After making a promise to her father, Oriele Vane Veldhuis faced one of the hardest tasks of her life — turning a large collection of diaries, letters and other papers into the story of her great-grandmother’s life.
For Elise: Unveiling the forgotten Woman on the Criddle Homestead is the result of Vane Veldhuis’ 10 years of work. After self-publishing 1,000 copies, she is down to her last 100, a testament to the compelling nature of this very personal biography of Elise Harrer Vane.
Vane Veldhuis spoke to Headingley 55 Plus Club members on Jan. 15 about the process she followed to research, write and publish her book.
A teacher and minister, Vane Veldhuis said she felt the need to tell the unknown story of her great-grandmother’s life after she accompanied her father when he placed a marker on Elise’s grave.
"My retirement goal was to find out about my great-grandma," said the 78-year-old author.
She knew little about German-born Elise who, with her five children, had emigrated from England as a housekeeper and nanny for Percy Criddle, his wife Alice and their children. In truth, Elise had once been engaged to Percy and he was the father of her children, a fact that Percy and Alice chose to ignore when the two families homesteaded near Shilo, Man., in 1882.
"It’s not a happy story," she said. "The situation was terribly dysfunctional."
Vane Veldhuis said her family had been raised to view Percy as an evil man, but by reading through his diary and examining other personal papers, her opinion gradually changed.
"It was only as I wrote the book that I accepted I had some of his genes."
She made a decision to stay as close to the truth as possible rather than writing a fictionalized version of her ancestors’ lives. Because of this decision, it was tougher for her to gain acceptance for her work.
She sought advice from the City of Winnipeg Public Library’s writers-in-residence, and one suggested that she not use excerpts from letters as they slowed down reading, while another advised that she pick a genre for her book.
"It wasn’t very encouraging," she recalled, but the feedback made her realize that she would have to self-publish her book rather than find a publisher.
Vane Veldhuis attributes her great-grandmother’s strength to her strong religious faith. Recognizing this, she is planning a special service in honour of Elise at Augustine United Church in April.
She will also give a book reading at Winnipeg’s Millennium Library in April.