Friday, September 8, 2017

Check into the Banff Springs Hotel with author Victoria Chatham!

I’m not usually one to read romance books, but good writing is good writing no matter the genre. In the BWL Publishing Inc. book, Brides of Banff Springs, author Victoria Chatham’s prose is marvelous. Vicki was nice (daring?) enough to go on the Tornado Alley grill.
SRW: Welcome, Vicki! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed on Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley. I promise (fingers crossed) I’ll be on my best behavior. First, tell everyone what Brides of Banff Springs is all about.

VC: Brides of Banff Springs is the first book in the Canadian Historical Brides Collection which was devised by my publisher, BWL Publishing Inc, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. There is one bride   for each province and two of the territories. The mandate was to write a historically correct book with a sweet romance because the story had to appeal to a wide range of ages from thirteen upwards. I grabbed Alberta because I know a bit more about it than anywhere else in Canada, and chose the town of Banff particularly because it is such a beautiful place. 

Set in 1935, the story is of Matilda (Tilly) McCormack, who needs a home and a job after her father dies. She leaves drought-defeated southern Alberta to take up a position as a chambermaid at the Banff Springs Hotel. On her way there she meets Ryan Blake, a local packer and trail guide. Working at the hotel is not at all what she expects, from the people she works with to the guests who arrive there, and the ghost she sees in the ballroom. When one of the guests, a bride-to-be, is missing, Ryan and Tilly set off to find her, an experience that brings them closer together and sets them on their path to a happy ever after ending.

SRW: You were born and raised in Bristol, England, jolly good and wot, ‘ey, guv? (Sorry. It won’t happen again. Feel free to fire back and make fun of Kansas hick speak.) How in the world did you come to write a historical tale of early Canada?

VC: I can pin a Bristolian accent at fifty paces but I’ve never met anyone from Kansas! I met and married a Canadian, and love Calgary and its surroundings. Because I enjoy Banff so much I had no problem setting my story there. Conducting on-site research didn’t hurt one bit! I pulled elements from stories of the guides and outfitters who helped geologists, mountain climbers, photographers, naturalists, tourists, and current day librarians and historians.

SRW: I really enjoyed the character of your protagonist, Tilly. Plucky doesn’t even begin to describe her. No matter where you resided in the ‘30’s, life was hard for women, particularly those who had no other choice than to enter the work force. Tilly takes control of her life—again, I imagine a very tough thing to do in the time period—and while somewhat constrained by the rules of the hotel, she won’t accept things she doesn’t like. Do you see Tilly as an early feminist or an individualist?

VC: Definitely an individual. It is my firm belief that whatever the era, there are always extraordinary men and women who rise above the mores and constraints of their time. I read and watched a lot of archive material on the Dirty Thirties which was enough for me to appreciate the real misery people experienced, but in so many instances the women didn’t just endure their circumstances but dealt with them in varied and imaginative ways.

SRW: Early on, Tilly’s dashing love interest, Ryan, boldly states he’s going to marry Tilly. While I like the guy’s moxie, Tilly later wonders why Ryan hasn’t considered what she wants. Good question. A question you never see brought up in movies from the ‘30’s and ‘40’s and even later sadly… Clearly, Tilly’s ahead of her time. Do you think there were more women like Tilly in the ‘30’s then Hollywood would have us believe? (Sorry, Vicki, Hollywood’s the only frame of reference I have for the time period!)

VC:  I think Hollywood portrayed what they thought or wanted women to be. But you only have to look at Hedy Lamarr to knock that theory on the head. She famously said, ‘Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid,’ which fit the Hollywood bill. But Hedy had smarts behind her glamour. It’s thanks to her work in wireless communications that we now have Wifi. Personally, I think many of the star names during the 30’s and 40’s were extraordinary women with lively intelligence and wit behind their captivating faces and were quite different to the characters they might have had to portray on screen. If they hadn’t had that, why is that even now names like Bette Davis, Lucille Ball and Katherine Hepburn immediately come to mind?

SRW: Okay, now I'm in awe of Hedy Lamarr. 

I liked how every chapter ends on a mini-cliffhanger, even if just a question or line of dialogue. I could practically hear the musical zing! You’ve got the chops to write a straight-up suspense thriller and there’re some thriller elements in the book. Ever consider writing a straight-up suspense?

VC: Thank you! I’m not sure which author workshop I learned that trick from. I think it may have been E.C. Sheedy. I am flattered you think I have the chops to write a straight-up suspense thriller and think the second book in my Buxton Chronicles trilogy might come close. I always enjoyed the Nick and Nora Charles stories by Dashiell Hammett and created my Lord Randolph and Lady Serena Buxton with them in mind.

In Cold Gold, the first book in the trilogy set in a Californian gold mining town in 1907, the Randolphs help a Pinkerton agent, Stuart Montgomery, solve a case. In the second book, On Borrowed Time set in 1913, they return to California to assist Montgomery again. There are murders in this book! The third book, Shell Shocked is set in 1918 shortly before the end of WW1 and ends the trilogy.

SRW: Of course you had me at the ghost, one of the titular Brides of Banff Springs. Usually, I write about ghosts who’re a bit more frightening. Yet, Tilly just accepts her haunting, actually seems to enjoy it a bit. Vicki, we’re looking at a double-whammy question here. First, is the “Ghost Bride” based on actual lore? Second, how would you react to your own haunting?

VC: Yes, your ghosts gave me the creeps! I discovered there are two tales of a Ghost Bride at the Banff Springs Hotel. One apparently started in the early 1920s, another citation states the early 1930s. As I could not verify either one of them, I set my story in 1935 to cover both eventualities. One story is that a bride descending a winding staircase at the hotel tripped on the hem of her gown and fell to her death. The other is much the same, but instead of tripping on the hem of her gown, she brushed against a candle flame and, startled she fell. Either story ends in a death but many people claim to have seen the Ghost Bride.

As for how I would react, I really don’t know. I think we all from time to time imagine what we might do or say in a given situation but none of us can know for sure. I did, however, wake up one morning to find my grandmother holding my hand. I was just relieved and very happy to see her looking so serene as she had died the previous year. After my husband passed away I felt his presence for a long time, and still do but not so frequently.

SRW: How much research did you put into the tale, Vicki? (Personally, I hate research and pretty much make my assistant, Mr. Google, handle it all.) I recognized a few historical names and places in the tale. How much of the book is based on fact?

VC: All of it! I have to say I love doing research. I always have. Mr. Google is a great place to start, as is YouTube. I also read – a lot. Would you believe I walked out of the Banff Public Library with two bags of books about the town and the area? Ryan and Tilly are my own characters, but both were inspired by real people. I met a young Park Ranger at Logan’s Pass at the summit of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, Montana. The depth of his knowledge of the area and his enthusiasm in sharing it really impressed me. He was a born story teller and it wasn’t long before he had quite a group gathered around him. Another Ranger, dressed in period costume at the Cave and Basin in Banff, also impressed me with his knowledge as did a well-informed trail guide from the Warner Stables. When I read about June Mickle, (June 29th, 1920-December 28th, 2010) who grew up in the foothills area west of Calgary, I knew she was the gutsy kind of character I wanted Tilly to be. 

SRW: There’s a riveting two chapter set-piece toward the conclusion of the book, a primer on how to stay alive in the snow-capped wild. I don’t camp (my idea of camping is a hot tub and no phone service), so I don’t know how much of Ryan’s can-do, campsite manner is real, but it certainly sounded like it. Based on fact? Your experience? If I ever get lost in the woods, can I call you?

VC: You can call me whether you get lost in the woods or not, but Kansas is a long way to go for coffee! I can honestly say that camping was never high on my list of favorite things to do, thanks to a miserable experience as a Girl Guide. Slashing rain, collapsed tents torn from their guy ropes and carried off by gale force winds over the Black Mountains in South Wales, and then being billeted in the nearest village at midnight is not exactly a memory of a good time.

Having said that, I have been camping several times with a friend here in Calgary who has many back-country skills of her own. At one point, she taught wilderness first aid and I went along on several exercises with her Search and Rescue group as a victim/patient. That was actually a blast because we had scenarios to enact and were made-up according to what accident we’d been involved in and is where I learned how to treat hypothermia. 

I also went back-packing with her to a remote wilderness camp called Top-of-the-World high in the Kootenay mountain range in British Columbia and that’s a trip I will never forget. We had a snowball fight on July 1st, which is Canada Day; we saw a pair of North Pacific loons in breeding plumage, and a pair of ospreys teaching their young how to catch fish in a lake teeming with them and, not surprisingly, named Fish Lake. I also watched a lot of YouTube clips on how to build campfires, especially with wet wood and made notes of everything. 

SRW: As I said earlier, I don’t read romances. Based on your book, maybe I’ll start. No, no, scratch that, I just got carried away for a moment! But I truly enjoyed your book. Tilly’s a wonderful heroine, one to root for. Without giving anything away, I had a stupid, Kansas grin pasted across my face during the final chapter. I’m betting romances are written differently than other genres. Did you have the ending planned all along? Do most romance writers?

VC: I don’t think romances are really written any differently to other genres. Some authors prefer to plot every scene and nuance and often know the ending better than the beginning. Others just start writing. I usually start with my characters firmly in my head and a rough idea of what I think will happen. That they often disagree and lead me down paths I never expected tends to be more organic but I like to make sure all my threads have a satisfying conclusion. I find it gratifying that, as a non-romance reader, you took the time to read Brides of Banff Springs. That you enjoyed it is a bonus.
SRW: Put on your travel agent hat and sell a tourist on the following hotels: A) The Banff Springs Hotel; B) The Bates Motel.

VC: If you enjoy mountain scenery, quaint towns and magnificent hotels, you could do no better than to book a vacation at the Banff Springs Hotel, nestled in the town of Banff in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Opened in 1888 and one of the jewels in the Canadian-Pacific Railway’s crown, it has long had the reputation of being haunted. Now named the Fairmont Banff Springs, this luxury resort is open year-round but it doesn’t have to be winter for you to experience all the chills and thrills you could ever want. Hidden rooms, unexplained cold spots, ghostly encounters, this hotel has it all.

Now, the Bates Motel...

If you are touring through coastal Oregon, look out for the Bates Motel. You’re not likely to miss it. Set beside the highway, by day the family’s Gothic-themed mansion looms over the property. By night, the flickering neon sign advertising the accommodation lights the gloom. Its reputation for odd occurrences has affected more than one visitor. If you survive the experience, you are guaranteed to never forget it. Oh, and don’t shower alone.

SRW: Vicki, you're quite good at the travel agent business! Based on your descriptions, I just don't know which hotel I'd rather stay at!

There you have it folks! Let’s give Vicki a nice round of cyber applause. Thanks for being here and let readers know where they can find Brides of Banff Springs.

VC: Thank you for inviting me, Stuart. It’s been a pleasure answering your questions. For details of Brides of Banff Springs and of all my other books, the best place to go is my author page at Books We Love, Simply click on the cover and that will take you to all the markets where the books are available. Or, visit my website at


  1. This sounds a fascinating book, Victoria. When I'm not reading horror, I love historical fiction but am ashamed to say I know so little about Canada other than its famed majestic scenery. I also enjoy researching for my books, and had a horrible experience as a Girl Guide. Seems we have a number of things in common (I'm also a Brit).I shall look forward to reading your books!

  2. I loved this story and highly recommend it to everyone. The Banff Springs Hotel is really lovely, like an old castle. And the fact that there's a ghost makes it even more interesting.