Author Spotlights

Volume XIII – Mary Lawson, author of A Town Called Solace

Photo credit: Graham Jepson                                                         Mary Lawson, author of A Town Called Solace

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 Hands up for those who have thought about – dreamt about –leaving the traffic-jammed, people-crushing, cheek-to-jowl city of Toronto, or any other city for that matter, and heading north to neverland?

Meet Mary Lawson, small town Northern Ontario girl, and author of the buzz-making book, A Town Called Solace.

Lawson, who was 55 years of age when her debut novel Crow Lake was published, is a distant relative of the beloved Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables. Set in a fictional community in Northern Ontario, (Lawson was born in Southwestern Ontario and now lives in Britain), Crow Lake won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, (now the First Novel Award).  CBC Radio listeners chose Crow Lake as one of the Top 40 essential Canadian novels of the decade.

Lawson left her small town Ontario home in 1968, when she was 19 years old, in order to travel to London, England. Within a short period of time, she had landed a research job in the psychology field, met a man and was married. The stage was set, for once Lawson had children and became a stay-at-home mom, she decided to try her hand at writing – a stellar conclusion that several years later vaulted the author to the New York Times Best Seller list.

When Lawson first started, she was writing articles for a series of women’s magazines. However, along the way she penned a short story which was set in a mythical Northern Ontario town in the 1940s, a time frame consistent with the author’s childhood. While her then editor told Lawson that her story was not the kind of content the magazine published, she did tell her that she had the beginnings of a novel. The editor also told Lawson that “when she wrote about Canada and Northern Ontario towns, her writing went to a whole other level completely.”

This short-story-turned-novel became Lawson’s first book, Crow Lake, which was chosen as a Book of the Year by The New York Times. Two more books followed:  The Other Side of the Bridge, and Road Ends.

Lawson’s strategy of setting her novels in northern Ontario towns is pragmatic; it gives her the opportunity to go back, both in a physical sense as well as a mindful sense, to the landscape of her childhood.

“I loved writing that first story, Crow Lake, (which was published in 2002 when the author was 55), because it allowed me to go back home in my mind. Also, I knew what I was talking about – knew what the circumstances were like up there at that time,” Lawson says. “It was turned down many times over a four-year span, but when it finally landed with a publisher there was a bidding war and it was translated into 28 languages. I was quite taken aback, I thought the story would (mostly) resonate with people who are familiar with the north, but the novel was about a family, and everybody has a family regardless of their closeness or distance.” 

Knowing that she writes best when she is writing about her home, all of Lawson’s novels are wrapped in authentic Canadian landscapes, which are set north and west of New Liskeard in the shadow of the Canadian Shield, an area Lawson still considers the most beautiful of landscapes.

“It gives me a reason to come home more often,” she says with a laugh. “And while I have lived in England for over five decades now, I still think of the Canadian Shield when I think of home. All the values and influences of my childhood are still there.”

Cottage c1920 Mary Lawson resizedLawson’s family cottage in Northern Ontario circa 1920

A Town Called Solace, Lawson’s first book in seven years, is based on a news clip about a young girl who had gone missing. “The parents were beside themselves, begging anybody who knew or saw anything to reach out,” Lawson says. “There was a young sibling in the story, and it made me wonder what the impact of this situation would be on that child, especially if they were too young to understand the full impact of what that disappearance could mean.”

Enter seven-year-old Clara, sister to the missing sixteen-year-old Rose, who, by all accounts has run away to the scary metropolis of Toronto, where, as we all know, anything could happen. Throughout the story, Clara, who is one of the book’s main narrators, and whose sense of voice and swirl of childlike emotions Lawson captures with spot-on clarity, believes that if she waits at her family’s living room window, day in and day out for Rose to come home, she will. And so Clara does. She waits and she waits, and she waits, and as she does, the lives of the Solace townspeople slowly evolve. Clara realizes that something terrible is going on in her own house between her parents as they wallow in their fright and grief over the missing Rose, and parallel to that, something is not quite right at Mrs. Orchard’s house, the lovely older woman across the road who has asked Clara to look after her cat, Moses, while she goes into the hospital for a ‘small’ procedure.

The third character in the tied-together triangle is Liam Kane, a one-time neighbour boy who the childless Mrs. Orchard used to look after and whom she loved beyond measure, the kind of love that fostered the eventual dead-of-night actions which created the fatal schism between Liam’s family and Mrs. Orchard and her husband.

“The relationship is a reflection on the continuous debate of nurture versus nature.  We don’t know the extent to which we carry our past with us, be it good or bad, it influences us long after we have changed our life,” Lawson says. “I still think of the Canadian Shield when I think of home. All the values and influences of my childhood are still there. How many of us are capable of leaving trauma behind?”

“It is the job of the writer to take the reader along with you,” Lawson says.

And indeed that is what sings in A Town Called Solace.

Lawson has a native ability to get the reader to invest in her characters; I was completely immersed in being Clara, fretting right along with her in child-like worry; I was as dispassionate about Fiona, (Liam’s self-centred wife) as he was; and I sat in an uncomfortable hip-hurting hard plastic chair right beside old Mrs. Orchard as she lay in her hospital bed talking quietly with her dead husband. That is an overarching and diverse spectrum of voices to be in tune with, but Lawson’s craft is such that she delivered me into Clara, Liam and Mrs. Orchard’s bubbles perfectly.

The metaphors and imagery in Solace made me smile on several occasions, including phrases such as: “Clara sat on the floor and watched Moses, (the cat), turn himself into triangles and squares and circles inside the boxes;” and, “it (the box) had…forks and spoons with fancy handles that were made of bone – but he didn’t know whose bone.” And the wonderfully resonant, “Mrs. Orchard thanked the gods she didn’t believe in.”

How many townsfolk, including those in the big city, does that saying apply to?

“I have been extraordinary lucky. A Town called Solace has exceeded all expectations. I was 55 when Crow Lake came out and I am 75 now, so my success came late in the day,” Mary says.


Discovering Mary Lawson through her book A Town Called Solace, is a lucky experience for all readers who are intrigued by the complex and intertwining family relationships of small town life. 


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                                                Thursday, January 25, 2 p.m. featuring Roberta Rich, author of:

The Midwife of Venice; The Harem Midwife, A Trial in Venice; and her newest book, The Jazz Club Spy (Pub date, December 5th)

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                                                   Thursday, March 28, 2 p.m. featuring Louise Fein

 author of Daughter of The Reich, which was shortlisted for the RNA Historical Novel of the Year Award, 2021; The Hidden Child, a Globe and Mail Bestseller in Canada; and her newest book, The London Bookshop Affair, which is coming out in January, 2024.

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Cece is the feature cover writer for several prestigious publications and is an informed, connected and enthusiastic book blogger at

She is also the published author of four books, including A Pocketful of Dreams, based on the life story of entrepreneur and founder of Aurora Distributing, Nunzio Tumino. 

Cece is also working on a book of Daily Reflections for Autoimmune Condition Warriors which will be coming out in 2024.

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