In My Life

Welcome to the Age of Elegance on the Muskoka Lakes and in the fictional world of
The Summer Before The Storm and Elusive Dawn.

My name is Victoria Wyndham, known to close friends and family as Ria. I'd like to introduce you to some of them.

Well, perhaps a few words about me first.

Grandmother says I'm incorrigible and impulsive. Father calls me "willful and thoughtless", as well as "utterly selfish, inconsiderate, and disobedient". My mother died when I was born and he has never forgiven me for that.

Prickly Aunt Phyllis has condemned me as a "brazen troublemaker" and "undisciplined hoyden", but of course, she has never liked me, nor I, her. Luckily, Aunt Olivia and Uncle Richard have always been generous and loving, so that I feel very much a part of their large brood, and particularly close to my twin cousins, Zoë and Max, who are my age. Max is such a card, and Zoë is clever and wonderfully outspoken, even with Grandmother. They're onboard for any adventures that I dream up.

Stuffy cousin Henry claims that I'm reckless and always venture beyond the bounds of his imagination. His younger sister, Phoebe, is surely more inclined to do that, since she is quite mad, and talks to her sinister two-faced doll - who apparently replies. Their brother, Edgar, is easily the most likeable of Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Albert's children, although Grandmother thinks him too self-indulgent.

I should explain that we have a summer home on Wyndwood Island on a pristine lake in Muskoka, about 100 miles north of Toronto, where we live the rest of the year. We Wyndhams spend three or four months together at the cottage every summer, which doesn't always make for harmonious relationships. Especially after Jack arrived.

None of us knew, until this summer of 1914, that we had more Wyndham cousins! Jack's father was disowned for marrying a "showgirl". Jack is a charmer, and devilishly handsome - "divine," as Lydia Carrington remarked. Grandmother admires him as well, although she doesn't trust him. She thinks that because he grew up so poor, he will be ruthless, and use everyone to get ahead. She would be scandalized if she knew how Jack and I first met. He has three younger sisters, one whose remarkable voice has already impressed a Broadway composer. The eldest, Lizzie, is a bit harder to like, although I can't put my finger on why.

Cousin Bea - Lady Beatrice Kirkland - who is visiting us from England this summer, is truly sympathetic, but she thinks that I have "the unfortunate habit of running away when things get tough". She just doesn't understand how soul shattering some "things" are!

Chas Thornton told me at a ball that I have "the most stunning eyes. Like azure pools. A chap could drown in them." Chas is an outrageous flirt! And tremendous fun. He enjoys life and radiates joy. His family owns a neighbouring island, and his father is one of the richest men in Canada. Our friend, Ellie, thinks he's "absolutely beautiful" and adores him, even though she detests his lifestyle and lack of ambition.

Of course Ellie - Eleanor Carlyle - doesn't approve of conspicuous wealth. A medical student, she is also something of a crusader, with perhaps too much of a social conscience. She would populate our homes - which she finds obscenely large - with unwed mothers and orphans. But I like her down-to-earth honesty, and she is the staunchest of friends.

Her brother, Blake, is already a doctor, and very much the love of Zoë's life, if only he would realize it!

Chas's younger brother, Rafe, is rather dissolute, and he unsettles me with his rapacious attentions. He seems to be a frustrated boy living in the shadow of his charismatic older brother. Perhaps his aggressiveness is a reaction to Chas's gentility.

Justin Carrington, on the other hand, is the kindest and most gentlemanly friend. I had a terrific pash for him when I was fifteen, and now I fear that he has rather fallen for me. Grandmother is trying to encourage our marriage, maintaining that "friendship and mutual respect are far better than passion for building a good marriage." But she doesn't know where my heart lies.

I have many more friends, whom you can meet if you read The Muskoka Novels - The Summer Before The Storm and Elusive Dawn.

And I fear for my dear friends, as several are going off to war, Jack and Chas to become daring aviators. But we girls are not about to be left behind! We are as patriotic and plucky as the men. Zoë intends to become a VAD - a volunteer nurse. Ellie is almost finished her studies as a doctor. And I fancy driving an ambulance. Vivian Carrington and I are going to England aboard the Lusitania, the fastest and most elegant ship on the seas. Vivian did her VAD training and is using this as an excuse to meet up with her forbidden love, who's already overseas in the Veterinary Corps.

I do wonder why our generation is being so severely tested. Have we been living in a fool's paradise?

As for Muskoka, it's our sanctuary. Once you visit our island with its stately pines, sparkling granite, and distant vistas of craggy, tufted islands floating on the cobalt blue lake, you might understand why my soul hungers for it.

The Summer Before The Storm
The Summer Before The Storm is Book 1 in the series.
Click on the photo to find out more about the book

Elusive Dawn
Elusive Dawn is Book 2 in the series.
Click on the photo to find out more about the book

It seems that we have thousands of other friends, world-wide. See what some of them have to say about our lives, loves, and adventures.

The Summer Before The Storm
Readers' Comments

Elusive Dawn
Readers' Comments

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Here are some of the real people you will meet or hear about in the novels (in alphabetical order):

  • Staff Captain John Anderson - died in the Lusitania tragedy
  • Raymond Asquith - eldest son of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith
  • Nancy Astor - wife of Waldorf Astor - owned Cliveden - she and her husband, Waldorf, turned their indoor tennis court and bowling alley into The Duchess of Connaught's Canadian Red Cross Hospital, also known as Taplow
  • Sir Max Aitken - became Lord Beaverbrook in Dec. 1916
  • Albert Ball - RFC ace with 44 victories
  • Louis Blériot - French aviator and airplane designer
  • Billy Bishop, VC - Canadian in RFC - highest scoring British Ace with 72 victories
  • Oswald Boelcke - top German Ace in latter part of 1916
  • Sir Robert Borden - Prime Minister of Canada, 1911-1920
  • Josephine Brandell - actress - survived the Lusitania sinking
  • Rupert Brooke - poet, died en route to Gallipoli, April 1915
  • Margaret Burden - granddaughter of Timothy Eaton - married Billy Bishop
  • Josephine Burnside - daughter of Timothy Eaton - aboard the Lusitania with her daughter, Iris
  • Nurse Edith Cavell - executed by the Germans in Oct. 1915
  • Lord Hugh Cecil - in charge of recruitment for the RFC
  • Winston Churchill - British politician, Minister of Munitions 1917
  • George Cohan - American entertainer, composer, producer
  • Duke of Connaught - former Governor General of Canada - and his wife, the Duchess of Connaught
  • Dr. Cox - eye specialist In Nova Scotia
  • General Sir Arthur Currie - became Commander of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1917
  • Count Jacques De Lesseps - an aviator and son-in-law of Sir William Mackenzie
  • Herb Ditchburn - world-renowned Muskoka boat-builder
  • Lady Drummond - from Montreal - established an Information Bureau within the Canadian Red Cross in England
  • Sir John Craig Eaton - owner of Eaton's department stores
  • Lady Flora Eaton - his wife
  • Timothy Eaton - John's father and founder of successful department store and mail order businesses
  • Escoffier - famous London chef
  • Sir Joseph Flavelle - Chairman of the Imperial Munitions Board, and owner of Wm. Davis Meat Packing, later Canada Packers
  • Charles Frohman - renowned impresario - died in the Lusitania tragedy
  • General Haig - Commander of the British Expeditionary Force
  • Max Immelman - famous German aviator
  • Pauline Johnson - part Mohawk Canadian poet
  • Rita Jolivet - actress - survived the Lusitania sinking
  • Al Jolson - renowned American entertainer
  • King George V - of the UK and British Dominions, like Canada
  • Rudyard Kipling - author - along with his wife, was on the executive committee of the Maple Leaf Clubs - friend of Sir Max Aitken
  • Dr. Ladd - Boston surgeon
  • Sir Hugh Lane - art expert and director of the National Gallery in Ireland - died in the Lusitania tragedy
  • Rosa Lewis - owned Cavendish Hotel in London - "The Duchess of Duke Street" was based on her life
  • Sir William Mackenzie - Canadian railway entrepreneur
  • Lady Diana Manners - aristocratic socialite - the "Lady Di" of her day
  • Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae - Canadian doctor and poet who wrote "In Flanders Fields"
  • Dr. McDermott - ship's doctor - died in the Lusitania tragedy
  • Earl of Minto - former Governor General of Canada - and his wife, Lady Minto
  • Hauptmann Karl Niemeyer - commandant of Holzminden prison camp in Germany
  • Ivor Novello - singer, composer, actor, playwright
  • Sir Henry Pellatt - financier - built Casa Loma in Toronto
  • Mary Pickford - renowned Hollywood star, originally from Toronto
  • The Prince of Wales - known to his family and close friends as David
  • Princess Patricia - daughter of Duke & Duchess of Connaught
  • Lieutenant Porte - of the Royal Naval Air Service
  • Manfred von Richthofen - Germany's top Ace with 80 victories
  • Dr. Oswald Robertson - credited with establishing the first blood bank during the last year of the war
  • Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt - former U.S. President
  • Stinson sisters - trained Canadian pilots in San Antonio, Texas
  • Major Jack Scott - CO of RFC 60th Squadron in the spring of 1917
  • Robert (Bob) Smith-Barry - RFC pilot renowned for his highly effective training program
  • Commander Stackhouse - explorer - died in the Lusitania tragedy
  • Tom Thomson - one of the Canadian Algonquin Group of painters, later known as The Group of Seven
  • Major-General Hugh "Boom" Trenchard - in charge of the RFC in France
  • Captain Turner - captain of the Lusitania - survived the Lusitania sinking
  • Alfred Vanderbilt - famous American multi-millionaire - died in the Lusitania tragedy
  • Woodrow Wilson - President of the United States, 1913-1921 - owned an island in Muskoka

Copyright © 2009 Gabriele Wills, Photos Copyright © 2008 Melanie Wills