Please excuse the mess

In Uncategorized by Ian McKay

We are undergoing some digital renovations at the moment to make the site more accessible to users on various devices. All the content should be available but things may seem a bit disorganized until I can get all the new settings “just so”. Thanks for your patience.

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ten times round the seasons

In Events, The Birth House, The Witches of New York, Uncategorized by ami

The Birth House turns 10

The Birth House turns 10

During the big rewrite/revision/edit of The Witches of New York an important milestone came and went. I didn’t exactly miss it, I just didn’t have time to stop and acknowledge it, (at least not in any way that felt fitting or right.) Now that the manuscript for Witches has gone into “pages” (the magical process where the story gets arranged by the wonderful crew at Knopf Canada into the actual pages of a book,) I can take some time to yank the weeds from my garden and my brain, and think on all the things I pushed aside while I was immersed in a world of witch-lore, women’s history and 19th century New York.

This past spring marked ten years since my debut novel, The Birth House was first published. The morning that fact actually hit me, I felt much the way a parent does on their child’s birthday…filled with gratitude, puzzlement and wonder. Turning to my dear Mr. McKay I asked, “how is that possible? where did the time go?” A few days before, I’d paused briefly in the shoulder of that most stubborn of Nova Scotia seasons to do as I always do that time of year and “force” a few branches of pussy willow and forsythia to break their sleep a bit early in the warmth of my kitchen. Setting a copy of The Birth House next to my morning cup of tea and a pile of bananagram tiles, I snapped the above anniversary photo. (Writing tip: bananagram tiles are excellent for making anagrams of character names. 😉 )

Although it’s a bit late, I wanted to mention the anniversary in a post so I could take a moment and say THANK YOU to everyone who has read my “little book that could.” Thank you to every book club who has chosen to discuss it over the years. I’m honoured and grateful for your readership. Heaven knows there are so many good books out there and far too little time to read them all! Thank you to every bookseller and librarian who has championed my work over the years and placed my novels lovingly and enthusiastically in the hands of readers. Thank you to all the women who have shared the Birth House within their circles of friends and said “you must read this”. Thank you to all the men who have acknowledged the strength in the character of Dora Rare and argued that tales told in women’s voices are for EVERYONE. Thank you to all the mothers who have shared Dora’s story with their daughters. I wrote The Birth House with my mother in mind as my ideal reader. She was the first storyteller in my life and I’m so thankful that she got to hold a finished copy of the book in her hands before she passed.

Happy Anniversary, Ross Creek!

Happy Anniversary, Ross Creek and Two Planks!

Come Celebrate! 

My dear friends at The Ross Creek Centre for the Arts are celebrating their own special anniversary in 2016. It’s been 25 years since the centre was founded and this summer’s line up with Two Planks and a Passion Theatre is one you won’t want to miss. Along with an outdoor production of David Van Belle’s Liberation Days and an innovative, fireside retelling of the history of the “ghost ship,” Mary Celeste, they’re also offering a new reading series dubbed “Fireside Encounters.”

What are Fireside Encounters? Four Nova Scotia authors on four different evenings sitting with an audience around a campfire to read, tell stories and talk about their work.

I’m thrilled to be a part of this series in its first year and can’t wait to sit around the fire with you to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of The Birth House (and share a preview of my upcoming book!) The Witches of New York won’t be published until late October, so if you want a behind-the-scenes first look, this is the place to be. I can’t think of a better setting to talk about Victorian tales of the supernatural and 19th century witch-lore. (Seating is limited, so you may want to book your tickets soon…see info below. You can take in a performance of Liberation Days earlier in the evening and then stay for the fireside, or just come for the reading. If you’re a lit-nerd like me, you may want to attend all four!)

2016 Fireside Encounters at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts

July 14 Christy Ann Conlin (author of Heave and The Memento)

July 21 Sue Goyette (author of Ocean and The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl)

August 4 Ami McKay (author of The Birth House, The Virgin Cure, The Witches of New York)

August 10 Alexander MacLeod (author of Light Lifting)

Click here to book tickets (you’ll need to scroll down the page for Fireside Encounters) or call: 902.582.3842

Hope to see you around the fire!

sunset on the Bay of Fundy

sunset on the Bay of Fundy


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Meet Matilda

In The Witches of New York, Witchy Wednesday by ami

Matilda Electa Josyln Gage (1826-1898)

Matilda Electa Josyln Gage (1826-1898)

As I head into to the final rounds of edits of The Witches of New York, I’ve been thinking of the bits and pieces that will, for lack of a better word, “bookend” the novel. I’ve had the dedication chosen for a little while as well as a list of people I want to thank in the acknowledgements, but I’ve just now settled on two quotes for the epigraph, and started writing my Author’s Note. Not surprisingly, there’s one woman’s name that will appear in both—Matilda Josyln Gage.


Born in Cicero, New York in 1826, Matilda grew up in a home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Her father, Hezekiah Josyln was an early abolitionist, and Matilda would later say that she was “born with a hatred of oppression.” She would go on to become an abolitionist herself as well as a suffragist and a Native American rights activist.

A colleague of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she was considered more radical than most of her sister suffragists in the US. She was president of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and would later found the WNLU (Women’s National Liberal Union.) After years of writing suffragist commentary for various newspapers across America, she became editor and owner of The National Citizen and Ballot Box, a paper that included columns on women’s suffrage, women’ history and female scientists and inventors. Every issue bore the motto, “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.”

As well as running a paper and raising her family, Matilda was a prolific writer of tracts, essays and books. Her largest work, Women, Church and State, tackled such issues as Native American rights, matriarchy in indigenous cultures, and the history of witchcraft (as related to the oppression of women’s rights.) She was initiated into the Iroquois Wolf Clan and given the name, Karonienhawi, “she who holds the sky.” She was also admitted to the Iroquois council of matrons.

Fun fact: 

In 1993, scientific historian Margaret W. Rossiter coined the term “Matilda Effect” to identify the social situation where women scientists inaccurately receive less credit for their scientific work than an objective examination of their actual efforts would reveal. —from Wikipedia


Glinda searches the great Book of Records

Matilda of Oz

I wish I could say that I learned about Matilda Gage as a child in school, but sadly she was never mentioned. I first stumbled across this great woman while researching the ties between spiritualism and the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S. The chapter in her book, Woman, Church and State that’s devoted to the history of witchcraft is an amazing, enlightening call to arms that among her other writings and achievements led Gloria Steinem to call Matilda “the woman who was ahead of the women who were ahead of their time.”

In her own time, she was a mother as well as an activist, and as such, raised her daughter Maud to be an independent-minded young woman. When Maud wished to marry L. Frank Baum, (who was then a travelling actor) Matilda was less than enthusiastic. At the time, Maud was one of a few young women attending Cornell University and had her sights set on becoming a lawyer or a doctor. When Maud insisted she’d marry Baum with or without her mother’s approval, Matilda finally relented and accepted Baum into the family. Over time they got to know one another quite well and her activist leanings (especially when it came to the women’s suffrage movement) became a great influence in L. Frank Baum’s life and work. When he began infusing tales he told to his young sons with strong female characters, Matilda encouraged him to publish the stories. A few years later, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Baum’s many subsequent Oz books were born.

As a child I loved the film version of The Wizard of Oz, but I loved the book and the many other books in the Oz series, more. The Dorothy Gale of the page was more plucky and tomboyish than the Dorothy of the silver screen. Glinda the Good Witch of the South was less glittery and far more wise and regal…she wasn’t there to save Dorothy but to help her see her own true inner strength. (She always reminded me a lot of my mom.) Best of all there was Ozma, a kick-ass girl who would become the rightful ruler of Oz.



In Oz there were wicked witches, but there were good witches too, and Ozma and Dorothy lived in a world where young girls were encouraged to act confidently, embrace their intelligence and engage with the magic that surrounded them. After reading many of Matilda Joslyn Gage’s works I can see her influence on the world of Oz at every turn. Far more inclined to shun conformity and celebrate the true meaning of the word witch, she was a force we’d do well not to forget.

A rebel! How glorious the name sounds when applied to a woman. Oh, rebellious woman, to you the world looks in hope. Upon you has fallen the glorious task of bringing liberty to the earth and all the inhabitants thereof. —Matilda Joslyn Gage


Further reading

The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation

Witches, seances and suffragists, oh my!

Researchers find Disney princesses speak far less than male characters.

An Open Letter to Fanboys who object to Rogue One’s female leads