Writing conversation: from thesis to award-winning book

Neil McKenty’s first book was published in 1967. Below is an excerpt from The Inside Story describing how it got published, and you can then read the preface and chapter 1.

“I dug out my 400-page thesis and hawked it around to various publishers. Only one, the dynamic and irrepressible Jack McClelland, was enthusiastic. He thought a biography of Mitch Hepburn, Premier of Ontario at Queen’s Park from 1934 to 1942, with his flamboyant lifestyle (based in an opulent suite of Toronto’s King Edward Hotel and paid for by his political friends), his heavy drinking and habitual womanizing, would make a sure-fire biography. Jack McClelland stood up, pumped my hand, gave me the thumbs up and said to go for it.

I went for it and sold the idea to Father George and my other superiors. I visited Mitch Hepburn’s widow, still living on the family farm near St. Thomas. She was reluctant to cooperate in the project because of the shadow side to her husband’s public career. However, I was to be more than gratified that by the time Mitch Hepburn was published, she and I were good friends. After a day’s writing, I would often head downtown to my favourite bar at 300 College Street which had a musical trio with a fantastic trumpet player. I usually sat at a table alone, drinking beer, listening to the music, getting a quiet buzz on while I imagined ways of bringing Mitch Hepburn to life on paper.”

Mitch Hepburn

by Neil McKenty


This is not the Life and Times of Mitchell Hepburn, Premier of Ontario from 1934 to 1942. The materials for a work of that scope are unavail­able if, indeed, some of them exist at all. Neither is it a portrait of Ontario’s eleventh Premier. The social and economic frame for a full portrait is lacking. Rather, the book is intended to be a political profile of the man who has been considered one of the most colourful Premiers in the province’s history.

The profile developed from research into Hepburn’s victory in the Ontario election of 1934 carried out at the University of Toronto under the direction of Dr. John T. Say well, now Dean of Arts and Science at York University. To expand that into a book seemed an interesting chal­lenge and Centennial project because so little has been written concerning Ontario’s Premiers.

Some of the problems raised in Mitch Hepburn require further re­search and development. The lack of certain material made this inevitable. Fortunately, the raw material for an interesting story was available. The main thing, it seemed to me, was to tell that story interestingly. Others will more fully analyze Mitchell Hepburn’s motives, assess his record, and estimate his place in Canada’s history. My primary aim was to sketch a profile of the man in action.

Professor Ramsay Cook of the University of Toronto read the entire manuscript, as did Richard M. Alway who has done extensive research on the Hepburn period. Professor H. Blair Neatby of Carleton University read portions of it. I am grateful for their suggestions. The staffs of the Provincial Archives of Ontario and the Public Archives of Canada were invariably helpful. I am also indebted to the Centennial Commission for a grant of $1,500.

That the book was completed is due most of all to the generosity of Canada’s English-speaking Jesuits, particularly the Jesuit Provincial, the Reverend Angus J. Macdougall. The Jesuits provided financial support and freedom from other duties for research and writing. My thanks, also, to those many friends whose enthusiasm for the project exceeded my ability to do it justice.

I hope that students will find the book useful, and that the general reader, especially those Mitch Hepburn affectionately referred to as “the people on the back concessions,” will find it enjoyable.

N. McKenty

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