Simmie, Lois (Ann) 1932-
SIMMIE, Lois (Ann) 1932-
PERSONAL: Born June 11, 1932, in Edam, Saskatchewan, Canada; daughter of Edwin Maurice (a pool elevator agent) and Bessie Margaret (a homemaker; maiden name, Thomson) Binns; divorced; children: Odell, Leona, Anne, Scott. Education: Attended Saskatchewan Business College, 1951-52, and University of Saskatchewan, 1973-77.
ADDRESSES: Home—1501 Cairns Ave., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7H 2H5, Canada.
CAREER: Novelist, short story writer, poet, and author of children's books. Saskatoon Public Library, writer-in-residence, 1987-88; University of Saskatchewan, Extension Department, fiction instructor at Saskatoon Summer School of the Arts; instructor at community colleges.
MEMBER: Canadian Children's Book Center, Writers Union of Canada, Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists, Saskatchewan Writers' Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Award from Saskatchewan Department of Culture and Youth, 1976, for a short story collection; artist's grant, Saskatchewan Arts Board, 1983; award from Saskatchewan Writers' Guild, 1983, for a book-length story collection, 1983; Saskatchewan Book Award for Children's Literature, 1995, for Mister Got to Go: The Cat That Wouldn't Leave; Arthur Ellis Award for nonfiction, Crime Writers of Canada, for The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson; other awards from Saskatchewan Writers' Guild.
Ghost House (short stories), Coteau Books (Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1976.
They Shouldn't Make You Promise That (novel), New American Library (Canada), 1981, reprinted, Coteau Books (Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2002.
Pictures (short stories), Fifth House (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1984.
Betty Lee Bonner Lives There (short stories) Greystone (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1993.
Auntie's Knitting a Baby (poetry), illustrated by daughter, Anne Simmie, Western Producer Prairie Books (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1984, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1988.
An Armadillo Is Not a Pillow (poetry), 1986.
What Holds Up the Moon?, 1987.
Who Greased the Shoelaces? (poetry), 1989.
Oliver's Chickens, 1992.
Mister Got to Go: The Cat That Wouldn't Leave, illustrated by Cynthia Nugent, Red Deer College Press (Red Deer, Alberta, Canada), 1995, published as No Cats Allowed, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
(Editor) Julie, 1985.
(Editor) The Doll, 1987.
(Editor) A Gift of Sky, 1988.
Contributor to numerous anthologies, including Best of Grain, Sundogs, Saskatchewan Gold, Number One Northern, and Inquiry into Literature. Contributor to periodicals, including Saturday Night and McCall's.
ADAPTATIONS: Simmie's short story "Red Shoes" was adapted as a efeature film, directed by Allan Kroeker, produced by Susan A'Court and William Weintraub, Atlantis Films and National Film Board of Canada, 1986.
SIDELIGHTS: Canadian fiction writer Lois Simmie has spun a career that includes novels, short story collections, an award-winning true-crime book, and several volumes of prose and verse for children. Her first novel, They Shouldn't Make You Promise That, is the story of an unhappy homemaker who gradually loses her emotional grip. In the book, Eleanor Smith goes to a psychiatrist with no success, then leaves her husband. Don Strachan, reviewing the work in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, observed that Eleanor's "charm and eloquence" are such that "her inner workings hold our attention" and "we never pooh-pooh her plight, even while she keeps us in stitches." Quill & Quire contributor Victoria Freeman remarked that the subject of unhappy housewives had been overdone in contemporary fiction, although Simmie's rendition is commendable for its "sardonic descriptions of married life" and vivid evocation of the sense of her protagonist's loneliness.
By the time of her first novel's publication, Simmie had already released a volume of short stories, Ghost House; her next book of stories, Pictures, won praise from Matthew Clark of Quill & Quire, who hailed the "intimate accuracy" of the author's narratives of ordinary domestic life, and her "clean, direct, and simple style that suits her subject." Clark commended the stories "Behind the Lines" and "In the Valley of the Kings"; an additional four stories about girls growing up in prairie towns in the 1940s were well crafted but lacking in urgency, the reviewer commented. "Simmie's work is uneven, but at her best she is very good," Clark concluded.
When Simmie's third collection of stories, Betty Lee Bonner Lives There, was published, Kathryn Woodward of Books in Canada was enthusiastic, saying that Simmie had created "characters one wants to trumpet, share, pass on." Delighting in the stories' wacky touches, Woodward singled out "Mrs. Bleasdale's Terrible Day," "Sunflowers," "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," "Swinging," and "The Swing," all of which, for her, were "engrossing." Concluded Woodward, "Betty Lee Bonner Lives There offers us solid glimpses into the lives of people who are all too often and all too easily dismissed." Jill Robinson in the Edmonton Journal singled out the story "Sunflowers," stating, "this is as lovely a piece of writing as I've read anywhere." Betty Lee Bonner Lives There also drew praise from Louise E. Allin in the Canadian Book Review Annual 1994, who said that "Simmie is a marvelous storyteller. . . . There are no false moments. This collection is a passport to the best secrets of the human heart."
Simmie ventured into true crime with The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson. Wilson was a Scot who stole money from his wife's family in order to help his brother's failing business. Fleeing to Canada in 1912, he became a Canadian Mountie and did not, as he had promised, return to his wife and child in Scotland. Instead, he took up with a teenage girl named Jessie Patterson. When Wilson's wife, Polly, traveled across the ocean in search of her errant husband, he tried to establish a bigamous arrangement for a while, but, finding it cumbersome, shot Polly to death. By putting off his Scottish in-laws with lies, Wilson might have gotten away with the crime, had his sister-in-law not pressed the Canadian authorities to investigate the case. The story of the unrepentant Wilson's crime made headlines at the time, and has since been resurrected by Simmie, who—in the opinion of Carolyn Purden in Quill & Quire—tells the story well, using "finely honed descriptive powers."
In a Canadian Book Review Annual 1995 critique of The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson, J. L. Granatstein commented, "Simmie has done her research, and she writes well." Robert Calder in Saskatchewan History stated that the volume "is a compelling murder story" and "a fascinating look at the loneliness of the immigrant experience for many people, the emergence of law enforcement in western Canada, and of a world before televised trials, DNA testing, and 'Dream Team' lawyers." The Secret Lives was nominated for a Saskatchewan Book Award for nonfiction and won the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for Nonfiction.
Simmie over the years has also established herself as a respected writer for children. Auntie's Knitting a Baby presents fifty-two poems, mostly humorous and some of them gruesome as well, in the vein of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. A Publishers Weekly reviewer and School Library Journal critic Barbara S. McGinn were among those who enjoyed the poems' energetic, dark humor. Praise was also bestowed upon the book's illustrations, which were done by Simmie's daughter, Anne Simmie, who had majored in painting at the Alberta College of Art.
Simmie issued the children's picture book Mister Got to Go: The Cat That Wouldn't Leave in 1995. Set in the grand old Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, the story concerns a cat who enters the hotel to get out of the rain. The manager maintains that the cat must leave when the rain stops, but in Vancouver, the rain rarely stops. As the cat lingers, he gains the affection of staff and guests, including the manager himself. School Library Journal contributor Kathy Piehl predicted that "Mister Got to Go will win listeners and readers as surely as he convinced Mr. Foster to let him stay." Phil Hall of Books in Canada was grateful to Simmie's book for providing him an enjoyable evening with his own daughter. When the book was issued in the United States under the title No Cats Allowed, a Kirkus Reviews critic praised it as a "cozy tale of coming home, executed with an edge that makes it interesting." A Children's Book Review Service contributor simply called it "quietly delightful."
Simmie once told CA: "Although I always intended to write, I didn't actually get serious until I saw forty looming on the horizon. A late starter has some advantages—all that life experience and years of writing in your head plus all those good and bad books you've read. The good ones fill you with longing and the bad ones make you say I can write a better book than that! (You can only say this so often before you have to put up or shut up.) Your apprenticeship is shorter, and you don't struggle with developing a voice or style; your voice is simply who you have become.
"When I write for children I write with one aim in mind, to entertain the child. I hate message plays, books, songs, for children. What's wrong with just making them laugh? In a wonderful children's book, like Charlotte's Web, there is a message but never at the expense of the story. Though I write to entertain, I take writing for children very seriously. We must take it seriously. What we can't take too seriously is ourselves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Wilson, Joyce R., editor, Canadian Book Review Annual 1994, CBRA (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995, Louise E. Allin, review of Betty Lee Bonner Lives There.
Wilson, Joyce R., editor, Canadian Book Review Annual 1995, CBRA (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996, J. L. Granatstein, review of The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson.
Books in Canada, November, 1993, Kathryn Woodward, review of Betty Lee Bonner Lives There, p. 42; November, 1995, Phil Hall, review of Mister Got to Go: The Cat That Wouldn't Leave, p. 40.
Calgary Herald, July 8, 1995.
Children's Book Review Service, February, 1997, review of Mister Got to Go, pp. 78-79.
Daily Miner, November 13, 1989.
Edmonton Journal, March 21, 1987; May 29, 1994, Jill Robinson, review of Betty Lee Bonner Lives There, p. B5.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 11, 1984.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1996, review of MisterGot to Go, p. 1675.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 16, 1983, Don Strachan, review of They Shouldn't Make You Promise That, p. 5.
Publishers Weekly, September 9, 1988, review of Auntie's Knitting a Baby, p. 135.
Quill & Quire, July, 1981, Victoria Freeman, review of They Shouldn't Make You Promise That, p. 58; June, 1984, Matthew Clark, review of Pictures, p. 32; January, 1994, p. 27; August, 1995, Carolyn Purden, review of The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson, p. 36; November, 1995, p. 30.
Saskatchewan History, spring, 1997, Robert Calder, review of The Secret Lives of Sgt. John Wilson, p. 39.
Saskatoon Star Phoenix, July, 1984.
School Library Journal, December, 1988, Barbara S. McGinn, review of Auntie's Knitting a Baby, p. 102; January, 1996, Kathy Piehl, review of Mister Got to Go, p. 96.
Theatrewest, April-May, 1992.
Vancouver Sun, November 20, 1993.*