Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor
Bev East - Contributed
To lose 14 members of your family at any time is unimaginable. To find out how only after you have made it adolescence must challenge all your previously held illusions. That's what happened to graphologist, author and Gleaner columnist Bev East. It was not until age 18 that she found out that 14 of her relatives had perished in the much-talked-about Kendal crash, on September 1, 1957.
Her lack of knowledge stemmed from the fact that her family was numbed into shock at the loss following that fateful church outing. They retreated into silence. Except for newspaper and other official records, no lasting monument had been erected to honour the close to 250 persons who died. East finally got previously silent relatives to talk about the tragedy, and did several years of research which gave birth to Reaper of Souls, her new book about the tragic incident written to finally put those souls to rest and commemorate the crash's 50th anniversary.
She told Flair the journey began 25 years ago when a cousin who visited her in London had photographs of people who "looked like me." But when she asked about them, she was told they were all dead. "So on subsequent holidays here, I would go to the National Archives, The Gleaner and every place where I could learn more about the Kendal crash. Prior to that, writing a novel was not a serious consideration for me," East said.
She had written a draft but marriage and a baby came as did her first best-seller, Finding Mr. Right.
Following the tragic events of 9/11, East, who resided in Washington, D.C., was encouraged by her former husband to return home and begin working seriously on the book that she has been procrastinating over for so long.
"I came here with my son who I had to put in school and endure all the usual relocation challenges, I even began a newspaper column. The first six months were spent doing only research, I toured the country, listened to the people and formed the characters," East said.
During the five years it took, East revealed that she cried a lot in the painful but cathartic process as she attempted to use her work of fiction based on facts to find the triumph, not the tragedy, in the whole affair. At the end, 10 persons got a chance to do a first read of the completed manuscript. They suggested ways to improve it. After much revision, her publisher Michael Grant provided the guidance necessary to bring the project to reality.
So, now that the book is finished, how has it helped East in her quest? "I don't think I'm a strong writer, but I had a powerful story to tell and that motivated me even when things got difficult. The characters have been a part of me for so long I grew to love them and now that the book is a reality, I feel lost without them. But I can tell that my relatives are smiling down at me. I have no more restless nights like I did before. They were with me all during the process," she noted. There is still a tinge of sadness that the bodies of her dead relatives were never found and she imagines they had a slow and painful death. But those ghosts have now finally been laid to rest. The chill she felt several times while writing is no more.
"The feeling I get now is that they are my guardians and protectors, and they have led me to other family members I did not know before. I have also met some very interesting characters who were passengers on the train."
Of her living family members' feelings regarding her decision to write the book, East said they were all anxious, but she won't know their true feelings until they read it. She is grateful for their support and encouragement and happy they stayed the course with her. And, there are at least two reasons to consider a sequel in the future - but you will have to read Reaper of Souls to find them.
Scene of the Kendal crash of 1957. - file