Wel­come to the fra­ter­nity

Telling some sto­ries won’t win friends; tak­ing flak also comes with be­ing a sto­ry­teller

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rick Ma­cLean View­point Rick Ma­cLean is an in­struc­tor in the jour­nal­ism pro­gram at Hol­land Col­lege in Char­lot­te­town.

“How does it feel, tak­ing blood money?” the woman in the gro­cery store snarled at me. She wasn’t look­ing for an an­swer. She was stat­ing her opin­ion.

I bit my tongue to cut off the an­swer clam­ber­ing to get out of my head: “I’m fine with ac­cept­ing pay­ment for the work I do as a sto­ry­teller.”

(OK, I wanted to pref­ace that mild state­ment with some more colour­ful things, but I won’t go into the de­tails.)

The is­sue was the first of two books I co-au­thored on se­rial killer Al­lan Legere. He went on a killing spree in 1989. He left three women and an elderly priest dead, and my home­town trau­ma­tized.

As ed­i­tor of the lo­cal pa­per, I was in the mid­dle of the cov­er­age, and when he was caught on a Fri­day morn­ing I was de­lighted to put it all be­hind me. Then the phone rang on Mon­day.

“Rick, it’s McClel­land & Ste­wart on line one.”

I could guess what was com­ing. Would I be in­ter­ested in writ­ing a book about the man­hunt? Sure, I said, not think­ing what say­ing yes meant. I hadn’t asked how much they were pay­ing, or when they needed the book ready. Am­a­teur.

The money was set­tled in a few sen­tences. They of­fered one num­ber, I coun­tered with an­other. They agreed. Clearly, I hadn’t asked for enough. Am­a­teur. Oh, and the book had to be ready to go to the lawyer be­fore Christ­mas. It was Nov. 28.

OK then.

The book got done, with the help of CBC TV re­porter An­dre Ve­niot, who ac­cepted my in­vi­ta­tion to come in as co-au­thor. It sold, well. One week in New Brunswick it sold more copies than the lat­est work by Danielle Steele. That’s say­ing some­thing.

Clearly, the woman in the gro­cery store didn’t ap­prove. Maybe of me. Maybe of the book. Maybe of the fact I was paid for my work. I smiled and moved on down the gro­cery aisle, my witty re­tort left un­said.

So, I could imag­ine this week when a former Saskatchewan coro­ner and vet­eri­nar­ian, Barry Heath, made head­lines – for all the wrong rea­sons – for his short book Hum­ble Be­gin­nings of the Hum­boldt Bron­cos and the 2017-2018 Team. Telling dif­fi­cult sto­ries is part of life for se­ri­ous sto­ry­tellers. And of­ten you don’t win any friends. Toby Boulet is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the re­ac­tion to the book. His son Lo­gan died in the bus crash. The fam­i­lies are not ready to talk and they told Heath that, Boulet said to a re­porter.

“It’s our story to tell, in­di­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively. My story about Lo­gan Boulet is mine and my wife’s to tell be­cause Lo­gan can no longer tell his story, he’s passed away,” Boulet said. “It’s not for Doc­tor Barry Heath to tell Lo­gan’s story. All the other fam­i­lies feel the same way.”

Coles and Cana­dian Tire yanked the book from their shelves in the face of the protests.

None of us can imag­ine the pain of the fam­i­lies. And Coles and Cana­dian Tire are free to sell – or not sell – what­ever they wish.

But Heath is also free to tell the story, as best he can, if that’s what he wants to do. He’s also free to do­nate the pro­ceeds to char­ity, which he says was the plan all along. And he’s free to take the flak that comes with be­ing a sto­ry­teller. Wel­come to the fra­ter­nity. We’ve all been there.


Barry Heath wrote Hum­ble Be­gin­nings of the Hum­boldt Bron­cos and the 20172018 Team based on in­ter­views with the fam­i­lies pub­lished by mem­bers of the me­dia.

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