Don Reddick The Killing Frank McGee Companion


"I wanted to hate him. I hate all kinds of people but particularly his kind..."

Manuscript notes: This chapter begun 6/26/96 in Random Lake, Wisconsin, continued in Baltimore, MD 2/6/97. Interrupted by completing the war/Kinnear side of the story first, then another two month layoff when I participated in the Great Dawson Reenactment.


I guess I'll never learn. After Dawson City Seven was published, I ran seriously afoul of the family of Norman Watt, one of the Dawson players. It was a great coincidence that brought me in contact with Lydia Watt, Norman's daughter. Before the novel was even accepted by Goose Lane Editions I received a letter from Ottawa. And Lydia Watt described how on a recent trip to the Yukon she was in the Yukon Archives in Whitehorse looking up information about her father, when a clerk overheard her mention his name.

"Did you say you are looking for a Norman Watt?" the clerk asked.
"Why yes," Lydia replied. "Why?"
"Well it's so odd - a writer from Massachusetts called yesterday asking about him."

Lydia Watt (right)
Lydia Watt (on right)
And Lydia Watt asked why a writer from Massachusetts would be looking up her father, and was told for the first time of the great, historical adventure the man had participated in. She never knew until that moment that her father had been part of the infamous Dawson trek, and wrote me soon after describing her father, and offering tidbits of his life in Aylmer, Quebec, before his departure for the Yukon. It was when I called Lydia and explained my novel to her that the conundrum first surfaced. I described the character I had made her father, how I had chosen him to be "Crazy" Norman Watt, always with a flask tucked in his pocket, always carrying on and making the others laugh, and how I chose him to be the Dawson player in Sam Cassady's bar to mock Frank McGee during their Stanley Cup series, and on and on I talked until I paused, and felt the great silence. After a long pause, Lydia, her voice clear with her concern and disgust, informed me, "My father never drank a drop in his life."

It was the first inkling I had as a writer that when writing about real, dead people, you are apt to encounter their real, live descendents. Lydia Watt was so incensed at my fictional portrayal of her father that she started a writing campaign to all the Yukon newspapers when she heard I would be participating in the Dawson reenactment, in an attempt to right the wrongs her family had been subjected to. This all disturbed me, of course, and I tried to make the best of the situation. But the novel had been written, and rewriting her father out of the role seemed too big a project for me, so I thought I'd appeased Lydia by simply toning down his character. I even spoke with Ken Forrest, the grandson of Dawson goalie Albert Forrest, about it.

Ken Forrest is one of those wonderful characters, one you can share a beer with and swap stories with for hours. At his home one evening in Marysville, Washington, after showing me the gold medals his grandfather had won in the Dawson carnivals, he also told me that his grandfather did not drink. But we arrived at the conclusion that what our fathers and grandfathers were like when they were nineteen or twenty years old was probably not how we remembered them. I certainly hope my daughters and their children have some other memory of me other than that of the nineteen-year-old that I was... It was a sour lesson learned, that when writing about real dead people, you may encounter their real, live ancestors. And so it was with a somewhat apprehensive forboding that I chose Alf Smith to be my Ottawan narrator, endowed with a character that, for all I know, may not be completely accurate.

I had some clues, however, just as I knew that Norman Watt, despite the pedestal his daughter placed him on, was no angel, particularly on the ice. During the research on the earlier book, I came in contact with the late Bill Galloway, a former Archivist for the NHL. Bill took the time to speak with me for long hours on the telephone, and at one point told me that Hall of Famer Aurel Joliat had once told him that Alf Smith was, and I quote, "The dirtiest hockey player that ever lived."

Paul Kitchen, in his research on the Ottawa Hockey Club, confirmed that Smith also had appeared in court as a witness for the defense of one of Westwick's brothers, who had been charged with some on-ice atrocity, further providing a clue to his personality.

The record on Smith and his brothers is full of on-ice atrocities. He was one of fourteen or fifteen children. He forged a career in hockey at a time when most held two jobs, indicating his love and dedication to the game. He was my man. And he had to be distinctly different from my Sackville narrator, a young, thoughtful individual destined for the trenches of Picardy.

But, apprehensively, I await the word from the Smith family...


Partial text of Lydia Watt's letter to Yukon newspapers:

Author's NOTE: After a talk on Dawson City Seven in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, this is what Lynne Frair, the granddaughter of Norman Watt, wrote in my personal copy of the book: "It was fascinating to meet you and to hear all that went into the writing of the book. I'd say it is clear that you care as much or more about my grandfather Norman Watt as I do."

Paul Kitchen:


"Sackville's a far-flung village of the marshes, the dominant figures now in their sixties..."

Manuscript notes: This chapter begun 8/16/96. Written in Walpole and Plymouth, MA, Scranton, PA, as well as in room 242, Holiday Inn, Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Notes in the margins include, "I've seen the Somme, I'm ready. 5:10AM Friday morning," "Chapter NUH. (means I been drinkin)", "Todays special - 22 ounce bomber beers. Got one."


I visited the Somme battlefield in France. This sounds romantic and exciting, and I usually portray my visit to France as such, but this is the reality: I was working in India and had a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany on the way home. I decided to drive to the battlefield. I was told it was four hours away; it took me eight. So after an eight hour flight from Mumbai (Bombay) to Frankfurt, I rented a car, drove eight hours to the Somme, spent four hours walking the land and searching the cemeteries, got back into my car, drove about six hours, pulled over and slept for two, woke up and drove two more hours and took an eight hour flight to New York, waited an hour then boarded the one-hour shuttle for Boston. So much for my romantic research trip to France.

I was not only looking for McGee's grave, but curious to see the land the Corcellette battle was fought over. It is a wide-open landscape, rolling hills with long vistas, church steeples climbing the air here and there, delineating the villages. I had read that even today the Somme is a somber area, the inhabitants quiet and solemn, and Corcellette seemed very much that way to me. I was surprised it even existed; I drove from Cambrai west toward Amiens and was ecstatic when I saw the sign. Pulling into the village, a group of stucco buildings and barns, all of them red-tiled roofed; I saw not one soul in the entire village.

I pulled out some areal photographs taken at the time of the battle and was excited to recognize the road pattern; I knew where I was. I drove up to the Canadian jump-off trench location and just stared over the scene, so wonderful - as in wonder - that this quiet, serene landscape held such morbid, devastating memories. What happened in this land before me is almost incomprehensible, thousands upon thousands of soldiers meeting their death, amidst a fury of war never before realized in human history. Their are over 110,000 soldiers "missing" from the Somme battlefield. They had simply disappeared. One spot is said to have had 10,000 men disappear during the height of its furious fighting.

The British Military Cemeteries are impressive. The care given them, meticulously manicured shrubs, mowed grass, very, very impressive. Several contain vaults in the masonry borders, where you open a small iron door and inside they have lists of names and information on the souls buried there. I regret to say when I saw the information contained, I felt I kind of needed it...and took the register from the Canadian Cemetery, with the greatest intentions to return it when I was through with it. I convinced myself that it was a worthy cause, my writing about these unfortunates... And inside the booklet, among the lists of names, I found the characters for my novel.

I had done this once before. I wrote a book called Victory Faust, a true story that took place in 1911, and had used Charlie Faust's fellow townsmen who had been wounded in the Great War for the other characters in the book. I felt it was something of an honor to use their names, a way of remembering them. And so for some reason - and part of it was certainly that I wanted Laurel Boone in Fredericton, New Brunswick to find one more appealing characteristic of a novel I wanted her to buy - I chose one Andrew Kinnear, of Sackville, New Brunswick, for my protagonist.


From Laurel Boone, editor, Goose Lane Editions: