Food for Thought

This post doesn't relate to the blog, but is a post about a self-published author I met on a trip to Nova Scotia. He's an interesting person and feel that more people should know about his success.

Ivan’s Literary Journey of Peggy’s Cove

I was excited to see Peggy’s Cove. It was my first time in Nova Scotia and my boyfriend was taking me to all the good places, having grown up there himself. Rain was lightly pattering against the car window and mist was coming off the bay; a perfect day to see the roaring ocean. Along the way we spotted a house which jumped out from the day’s grey colour. Out front, painted to look like the ocean and topped with a lighthouse was a massive landscaped sign that read, “Peggy of the Cove”.

“Oh cool,” I said, “We’re on our way to Peggy’s Cove anyway, why not learn something about it before getting there?” Secretly, I was drawn in by the artistic appeal of the place.

We pulled into the driveway and took a look around before heading to the house. A yellow boat sat over gravel that was painted to look like water. A sign beneath the boat said ‘Welcome’. Across the pathway was a lovely, gradient  painted tree and a large, old-looking anchor nearby. After spending a few minutes in awe of the house which first caught our eyes – painted to match the view from Peggy’s Cove, with the cloud-streaked, sunset sky above it – we made sure it was open, then went in.

Inside, the house was charmingly old and decorated with ocean paintings, antique furniture and a pump organ in the living room corner. Being fairly shy, quiet people, my boyfriend and I worried we might have barged in, until a voice ushered us in from the back.

“Hello! Come on in.”

An older man wearing glasses, a smile and a yellow sou’wester welcomed us cheerfully.

He was Ivan Fraser, the museum’s curator.

From  Peggy of the Cove  owned by Ivan Fraser

From Peggy of the Cove owned by Ivan Fraser

Ivan is a painter, writer, and photographer, whose family has been living in Glen Margaret, Nova Scotia for eight generations now. He’s outgoing, funny, has an artistic eye, and if you saw him you’d know him by the yellow sou’wester he wears while enlightening and entertaining those who visit his Childhood Museum and art gallery. Ivan is the author of a self-published series called Peggy of the Cove, a historical fiction about the legend of Peggy’s Cove.

Ivan wasn’t always a writer—he’ll even show you his old report card to prove it— but he had an interest in it. His enthusiasm began when a poem his wife, April, was writing piqued his curious mind. Wanting to know what it was about, he asked. It turned out to be a funny little poem about her sister. He asked to read it and immediately became interested in the poem’s form and style. He was hooked, and together they finished it. Ivan and April had fun creating the playful poem and over the next few weeks he assisted his wife in writing two more.

His journey as a writer had begun. Invigorated by the experience and driven by his artistic sense, he came up with the idea to write a song, and from there a story based on the romantic legend of Peggy’s Cove. Growing up near St. Margaret’s Bay, seeing the ocean in all its moods, the legend was a natural choice for Ivan to write about.

In late April of 2004, he excitedly began writing the first chapter. He clicked away at his keyboard with the same ferocity of the cove’s crashing waves, as his mind sailed through the story’s design. He started from the beginning of the legend, when the schooner shipwrecked on “Halibut Rock” near the lighthouse and Peggy, just a young girl, made it to shore where she was rescued by locals. This part was easy for Ivan who spent most of his time by the ocean as a child and had worked on a charter boat in his teen years. He remembered his time spent beachcombing and exploring the bay, and the seasickness he’d get from working on a boat. He added his experiences to the story. But like many writers, the beginning is the easy part. For Ivan, the challenge began with Peggy’s life in the Cove. While Peggy may be a legend, there was still history to contend with. He did research into the area’s past but it wasn’t enough to build characters with relationships to Peggy and among themselves. So he came up with a plan; he would gather true stories of people from the St. Margaret’s Bay area, as well as use his family history, and merge them with Peggy’s life. By doing this he created rich surroundings and relationships. As for Peggy’s character, one version of the legend says two ladies from North Dakota claimed she was their great-grandmother and that she was too young to remember her name after being found. By working with this version Ivan could use the amnesia caused by the shipwreck to build her character more freely. Thus he wrote his first book.

This is where Ivan Fraser’s experience with writing began, and it’s where many other writers begin as well. We get excited, and want to put the words on the page as soon as possible. The problem we have afterwards is being unable to separate ourselves from our work to make corrections, and being his first story, he too needed assistance. English wasn’t his strongest subject, but his friends and family helped him by proof reading and offering suggestions. It was edited primarily by his friend, Barbara Webber, who believed he had an interesting story which hadn’t been told before. His cousin Cathy Macdonald, a writer and movie producer, coached him in the art of storytelling. Once the hard part was done and the story polished, it was time to get it out there for people to read. Having known people who were unhappy with their publisher’s edits, the time it can take for a book to make its way to the market, and the little money there is to be made in royalties (unless you’re Margaret Atwood), Ivan decided self-publishing was the way to go. Luckily, he had unknowingly prepared for this through his career as a commercial printer. He had the knowledge to print just about anything and knew the trade from selling to delivering. There was just one problem— he didn’t have knowledge of programs like Quark or Adobe Illustrator. But once again a friend of his, Lillian Crooks, stepped in and helped him out. Her daughter Deborah was a graphic design artist and set his story up for printing, while Brent Kowalczwyk designed the cover. By December of 2004 his first book, Peggy of the Cove: A Legend Brought to Reality, was on the market.

It was just the beginning. Soon after, he wrote a children’s book about Peggy, entitled The Rescue, which was released in February of 2005, fully illustrated by David Preston Smith with cover art by Brent Kowalczwyk. Ivan continued to write about Peggy of the Cove and released two more books about her: Secrets (2008) and Ransomed (2014).

As beautiful, green and expansive as Nova Scotia is, advertising and sales fairies still don’t exist, so Ivan had to use other means of getting his books out there. In late summer of 2004, before his first book was complete and after winning over his wife, he transformed the Fraser family home into a gallery where he also sells his books. In his books, Peggy was friends with Ivan’s grandmother, Janet, so he added a Peggy room for fun and to help promote his writing. He had a website created for his gallery with the books for sale online, and used social media as a tool for promotion as well. Later, in spring of 2005 an artist friend informed him that Saltscapes Expo, which celebrates East Coast culture and art, was holding their first exhibition. Excited, Ivan obtained a booth at the last moment and brought his art, books and Peggy dolls his wife had worked on. Opening morning, at about eleven, three ladies stopped by his booth. They fell in love with Peggy of the Cove and had to know more about her. Once they learned of the Peggy room, they had to see his gallery. He was thrilled and a few weeks later they were given the tour. They were very observant and Ivan noticed there was something going on between them. At the end they suggested he return the house to the way it was when he was growing up, to be a Childhood Home Museum where tour buses could stop and meet the author and hear Peggy’s story. Delighted by the idea, he did just that, and updated his website to reflect it. Soon after he had an interview with Breakfast TV which was broadcast across the Maritimes.

His books have made their way to shops in Peggy’s Cove and around Nova Scotia, Maritime libraries and when Nimbus Publishing agreed to distribute his books, they made their way into Chapters and Coles as well. His second book, Peggy of the Cove: Secrets, won the Bronze Award for Best Eastern Canada Novel in 2009 and the following year Ivan was interviewed by CTV’s In Our Backyard segment and broadcast across Atlantic Canada. He got his work out there and today approximately 18,000 copies of his books have been sold. Not bad for a self-published novelist.

Thousands of people stop by Ivan’s Childhood Home Museum during tourist season each year. Some have heard about it online or through his books and some, like my boyfriend and I, see it and can’t help but be curious. Tour buses slow down when driving by, with passengers hoping to catch a glimpse of Ivan Fraser waving out front in his sou’wester, holding the fake anchor he made. Those who stop by are welcomed and given a tour about old Nova Scotia living, the Frasers and of course, Peggy. This tour is like no other. We were shown tools used at the time, one being a rug-beater which Ivan joked as being something to use on my boyfriend. He encouraged me to try the old pump organ, alas I shy away from having a live audience. We saw his beautiful paintings of Peggy’s Cove and the lighthouse it’s known for. Upstairs are the bedrooms with low ceilings, and of course the Peggy room, decorated with dolls, antique furniture and his grandmother’s wedding dress. His voice is usually tired by the end of the day from the number of tours he gives but he loves doing it anyway. Next year will be the tenth anniversary for Ivan and everyone involved with Peggy’s story, “We’re planning anniversary celebrations as Peggy’s story continues to spread and capture the hearts of thousands of visitors every year.”

What began as a legend has become a full and wonderful story written by a man with a passion for storytelling, who wasn’t afraid to put his work out there himself. His friends and family championed his writing and helped him turn his story into the series it is today. And he doesn’t plan to stop there; Ivan is currently working on a fourth book and plans to do a children’s series based on Peggy’s stories. He’s shown people that with determination, ideas and aspirations can be realized.

“I believe we all have God given talents which are meant to benefit others. It’s a blessing to be able to share my talents and experiences with visitors and encourage them to develop theirs to the fullest.”