books?
Ursula Westfall: We are. We’re already starting a sequel for Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall: Right now we’re hoping to get that one done this summer. But Ursula has several other books that she’s working on as well. I’m only working on the one. She’s working on four or five!

Gurdeep Pandher: So you’re working on four or five books?
Ursula Westfal: Yeah, I might not get them finished, ’cause sometimes I just start the books ’cause I get some good ideas. But then I just can’t get through them all.

Gurdeep Pandher: So you are going to be a future writer of Canada, Ursula!
Ursula Westfall: Yeah.

Gurdeep Pandher: It’s great that you are getting great encouragement from your mom, Ursula. Are you both getting a good support from the Whitehorse community for your book?
Rachel Westfall: There’s lots of support for, I think, the arts in general, in Whitehorse. And, certainly, we’ve had lots of interest from friends and family, and the community at large, in the book.

Gurdeep Pandher: Thank you so much for joining this conversation, and I wish you both the best for your next books!
Rachel and Ursula Westfall: Thank you!

A twelve years old writer and already writing 5 books – A literary dialogue with Ursula and her mother Rachel Westfall

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Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Ursula is a twelve years old published writer. She has a passion for writing and is already working on 4-5 books. Ursula’s mother Rachel Westfall is also a writer and an avid fiction reader. Mother and daughter were going on walks through the forest in the evenings, they were trading thoughts back and forth, many characters were being evolved, and finally came up with an idea of writing a book together based on a Sasquatch tale. Mother-daughter team met me at the Yukon College to talk about their book and future writings. So here is a literary dialogue  – Gurdeep Pandher


 

Yukon Times: Congratulations to you and your mom for writing this book!

Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Yukon Times: Tell me about your book, what’s your book about, and what’s the title of the book?

Rachel Westfall: It’s called Estella of Halftree Village: A Sasquatch Tale, and the main characters are a couple of young women who live in a village, and their village is an intentional community that broke away from the city to get away from all the crime and violence that was going on in the city life. So they live in a very old-fashioned way – very low-tech society – and they’re in the middle of the woods. And there are sasquatches living in the area, but they’re still sort of a legend, so not many people know they’re real. But a sasquatch starts to make friends with one of the girls and starts leaving presents and things for her. And they develop a friendship and then some bounty hunters come from the city and they’re looking for sasquatches. They want to catch a sasquatch to take back to the city to sell to some researchers. So there’s a lot of the story is built around the tension between the city life and the village life, and the struggle to keep the sasquatches a secret. And there are other secrets there as well that they have to keep from the city people. They don’t want the city people to know about certain things about the area because they want to preserve their lifestyle

Yukon Times: What inspired you both to write this book?

Ursula Westfall: We always go on walks through the forest in the evenings. And we trade ideas back and forth. Like ideas about stories and things. Me and mom were just having a nice walk in the forest. We started talking about this book and then we got enough ideas collected together that we decided to write a book. So it was an ongoing, continuous dialogue.

Yukon Times: Can you let me know how this idea was developed?

Rachel Westfall: Really, like Ursula said, we go for walks every evening together, and we talk and we share a lot of story ideas. And when we started writing the story, it was really a romance in the beginning, and then as the story developed, we started to build a lot more drama into it and a lot of humour. So a lot of our conversations in the woods were around character development, or around funny scenes, things that could happen that would be entertaining. And then we took turns doing the writing. So each of us would write a scene and switch back and forth. Like most of the sasquatch scenes, Ursula wrote, so she really created the sasquatch’s character. It just evolved like that. Once we had enough ideas, we started writing it right away. We wrote almost the whole first draft over the winter holidays.

Yukon Times: When did you start writing this book and how long did it take for both of you to complete this book?

Rachel Westfall: So it was over the winter holidays, and it took us about a month to do the first draft. And then after that it needed editing and proofing. And so there was probably about another month of that type of work before it was polished up. It took about two months, I think, altogether.

Yukon Times: How did two of you work together to write this book? Did you face difficulty working together to write a book? When we work together, especially in a closest family relationship; like son or daughter, sometimes people face some sort of challenges teaming up for a mutual project. Did you face any difficulties, challenges, or things like that?

Ursula Westfall: We didn’t really. We worked together really well.

Rachel Westfall: Yeah, it was beautiful. Yeah. There weren’t any problems working together on it. If anything, we kept each other going, because both of us have started novels before, but we never finished them. And so, to do it together, we were really able to work together, work through any of the blocks that we ran into, the challenges. And I think it was much more successful because we worked together.

Yukon Times: Who contributed more to this book, you or your daughter? Is this 50-50 percent contribution, or one contributed more and the other contributed less? 

Rachel Westfall: I did most of the editing. But I think we shared the writing a lot more evenly. I just have experience as an editor, so for me to do the editing and make sure that the voices float smoothly, and that kind of thing. I did most of that. Ursula did a bit of editing. It was more around the story and what happened in the story. So each chapter has a few scenes in it, and we switched by scenes rather than by chapter. We set up the chapters after all the scenes were written.

Yukon Times: This is a question for you, Ursula, specifically. Was it easy for you to balance the work of writing this book and your school work? 

Ursula Westfall: It was easy, because I usually don’t get much homework. So right after school, I’d just start writing.

Yukon Times: Is this your first book?

Rachel Westfall: Yeah. I’ve done academic writing and published that before, but this is my first fiction novel.

Yukon Times: What is the hardest thing about writing, according to your experience?

Rachel Westfall: I think envisioning the whole project, and getting beyond that first three chapters. I think that’s the hardest thing; to be able to envision where you’re going with it, and then just make it happen, give yourself time and room to do that. Because it’s so easy to start something, and it’s so hard to see it through to the finish. So I think it’s envisioning that product to the end, and then getting there.

Yukon Times: Is this the final story scene which you envisioned the very first day, or is the final story different than the first day?

Rachel Westfall: It’s definitely different. It got a life of its own.

Yukon Times: Who published your book?

Rachel Westfall: We published it through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon group. So it’s self-published, and it’s available through Amazon and on Kindle. And I can order copies through CreateSpace, so Mac’s Fireweed Books carries it.

Yukon Times: Is it mainly in electronic format?

Rachel Westfall: It’s paper and it’s also available through Kindle, as any book. Most of the sales so far have been the paper version though.

Yukon Times: How can readers discover more about you and your book in the town, and where can they go to buy your book?

Rachel Westfall: So in Whitehorse people can buy it at Mac’s Fireweed Books. If they’re outside Whitehorse, they can go through Amazon – any of the Amazon sites, so amazon.com or amazon.ca. We also have a website: sasquatchtales.com.

Yukon Times: Do you read much? And, if so, who are your favourite authors?

Ursula Westfall: We read almost every day. We read very often. And my favourite author is Brandon Sanderson.

Yukon Times: Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction? 

Ursula Westfall: Yeah, mainly fiction.

Ursula and Rachel Westfall
Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Yukon Times: Science fiction too?

Ursula Westfall: Sometimes.

Rachel Westfall: I love fantasy, the whole genre. I’ve read all the sort of famous epic fantasy books. Ursula is named after Ursula Le Guin, who is an epic fantasy writer. I really like Steven Erikson – he’s one of my favourite writers right now, he’s Canadian. Again, a fantasy author. Together we read a lot of Brandon Sanderson. We’ve read Ursula Le Guin, we’ve read Tolkien. Who else? Lloyd Alexander. All these fantasy genre writers, we’ve read out loud. As a family we read a lot of the books, so we take turns reading out loud.

Yukon Times: Are you both planning to write more books?

Ursula Westfall: We are. We’re already starting a sequel for Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall: Right now we’re hoping to get that one done this summer. But Ursula has several other books that she’s working on as well. I’m only working on the one. She’s working on four or five!

Yukon Times: So you’re working on four or five books?

Ursula Westfal: Yeah, I might not get them finished, ’cause sometimes I just start the books ’cause I get some good ideas. But then I just can’t get through them all.

Yukon Times: So you are going to be a future writer of Canada, Ursula!

Ursula Westfall: Yeah.

Yukon Times: It’s great that you are getting great encouragement from your mom, Ursula. Are you both getting a good support from the Whitehorse community for your book?

Rachel Westfall: There’s lots of support for, I think, the arts in general, in Whitehorse. And, certainly, we’ve had lots of interest from friends and family, and the community at large, in the book.

Yukon Times: Thank you so much for joining this conversation, and I wish you both the best for your next books!

Rachel and Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

A twelve years old writer and already writing 5 books – A literary dialogue with Ursula and her mother Rachel Westfall

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Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Ursula is a twelve years old published writer. She has a passion for writing and is already working on 4-5 books. Ursula’s mother Rachel Westfall is also a writer and an avid fiction reader. Mother and daughter were going on walks through the forest in the evenings, they were trading thoughts back and forth, many characters were being evolved, and finally came up with an idea of writing a book together based on a Sasquatch tale. Mother-daughter team met me at the Yukon College to talk about their book and future writings. So here is a literary dialogue  – Gurdeep Pandher


 

Yukon Times: Congratulations to you and your mom for writing this book!

Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Yukon Times: Tell me about your book, what’s your book about, and what’s the title of the book?

Rachel Westfall: It’s called Estella of Halftree Village: A Sasquatch Tale, and the main characters are a couple of young women who live in a village, and their village is an intentional community that broke away from the city to get away from all the crime and violence that was going on in the city life. So they live in a very old-fashioned way – very low-tech society – and they’re in the middle of the woods. And there are sasquatches living in the area, but they’re still sort of a legend, so not many people know they’re real. But a sasquatch starts to make friends with one of the girls and starts leaving presents and things for her. And they develop a friendship and then some bounty hunters come from the city and they’re looking for sasquatches. They want to catch a sasquatch to take back to the city to sell to some researchers. So there’s a lot of the story is built around the tension between the city life and the village life, and the struggle to keep the sasquatches a secret. And there are other secrets there as well that they have to keep from the city people. They don’t want the city people to know about certain things about the area because they want to preserve their lifestyle

Yukon Times: What inspired you both to write this book?

Ursula Westfall: We always go on walks through the forest in the evenings. And we trade ideas back and forth. Like ideas about stories and things. Me and mom were just having a nice walk in the forest. We started talking about this book and then we got enough ideas collected together that we decided to write a book. So it was an ongoing, continuous dialogue.

Yukon Times: Can you let me know how this idea was developed?

Rachel Westfall: Really, like Ursula said, we go for walks every evening together, and we talk and we share a lot of story ideas. And when we started writing the story, it was really a romance in the beginning, and then as the story developed, we started to build a lot more drama into it and a lot of humour. So a lot of our conversations in the woods were around character development, or around funny scenes, things that could happen that would be entertaining. And then we took turns doing the writing. So each of us would write a scene and switch back and forth. Like most of the sasquatch scenes, Ursula wrote, so she really created the sasquatch’s character. It just evolved like that. Once we had enough ideas, we started writing it right away. We wrote almost the whole first draft over the winter holidays.

Yukon Times: When did you start writing this book and how long did it take for both of you to complete this book?

Rachel Westfall: So it was over the winter holidays, and it took us about a month to do the first draft. And then after that it needed editing and proofing. And so there was probably about another month of that type of work before it was polished up. It took about two months, I think, altogether.

Yukon Times: How did two of you work together to write this book? Did you face difficulty working together to write a book? When we work together, especially in a closest family relationship; like son or daughter, sometimes people face some sort of challenges teaming up for a mutual project. Did you face any difficulties, challenges, or things like that?

Ursula Westfall: We didn’t really. We worked together really well.

Rachel Westfall: Yeah, it was beautiful. Yeah. There weren’t any problems working together on it. If anything, we kept each other going, because both of us have started novels before, but we never finished them. And so, to do it together, we were really able to work together, work through any of the blocks that we ran into, the challenges. And I think it was much more successful because we worked together.

Yukon Times: Who contributed more to this book, you or your daughter? Is this 50-50 percent contribution, or one contributed more and the other contributed less? 

Rachel Westfall: I did most of the editing. But I think we shared the writing a lot more evenly. I just have experience as an editor, so for me to do the editing and make sure that the voices float smoothly, and that kind of thing. I did most of that. Ursula did a bit of editing. It was more around the story and what happened in the story. So each chapter has a few scenes in it, and we switched by scenes rather than by chapter. We set up the chapters after all the scenes were written.

Yukon Times: This is a question for you, Ursula, specifically. Was it easy for you to balance the work of writing this book and your school work? 

Ursula Westfall: It was easy, because I usually don’t get much homework. So right after school, I’d just start writing.

Yukon Times: Is this your first book?

Rachel Westfall: Yeah. I’ve done academic writing and published that before, but this is my first fiction novel.

Yukon Times: What is the hardest thing about writing, according to your experience?

Rachel Westfall: I think envisioning the whole project, and getting beyond that first three chapters. I think that’s the hardest thing; to be able to envision where you’re going with it, and then just make it happen, give yourself time and room to do that. Because it’s so easy to start something, and it’s so hard to see it through to the finish. So I think it’s envisioning that product to the end, and then getting there.

Yukon Times: Is this the final story scene which you envisioned the very first day, or is the final story different than the first day?

Rachel Westfall: It’s definitely different. It got a life of its own.

Yukon Times: Who published your book?

Rachel Westfall: We published it through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon group. So it’s self-published, and it’s available through Amazon and on Kindle. And I can order copies through CreateSpace, so Mac’s Fireweed Books carries it.

Yukon Times: Is it mainly in electronic format?

Rachel Westfall: It’s paper and it’s also available through Kindle, as any book. Most of the sales so far have been the paper version though.

Yukon Times: How can readers discover more about you and your book in the town, and where can they go to buy your book?

Rachel Westfall: So in Whitehorse people can buy it at Mac’s Fireweed Books. If they’re outside Whitehorse, they can go through Amazon – any of the Amazon sites, so amazon.com or amazon.ca. We also have a website: sasquatchtales.com.

Yukon Times: Do you read much? And, if so, who are your favourite authors?

Ursula Westfall: We read almost every day. We read very often. And my favourite author is Brandon Sanderson.

Yukon Times: Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction? 

Ursula Westfall: Yeah, mainly fiction.

Ursula and Rachel Westfall
Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Yukon Times: Science fiction too?

Ursula Westfall: Sometimes.

Rachel Westfall: I love fantasy, the whole genre. I’ve read all the sort of famous epic fantasy books. Ursula is named after Ursula Le Guin, who is an epic fantasy writer. I really like Steven Erikson – he’s one of my favourite writers right now, he’s Canadian. Again, a fantasy author. Together we read a lot of Brandon Sanderson. We’ve read Ursula Le Guin, we’ve read Tolkien. Who else? Lloyd Alexander. All these fantasy genre writers, we’ve read out loud. As a family we read a lot of the books, so we take turns reading out loud.

Yukon Times: Are you both planning to write more books?

Ursula Westfall: We are. We’re already starting a sequel for Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall: Right now we’re hoping to get that one done this summer. But Ursula has several other books that she’s working on as well. I’m only working on the one. She’s working on four or five!

Yukon Times: So you’re working on four or five books?

Ursula Westfal: Yeah, I might not get them finished, ’cause sometimes I just start the books ’cause I get some good ideas. But then I just can’t get through them all.

Yukon Times: So you are going to be a future writer of Canada, Ursula!

Ursula Westfall: Yeah.

Yukon Times: It’s great that you are getting great encouragement from your mom, Ursula. Are you both getting a good support from the Whitehorse community for your book?

Rachel Westfall: There’s lots of support for, I think, the arts in general, in Whitehorse. And, certainly, we’ve had lots of interest from friends and family, and the community at large, in the book.

Yukon Times: Thank you so much for joining this conversation, and I wish you both the best for your next books!

Rachel and Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Interview – Over a cup of coffee with Ben Sanders

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Ben Sanders

I met Ben Sanders at the StarBucks to talk about his recent announcement of jumping into the race of the Liberal nomination. Here is the dialogue that unfolded over a cup of coffee: Gurdeep Pandher


YT: How did the idea of jumping into Liberal nomination get started?

BS: Well, I used to work in the House of Commons, so I had a first-hand view of politics at the federal level. And, you know, I hear a lot of people complain that it’s not working very well, that politics is broken, that it needs a reboot or an upgrade. And I got to see that up close, so I know exactly, you know– I have a visceral feeling for that being true. And, you know, I feel as though I’m at a point in my life now where I’ve learned how to take some big ideas and make them happen in industries where it’s very hard to do so. And I’m hoping to apply myself politically. I really want to get people more engaged; I think that they’re turned off. So at the very least, I have some new ideas for how to build a new type of politics, to try and make it more exciting for people, and more relevant too.

YT: Are you a long-time politician, or you just started experimenting with it?

BS: Definitely not a long-time politician, and not a regular politician. I’m going to be a different type of politician. This is my first time running for federal, you know, for office officially in Canada. But I do have that experience having worked in the House of Commons. And I think I bring a different type of experience, a breadth of experience to the job. I’ve built a couple of environmental NGO’s, I’ve bicycled across Canada, I’ve helped build a tech company in Silicon Valley, and I helped build the Blackberry and the Canadarm, and the particle physics accelerator at CERN. So one thing I think that politics needs is people who look at fact-based, evidence-based decision making a little bit more, and who bring a bit more of a builder type of perspective to it. And that’s what my engineering background will do. I think, in some sense, people don’t like politicians who are kind of career politicians. And I’m hoping to kind of get in for a while and get some stuff done, but then leave before things get too comfortable and the level of activity drops.

YT: You want to do things differently?

BS: That’s right, yeah. And I think that’s what people are looking for. I think they’re tired of the status quo, ’cause it’s not working, and they want to see politics be more positive, more accessible, more cooperative, more transparent, and more inclusive. And they want to see something get done. I think that’s what people like about me; I have strong track record of getting things done.

YT: Why did you choose the Liberal Party? Is there any reason?

BS: I think that the federal political scene is what’s most broken. I’m very distressed about the way in which Harper is currently leading the country. I used to work in the House of Commons when he was the opposition leader, so I’ve seen him and I’ve seen how he operates. And I think that a lot of Canadians are very concerned about the direction he’s taking the country in. I think he’s taking the ‘Progressive’ out of the Conservative Party, and I feel very compelled to stand up and fight for the Canada that I remember, the Canada that I believe we can be again. And the best way to do that is to get involved, and here in the Yukon, to try and make a difference. I think, you know, I’ve never been a hugely partisan fellow. I’ve worked on various campaigns before as a volunteer, both for Liberal and NDP – I’ve worked on Jack Layton’s campaign. And my feeling is that Justin Trudeau is building a new team, and he’s trying to build a new type of politics. And sometimes that means taking some risks, trying some things differently. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I like the fact that he’s willing to try and build it in a better way. And that’s why I’m seeking the Liberal nomination, federally.

YT: You talked about Justin Trudeau. What do you think of Justin Trudeau and his politics, as he’s going to be your leader?

BS: I think that, like a lot of Canadians, we’re eager to see him evolve and grow into the job, you know. I think that he is doing some things that have motivated me and have made me excited that he’s actually taking action and not just talking about doing things differently; he actually is. So, earlier this year, when he made the changes to the senate – to free the senators, so that they were no longer part of the party, that they could be senators in a more bipartisan way – I think that that’s really important, you know. And I think anytime you see a leader relinquish power, give more power away, that’s a positive sign. I think that’s healthier for democracy. He’s also made strides to open up the nominations more than they ever have been before for the Liberals. And I think that’s really exciting too, because it means more people will get involved. And I think having a race for nominations is healthy thing, so I’m glad to see that too. And I think he’s taken some strong stands on some issues that Canadians feel passionate about, and he’s not shying away from engaging Canadians in a dialogue about those ideas.

YT: Do you think that Liberals will be able to form the next government in Ottawa?

BS: I hope so. What I hope for is to see a change. Again, like a lot of Canadians, I’m very unhappy with the direction that Harper is taking, increasingly so, and I feel we need a change. And that’s why I’m standing up, to try and help be part of that.

YT: Let’s come to the Yukon. How do you believe that you can do better than the other two Liberal candidates who are in the race?

BS: Yes. You know, I think there’s even more who are exploring the idea, and I think that’s healthy. The Liberals are going to use a ranked ballot to pick the candidate here, and what’s exciting about that is: there’s no negative repercussion from having a lot of candidates. So I’m hoping to see even more step up and join. The ranked ballot does away with vote splitting and it leads to more positive campaigning, ’cause you have an incentive to be your other candidates’ second choice. It’s a system that’s used around the world, and I would like to see it adopted federally in more places in Canada. I was part of a team that helped move it forward at the municipal level in Toronto. And I think that that in particular is a very progressive move. Again, I don’t see this so much as a race against other candidates for the Liberal Party. I’m excited that together we’re getting more people involved and engaged, and I hope to see more people come out and vote. And I think that I offer something new and different, and I think that after politics as usual for such a long time, I think a lot of Yukoners are looking for change, and they’re looking for something new and fresh. And I’m hoping to get some new ideas off the ground.

YT: If you’re elected as an MP, what will you do for the Yukon?

BS: There’s a lot of things that I want to do, but I’m certainly aware that it’s a system where it isn’t easy to make quick changes overnight. They’re adding thirty new members of parliament, so in the next parliament there will be 338 MPs. Which means that, first and foremost, I want to represent Yukoners’ voice very loudly in Ottawa. I think that a lot of Yukoners feel very critical that right now, sometimes it’s more that Ottawa has a voice here in the Yukon, and I think people want to see that change. So I want to stand up for Yukoners and fight for what’s important to them, and make sure that we’re heard in big decisions for Canada. Especially on things like the environment, climate change here in the North. Those impacts are even more strongly felt, and so we have a big role to play in shaping some of those policies and shaping the vision of the future for Canada. I have presented a number of ideas that are important to me, and so I’m hoping to advocate and push for those. But, again, really I think the first step is to try and introduce a different type of politics that engages people better. I think that politics needs to be more visual, so I’m going to try and share some of these big decisions with people in a way that’s more digestible, more palatable, easier to understand. I want to engage people better and find some ways with technology perhaps, to allow people to have their voice. So doing more ranked polls with Yukoners, so that I understand more their opinion in a factual kind of way on certain issues. So that when I represent them and vote, in certain ways, that I have more than just a subjective understanding of their thoughts on certain issues. And I think in the past, Yukoners sometimes feel like their representatives haven’t stood up for issues that were important to them, so I want to do that better. In terms of specific policy ideas, again, I have some that are very close to my heart, but I think it’s important for people to understand too that it will take time to bring those to the forefront.

YT: The issue of the Peel watershed development has been a widely discussed issue in the Yukon recently. What are your view about it?

BS: So I think, for me, the larger issue there is that a lot– I’ve been talking to a lot of Yukoners who feel that their voice wasn’t heard in that process, you know. That there was a well-described process where the government here said that they were going to capture feedback from the public. It seemed to me anyway that there were some very clear, strong opinions and a pretty broad consensus on the way that that should move forward, and I don’t know that Yukoners feel necessarily that that voice was incorporated in the plan moving forward. I do certainly recognize that industries like mining are very important in the Yukon, and they have helped grow and shape the economy here. And I don’t think that we can turn them off overnight, but I also recognize the incredible importance of protecting and preserving our environment. And I think that there’s a way that we can grow the economy without having as negative an impact on the environment. Those are some of the ideas that we talked about, that I would like to propose, as another way to diversify the economy. And that’s what I haven’t heard in the debate so far: a way to kind of find a middle ground, and that’s what I’m hoping to push for.

YT: What will you do for the mining industry for the Yukon, if you are elected?

BS: I’m really motivated by some of the leadership that I’ve seen from Shawn Ryan and his team. They’re using technology in some really innovate ways; world-leading techniques that are making exploration have far less impact on the environment. It’s making their costs lower, it’s making them more effective at pinpointing good places to do some mining, with less environmental impact. So it’s a great example of how technology can help improve mining in many ways, and I’d like to see more of that evolve. And I think that the Yukon could become a leader in mineral exploration that is less harmful to the environment. So, again, I think that there’s a common ground there that we need to find and strive for.

YT: You’re a tech guy. Please tell me more about that, about your tech background?

BS: Yeah, I spent several years building a tech company down in Silicon Valley with some friends, and saw first-hand how that community embraces the notion of failure. And I think that sometimes in government, there’s too much of a concern placed on playing it safe, and that prevents new ideas from being realized. And I’d like to try and shift more of that focus so that there is a greater acceptance for trying out some new ideas. Knowing that if we try ten ideas, maybe only a couple of them will really work out to be successful. And there’s ways to pilot and test those to get feedback in a tangible way, without planning, and planning, and planning forever, and never really learning quickly from those iterations. I think that Silicon Valley is kind of an epicentre for seeing creative new ideas emerge in a practical manner. And that’s something I think politics lacks, and it’s an experience that I bring that I would like to introduce increasingly to that area.

YT: Do you want to bring Silicon Valley to the Yukon?

BS: Well I don’t think the Yukon will ever be a Silicon Valley, but I do think that a hundred years ago we had the Gold Rush, and one way to diversify the economy would be to build the Yukon ‘Code Rush’. The idea there is to help support the growth of more web-based businesses, who can scale very easily and who can export their product to the world without any detrimental impact, without as much of the restriction as if they were trying to build a physical, tangible product. Because, with the internet, if it is indeed fast, affordable, reliable – those are things we need to improve on for this to work – then Yukoners could build businesses here and compete on the world stage. And it’s a great example of helping to grow and diversify the economy without hurting the environment. And I think those are the kind of innovative ideas that we need to look toward for the future.

YT: How did you get involved with YuKonstruct?

BS: I was part of the early team that got YuKonstruct off the ground. I have seen the model of a ‘makerspace’, which is essentially a place where you can go and share tools and share ideas with other inventors and builders, to create new things. I’ve seen that model work well in other parts of Canada and around the world. And I was meeting with a lot of Yukoners who have great ideas – there’s no shortage of innovative ideas here – but a lot of people either don’t have the space, or the tools, or the expertise to get their idea off the ground. So over Christmas, on my personal vacation, I went and toured six or seven makerspaces across Canada, ’cause there’s thirty in Canada, and nine hundred around the world. And I wanted to better understand how that could be applied here. I was able to bring some of that back here and have an event to see if Yukoners were interested in it. And we thought twenty or thirty people might come, but ultimately there were over two hundred who came. Moving forward on that momentum, a nonprofit was built, and that group was able to take this idea and build it in fewer than four months, which is remarkable – to take an idea and make it happen in under four months. I think that’s an example of the kind of leadership that I bring in being able to, again, have less talk and more action, to get things done. And there’s a lot still to do, to make sure that that idea continues to survive, and blossom, and thrive. But I think it’s exciting to see the space evolve, and more and more tools are coming in, and more members are joining up. And I’m hopeful that this will be a space where Yukoners can see their ideas materialize, and hopefully help grow the economy too – start some new businesses, get some new jobs going. There’s a lot of benefits that could come from it.

YT: What are your hobbies? What else do you do apart from tech and politics?

BS: I love the outdoors. When I came to the Yukon, I had one bicycle, and now I’ve got three – one for every season, you know. So I try and spend as much time as possible outside. I really love the opportunity to live here, to be so close to access this world-class wonderful nature that we’ve got, and that’s one of the best things about living here.

YT: When did you come to the Yukon?

BS: So I am coming up on my first year, and sometimes people say: “Wow, how will you be able to represent the Yukon if you’ve only been here that short while?”. And my response to that is– I think some people are saying: “Well, look at how much he’s done with the short amount of time he’s been here. Imagine what he could do with even more time”. I have been to every community in the Yukon, I’ve purchased a home here, and I’ve helped build YuKonstruct – a new nonprofit. So I think that’s an example of what I’m able to deliver, and I’m hoping to continue investing in this community. I’ve decided this is where I want my home to be, and it’s part of the reason I’m running – I want to make it a really great place, an even better place. But, again, I’m no stranger to the North; I was born in Northern Manitoba, and taught science in Northern Quebec. So, in many ways, this is a very fitting place for me to end up, of returning to the North.

YT: I think that’s it. I wish you all the best, Ben!

BS: Thank you. You too, Gurdeep. It’s great to talk.

An Interview with Norm Hamilton, author of From Thine Own Well.

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Norm Hamilton, author of From Thine Own Well.

An Interview with Norm Hamilton who wrote a novel on the results of fracking, irresponsible mining, and polluted waters. Norm Hamilton is a well-known Yukoner. His new novel, From Thine Own Well, explores a dystopian Canadian society set in 2036, a scant 24 years after FIPA (Foreign Investment Protection Agreement) of October 2012. In an interview with Gurdeep Pandher, he tells more about his book.


YT: What’s the title of your book, and what is your book about?
NH: The book is titled From Thine Own Well. Basically, what it’s about is – it’s a futuristic novel, so it’s about the results of fracking, and irresponsible mining, and how watersheds get polluted, and how corporate interests take over Canada, in general. The book itself is centered in Yukon.

YT: What inspired you to write this book?
NH: Well, I spent the last forty years living in Yukon. And throughout that time, I’ve watched governments doing various things, much of which is geared towards mining development and so on, and more recently towards oil and gas development. So this book is a piece of fiction that’s really created from my observations coupled with my fears, concerns, and, of course, my biases. And what transpired from that is a book on a dystopian culture – an anti-utopian culture – in Canada. Now, that’s sort of where it came from.

YT: For how long have you been writing this book? When did you start it?
NH: It’s interesting because in the fall of 2012, we were selling our home in the Yukon. I got involved with a group called NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing of the Month. So for the month of November, I sat each day for about three hours, and wrote to tell the story. After that – and you had to get at least 50 000 words, and I had well over that. From that point, however, it took over a year of rewrites, proofreading, copy-editing, getting beta readers to read it, and then finally a complete editing, and a cover created, before it was actually published. So it’s been over a year.

YT: How are unrestricted mining causing environmental damages in the Yukon? Your observations?
NH: There’s much involved with that. However, throughout the world, everywhere there’s been fracking, there’s been problems with the watersheds and the water that people are supposed to be drinking. Mining itself – Yukon Government, in my mind, keeps proclaiming that mining is sort of the be-all and end-all. And yet, it’s kind of collapsed over the last few years. We cannot do without mining, we cannot do without oil and gas exploration, but I believe we need to be more cautious about what we do. The book also stems from the FIPA agreements – the Foreign Investment Protection Agreements. And what they do is they allow foreign corporations to come into Canada, and if a government sets up a regulation that makes it so they make less money than they think they should, they can sue the government. That goes to an international tribunal – it doesn’t even go to court. So, in the book, that has taken place on a number of occasions, and the government has been effectively bankrupted because of it.

YT: Because they don’t have any power, right?
NH: That has been removed from them. And, again, in the book – and it’s a fictional account – the government is now controlled by international corporate interests.

YT: You put a great emphasis on drinking water in your book. Please tell me more about this?
NH: Yes. I believe that in relatively short time, water is going to have more – well it already has more value than any mineral that we can come up with. But it’s going to have more monetary value as well, because we keep polluting it everywhere we go. Yukon is one of the last vestiges of pure water left in the world, and my belief is that we have to protect that and guard it jealously. So we have to be very careful about what we do with it. If we pollute one part of a watershed, because it’s a watershed, it’s going to fl ow through the entire area, and we’ll end up without water to drink. And at that point, whoever can provide us with that water has complete control of us.

YT: The Yukon Government in January 2014 approved the Peel Watershed area for development. So what are your comments on this?
NH: I find it incomprehensible that they would go completely against the recommendation of the Peel Watershed Review Committee – the land use committee that spent all the years and the time and effort in the studies. And the Government totally ignored that. So I find that quite disconcerting.

YT: Your book draws the reader to a dystopian Canadian society setting in 2036. Why did you choose this year to make a point?
NH: Because it is my belief – what created the thought for me was the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China that was done in 2012. And I kind of was curious, if that went bad, and others followed, how long would it take before Canada was in serious trouble? And it came to me that it could happen very quickly, for two reasons. One, as soon as the tribunals give an order that the Government owes money, then that’s more money that we owe. And, unless Canadians stand up against their government when they think it’s necessary, it’s just going to happen and we’re not going to do anything to stop it. So at this point, Canadians are not going to electoral polls, they’re not standing up for what they really want. From what I’m seeing on social networks and so on, there’s a lot of talk, but too many people are not standing up for it. So if we don’t stand up for something, we’re going to be mowed right over. And 2036 came to me, and I thought: “24 years? Yeah, it could happen that quick.”

YT: Related to the previous question, what could happen if the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement of 2012 goes against Canadians?
NH: That’s what the novel is all about. People no longer have any rights, it’s been completely taken away from them. The corporate interest must be served at all costs. Mining companies – not all – some mining companies have started to ignore regulations, so they’re polluting the water as well. The fracking is causing watersheds to become corrupted, and has also shifted some of the plates in the Tintina trench. Because the corporate entity told them to, government is capping off wells, and forcing people to purchase bottled water from the corporation. In general, it’s just all gone completely opposite of what we experience today.

YT: In your book, you refer to “The Coalition”. What is The Coalition, and how are they working?
NH: The Coalition is a non-existent entity at this point – it’s, again, a fictional entity. The FIPA agreement of 2012 was with China, and the book assumes that a number of other agreements – and that’s happening, again, as we speak – there’s more agreements being put in place. And when the first one sues successfully, the others jump on the bandwagon and they all end up being owed countless billions of dollars by the Canadian government. So they form a coalition to run Canada. So The Coalition is formed by these corporations that are owed the money.

YT: Your book discusses the issues of mining and fracking. How have you woven these issues to make a novel? These are current political, economic, environmental issues – how did you put them together into the novel?
NH: It’s really written not from the perspective of mining companies or oil and gas companies. It’s written from the perspective of the citizens that have been impacted by that. As it turns out, there’s a baker’s dozen of Yukoners that end up together – and one dog – who come together because they cannot tolerate what’s going on anymore, and they end up working towards change. The other half of that, of course, is the people who work for The Coalition, for that group of companies that is now running things. So it’s written from the standpoint of: when this is already taking place, we need to do something about it.

YT: What’s the price of your book, and where can it be purchased from?
NH: In Canada, the price is $19.99. It’s available in Whitehorse at Coles bookstore and at Well-read Books. It’s also available online, and it’s difficult to quote a price there because the online stores tend to compete with each other, and the price is fluctuating everywhere from about $13.00 up. A signed paperback is available by going to my website and ordering it from there, because I can then sign it and mail it out from there. That’s normhamilton.ca/writer. The book is also available in numerous e-book formats for Kindle, Kobo, Sony, and iBooks, and all the rest of it. And they’re all online as well. And as an e-book, it’s only priced at $2.99 right now.

YT: What would you like to say to the readers about your book? What message do you want to convey to them?
NH: Other than inviting them to pick up the book and read it, and let me know what they think of it. That’s always nice – I’m getting some excellent and wonderful reviews posted on Amazon about what people are thinking, and feeling very humbled by the amount of positive response to the book itself. I’m hearing everything from how exciting it is to what a thought-provoking story it is. I’m really grateful to the readers and my fans of the book. I think the biggest thing is that it does give pause for thought. So I invite people to read it.

YT: Thank you so much Norm for joining me for this brief interview!
NH: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure meeting you and spending some time with you.

Because it is my belief – what created the thought for me was the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China that was done in 2012. And I kind of was curious, if that went bad, and others followed, how long would it take before Canada was in serious trouble? And it came to me that it could happen very quickly, for two reasons. One, as soon as the tribunals give an order that the Government owes money, then that’s more money that we owe. And, unless Canadians stand up against their government when they think it’s necessary, it’s just going to happen and we’re not going to do anything to stop it. So at this point, Canadians are not going to electoral polls, they’re not standing up for what they really want.

An Interview with Norm Hamilton, author of From Thine Own Well.

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Norm Hamilton, author of From Thine Own Well.

An Interview with Norm Hamilton who wrote a novel on the results of fracking, irresponsible mining, and polluted waters. Norm Hamilton is a well-known Yukoner. His new novel, From Thine Own Well, explores a dystopian Canadian society set in 2036, a scant 24 years after FIPA (Foreign Investment Protection Agreement) of October 2012. In an interview with Gurdeep Pandher, he tells more about his book.


YT: What’s the title of your book, and what is your book about?
NH: The book is titled From Thine Own Well. Basically, what it’s about is – it’s a futuristic novel, so it’s about the results of fracking, and irresponsible mining, and how watersheds get polluted, and how corporate interests take over Canada, in general. The book itself is centered in Yukon.

YT: What inspired you to write this book?
NH: Well, I spent the last forty years living in Yukon. And throughout that time, I’ve watched governments doing various things, much of which is geared towards mining development and so on, and more recently towards oil and gas development. So this book is a piece of fiction that’s really created from my observations coupled with my fears, concerns, and, of course, my biases. And what transpired from that is a book on a dystopian culture – an anti-utopian culture – in Canada. Now, that’s sort of where it came from.

YT: For how long have you been writing this book? When did you start it?
NH: It’s interesting because in the fall of 2012, we were selling our home in the Yukon. I got involved with a group called NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing of the Month. So for the month of November, I sat each day for about three hours, and wrote to tell the story. After that – and you had to get at least 50 000 words, and I had well over that. From that point, however, it took over a year of rewrites, proofreading, copy-editing, getting beta readers to read it, and then finally a complete editing, and a cover created, before it was actually published. So it’s been over a year.

YT: How are unrestricted mining causing environmental damages in the Yukon? Your observations?
NH: There’s much involved with that. However, throughout the world, everywhere there’s been fracking, there’s been problems with the watersheds and the water that people are supposed to be drinking. Mining itself – Yukon Government, in my mind, keeps proclaiming that mining is sort of the be-all and end-all. And yet, it’s kind of collapsed over the last few years. We cannot do without mining, we cannot do without oil and gas exploration, but I believe we need to be more cautious about what we do. The book also stems from the FIPA agreements – the Foreign Investment Protection Agreements. And what they do is they allow foreign corporations to come into Canada, and if a government sets up a regulation that makes it so they make less money than they think they should, they can sue the government. That goes to an international tribunal – it doesn’t even go to court. So, in the book, that has taken place on a number of occasions, and the government has been effectively bankrupted because of it.

YT: Because they don’t have any power, right?
NH: That has been removed from them. And, again, in the book – and it’s a fictional account – the government is now controlled by international corporate interests.

YT: You put a great emphasis on drinking water in your book. Please tell me more about this?
NH: Yes. I believe that in relatively short time, water is going to have more – well it already has more value than any mineral that we can come up with. But it’s going to have more monetary value as well, because we keep polluting it everywhere we go. Yukon is one of the last vestiges of pure water left in the world, and my belief is that we have to protect that and guard it jealously. So we have to be very careful about what we do with it. If we pollute one part of a watershed, because it’s a watershed, it’s going to fl ow through the entire area, and we’ll end up without water to drink. And at that point, whoever can provide us with that water has complete control of us.

YT: The Yukon Government in January 2014 approved the Peel Watershed area for development. So what are your comments on this?
NH: I find it incomprehensible that they would go completely against the recommendation of the Peel Watershed Review Committee – the land use committee that spent all the years and the time and effort in the studies. And the Government totally ignored that. So I find that quite disconcerting.

YT: Your book draws the reader to a dystopian Canadian society setting in 2036. Why did you choose this year to make a point?
NH: Because it is my belief – what created the thought for me was the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China that was done in 2012. And I kind of was curious, if that went bad, and others followed, how long would it take before Canada was in serious trouble? And it came to me that it could happen very quickly, for two reasons. One, as soon as the tribunals give an order that the Government owes money, then that’s more money that we owe. And, unless Canadians stand up against their government when they think it’s necessary, it’s just going to happen and we’re not going to do anything to stop it. So at this point, Canadians are not going to electoral polls, they’re not standing up for what they really want. From what I’m seeing on social networks and so on, there’s a lot of talk, but too many people are not standing up for it. So if we don’t stand up for something, we’re going to be mowed right over. And 2036 came to me, and I thought: “24 years? Yeah, it could happen that quick.”

YT: Related to the previous question, what could happen if the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement of 2012 goes against Canadians?
NH: That’s what the novel is all about. People no longer have any rights, it’s been completely taken away from them. The corporate interest must be served at all costs. Mining companies – not all – some mining companies have started to ignore regulations, so they’re polluting the water as well. The fracking is causing watersheds to become corrupted, and has also shifted some of the plates in the Tintina trench. Because the corporate entity told them to, government is capping off wells, and forcing people to purchase bottled water from the corporation. In general, it’s just all gone completely opposite of what we experience today.

YT: In your book, you refer to “The Coalition”. What is The Coalition, and how are they working?
NH: The Coalition is a non-existent entity at this point – it’s, again, a fictional entity. The FIPA agreement of 2012 was with China, and the book assumes that a number of other agreements – and that’s happening, again, as we speak – there’s more agreements being put in place. And when the first one sues successfully, the others jump on the bandwagon and they all end up being owed countless billions of dollars by the Canadian government. So they form a coalition to run Canada. So The Coalition is formed by these corporations that are owed the money.

YT: Your book discusses the issues of mining and fracking. How have you woven these issues to make a novel? These are current political, economic, environmental issues – how did you put them together into the novel?
NH: It’s really written not from the perspective of mining companies or oil and gas companies. It’s written from the perspective of the citizens that have been impacted by that. As it turns out, there’s a baker’s dozen of Yukoners that end up together – and one dog – who come together because they cannot tolerate what’s going on anymore, and they end up working towards change. The other half of that, of course, is the people who work for The Coalition, for that group of companies that is now running things. So it’s written from the standpoint of: when this is already taking place, we need to do something about it.

YT: What’s the price of your book, and where can it be purchased from?
NH: In Canada, the price is $19.99. It’s available in Whitehorse at Coles bookstore and at Well-read Books. It’s also available online, and it’s difficult to quote a price there because the online stores tend to compete with each other, and the price is fluctuating everywhere from about $13.00 up. A signed paperback is available by going to my website and ordering it from there, because I can then sign it and mail it out from there. That’s normhamilton.ca/writer. The book is also available in numerous e-book formats for Kindle, Kobo, Sony, and iBooks, and all the rest of it. And they’re all online as well. And as an e-book, it’s only priced at $2.99 right now.

YT: What would you like to say to the readers about your book? What message do you want to convey to them?
NH: Other than inviting them to pick up the book and read it, and let me know what they think of it. That’s always nice – I’m getting some excellent and wonderful reviews posted on Amazon about what people are thinking, and feeling very humbled by the amount of positive response to the book itself. I’m hearing everything from how exciting it is to what a thought-provoking story it is. I’m really grateful to the readers and my fans of the book. I think the biggest thing is that it does give pause for thought. So I invite people to read it.

YT: Thank you so much Norm for joining me for this brief interview!
NH: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure meeting you and spending some time with you.

Because it is my belief – what created the thought for me was the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China that was done in 2012. And I kind of was curious, if that went bad, and others followed, how long would it take before Canada was in serious trouble? And it came to me that it could happen very quickly, for two reasons. One, as soon as the tribunals give an order that the Government owes money, then that’s more money that we owe. And, unless Canadians stand up against their government when they think it’s necessary, it’s just going to happen and we’re not going to do anything to stop it. So at this point, Canadians are not going to electoral polls, they’re not standing up for what they really want.