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Author profile: Judith M. Doucette

Author Judith M. Doucette with a copy of Poppa and His Drum, published by Flanker Press. – Submitted photo

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

ST. GEORGE’S — Author Judith M. Doucette (Judy Falle) was born and raised in St. George’s and is currently employed with Qalipu First Nation Band as client intake officer with the Department of Education and Training in her hometown. Her first book, Amanda’s Baking Lesson, was published by Jesperson Press in 1986 and in 1996, she went the self-publishing route with Evan ’Elps Senny Claws, her Newfoundland-dialect Christmas book. In 2023, Doucette’s newest book, Poppa and his Drum, was published by Flanker Press. “It’s not just my Dad’s story. There’s a lot of other Poppas out there and a lot of other Francois who share the family story of the hidden truth of what they’d gone through,” said Doucette. “It was something that they were very ashamed of and did not want us to know anything about, that’s for sure. But I said thank God for truth and reconciliation. I feel like our voices are coming into the schools and sharing their stories on their behalf.” Writing is something that always came naturally to Doucette. “I could remember in elementary school I was always writing poetry. Everything had to rhyme for me. Like even in this book, it came out rhyming. I just love rhyming words. I love words in general, but most of my writing is in rhyme and not intentionally. It’s just the way the ink flows over the pen. It rhymes.” One of her class assignments actually became her first book. “When we were in grade nine, the teachers would get us to write a paragraph on something you would like to do, just write a short paragraph on anything. My paragraph for the teacher that day was called A Baking Lesson. So that was just a short couple of paragraphs, a story in a paragraph, basically. So anything I’ve ever written, even in my old grade eight, nine junior high school days, I still have home in my attic, I kept all my little scribblers exercises from high school,” said Doucette. “When I graduated out of high school and I was living in St. John’s, always writing and always looking back on stuff, I said, ‘this would be a good little storybook, actually, not just a paragraph.’ So the paragraph that I started for my teacher in grade nine called A Baking Lesson turned into being the beautiful little book.” Her next book saw Doucette try her hand at self-publishing. “I was going to school full time, with a five-year-old and a nine-month-old, and the idea of Evan ’Elps Senny Claws came up. So I approached several of the publishers, Jesperson included, but they said at that time the market was flooded for Newfoundland dialect books. So there were a good few books out already about Newfoundland Christmas stories in Newfoundland dialect. So I thought, ‘oh, very good. I feel there’s market here for one more.’ So I just went over to Quality Printer’s little print shop here in Stephenville, and my brother, Francis Doucette, did the illustrations for me because I didn’t want professional coloring book illustrations for that,” said Doucette. “I went over to the printing shop and said, ‘these are the illustrations, these are the words, can I please have this printed in book form?’ And voila. I had 500 copies printed. My husband, at that point he was my distributor and we sold them for five dollars a copy, and within three weeks they were all gone.” Even though she successfully sold all the copies, Doucette doesn’t care to try self-publishing again. “When Papa and His Drum came up, I said, ‘there’s no way I would ever dream of trying to self-publish this. It’s just too big a job to do that route again.’ So I said, ‘well, if it goes to the publisher, if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but this is one story that has to be written, even for my own family’s sake, to get that bit of reconciliation justice for dad.’” Before she even had a hard copy of the book in her hands, Doucette was in schools, sharing the story of Poppa and His Drum. “I read that book through all the schools in the Bay St. George area, the children’s levels, say, from one to five. I’ve touched on most of the schools here in the Bay St. George, and when they brought in the kindergarten one, two and three group, I said, ‘oh, my glory, this is just going to go over their head. They’re not going to really get much out of this at all,’” said Doucette. “I figured grades three to five would be more attentive and understand it better, but the little kindergartners, they were so enthralled as I read the book, and when I took out my drum, because that’s the presentation I would do, it was on a stick, a PowerPoint presentation. I would give them in school, illustrations on one side, words on the other and I would read through the story while they looked at the illustrations, and at the end of the display, I would get the drum and sing my reconciliation song to them.” During her presentation, some of the themes were too difficult for some of the adults to bear. “At every age level, some teachers walked out of the classroom saying, “Judy, I can’t listen to this part. I’ve got to go because it’s triggering. That’s my Dad’s story too,” said Doucette. “What they went through, it was a sad, sad, sad time and the saddest part, they were stripped of their culture, heritage, language. Dad was twelve years old before he could speak English and when they moved here to St. George’s, of course, the school was taught by the Roman Catholic nuns, and if they dared speak French in her classroom, they paid the piper. It was not a good scene. Many times capital punishment was dispersed for children who spoke French, and he (Dad) wasn’t the only French boy in school. There were lots of others too.” The words poured out of Doucette once she started to write Poppa and His Drum. “When I start to sit down to write a book I don’t usually have a plot in mind. I just start and as I continue writing, it almost writes itself. If you lie in bed with your children at night and you’re just pouring out a bedtime story, making it up as you go type thing, that’s how it happens. But certainly, this one didn’t have to have much filler,” said Doucette. “My Dad, unfortunately, did not live to see, to be able to play Poppa in the book. His dad died 25 years ago when he was 65 years old, and he didn’t live to see his reconciliation. That’s why it had to be re-lived through me, in my writing the book and allowing Poppa to live, to go into the classroom and do it, it’s my way of saying, ‘Dad, we’re okay in school now.’” Poppa and his Drum may have only just been published, but it was a manuscript for about two years, and Flanker Press, at the time, wasn’t planning on publishing any more children’s books. “We were back and forth, but I said truth and reconciliation is such a hot topic right now. I think it needs to be spoken of from a Newfoundland perspective, because there are no other books published right now in Newfoundland by any author that reflects a Newfoundland perspective of what their family went through.” Once Flanker Press decided to publish the book and then the task was to find someone to illustrate it. “Odelle Pink, she’s the president of the Newfoundland Aboriginal Women’s Network. I spoke to her about it and she said, ‘my granddaughter, Becky, is a really good artist,’ so I said, ‘send her on, I need someone now. I can’t afford to be fussy right now’. She put me in touch with her. Now Becky is going to Memorial University studying medicine. She just graduated from St. FX (St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia) last year, so she was home kind of to work this summer and get prepped for med school. She said, ‘Oh, my God. I’m really busy. I don’t think I can do this,’ and I ‘Oh, yes, you can. I’m not fussy, please give me something,’ so we worked and worked. I gave her pictures of my dad, and that’s the character she used for papa.” On Saturday, May 27, Doucette officially launched Poppa and his Drum at the Royal Canadian Legion in Stephenville. “I felt I was on cloud 21, no such thing as cloud nine. It was just a floating day for me. So much love and support came out and people milled throughout the entire day, so I could have a chance to get up and talk to the people. It wasn’t just a big blur of signing the books and sending them on their way. Every person that came to me that day is such appreciation for sharing, supporting what we’re doing here,” said Doucette. “The send off at the Legion in Stephenville, the staff there, Joe and Amanda, they went over and above and beyond to decorate the place for us, set it up, and the service was second to none. The place is stunning. It’s beautiful.” Though there was a great deal of work and a few hurdles to get her book on store shelves, Doucette kept faith it would happen. She felt it was meant to be. “In my heart I just felt very much that there’s a stronger force behind this book. Once I finally realized yes, we’re going to be published after two years of waiting, it’s been one happy surprise after the other,” said Doucette. “Anything that I wanted to do with the book was very easily done, to me. I felt Dad’s hand on my heart guiding this project and helping me overcome obstacles as they came up.”

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