Local author draws on family history for debut novel

CHINA: A local author took inspiration from her family’s past while writing her first book.

Never Speak of This Again, the debut novel by Brenda MacLennan-Dunphy tells the story of a young Cape Breton woman who went away to work in Boston in the days leading up to the First World War.

Although this is the Melford native’s first book, she has written and produced four plays.

“I wrote the book Never Speak of This Again after doing the play John Archie & Nellie,” MacLennan-Dunphy said. “My grandparents’ love story is the basis of both of them, but it’s just the bones. The rest is made-up.”

The story follows 17-year-old Nellie as she finds herself pregnant and alone in Boston. When she returns home to Nova Scotia, she encounters shame and rejection.

“After I did the play, I kept thinking about Nellie, a teenager, having a baby in Boston, all by herself, and there were so many women who were in that situation at the time,” said MacLennan-Dunphy.

“During the play, all of the cast would hear stories from people about the same situation, so I decided to give them a voice.”

The story is set mainly between Cape Breton and Boston from 1917 to 1919, but it also follows the characters as far away as western Canada and Europe during World War I.

In 2017, the novel was shortlisted for the HR (Bill) Percy Adult Novel Prize in the Nova Writes Competition for Unpublished Manuscripts

MacLennan-Dunphy’s background is in education and she is currently spending the year teaching in China. She first became interested in writing plays a few years ago when her oldest daughter wanted to perform a musical at Dalbrae Academy.

“I had always thought my grandparents’ story was interesting, and when I started fitting Cape Breton songs into the mix, it came together very quickly,” she said.

With the help of local musicians Lisa Cameron and Barry Fougere who played the leading roles, MacLennan-Dunphy organized two productions of John Archie & Nellie in 2012 and 2016. She wrote and produced her second play, The Weddin’ Dance in 2013, and Displacement in 2014.

“I also wrote a play based on a Jim St. Clair story called The Reiteach which we put on as a readers’ theatre in West Bay in February of 2017,” she said.

MacLennan-Dunphy’s incorporates family, Cape Breton history, music and culture.

“I think our local stories are so important that I feel lucky to get the chance to help tell a few. It’s what makes us who we are in this crazy world!” she said.

Never Speak of this Again is published by Pottersfield Press will be distributed by Nimbus Publishing. Copies will also be available soon at the Bayside Garden Centre and Gift Shop in Whycocomagh. More information on MacLennan-Dunphy and her work is available on the author’s Facebook page.