April 25th 2021
Click below for a YouTube version of that cocktail hour launch: including my chat about the novel, readings of three passages, a lovely musical interlude by guitar virtuoso Lester Quitzau, a question-and-answer, and some mingling of friends.
April 25th 2021
April 21, 2021
This month, we spoke with BC-based novelist William Deverell about his new book, Stung – the latest political-legal thriller in his popular series following lawyer Arthur Beauchamp. Stung is centered around Arthur’s defence of a group of environmental activists, who are accused of sabotaging an industrial pesticide plant in an effort to save the precious pollinators that its products put at risk.
Deverell, a former journalist and lawyer, lives on Pender Island, BC (in a place not too different from the fictional island home of his protagonist). In a phone interview with West Coast Communications Director Alexis Stoymenoff, he shared some of his reflections about the real-life legal and environmental issues at the heart of the story.
The legal drama in Stung surrounds a group of environmentalists working to save the bees from toxic chemicals and pesticides. What was it that sparked your interest in bees and pollinators, and the threats they face?
Well, a lot of my novels have environmental themes, and I’ve always been an activist in terms of protecting what’s left of this poor benighted planet. Really the inspiration for choosing the holocaust of bees came from my wife, Jan Kirkby, who is a biologist and an environmentalist. She told me, “You know, you’ve really got to write a book that makes a statement about the world.” We discussed topics, and I just love bees, so I thought, “Okay, let’s dig into it.” And I started doing some research. The more deeply I got into the research, the more depressed I got.
Even just recently, since I’ve written the book, I see articles – for instance, in The Guardian – a lot. There’s one headline saying that bees are now considered the most important living thing on Earth – and for good reason, because they’re the main pollinator for about 70% of the world’s crops, and yet they’re under threat. They’re a vanishing family of insects right now. Apparently, the total impact of pesticides and other pollinators doubled in a decade (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/01/toxic-impact-of-pesticides-on-bees-has-doubled-study-shows).
So anyway, for my focus, I decided on neonicotinoids – a pesticide that is particularly dangerous these days, and too widely used. I read that some of these “neonics” are 10,000 times more toxic than DDT, if you can imagine that.
[In a novel], you have to entertain people. There’s no use just hammering people over the head, or lecturing them. My books, I hope, are entertaining. There’s a mix of humour, and actually in this one, a bit of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. But my readers expect that. And I usually have a little side story going on in my not-so-mythical Gulf Island called Garibaldi.
I have a cast of funny characters who pop up from time to time, and people seem to love that. As well as the issue involving neonics, I have an issue involving a SLAPP suit against my long-time protagonist Arthur Beauchamp and a few of his friends who are fighting to preserve a park on the island.
So there’s lots of political and environmental action in this, but the main storyline of course is about an environmental activist group who have decided to stir up trouble by invading a plant that pumps out neonics in Ontario – a company they believe to be corrupt, that is absolutely poisoning the insect population of the world. It’s an act of direct action that they’ve undertaken and they risk prosecution, and they are in fact prosecuted for breaking and entering and stealing various records from the plant. These records prove that the company is in fact running afoul of the law, very much as Monsanto has been exposed of having done over the years, before it was taken over by Bayer.
The main thrust of the book is how they fight this case, on the basis of the defence of necessity. They finally drag poor Arthur Beauchamp – who is desperately trying to retire from the practice of law – out to Ontario to defend this case, which involves about seven defendants and is being massively covered by the media worldwide.
There is a fair bit of tension, a lot of twists and unexpected events happening on the way. But at the same time, I hope I’ve created a teaching moment about the danger to pollinators.
What was the most interesting thing you learned while you were researching this topic and writing the book? Was there anything that surprised you?
I had no idea that the danger to pollinators was so severe. It doesn’t get much coverage in the media. I thank The Guardian, which I subscribe to, for taking up the cudgels on this issue. When I read that neonics are not only soluble, but that they spread into our streams, into our wells, into all sorts of living plants that are not just grown on farms – and they have even affected human beings. Certainly there have been tests on animals showing that there are distinctive amounts of neonics found in their bloodstreams. And it’s been found even in baby food! So this is a crisis.
In Europe – as a result of a massive use of neonicotinoids in Germany, which caused thousands of apiarists to lose their beehives – they banned neonics, apparently widely. We’re waiting for the rest of the world to follow up. Canada has had some restrictions, but they are not doing a ban.
[NOTE: You can take action to ban harmful neonicotinoids by signing a petition by our friends at the David Suzuki Foundation here (https://davidsuzuki.org/action/canada-must-ban-neonics-now/).]
As you said, the fight to protect pollinators is not the only environmental battle that appears in the novel. Your lead character, Arthur, is also embroiled in a local campaign to protect a park on Garibaldi Island, which is at risk from a quarry development. West Coast Environmental Law gets a little cameo in this part of the story, as a source of legal support for the community group challenging the quarry approval in court.
Well yes, you do. I’m an annual contributor to West Coast Environmental Law, and I just thought, well why not give you guys a plug.
So what was your inspiration for this local BC storyline?
Actually, I think we had some support from West Coast for an issue we had on this island some time ago about a road being driven through a park here. We called upon you guys, and some intensive research was done. (We didn’t have the same kind of protest that I described in my book, in which poor Arthur Beauchamp and a bunch of his fellow islanders got busted for blocking the ferry.)
Unfortunately, we didn’t win the day on that one, but that was what inspired me to say, “Ok, well why not give WCEL a little bit of a boost in my novel, because they helped out on our island.”
Providing support for communities to use the law to protect the environment is a core part of our work at West Coast (https://www.wcel.org/programs/Environmental-Legal-Aid) – and it’s a topic that comes up in Stung. What are your thoughts on the importance of access to justice for environmental causes? How important do you think it is for there to be resources for communities to access justice and take legal action to address environmental concerns?
I think it’s very important. Between you and Ecojustice, I think, the more the merrier. I know you need the funding – probably you need a lot more funding to fight the legal battles that are so, so important. These are the most important battles of any kind that are being fought in our courts these days – the ecological battles, the battles to save our environment from the effects of global heating. It’s critical that organizations like yours have the public support and the funding to take these kinds of issues to court, because, you know, you’re going to be fighting against extremely well-funded corporations. That makes it all the more important for organizations like WCEL to be on the front lines fighting for our environment.
As you mentioned, political and environmental themes are a common thread in some of your other novels as well – not just Stung – and through adventures of Arthur Beauchamp. What is it about the interaction of law, politics and the environment that makes for a good story?
Well, let’s see – April Fool (https://www.deverell.com/books/april-fool) was another one which was strongly environmental, and it was involving a clearcut on my Garibaldi Island, and a protest, and people blockading and sitting up in trees and what not. And some of the same characters who appear in that also appear in Stung.
You know, I think it’s important to make people alive to the concerns that we all share about the environment by throwing a bit of a message into books and into novels (as long as you’re not boring people with too much science).
I hope I’m making converts to the cause. But let’s hope it’s not too late, because it’s scary what’s happening to this planet.
You can join William Deverell for a virtual launch of Stung on Earth Day, April 22, 2021 at 5pm PT. The online cocktail-hour event will feature a reading and Q&A, plus a musical interlude by guitar virtuoso Lester Quitzau.
Stung is available for purchase online and in store – check out your local independent book seller for more information.
Here's what our Executive Director & Senior Counsel Jessica Clogg had to say about the book:
“In the face of one of the existential environmental challenges of our day, Deverell’s larger than life eco-activists and their lawyers fly into battle. Their tactics may be fictional, but the environmental harm is real. Get ready for a wild ride and hope that Beauchamp wins the day, for the bees and for all of us.”
Author: Alexis Stoymenoff - Communications Director
March 26th 2021
David Suzuki, scientist, broadcaster, author, activist. and a founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, has some thoughtful words to say about Stung and about the wilful blindness we as a species suffer over the global climate crisis:
"The great boast of our species is that we are intelligent yet we seem unable to deal with the facts of environmental degradation. Bill Deverell’s Stung provides a powerful insight into why. Read this book and find out!"
In an email to me, he continued:
March 10th 2021
ECWPress has contracted to republish ALL my remaining out-of-prints (pre-Beauchamp) in 2022. That list includes Mecca, The Laughing Falcon, and Mind Games.
February 6th 2021
photo: Plummer with Brian Dennehy in Inherit the Wind on Broadway
I felt deeply honoured (and a little blown away) when the great Christopher Plummer agreed to play a major role in my screenplay adaptation of Mindfield, my 1990s thriller inspired by the CIA-sponsored mind control program secretly run out of Montreal.
January 30th 2021
Breaking news for Beauchamp fans:
I have just inked a contract with my aggressive, proudly Canadian (and obviously shrewd) publisher, ECWPress, to publish in print, online, and audio formats the three Arthur Beauchamp novels that have languished for the last few years in that infernal region known as books-out-of-print.
Kill All the Judges, Snow Job, and I'll See You in My Dreams will appear on bookstore shelves by early autumn, 2021, and, when added to my March release, Stung, will complete the Beauchamp saga to date. (Another is in the oven.)
January 28th 2021
Publisher’s Weekly has received an advance copy of Stung, and here's their Review of January 25, 2021:
January 9th 2021
Occasionally, we search for ourselves online (admit it, you do it too) and as I scrolled one day through my favourite search engine (not Google), the lines in the "read more" link below popped up -- mysteriously, for I have no memory of having spoken these words in 1968. But I'm sure they're mine (they sound of the views of a presumptuous, young, radical trial lawyer named Bill Deverell only five years out of law school).
December 26th 2020
A twenty-minute uphill climb from our home rewards with this view of the Salish Sea and the Gulf Islands, with an arbutus tree hogging the stage.read more →
December 17th 2020
I mourn his death.
As a young reader of spy thrillers, I voraciously consumed John le Carré's early novels. I was bowled away by The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and A Small Town in Germany, and later, of course, Tinker, Tailor and the whole Smiley series.
Interestingly, he didn't seek out the fame he deserved as not just an author of thrillers but as a master of fine literary prose. He refused to accept nominations for literary awards and declined knighthood, and had been quoted as being "suspicious of the literary world."
Many skilled writers of crime fiction would probably agree with that, but not say it out loud.
Unhappily, le Carré's later novels began to pale on me, and this review I wrote for the Globe some years ago, explains why:
December 6th 2020
“Any resemblance to persons living or dead…”
Though I practised mainly as a criminal defence counsel, I was on occasion retained by the Attorney-General of British Columbia to prosecute homicide trials, some of which attracted wide public attention.
The trial featured in the opening section of this novel roughly recreates one of them, an alleged thrill killing in Vancouver of a lonely down-and-outer.
December 5th 2020
My Paean to My Gulf Island...My Island, My Muse: A Brief Memoir
Published in the collection, Love of the Salish Sea Islands, Mother Tongue Press
As I compose these notes, the bells have rung in the new year of 2019, which may or may not be worth celebrating, given the perilous state of our planet. I find more comfort in raising a glass to the past, because this year marks my fortieth anniversary living on a little sylvan island—six miles long and three wide—called North Pender.
The reward for my staying power is that I have finally attained the lofty rank of old-timer. There is a higher class, to which it is hopeless to aspire, of seniors born or raised here. And there are several levels of lesser nobility: full-time residents, weekend cottagers, visitors, vacation renters and, of lowest rank, the yahoos who think it’s okay to bomb around on country roads tossing beer cans and plastic wrappers.
November 22nd 2020
Some years ago, the CBC invited to me to create a five-minute story to be read on air. I dumped the first effort, but here it is anyway, followed by an almost entirely different take, that ultimately made it to the airwaves.read more →
November 18th 2020
Arthur Beauchamp takes on the most explosive trial of his career: the defence of seven boisterous environmentalists accused of sabotaging a plant in Ontario that pumps out a pesticide that has led to the mass deaths of honeybees. The story zigzags between Toronto, where the trial takes place, and Arthur's West Coast island home where he finds himself arrested for fighting his own environmental cause: the threatened destruction of a popular park. The Toronto trial concludes with a tense, hang-by-the-fingernails jury verdict. The story is told from points of view of Arthur and a vibrant young woman activist and a tough, cynical OPP Inspector. Throughout, Arthur struggles to save his marriage.read more →
November 17th 2020
"A bitingly funny whodunit." Maclean's
"Kill All the Lawyers is clever, amusing, laced with black humour and viciously accurate depictions of lawyers and judges." Toronto Star.
And a 2020 review squib from the New York Journal of Books:
“Filled with biting wit and smart dialogue, with a twist of an ending the diehard mystery reader won’t see coming—and an epilogue featuring the most ironic surprise of all.”
Here's a thoughtful review by the late, great Robin Skelton, one of Canada's foremost poets and teachers of literature:
October 31st 2020
As I reorganize my Blog, this seems an opportune time to revise and post a short short story published a while ago by Maclean's Magazine in a tongue-in-cheek series titled Trump’s Last Chapter. Several Canadian authors were asked to envision Donald Trump's downfall. Here's my version:read more →