Introduction for Jacques Poitras

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The highlight of the presentation ceremony is the introduction of the authors by distinguished individuals.

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Stevie Cameron, author and national investigative journalist in print and broadcast media introduced Jacques Poitras' book Beaverbrook.

It is such a treat to be here today for this wonderful party to celebrate three great new books. As a non-fiction writer myself, I feel that we are the neglected sloggers, kept in the shadows while the novelists get all the glory and all the money. But this lovely and generous award, the non-fiction version of the Giller Prize, is balm in Gilead for all of us.

And it is just as great a pleasure for me to introduce Jacques Poitras, who is a finalist for his rollicking story, Beaverbrook: A Shattered Legacy.

Jacques is a dear and old friend. I have known him and admired his work since 1994 when I met him in Moncton where he was working for the provincial paper, The Telegraph Journal. Several years later, my daughter, Amy, landed there as a cub reporter and before long she was sharing an apartment with another young reporter called Giselle Goguen. Time moved along and Jacques, an aggressive enough journalist but shy in courtship, finally married Giselle; a few years later Giselle was a bridesmaid at Amy's wedding, along with two other New Brunswick girlfriends.

So all this is to say that Jacques is family. I am pretty prejudiced when it comes to this terrific young man and I have been delighted for him as he gathered awards for his work and especially when he made lemonade out of lemons after the Irvings shut down the Moncton bureau. Jacques picked himself up and moved to Fredericton to work for CBC Radio where he has done every bit as well as he did in print.

But when his publisher, Susanne Alexander, asked me for a blurb for the book last summer I was worried; I adore Jacques but what if I hated the book? And who the hell cared about this fight over the Beaverbrook pictures anyway?

So it arrived, I started it and it turned into one of those books you carry around the house, enjoying every page. It was such fun. Those skills we hope to have as journalists in drawing readers in quickly, keeping the narrative moving right along, exposing the most colourful and interesting parts of human character, finding the best stories and telling them well, these skills are fully developed in this book.

The history is there. Beaverbrook, the son of a Presbyterian minister who made a fortune in cement, moved to England and turned the Daily Express into the most popular newspaper in the country, and became a cabinet minister in both World War One and World War Two, a controversial, bombastic, bullying confidant of Winston Churchill - what a personality. If not reined in, he would have taken over this book. But Jacques didn't let that happen. He described, instead, how Beaverbrook built a collection of great paintings to give his home province - and the determined efforts of his descendants to get them back.

I was trying to think of the best way to describe this story. The books that come to mind right away are those classics of Anthony Trollope who understood better than any novelist I know, how men and women are driven by political, social and financial ambitions.

When I told Jacques how much I liked the writing in this book, he credited the material itself: "So many incredible characters, the connections to other well known figures of the 20th century and of course, the battle over the art itself, something that shouldn't matter in terms of societal importance but that has managed to touch people in a profound way."

But I think the main reason I like this delicious book so much is that it is regional. All of us, one way or another, are regional and this story of a bunch of cranky, intelligent, and determined New Brunswickers taking on the high and mighty in England is something that will strike a chord in so many Canadians, no matter where they live.
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