World renowned local author honoured

Good news for fans of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache mysteries. The Knowlton-based author is “coming to the end” of her new book.

There are 12 in the series so far, set mostly in the fictional Eastern Townships town of Three Pines, a stand-in for Knowlton and Penny’s powerful imagination. To date, she has sold over 5 million copies in 23 languages and countless airports since 2005, all centred around her much-loved Sûreté du Québec Inspector.

Penny, 59, has been putting in four hours every morning for the last year and a half, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. So she will be forgiven for having taken a day off Feb. 17 so she could travel to Ottawa to receive her Order of Canada award.

“I was told I had it in 2013,” she said over coffee near her village home recently. “But Michael could not make the trip, and I wasn’t going to accept it while he was still alive. It would not have been possible. Now it will be a celebration.”

“Michael” is Dr. Michael Whitehead, the renowned former Head of Hematology at the Montreal Children’s hospital, her cherished husband and biggest booster who had been stricken with Alzheimer’s at the time and needed her constant care. He died peacefully in Sept. 2016, at the age of 82, ending a fairy tale romance. She credits his “unconditional support” for her late-blooming international success.

“No Michael, no career,” the former CBC radio broadcaster said succinctly. “He made it clear that if I wanted to quit my job and write full-time he would support me. He was telling me what I could be.” They married in 2005, she left the CBC and Gamache was born.

Whitehead was ill the last three years of his life, and Penny was always there for him. But she was also blessed with wonderful caregivers, and able to continue writing. “I’d set my alarm for 5 a.m. and head to my home office. Writing the last year and a half has been a refuge, a time of peace and contentment for four hours every morning.”

Though he is gone, Louise Penny is not alone. She has her memories. She has dear friends. She has Knowlton. “It is my dream village, my dream come true. It is truly an exceptional place. It has saved my life and sanity.”

And she has Gamache, the books whose unexpected success have given her financial freedom, confidence and legions of loyal followers around the world.

“There is less of the tyranny that every book has to be better than the last,” she said, with typical clarity and emotional candor. “I’m not working for money, but for the joy of it. Though honestly, when you put that much time into it, you hope it’s good. If this doesn’t sound too precious, I feel I owe my characters that respect.”