By Jane Litchfield
A tragic incident involving a Toronto bike courier in 2009 sparked an idea that Guelph writer David McConnell couldn’t shake. Eleven years later, his first novel Frameworks is on the shelves.
The event was in the news shortly before McConnell retired from teaching high school. Although he had written before, he hadn’t attempted a novel. Something about the altercation that that led to the death of Darcy Allan Sheppard – and the ensuing calls for justice – compelled him. He started working on the book after retirement and spent nine years crafting it.
One of the main characters in Frameworks is inspired by Sheppard, a young Métis man from Edmonton. McConnell used the initials of Darcy’s name to name his fictional character, Dash. Like Darcy, Dash had a troubled childhood, struggled with addiction, and moved to Toronto where a bike courier job provided some new stability in his life. Frameworks flips back and forth from Dash’s past to his present life in Toronto, where a relationship with a young social worker, Jesse, also helps him find a new path.
Frameworks. Bookcover. Author David McConnell.
McConnell, who is of Irish descent, read the Truth and Reconciliation report while he was writing Frameworks. “I’m not writing about history, but I felt if I was going forward with this I needed to understand it more.” He also consulted a Métis counsellor in western Canada to get a feel for what Dash’s childhood could have been like and to understand the work of social workers. “I’m still learning,” McConnell says, “but I wanted to get the book out there.” He wrote about Dash in the third person and Jesse, the white female social worker, in first person. A coyote and a crow also appear throughout the book as impartial observers.
McConnell also uses visual art to tie his story together. For Dash, drawing connects happier memories from his childhood to hope for the future. “I wanted to use what he liked as a boy to take him away from negativity.” While McConnell is not a visual artist, he says he has always liked visiting Art Gallery of Guelph and Art Gallery of Ontario. He vividly describes the wonder of Dash’s first visit to AGO, and the work of Alex Colville plays a major role in the book.
Knowing that it can take a year to get a reply from a big publisher, McConnell chose to publish his book with Tellwell, a B.C. firm that offers a range of paid packages and services to help writers get their work to market. Tellwell accepted his manuscript and assigned two editors and an illustrator to the project. They worked with McConnell for six months to publish the book and then market it, but he still holds copyright and can do his own marketing and distribution work as well.
Before submitting his work to Tellwell, he used another editing firm recommended by his writers’ group to critique his draft. McConnell says he had “lots of beta readers,” and he recommends that process to other aspiring writers. He was recently accepted as a Goodreads author, which means he can talk to other authors and get reviews through the site.
Author David McConnell. Image provided by author.
McConnell grew up in Shelburne, Ontario, and lived in Toronto for a couple of years before attending university in Guelph and making the Royal City his home. Pre-pandemic you could find him volunteering at the front desk at 10C Shared Space or as a tour guide during Doors Open Guelph. McConnell says writing his novel was not about making money. “It was just to check it off the bucket list.” He’s now working on a satirical memoir called I Might Be Willy Loman.
You can buy Frameworks from The Bookshelf in Guelph, BookLore in Orangeville, or as an e-book or paperback online through major book retailers. McConnell hopes to have it in more brick-and-mortar stores next year and he still holds out hope for a launch event post-pandemic.