As the author of two historical novels featuring British Home Children—No Ocean Too Wide and No Journey Too Far—I’m often asked if the events I included in those stories really happened. Readers want to know what is fictional and what is true. People who are unfamiliar with that part of British and Canadian history find it hard to believe that many British Home Children were treated very poorly and suffered abuse and neglect because of the prejudice against them.
When readers question events in the novels, I explain my research process and tell them about the firsthand accounts I was able to read and watch, and that brings validity to the novels. I’m grateful for the family stories, photographs, and books the members of British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association shared with me. They helped me tell the story honestly and in a way that I hope honors the memory of all British Home Children.
My goal in research is to understand the issues, setting, and era, so that I can create realistic characters and a meaningful plot that will inform and delight my readers. I want to transport them to that time period and bring it to life, so they’ll feel like they are experiencing the story along with the characters.
About the McAlister Saga
In No Ocean Too Wide, Laura McAlister, a young lady’s maid, learns her three siblings have been taken from their home in London and emigrated to Canada without her mother’s knowledge. Without hesitation, Laura determines to search for them and reunite the family. But lack of funds and resistance from authorities push her to use a false name and take a position with a child emigration society to gain passage to Canada.
Andrew Frasier, a wealthy young lawyer, is surprised to see his mother’s former lady’s maid onboard a ship escorting a group of child immigrants, especially when he realizes she is using a different name. Laura eventually convinces Andrew to help her search for her siblings and uncover the truth about the treatment of British Home Children.
Eventually, romantic feelings grow between this unlikely couple. Though they have different backgrounds, they share a growing faith and desire to seek justice and relief for children who are mistreated. Inspiring and hope-filled, No Ocean Too Wide will touch your heart and lift your spirit.
No Journey Too Far is set ten years after No Ocean Too Wide. In 1909, when Grace McAlister was only seven years old, she set sail for Canada as one of the thousands of British Home Children taken from their families and their homeland. Though she is fortunate enough to be adopted by wealthy parents, the secrets of her past are kept hidden for ten years until someone from her long-buried childhood arrives on her doorstep. With this new connection to her birth family, will she be brave enough to leave her sheltered life in Toronto and uncover the truth?
After enduring hardship as an indentured British Home Child, Garth McAlister left Canada to serve in World War I. His sweetheart, Emma Lafferty, promised to wait for his return, but after three long years apart, her letters suddenly stopped. When Garth arrives home from the war to unexpected news, he is determined to return to Canada once more on a daunting mission to find the two women he refuses to abandon—his long-lost sister and his mysteriously missing sweetheart.
First Steps in Research
I started my research by looking online to seek out background information about British Home Children and life in Britain and Canada in the early 1900s. I asked questions such as the following:
- What motivated child emigration?
- Who were the people behind these programs?
- What were their motivations?
Many of the articles I read referenced books, and I ordered several of those. I focused on the actual accounts that were recorded or written by adult British Home Children who recalled their experiences. Listening to them tell their stories really grabbed my heart, and it helped me create my characters and an authentic and realistic plot.
I like to keep reading and researching until I know my characters’ corner of the world so well that I can move around there in my imagination. I can picture them traveling on a steamship across the Atlantic or standing in line, waiting to be chosen by a new family once they reach Canada. I want to know exactly what they would see, hear, and feel. I continue my research until the historical part of the novel becomes almost second nature, and then I can focus on the development of the plot.
The Difference between Primary and Secondary Sources
History books and biographies can be very useful in research, but they are secondary sources. I always try to track down primary sources whenever possible. A primary source is something that was created during that era, such as a newspaper, magazine, journal, diary, historical document, movie, radio broadcast, or a firsthand account from someone who lived through the moment and recorded an oral history, interview, or autobiography. Historians and biographers build their works by examining primary sources. As an author of historical novels, I try to go directly to a primary source whenever possible. That gives me an unfiltered view. I found the recorded interviews and written accounts of adult British Home Children the most helpful. They were the inspiration for all the events in the books.
When I started working on No Ocean Too Wide, I wanted to find people who were experts on this topic. I was thrilled to find the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association website and Facebook group. I connected with Lori Oschefski, Norma Cook, Judy Neville, and several other descendants who shared their family stories and provided tremendous information and support. They answered questions and directed me to valuable resources so I could find the information I needed to create these stories and give an accurate picture of what life was like for these children. I am so very grateful for their help!
Taking a Research Trip
I usually like to take a trip and visit the places where my novels are set. I’ve traveled to the UK several times, and I enjoyed visiting London, Oxford, Bristol, the Cotswolds, the Lake District, the Peak District, and Scotland. If you’d like to see photos from my trips, you’ll find those at my website on the Research Page.
Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to travel to Ontario for onsite research this time. I have visited Ontario in the past, so I was able to rely on those memories to some extent, but I also contacted three Canadian author friends who helped me find information. They answered questions about the police force and court system in that era, as well as what trees and flowers would be found there, and what life was like in Kingston and the other towns mentioned. I contacted another author friend who is a lawyer to help me understand court procedure for No Journey Too Far. Their valuable insight helped me create an accurate picture of the setting and time period.
Look Past the Story
My husband and I have five children, and the youngest two are adopted into our family through our state’s foster care program. We’ve always had a heart for families in crisis and children who are caught in difficult situations. Researching and writing these two novels brings the issues of families in crisis and child immigration to light. Even though the stories take place one hundred years ago, these are still important issues today. The prejudice against poor and orphaned children may have faded, but there are many families in need of help and support today. I hope readers will be inspired to reach out and help children and families as they are able after reading No Ocean Too Wide and No Journey Too Far.
When you preorder No Journey Too Far, you can receive an exclusive short story, Keeper of Her Heart, which is set between the two novels and tells how Garth’s and Emma’s friendship grows as they work together on the farm. Visit this link to get the short story and two other Edwardian-themed gifts.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about No Ocean Too Wide and No Journey Too Far. You can email me through my website or message me on Facebook or Instagram. I hope you’ll visit my website and sign up to receive my email newsletter with book news and reviews and encouraging articles. You’ll find more information about the books with easy order links at my website.
Until Next time ~ Happy Reading,