Writer and Historian
Published, EAC Communiqué, January 1990
s a child growing up in Fergus, Pat Mattaini Mestern’s early years were spent in an eccentric, chaotic environment geared to titillate the senses. Pat absorbed history through the vibrant lifestyles and memories of her grandmother, parents and a plethora of interesting characters that lived in the area. She was surrounded by books, music and stimulating conversation. Her mother, Edith Scott, numbered among her ancestors, a direct link to Sir Walter Scott. Her father, J.F. (Jimmy) Mattaini was born in Canada to parents of Italian heritage. Jimmy’s maternal grandfather worked on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France before immigrating to Wellington County, Ontario. Jimmy’s father, Charlie Mattaini, designed and built the beautiful bowstring bridges seen throughout Wellington, Grey, Dufferin and Bruce counties. Pat’s grandmother, Marie Landoni Mattaini, ran a boarding house through which a large number of immigrants passed, each with an interesting story to tell.
Pat found history as taught in school, boring but revelled in the anecdotal/folkloric variety that she heard around the dining room table. She was, and still is, an avid, fast and rententative reader. Her ‘learnin’ included attendance at St. Joseph’s Separate School, Fergus High School and Guelph Business College where she admits that she went more to learn how to type – fast – then for another other reason. When Pat was 20, she married South African Ted Mestern, and moved into c1879 “Stonehome” on St. David Street N., Fergus where she still resides today. Assuming the role of wife and mother in this heritage home, that was so powerfully evocative of the past, matured Pat’s potential as a writer of historical fiction, and local history. Her creative bent was further stimulated by a stint at Wellington County Museum, 1975 – 1983 when her love of history really came to the fore and took flight.
After moving into “Stonehome”, Pat’s creative bent became focused on Clara Young the main character in her first novel. Clara, an eccentric spinster, owned “Stonehome” 1879 through 1931. Pat began to keep journals. She researched primary source material, gathered folkloric stories and finally turned to her first love – after hubby, of course – writing; in particular penning works of fiction. She well remembers the pivotal point in her writing career. As she got up from the dinner table one cold November night in 1977, Ted asked what she had planned for the evening. “I’m going to write a novel,” Pat answered. And she did, over the course of the next seven months. “Clara” was published in 1979 and Pat has never looked back.
Pat likes to write longhand, using a pencil. She reads and corrects the text several times before typing it. She has finally forsaken her trusty IBM Selectra for a computer. For each book, she works from primary sources and researches extensively in the appropriate historical time period before committing anything to paper. Pat absorbs speech patterns, clothing styles, physical environments and often recreates “period atmosphere” for visual stimulation. She fully admits that she has no idea how each storyline will evolve. She introduces characters and lets them “play out” their involvement in a book’s plot. During the “heat” of writing, the inner vitality of her creativity comes close to overwhelming daily reality and routine. Needless to say, Pat lives with a very understanding husband who realizes that she has to “go with the flow”.
The most difficult days for any author are experienced while the manuscript is being printed, and just after the book has been released to the general reading public. Pat asks herself – “Do I really want to share these characters that I’ve created and know so well? They have,” she says, “inhabited my mind, shared my life. Will readers understand them? Accept them?”
Pat’s writings are often so realistic that she has to continuously emphasize that her novels are truly fictional. Along with the outpouring of enthusiasm for each of her books, there is always a handful of people who accuse her of “bending history”. Pat’s published works include “Clara”, 1979; “Anna, Child of the Poor House”, 1981; “Rachael’s Legacy”, 1988; and “Magdalena’s Song”, 2003. Her fifth fictional work, “Makem’s Rant” is due for publication in 2005. Pat is working on her sixth novel, “Granite”, set in Dufferin and Wellington Counties c1960. Non-fictional works include “Looking Back”, a two volume local history, 1983; “Fergus, A Scottish Town by Birthright”, 1995 and “So You Want to Hold a Festival – the A-Z of Festival & Special Event Organization”, 2002. In addition, Pat has had a full length manuscript “The Contract” serialized in a regional paper, 1992-93. She also writes a bi-weekly local history column for the Fergus Elora News Express and rounds out her time by penning travel and lifestyle articles for a variety of North American publications.
She fully admits that she has no idea how each storyline will evolve.
Pat observes that at the moment, she is probably better known as an author in the U.S. than in Canada as she’s now under the wing of High Country Publishers, a quality publishing house out of Boone, North Carolina. She is the first Canadian author that this company has published. And it’s difficult, she admits, to get one’s books prominently placed in Canadian book stores when the publishing house is relatively unknown north of the border. The literary scene in Canada can be tight-knit, la famiglia dello scelto venti. Under the circumstances, marketing oneself becomes an ongoing and never-ending process. Pat knows first-hand that making herself always accessible to her reading audience is important. On many occasions people have shown up at “Stonehome” wanting to meet the author of books they’ve enjoyed. “The cookie jar is always full,” Pat says. “And there’s room in the drive for a tour bus. And don’t think that scenario hasn’t occurred!”
But in conversation with Pat, one senses that no reading of her works of fiction can take us into the deep, compulsive level of creativity that this novelist experiences and accepts as another strata of her life – a plateau as mysterious as some of the characters in her novels. And this deep level of creativity is what makes Pat’s novels so compelling. They come from the heart and soul of the writer.
by Beverley Cairns, January 1990
re-written by Pat Mestern 2004