King's alumna writes best-selling novel
March 17, 2022
A debut novel by King’s alumna Heather Marshall, BA '10 History and Political Science, has quickly become a bestseller, reaching the rank of #1 in Overall Canadian fiction titles . Marshall says she’s “in a state of shock at how well it has been received, and that it became an instant #1 bestseller in its first week.”
Released on March 1, 2022 and inspired by true stories, Looking for Jane explores the lives of three women from different eras whose lives are bound together by a long-lost letter, a mother’s love, and a secret network of women known only by the code name “Jane.” Marshall says she’s happy to hear it’s “sparking a lot of important conversations between women, among families, within book clubs, and – I hope – at various levels of government.” The book discusses abortion legislation, adoption and cultural attitudes towards pregnancy over the decades.
When she wrote the novel in 2019, Marshall didn’t realize how timely it would be when released in 2022. “I think we need to remain vigilant here in Canada about a woman's right to determine what happens to her body. It's unwise to become complacent about hard-won rights, and I hope this novel serves as a bit of a reminder for what might be at stake if that right is threatened in Canada,” says Marshall.
Prior to writing the book, Marshall conducted research to support her historical fiction approach. “I felt a very strong responsibility to make sure I made the depictions as accurate as possible,” says Marshall.
“My studies at King's absolutely helped prepare me for this. The research process would have taken a lot longer and likely not been as effective if I had never done academic research before and was starting from square one,” she explains.
“I had a fabulous time at King's. They were some of the best years of my life.” Marshall says she particularly enjoyed studying history, naming Dr. Stephanie Bangarth, Professor of History, as one of her favourite professors.
“(Dr. Bangarth) is so passionate and makes history so real, so fun. I might not have ever written this book without professors like her who always encouraged us to tackle important but difficult topics,” says Marshall.
Marshall says, generally, when people ask why she decided to write the novel, her answer is “because it needed to be written.” But the real reason goes much deeper. Studying Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s battles in provincial court that led to the decriminalization of abortion in Canada in 1988, Marshall thought it would make a good novel. However, she was not considering a career in writing at the time.
That changed years later after she read a news article about maternity homes (or “homes for unwed mothers”) that existed in many countries, including Canada during the 1940s-1970s. Marshall was horrified to read that in Canada, 350,000 girls went through the maternity home system where many were coerced or forced into surrendering their babies for adoption.
“It was a story that needed to be told. Eventually, I realized that both these topics were actually two threads of the same story, which is women's fight for agency over their bodies and their lives,” says Marshall.
Marshall says the thing that seems to resonate the most with readers is “this is a story they've never heard before, a dark part of Canadian history that they didn't know about. It wasn't in their history books in school.”
Marshall is currently wrapping up the first draft of her next book, which she hopes will be available in late winter or early spring of 2023. The story focuses on Mona Parsons, the only Canadian civilian woman to have been sentenced to death and imprisoned by the Nazis during WWII for assisting downed Allied airmen in the Netherlands. “Her story was just so incredible – and again, never in my history books! I knew I had to write a novel based on her experience. I'm hoping it will help shine a long-overdue spotlight on this unsung Canadian war heroine,” says Marshall.
Please note: Heather Marshall will be part of the virtual Life after King's - History panel taking place via Zoom on March 25 from noon - 1 p.m.