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Fiction World War I

Connection at Newcombe

by (author) Kayt Burgess

Latitude 46 Publishing
Initial publish date
Apr 2021
World War I, Small Town & Rural
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2021
    List Price

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Newcombe is too small to qualify for a rail station. So begins a campaign against time and government to guarantee the survival of their community in post-war Northern Ontario.

It's 1920. The Great War is over and the troops are on their way home to reclaim their old lives. But before he can return to his days as a lawyer, Major Callum Bannatyne has one more mission: to ensure The Canadian National Railway builds its newest expansion through his hometown of Newcombe.

The only problem? Newcombe's population is too small for it to qualify for a station. And so begins a small town's campaign against time and government to recruit their ringers and guarantee the survival of their community in post-war Northern Ontario.

But not everyone is on board with duping the government and Cal's plan is undermined at every turn, whether due to the machinations of the local Reverend's zealous son, or the bullying of belligerent furrier Randall Evershed. Even Fergus, Cal's own father, who suffers with dementia, inadvertently jeopardizes the plan when he attacks one of Newcombe's conspirators during one of his fogs.

But if living in the Canadian wilderness has taught the people of Newcombe anything, it's how to be resourceful in the face of adversity.

About the author

Kayt Burgess's debut novel Heidegger Stairwell (2012) won the International 3 Day Novel Contest and a finalist for the 2013 ReLit Award for Fiction. She is also a scriptwriter on the best-selling augmented reality app Zombies, Run! and writes stories, poems, plays, and produces work in experimental digital storytelling. She received her Ph.D. from Bath Spa University in 2017. Kayt was born in Manitouwadge, Ontario and lives in Elliot Lake.

Kayt Burgess' profile page


  • Short-listed, ReLit Award for Fiction
  • Winner, 3 Day Novel Contest

Excerpt: Connection at Newcombe (by (author) Kayt Burgess)


Even with the teeth of the railroad chattering, thepneumatic whistle blowing and the upholstered wooden boothscreaking with every lurch; even with the infant screaming atthe back of the passenger car and the thick-necked monsieursnoring like a sated warthog in the next berth; even with acompanion scribbling into his journal, muttering half-thoughtsin anglicized French to himself: this was still the quietestmoment Major Callum Bannatyne had found since before thewar.

Maybe it wasn't as soundless as ears filled with trench mud,or the winter night after a standstill battle, but to the head, tothe heart, to the eyes and soul, this was peace.Alongside the train tracks, the trees were clothed in newleaves. The air smelled like coal and tobacco, but both smelledclean compared to the trenches.

The train ride from Halifax to Ottawa was loud, the carfull of their countrymen, some with new wives stolen fromEngland or the continent, all drunk-on victory, patriotism, andcamaraderie. But since Ottawa, there were few left on theirroute. The prairie farmers and the western cowboys, they werelong gone on the new CPR cross-country, chugging headlonginto those sunburnt wheat fields they were always talking about.The boys from the Ontario heartland disembarked one byone until the only two left were Cal and his Frenchman. TheFrenchman wrote page after page, bleary-eyed and manic, with adull stump of a pencil.

"What're you writing?"

"I'm writing to my mother," said Sergeant Jean-Guy Vachon,scratching at his patchy black beard with the tip of the pencil,his thick eyebrows furrowed.

"All that for your mum, eh? Shit. Last couple years, I justsend mine a page or two every couple weeks. And not sinceSouthampton." Cal lit a cigarette. He still had a few left in hisrucksack. Near the end it'd come to taking them off the bodies.Jean stopped writing, staring at his page. "Where were we inSeptember?"

"I was still in the Wipers picking off huns. I don't knowwhere you were."

"Here and dere. Mostly dere."

"The life of an airman. Say, why do you want to know wherewe were in September?" Cal wasn't sure of the exact date, but hewas certain it was coming on May.

Jean placed the pencil inside the palm-sized leathernotebook and stuffed it in the inside breast pocket of his jacket."Because I can't remember." His English, which was good savefor the occasional betrayal, had improved with the war. Therewas barely a hint of the old lilt; the RAF trained it right out ofhim.

Cal studied Jean's face, the pointed chin, the gaunt cheeks,the wide, sweaty brow and black eyeballs that refused to focuson anything too long. Jean's face turned red, just like it alwayshad at the schoolhouse when the teacher caught Jean sneakinglooks off other students' slates.

Jeez Louise. "When was the last letter you sent?""Long time ago. I t'ought I sent more. In my dreams I alwayssent dem."

"She's gonna whip you."

"I'll tell her I couldn't post dem. I was in de air."

Jean Guy was always in the air--even when his boots wereplanted squarely on the ground.

"And since Armistice? We've been in London four months,you louse."

"Let me handle my mother," Jean grumbled, leaned his headback and closed his eyes. "You have your own mo'der to worryabout. She is much scarier than mine."

Editorial Reviews

"Tremendous and haunting, Kayt Burgess's Connection at Newcombe evokes the hard-driving, uncompromising spirit of Northern Ontario. Brimming with wisdom and insight, Burgess's writing speaks to a simpler time, and her flawed and troubled characters to the human condition and all it brings, the good and the bad, that touches us deeply one and all."
-Matt Mayr, author, Things Worth Burying

Connection at Newcombe speaks to the indomitable spirit of family, friendship, and community. Kayt Burgess's eclectic cast of characters will have you reveling in their vivid details, and basking in the glow of a story well-told.
-Amy Spurway, author, Crow

Burgess's prose is as purposeful and unadorned as passenger trains transporting us to post war Newcombe. The history of the politics of a Northern Ontario village, prohibition, family relationships and the lush backdrop of Newcombe itself are as fresh as the post war smell of trench mud and cigarette smoke in the characters' memories.
A story about progress, love and what it means to be 'at home' in the world, Kayt Burgess creates a poignant and heartwarming world for us that can tell us as much about today as it does in 1920.
-Evie Christie, author, The Bourgeois Empire and Mere Extinction

Kayt Burgess brings alive tiny Newcombe in the months after World War. Returning soldier, Callum Ballantyne, launches a preposterous campaign to increase the village population in a matter of weeks to qualify as a stop on the rail-line. When the disparate local - and not so local - population pulls together, we're reminded that part of us never leaves home, no matter how far we've gone. Burgess weaves a bit of magic and lot of humour into Connection at Newcombe, a novel that is both whimsical and so grounded in place you can smell the wood smoke, taste the ale, and feel the dirt on your skin.
- Laisha Rosnau, best-selling author of Little Fortress

There's definitely a lot happening in this novel, with a lot of characters and viewpoints, a lot of old grudges and young love, race, class, and the lingering shadow of World War I, but it never feels rushed or overburdened. An enjoyable read about a plucky little town.
- The Miramichi Reader

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