No. 100 in the books for lo­cal pub­lisher


SYD­NEY — A lo­cal book pub­lisher is about to mark an im­por­tant chap­ter in Cape Bre­ton lit­er­ary his­tory.

Bre­ton Books will launch its 100th book, The Woman From Away: The Col­lected Writ­ing of Cape Bre­ton’s Tessie Gil­lis, Thurs­day from 4-6 p.m. at the McCon­nell Li­brary in Syd­ney. The big event — which will be held on what would have been Gil­lis’ 100th birth­day — will fea­ture read­ings from her work by Shel­don Cur­rie, Paul MacDougall, Teresa O’Brien, Frank Macdon­ald and Tessie’s daugh­ter, He­lena Gil­lis MacLeod.

Bre­ton Books pub­lisher Ron Ca­plan said it seems fit­ting to have this book as its 100th pub­li­ca­tion be­cause Gil­lis opened the door for much of the mod­ern writ­ing that’s come out of Cape Bre­ton over the last few decades.

“ Tessie Gil­lis is con­sid­ered by many as the god­mother of Cape Bre­ton fic­tion. She’s the woman who had the courage to write about the darker side of Cape Bre­ton Is­land and Cape Bre­ton sto­ries so she wrote about, among other things, do­mes­tic abuse, al­co­holism and the heavy weight of ru­ral life on peo­ple, but at the same time she wrote about it with hu­mour and com­pas­sion,” he said.

Ca­plan said he’s thrilled that Bre­ton Books, a ven­ture started in hon­our of his daugh­ter Bre­ton in the late 1970s, has turned out to be such an en­dur­ing suc­cess story.

“I never thought about that. To me it was ‘ What can I do each year?’ and we were do­ing four to six books a year. It started out with the idea of clas­sics, keep­ing alive a lot of the books that I felt re­ally told the Cape Bre­ton Is­land story and yet weren’t avail­able,” he said, not­ing as ex­am­ples, The Cape Bre­ton Gi­ant by James D. Gil­lis, High­land Set­tler by Charles Dunn, The High­land Heart in Nova Sco­tia by Neil MacNeil, and G.G. Camp­bell’s Cast­away on Cape Bre­ton. “ Th­ese were books that seemed to me to be gems. I con­sider them what I call Cape Bre­ton clas­sics and I just thought every­one should have an op­por­tu­nity to read them.”

Once those clas­sics be­gan to resur­face on book store shelves, Ca­plan said lo­cal writ­ers saw the pub­lish­ing com­pany as an op­por­tu­nity to get their own work out there.

“ We be­gan re­ceiv­ing sub­mis­sions and we pub­lished such books as Mary Ann Ducharme’s won­der­ful bi­og­ra­phy of Archie Neil Chisholm, which has con­tin­ued to sell since it was first pub­lished,” he said.

Other orig­i­nal ma­te­rial pub­lished by Bre­ton Books over the years in­cludes po­etry by Ste­wart Dono­van, Aaron Sch­nei­der and Denise Au­coin, fic­tion by Teresa O’Brien, Su­san Zet­tell, Lynn Coady, Sherry Ram­sey, renowned au­thor Beatrice MacNeil’s first book, The Moon­light Skater, and Shel­don Cur­rie’s novel The Glace Bay Min­ers’ Mu­seum, a best­seller that be­came the movie Mar­garet’s Mu­seum.

“Be­tween the clas­sics, the ma­te­rial that was sub­mit­ted and lit­tle col­lec­tions from Cape Bre­ton’s Mag­a­zine ... you wake up one day and you re­al­ize you’re about to pub­lish your 100th book,” said Ca­plan. “Cape Bre­ton­ers are in­ter­ested in their own story and they’re in­ter­ested in good sto­ry­telling. You put that com­bi­na­tion to­gether in a book and you have a book that they will buy.”

So what keeps Ca­plan mo­ti­vated af­ter all th­ese years?

“I con­tinue to be in­ter­ested in sto­ries and I con­tinue to be sur­prised, shocked and deeply moved, re­ally, by sto­ries. I’m just very for­tu­nate to find some­thing that ap­peals to my in­ter­ests in both his­tory and sto­ry­telling and po­etry and it comes to­gether won­der­fully in the pub­lish­ing of Bre­ton Books,” he said. “I look for­ward to book 101.”

Ron Ca­plan

Bre­ton Books will launch its 100th book, The Woman From Away: The Col­lected Writ­ing of Cape Bre­ton’s Tessie Gil­lis, Thurs­day, from 4-6 p.m. at the McCon­nell Li­brary in Syd­ney.

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