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Great-grandmother who ran illegal speakeasy inspires book

Shawna Diane Partridge borrowed from her own life and that of her ancestors for debut novel
Shawna Diane Partridge shows off her new book, “Rule of Seconds.” Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

Shawna Diane Partridge has always been fascinated with a piece of family history. Her great-grandmother, a Ukrainian immigrant named Eudokia, ran an illegal speakeasy to support her family in the 1920s.

When it came time to write her debut novel, Partridge borrowed her ancestor's story. “I thought 'This is such a great story. I love the story,'” she said. “I kind of took her as inspiration.”

A native of Sault Ste. Marie, Partridge has lived in Sudbury for about six months, working as the education outreach co-ordinator for the Sudbury Community Foundation.

She has two master's degrees — one in English from Queen's University, and another in creative writing from the University of Windsor, as well as a BA in English from Laurentian University. 

Her novel, “Rule of Seconds,” began as a thesis project for her most recent degree. The book interlaces the extraordinary lives of four generations of women in one family in Sault Ste. Marie.

It follows the life of 26-year-old Sheila, the narrator-protagonist as she digs into her past and that of her family in hopes of unearthing the cause of her epilepsy.

Although the book is fiction, it draws from Partridge's personal experiences. As an epileptic, the author is always on the lookout for literary characters with epilepsy.

But there aren't that many, and where they do exist, the condition is portrayed negatively. That was Partridge's motivation in making the main character an epileptic.

“I do have epilepsy, and a lot of my experiences with epilepsy are in the book,” said Partridge. “I wanted to portray a positive viewpoint of epilepsy. I think it was cathartic for me to write about my condition.”

Partridge had wanted her book to be published by Scrivener Press, which was run by now-retired Laurentian University English professor Laurence Steven. She was disappointed to learn the publishing company shut down last year.

So Partridge submitted her book to Latitude 46, a new publishing company started in 2015 by Sudbury women Heather Campbell and Laura Gregorini to fill the void left by Scrivener Press.

“Stuff was really streaming in, and it just didn't have 'it,'” said Campbell. 

“I was like 'Something has got to come in.' I swear to God, it was the next day (Partridge's) manuscript came in. We could tell right off the bat this was very well written.” 

Partridge said she loved working with Campbell and Gregorini, as well as Mitchell Gauvin — Campbell's author son — who did most of the editing work.

“I had a great experience,” Partridge said. 

“When I first sat down with them over some lunch, they said 'We're going to get to know each other really well.' But it's true. We talk pretty much every day, setting things up. I liked working with a smaller publisher because I did have that contact.”

This is only the second book published by Latitude 46. The first was a compilation of short stories called “Along the 46th.”

The Sudbury launch for “Rule of Seconds” takes place at 7 p.m. May 14, at, quite appropriately, the Speakeasy on Durham Street. 

The book costs $15, and is available online through Amazon. It'll also be for sale at local retailers soon.


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Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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