‘I feel very lucky to have grown up where and when I did’
BY LYLE CARTER
An outstanding author will be the guest speaker May 28 at the Colchester Historeum in Truro.
A.J.B. Johnston, also known as John Johnston, is the author of 14 books. His latest book, titled The Maze, is currently available at bookstores and is at Cole’s in the Truro Mall.
Besides sharing about writing and life experiences, Johnston reflected on his youth.
“I grew up in Truro and my friends all called me Jay,” Johnston, 64, of Dartmouth, said during a recent interview. “Playing Little League Baseball was very important to me as a kid. I played for Bentley’s and our coaches were Gordon Schuman and Ron Williams.
“It was pretty exciting stuff, we defeated the Whitespot Restaurant to win the Little League Baseball championship. Some of our players were Butch Williams, John MacDougall, Ralph MacDougall, Wayne Schuman and Greg Bell. I remember being captain and playing shortstop. I got to pitch one game.”
Johnston also played hockey under the Truro & Area Minor Hockey Association while enjoying golf as a third sport. He received his schooling at Willow Street School, Truro Junior High School and Truro Senior High School.
“I feel very lucky to have grown up where and when I did and to have had the family and friends I had,” Johnston said. “I think the thing that triggered for me wanting to become a writer was my Grade 12 English teacher at Truro Senior High School. Miss Helen Beveridge introduced a new special program that year. It certainly clicked for me.”
Johnston went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts at Dalhousie University. Later, he attended Laval University in Quebec City where he did a PHD in history.
Career wise, Johnston worked for Parks Canada for 35 years, 23 of those years were at the Fortress of Louisbourg as a historian.
The first 12 books that Johnston wrote were on history. His inaugural book was about the Halifax defence complex and was published in 1979.
“I wrote a number of books on Louisbourg,” Johnston said. “The past few years I made the leap to fiction. The idea for The Maze and it’s predecessor, Thomas, A Secret Life, came to me about 25 years ago, but at the time I was not able to invent characters, dialogue and a story line. I was too much of a historian at the time.”
The Maze is the second in a series in what Johnston feels will be four books that present an 18th century world. The themes Johnston aims to explore are ambition, longing and betrayal.
“I hope it gives people something to think about. The difference between the history I write and the fiction I write is that history presents a world from the outside while the novels take readers inside that world.”
Johnston was in Charlottetown last week for the Atlantic Book Awards. A book he had written on the Mi’ kmaq of Prince Edward Island won two awards.
“The fact I grew up in Truro and had Mi’ kmaq friends was a factor,” Johnston said. “This book and another I wrote, Louisbourg, Past, Present, Future, both came out in 2013.”
Johnston will talk in part Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. about the background for his books and undoubtedly there will be words of praise for his beloved hometown.
“I’ll tell some about my own life story and the historical background of the novels,” he said. “I’ll be doing an illustrated presentation on some of the settings in the novels such as Paris and London during the 18th century. In many ways it’s like I’ve never really left Truro. I find the older I get the more recollections keep coming back to people and events from my youth.”
Johnston’s sister Elinor Mahar, a key volunteer with the Colchester Historeum, resides in Truro. Johnston’s wife, the former Mary Topshee of Truro, has a number of close relatives in the area.
Johnston retired from Parks Canada in 2009 and now works independently as a writer.
For further information on Johnston’s books, visit the website ajbjohnston.com. There are links to Johnston’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Lyle Carter’s column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News.
If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.