Describing Williams Lake author Diana French’s newest book as a “Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin Guide for Dummies” is not a stretch.
Newcomers to the region have their homework done for them and upcoming generations will be able to appreciate the amazing lives and accomplishments of their foremothers.
Last month Caitlin Press issued Women of Brave Mettle, More Stories from the Cariboo Chilcotin, the second volume on “extraordinary women.” Similar to volume one, Gumption and Grit, which French wrote the forward for, the book is filled with inspiring stories of women who have helped carve the region’s history.
“The point of the books has been to tell the stories of women,” French said. “You hear so much about the men. The men are men and the women are proud of it. You have the macho cowboy, logger, or miner, but people forget about the women. They are very much there and a lot of the guys would not have survived without them.”
Broken down into sections, the book has placed each woman’s story under one of six categories: “Gone But Not Forgotten,” “Women of Distinction,” “Making the Mark,” “Mothers and Daughters,” “Politician’s Wives,” and “The Ladies of the Tribune.”
She began gathering the stories three years ago. Part way through the project, her husband, Bob, passed away at Christmas time 2010, which she admitted “slowed her down a bit.”
The book’s front cover displays three historical photos of women featured in the stories.
“I didn’t pick the photos, the publisher did, but they explain quite a bit about the book,” French said.
The first one is Sonia Cornwall who came to the Cariboo in the early days in a Cadillac. The middle one is Marta Deak, originally from Hungary, settled in the Cariboo with her husband in 1979. The third one is Joan Palmanteir Gentles, strong advocate and role model for First Nations. She’s riding a steer on the rodeo circuit.
“It gives you an idea of the diversity. I thought the publisher’s choices were interesting,” French said. “I was trying to emphasize the diversity. I tend not to be gushy, but with Marilyn Baptiste, for instance, she’s done such incredible things. People really rise to the occasion.”
Sitting in the board room at the Williams Lake Tribune where she worked as a reporter and editor, French credited an all-women writing workshop at the University of British Columbia with helping her get out of the writing gear as a reporter and into a more creative mode. French said she doesn’t automatically write creatively, but has to think about it.
“When you’re reporting, you’re sort of eliminating any creativity out of it, so the workshop really helped. I went to that for two summers and it was all women. It’s easier now.”
She doesn’t have a particular time of day she likes to write, but writes when she has time.
“I think I’ve mellowed,” she added. “I used to be more critical, harder, I think.”
French said the hardest thing about writing the book was choosing which women to feature.
“I just couldn’t squish any more in.”
A book launch for Women of Brave Mettle takes place Nov. 9 at the Cariboo Regional District library at 7 p.m. Admission is free.