Humphreys’ novel follows war prisoner seeking flight

Fans have author and Humber writing teacher Humphreys sign her book. Fans have author and Humber writing teacher Humphreys sign her book.
Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs

Helen Humphreys has a deeper appreciation for bird watching during her daily walks through the woods.

She took her interest of being one with nature and worked it into her latest novel, The Evening Chorus.

Contrasting the freedom birds enjoy to the incarceration of one Royal Air Force pilot who, rather than struggle to escape, turns his attention to a pair of redstarts.

The pilot’s interest in the birds in turn interests the German camp’s Kommandant.

On a wintery Wednesday evening, fans, historians and aspiring authors gathered at Another Story Bookshop on Roncesvalles Avenue to celebrate the launch of Humphreys’ latest book.

Dozens crowded the quaint shop eager to share their love of literature and to hear Humphreys briefly read a passage from her novel.

Humphreys, who has taught Humber’s creative writing correspondence course for the past three years, has an extensive library of work. She has written seven novels, two works of creative non-fiction and four books of poetry.

“Helen was amazing to work with,” said Jane Warren, an editor at Harper Collins Publishing, who facilitated the event. “At first I was a little intimidated, but she was so down to earth that the whole editing process went smoothly.”

After the reading, audience members asked the award-winning poet and novelist questions about inspiration, motivation and writing about a historical period.

The Evening Chorus borrows from the natural history mentioned in Tim Dee’s The Running Sky: A Bird-Watching Life, and bases the idea of bird watchers in prison camps from a character in the novel.

“There’s great symbolism in the birds that flew freely as the prisoners were trapped inside,” Humphreys said.

The author belongs to a generation that grew alongside memories of the war. Humphrey has a personal connection to the story as her father and both grandfathers served in the Second World War.

“This was an era where poets were regarded as scientists,” said Humphreys.

“The prisons I wrote about were not death camps and were not run by Nazis. The officers did not have do any physical labour so they took to nature and did things like bird watching and gardening.”

Humphreys said she had to find a creative way to depict a camp where each day mimics the other.

“I did not get as sick of this book as others in the past. I made a promise to myself to write so much each day, but then I wrote two drafts and realized that I didn’t like either of them.”

Ruth Taren, a student of Humphreys, said “Helen has been a wonderful mentor to me. Every time she emails my work back she says she looks forward to reading my next draft.”

Humphreys said she advises her students to write honestly and read constantly.

So far The Evening Chorus has been published in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Italy.

Humphreys has set her sights on drafting a future novel, but readers will have to wait patiently.