The Southern Gazette Review - A Terrible Roar of Water

Author pens book about 1929 Tsunami for young people
Reviewed by: Paul Herridge

A Terrible Roar of Water

Penny Draper


You can call it a new twist on an 80-year-old story.

The Nov. 18, 1929 Tsunami has been the subject of a number of books over the years, but Penny Draper has taken a different approach. The Victoria, B.C.-based author has written a novel for young people centred on the event.

The work, titled ‘A Terrible Roar of Water', is being published next month by Coteau Books of Regina, S.K.

It's Mrs. Draper's fourth such book, all written about Canadian catastrophes, the first of which involved the Frank Slide in Alberta.

"That one went out and people were somewhat interested, so my publisher asked me, basically, to find more Canadian disasters.

"What I like to do is find disasters that certainly are major natural disasters, but sometimes people in other parts of the country haven't heard about them or don't know about them and the tsunami falls into that category."

The events surrounding the 1929 Tsunami are familiar to most people from the Burin Peninsula.

On the evening in question, three large waves, the result of a landslide in the Atlantic Ocean caused by an offshore earthquake, killed 28 people and left countless more homeless. Altogether, 50 communities in the region were affected by the disaster, with damage to property estimated to be upwards of $1 million, a sizable sum in those days. 

Mrs. Draper acknowledged she wasn't previously aware of the disaster, but learned about the story as she usually does – by asking other people.

"People come from all over the country and they all know a little bit of Canada's history from their own experience and I heard (this one) from my mother-in-law. She knew about the tsunami and it really interested me." 

She calls her novels historical fiction and tries to incorporate as much research on the actual event as possible.

"Then I put usually an 11, 12 or 13-year-old into that place because it fascinates me how kids of that age – that are just on the brink of being adults really – handle a disaster … these kids really want to be able to help. So what do they do in the midst of chaos?"

In the case of ‘A Terrible Roar of Water', the character's name is Murphy, a young boy who lives in one of the outports, as Mrs. Draper explained, is "absolutely dead keen to get out in a dory and fish with his uncle.

"His own father was a fisherman, but drowned and so he lives with his aunt and uncle. His older cousin, who is going out on the dories, and is a fisherman, doesn't like fishing. He wants to move to St. John's, so there is a bit of tension because Murphy just is aching to get out there and be a real fisherman." 

The story unfolds as the tsunami hits.

Mrs. Draper indicated she pulled extensively from archival material at Memorial University to write the book, using stories collected from seniors as a basis to help tell the tale, mindful to be as accurate as possible in those instances.

"Unfortunately, this is the only book I've ever written where I have not been able to visit the location and that is a little bit scary for me. I really depended heavily on my research and photographs and that sort of thing. 

"I think it did change the book somewhat because there was less of a connection with the environment, which meant the plots and the storyline became more important."

Mrs. Draper, who was a professional storyteller for some 15 years before switching to writing, plying her trade at schools and the like, acknowledged the experience has come in handy, and was particularly appropriate with this novel.

"My books are basically written in the oral tradition, so the structure is a little bit different from ordinary books and this fit beautifully with this one because storytelling is such a big part of the outport life, and whatnot, house parties and that sort of thing. 

"It was really, really a lot of fun to research Newfoundland folktales and be able to put them into this story."


Article by Paul Herridge

Share this Post: Facebook Twitter Google Plus