Writer’s first book earns US and Europe release
Josie Penny, a soft-spoken Labrador Metis woman with sparkling blue eyes, tips her head slightly to the side as she considers what she’d most like to see come from the upcoming release of her new book, So Few on Earth.
“If people can relate to the story, if they can find solace in it, or be encouraged to write their own story, then I’ve done my job,” she says, giving a tiny nod and leaning back in her chair.
“For me, writing this book was a therapeutic experience. I really was a lost soul before I wrote it.”
Ms Penny was travelling around the Northern Peninsula and Southern Labrador with her husband last week promoting the book, set to be released in October, and stopped in at the Pen for a chat.
So Few on Earth tells the story of Ms Penney’s experiences growing up along the Labrador coast in the 1940s and 1950s. Born at her family’s winter home outside Cartwright in 1943, Ms Penny was sent to a hospital at age four then to boarding school three years later where she suffered horrific punishments, teasing, and two rapes.
Then, at age 11, she was sent to work.
“That was my first job,” she says.
“I worked for the Hudson’s Bay manager’s wife. School wasn’t a big priority — I had to leave to work.
“I was a cook at age 15 at the same mission I was at as a child. It was a hard time. Very emotional.”
After a brutal childhood, Ms Penny married and had children.
In 1977, she and her husband moved from Goose Bay to Ontario with their three teenagers.
It was there she realized that her kids knew virtually nothing about her past.
“They didn’t know anything about growing up in the cold isolation of the coast, how their parents and grandparents survived,” she explains.
The importance of getting her children to understand their roots was what led to Ms Penny writing about her childhood but, with only seven years of formal schooling under her belt, she says she felt enormous unease when she signed up for academic classes to help with her writing.
“When I started off I had no clue what I was doing, so I took a course at McMaster University in Hamilton,” she says.
“I said to the instructor that I didn’t belong there because I only had a grade seven education, but he said it didn’t matter and told me two very important things: one, to write what you know, and two, to let the chips fall where they may. That’s what kept me going all those years. Those two bits of advice.”
It took Ms Penny 10 years and plenty of heartache to complete the biography of her early years, but she says it was well worth it.
“I know now that I can do anything if I set my mind to it and if I want it in my heart and soul,” she says.
“To me accolades are irrelevant. This helped me and I’ll always be grateful that I wrote it.”
Ms Penny acknowledges that books written from a childhood perspective can sometimes shine events in a different light to adulthood, but she says she was careful to be open about the fact the tale is her experiences as drawn from her memories.
“In terms of all the factual references I did my research, but this book is my personal perspective on everything that happened,” she says.
“If that means I have to develop thicker skin then that’s what I’ll do, I think people will realize these are my memories, my story.”
So how does Ms Penny feel about the fact the book is set to be released in Europe and US?
“It boggles the mind and to be truthful is a little scary,” she says.
“But the thing is to remember where I’m from, to remain as me, to stay real — to remember all the things my mother taught me.
“This is going to give me experiences to take me outside of my boundaries but that’s ok — I’m open to new experiences.
“I just want to bring Labrador into focus. I just want to tell my story.”