When Ian Moore-Morrans looks back on his childhood on the coast of Scotland, it isn’t with what could be called affection.
But the cold, the damp, the constant hunger and life of poverty have made for a fascinating life story, which forms the basis for the Vernon author’s memoir, From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada.
Moore-Morrans sets the stage from the first chapter, The Cold and Hungry Early Years:
“Thinking back on my early childhood, the most miserable overall time was when it was evening, dark outside, middle of winter, clothes damp and cold from the rain, no oil for the lamp, no candles either, which meant no light of any kind in the dump we lived in, no fire to warm me a wee bit and no food.”
Sipping a cup of hot coffee while sitting in the cozy — and warm — Vernon home he shares with his wife, Gayle Moore-Morrans, Ian explains that he was bitten by the writing bug at the age of 60.
His first novel, Beyond the Phantom Battle: Mystery at Lock Ashie, was published in 2010.
The idea for a memoir began when, as a recent immigrant to Canada, his late wife, Mary, used to send him to the grocery store.
“As I was going through the checkout, my Scottish accent always gave me away and inevitably one of the girls would tell me their grandfather was Scottish but they never knew anything about him.
“So I told my wife I was going to write my life story so my grandchildren and two daughters would know about their roots — I think they need to know where I come from.”
A retired machinist, the Scottish-Canadian grew up in Campbeltown on the Kintyre Peninsula, Argyll, Scotland.
Ian and his brother were raised by their single mother during the Depression of the ‘30s and subsequent years of the Second World War.
“We had no bread winner and of course there was nothing in the way of social services in those days. I used to put cardboard in my shoes after the soles wore out.
“It was a pretty bleak childhood, with all of us living in the attic, just 10 feet by 10 feet, with a table, a bed and a dresser. All four of us slept in one bed: me, my brother, my mother and my grandmother.”
Ian has lived in various places all over Canada since emigrating from Scotland in 1965.
“I was doing well in Scotland by this point but I had itchy feet.
“I wanted to go to Australia, but an unscrupulous government agent encouraged me to select Canada and told me all of the good things about it, that there was no crime in Toronto, that you could buy a house for $200, and that there were no slums.”
With a job lined up for him as a machinist, Ian brought his wife and young daughters across the Atlantic only to discover the job had fallen through. Living in Ontario, he worked a series of short-term jobs, including a stint as a Wonderbread salesman.
“In Scotland, I had a nice council house and I wasn’t one for going to the pub and spending my money, so it was difficult to give up the life we had there.”
Told with honesty and plenty of humour, From Poverty to Poverty has been compared to Frank McCourt’s acclaimed memoir, Angela’s Ashes.
Like the late Irish author, Ian has an uncanny ability to recall conversations and specific details, from his childhood, to his time in the Royal Air Force, from raising children with Mary, to coming to Canada and the subsequent poverty in which they lived for the first few years.
With Gayle as his editor, Ian began working on his book a number of years ago, writing down everything he remembered.
“I had no outline, no notes, I just kept on writing as it came to me. It was painful at times to look back and I get emotional. The last time I went back I told my late wife, ‘that’s it for Scotland for me. I’m never going back.’”
Published by Friesen Press in Victoria, From Poverty to Poverty is filled with photos detailing Ian’s life, but only from a certain stage.
“He has no photos of his childhood, the first one was taken when he was 14 and in the Salvation Army band,” said Gayle.
Besides writing, Ian specializes in singing Scottish ballads while outfitted in full-kilt regalia. He and Gayle, a retired editor, sing, write, edit and relax in Vernon since moving here from Mexico in 2008.
In addition to his novel and memoir, Ian has also published a how-to ebook, Metal Machining Made Easy, in 2002.
The second volume of his memoir, Came to Canada, Eh? is now under way.
Ian and Gayle were both widowed when they met in 2003 in Winnipeg.
“When we were courting, he showed me the book, which was then just stacks of paper, rather than an actual book. And I thought it was wonderful, but he needed an editor as he wrote in a sort of ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style.”
They were married three months after their first meeting and Gayle, a magazine editor, took an early retirement in 2004. After selling their house, they bought a motor home and left Winnipeg to explore retirement in Mexico, eventually settling on the shores of Lake Chapala, a large community of English-speaking ex-patriots. Joining the Lake Chapala Society Writers’ Group, they met writers from around the world.
Returning to Canada in 2007, the couple spent a year in Penticton before moving to Vernon.
The public is invited to readings for From Poverty to Poverty: A Scotsman Encounters Canada at the Moore-Morrans residence, Lakepointe, #69, 6688 Tronson Rd. (just west of the airport) Dec. 13, at 2 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. Please RSVP to 250-275-1446 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Signed books will be for sale. Since Dec. 13 is St. Lucia Day (the beginning of the Christmas season in Sweden) and Gayle’s heritage is Swedish, St. Lucia baking, some Scottish goodies, coffee and tea will be served.
The book is available online through Chapters, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and can be ordered through booksellers or directly from the author.