by Edith Cody-Rice
Keith Spicer, Canadian icon of the 1970’s to 1990’s will be signing his new novel Terror at the Cathedral at Mill Street books this Saturday, June 23, starting at 2:30 p.m. Mr. Spicer returned to Canada a year ago after living in Paris for 23 years. From Paris he wrote regular columns for the Ottawa Citizen, where he was once editor. In the years before leaving for Paris he was commentator, host or interviewer on several current affairs and documentary programs on both French and English radio and television, wrote editorials for the Globe and Mail, was a columnist for the Vancouver Sun (1977-84) and editor of the Ottawa Citizen (1985-89). From 1970 to 1977 he was the flamboyant and effective first commissioner of official languages.
In 1989 Mr. Spicer was was appointed chair of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. His 7-year appointment to the CRTC was interrupted in 1990-91 when he chaired the Citizen’s Forum on Canada’s Future, an attempt by Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government to answer criticisms that the constitutional future of Canada was being negotiated in back rooms without public input. The commission became controversial, but it solicited unprecedented public response and made a number of recommendations.
Recently, Mr. Spicer turned to writing fiction and has written two novels featuring a protagonist, Denise Caron, a female detective in Rheims, France.
The Millstone interviewed Keith Spicer this week.
The Millstone: You have written a number of non fiction books: Think on your Feet, Sitting on Bayonets, Winging it, Samaritan State?, Paris Passions, Mouffetarderies not to mention The Citizen’s Forum on Canada’s Future and your memoir Life Sentences. What prompted you to turn to fiction writing?
KS: Maybe I got tired of sticking to facts – although a few cynics might argue that everything I ever wrote or said was fiction.
The Millstone: Tell us a bit about your main character Denise Caron?
KS: She came from my imagination, but to my later amazement a real Denise Caron called Marie Grandjean was the very image of Denise. Now Marie signs her emails to me “Denise.”
The Millstone: What was your motivation in creating her?
KS: I wanted to create a policewoman who was not a one-dimensional cop. So I made her a graduate in medieval church history (huge in Champagne country), as well as an amateur opera singer.These dimensions allowed me to create a far richer heroine.
The Millstone: Your first Denise Caron novel, Murder by Champagne, is full of interesting facts about both the Champagne district and business and the church. Did you base this on your own research?
KS: Yes, and through the fine work of my research assistant, Ms. Firefox Google. I strove for authenticity in everything. The champagne industry, the cops, even the church. One senior ecclesiastic congratulated me, as a heretic Protestant, on getting their church so right – but he said that Ms. Caron was far too frisky with her lovers and should spend a little time with the nuns.
The Millstone: What was your motivation in writing Terror at the Cathedral?
KS:During my 23 years in Paris, I had become increasingly horrified by the development of political extremes that truly hate each other. When this old left-right split pitted extreme Muslims against extreme white nationalists, I wanted to ring an alarm-bell. How? By describing in haunting detail exactly what an ethno-cultural war might look-like: pogroms, murder, and out-of-control violence..
The Millstone: Do you hope to make a political impact in France?
KS: Definitely: I want to shock public and politicians into standing up to the lunatics of whatever persuasion, and to avoid exactly the horror they need to prevent.
The Millstone: Do you plan other Denise Caron novels?
KS: Yes. There are plenty of other angles to develop and I am in touch with he “real” Denise Caron to come up with other gripping themes: for example, crooked cops who deal drugs, fascist cops who undermine public order. One of these bad guys might test her objectivity by being her most recent lover. A classic French theme since Louis XIV: love versus duty!