Simonds, Merilyn 1949- (Merilyn Mohr, Merilyn Simonds Mohr)

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Simonds, Merilyn 1949- (Merilyn Mohr, Merilyn Simonds Mohr)


Surname rhymes with "diamonds"; born September 25, 1949, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; daughter of Junior Robert and Alice Isabel Simonds; married Wayne Grady (second marriage, an author), July 7, 1995; children: (first marriage) Karl Jurgenson Mohr, Erik Robert Franz Mohr. Education: University of Western Ontario, B.A., 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.


Home—Athens, Ontario, Canada. Agent— Bella Pomer Agency, 22 Shallmar Blvd., PH2, Toronto, Ontario M5N 2Z8, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer. Freelance magazine writer, 1979—; Kingston School of Writing, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, instructor in creative nonfiction, 1988-90; Loyalist College of Applied Arts and Technology, Belleville, Ontario, Canada, instructor in freelance writing, 1995-96. Guest lecturer at various universities and colleges. Member of Loyalist College Advisory Board, Print Journalism, 1994-96; member of Ontario Arts Council Advisory Committee, 1995.


Writers' Union of Canada, PEN Canada.


Greg Clark Award for Outdoor Writing, 1989, for "To Whom the Wilderness Speaks," profile of Louise de Kiriline Lawrence published in Harrowsmith; Science & Health Award, Canadian Science Writers Association, 1990, for "Gates of Pain," published in Equinox; Science in Society Book Award finalist, 1995, for Fit to Drink; Connaught Medal for Excellence in Health Research Journalism, 1996; Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction finalist, 1996, for The Convict Lover; Arthur Ellis Award for Nonfiction finalist, 1997, for The Convict Lover; Author of the Year Award finalist, Canadian Booksellers' Association, 1997; Talking Book of the Year Award for Nonfiction, 1997, for The Convict Lover; Green Thumb Award, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


(With Merrily Weisbord) The Valour and the Horror: The Untold Story of Canadians in the Second World War (nonfiction), HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.

Fit to Drink (nonfiction; for children), Groundwood Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

The Convict Lover: A True Story (nonfiction), Macfarlane, Walter & Ross (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

The Lion in the Room Next Door (short stories), Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

The Holding (novel), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.


The Art of Soapmaking, Camden House Publishing (Camden East, Canada), 1979.

(With Ted Moores) Canoecraft, Camden House Publishing (Camden East, Canada), 1983.

Sunwings, Camden House Publishing (Camden East, Canada), 1985.

Home Playgrounds, Camden House Publishing (Camden East, Canada), 1987.

A Chronicle of Our House, Camden House Publishing (Camden East, Canada), 1988.

(With Turid Forsyth) The Harrowsmith Salad Garden, Camden House Publishing (Camden East, Canada), 1992.

The Games Treasury, Chapters Publishing (Shelburne, VT), 1993.

The New Games Treasury, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.

Work represented in anthologies, including Gallant Beasts and Monsters, edited by Elizabeth Harrington, Buschlen Mowatt Publishing, 1992; Treasures of the Place: Three Centuries of Nature Writing in Canada, edited by Wayne Grady, Douglas & McIntyre, 1992; Bright Stars, Dark Trees, Clear Water, edited by Wayne Grady, David Godine Publishers, 1996; Living in Harmony: Nature Writing by Women in Canada, edited by Andrea Lebowitz, Orca Books, 1996; and Writing Home: A PEN Canada Anthology, edited by Constance Rooke, McClelland & Stewart, 1997.

Contributor of articles, some under name Merilyn Mohr, to numerous periodicals, including Equinox, Harrowsmith, Saturday Night, Canadian Geographic, Brick Magazine, and Wooden Boat. Founding senior editor, This Country Canada; contributor to "Basic Black," CBC Radio. Frequent reviewer for the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and National Post. Books have been published in Japan and Germany.


The Convict Lover was adapted for the stage by the Kingston Summer Theatre Festival, 1997, and premiered at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1998. A screen adaptation of The Convict Lover is in preparation.


Canada's Merilyn Simonds had built a career as a professional writer, though by age forty-seven she had published nine books that covered "such down-to-earth topics as soap-making and growing salad greens," as John Bemrose described them in a Maclean's article. All that changed in 1987, when Simonds moved into a small bungalow in Kingston, Ontario. Reaching up to close the attic door, her hand brushed against a pile of papers. Examining them, she found an intriguing prize: a set of letters from the 1920s, correspondence from a convict to a teenage girl who had resided in the house. Reading his letters, Simonds told Bemrose, was "like touching an electric current. I felt I was directly in contact with someone who was long gone."

Simonds spent the next several years researching both letter-writers, and the result was a well-received 1996 volume, The Convict Lover: A True Story. The book blends fact and fiction to tell the story of Phyllis Halliday, a plain and quiet young woman who, using the name Peggy, becomes enamored of her pen pal, Joseph Cleroux, an inmate of the Kingston Penitentiary. Halliday and Cleroux—nicknamed "DaDy Long Legs," after a popular fictional character—corresponded for ten months, during which time Halliday risked arrest herself by smuggling tobacco to Cleroux. In Simonds's reading, the young woman builds a rich fantasy life around the eventual release of "Joe," and her naiveté leads her to risky decisions. Joe, on the other hand, "is the quintessential con artist," noted Queen's Quarterly contributor Christine Hamelin. "He goes through life manipulating the system and the people he encounters." In telling the story of two people, Simonds also reveals the appalling conditions of Canada's penitentiaries at the time. Hamelin described The Convict Lover as "a riveting story that … illuminates the experience of imprisonment, be it either physical imprisonment behind bars or the emotional imprisonment of unrequited love." Writing in Quill & Quire, Susan Musgrave commented that the story "both touches and seduces the reader, giving us a vicarious thrill, as if we have become hapless observers in a clandestine, and doomed, love affair."

Simonds followed The Convict Lover with a collection of stories, The Lion in the Room Next Door. The eleven interconnected tales trace the life of a Canadian woman from her childhood in Brazil (reminiscent of Simonds's life) to her middle age. "The result," according to a January magazine Web site contributor, "is a lucid and poetic book that reads more like a novel than a collection of … short stories." Indeed, wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, the author "masterfully juxtaposes her narrator's discordant feelings in all the richly layered narratives." The reviewer continued: "She has crafted stories so solid they seem sculpted, yet so delicate they remain full of mystery." "The stories are seductive," wrote Grace Fill in her Booklist review, "melancholy and dark, sensual and sexual. Danger, assault, or loss is revealed, sometimes unexpectedly, or lurking just around the corner, just under the surface." Denise Gess concluded in her review for the Washington Post: "Simonds's writing is so seductive we might willingly follow her into a whale's gaping mouth; often the narrator's experiences and travels appear to have led her and the reader into just such an inexplicable place. This is fiction at its best, a book for serious readers who love language and the quicksilver arcs of time as much as story."

Simons tells the story of two women in The Holding. Margaret MacBayne emigrates from Scotland to Canada in hopes of bettering her life but soon faces similar hardships in her new homeland. When her future husband dies the night before her wedding, Margaret plots revenge through the use of herbs on the two brothers she holds responsible. The second heroine of the novel is Alyson Thomson, who discovers Margaret's journal nearly a hundred years later. In it Margaret outlines her plans for revenge. Living in Margaret's old homestead with her boyfriend Walker, Margaret soon undergoes an ordeal similar to the one Margaret experienced a century earlier. Carol Haggas, writing in Booklist, called the novel "a spellbinding, ethereal portrait of women pushed beyond their breaking points." Eleanor J. Bader commented in the Library Journal that "this fast-moving tale provides a vivid glimpse into the Canadian wilderness, then and now." A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to The Holding as "dreamy, savagely romantic Canadian fiction."



Booklist, January 1, 2000, Grace Fill, review of The Lion in the Room Next Door, p. 881; August, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of The Holding, p. 1996.

Canadian Forum, December, 1999, Nora Abercrombie, review of The Lion in the Room Next Door, p. 40.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2005, review of The Holding, p. 663.

Library Journal, July 1, 2005, Eleanor J. Bader, review of The Holding, p. 71.

Maclean's, July 15, 1996, John Bemrose, review of The Convict Lover: A True Story, p. 52; June 21, 1999, review of The Lion in the Room Next Door, p. 51.

New York Times Book Review, March 26, 2000, Andy Solomon, review of The Lion in the Room Next Door, p. 21.

Publishers Weekly, January 3, 2000, review of The Lion in the Room Next Door, p. 56; July 18, 2005, review of The Holding, p. 182.

Queen's Quarterly, summer, 1996, Christine Hamelin, "Love, Trust, and High Stone Walls," review of The Convict Lover, pp. 415-427.

Quill & Quire, March, 1996, Susan Musgrave, review of The Convict Lover, p. 67; May, 1999, review of The Lion in the Room Next Door, p. 30.

Times Literary Supplement, January 28, 2000, Naomi Price, review of The Lion in the Room Next Door, p. 22.

Toronto Sun, November 7, 1996, Wilder Penfield III, "The Convict Lover Unlocks Prisoner's Past."

Washington Post, March 5, 2000, Denise Gess, review of The Lion in the Room Next Door, p. X15.


January Magazine, (March 24, 2000), review of The Lion in the Room Next Door.

Merilyn Simonds Home Page, (December 14, 2006).

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Simonds, Merilyn 1949- (Merilyn Mohr, Merilyn Simonds Mohr)

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