Pelham novelist Yvonne Van Lankveld’s love of words began early in childhood.
“I always wanted to be a writer,” she said.” I come from a family of three girls, and my dad told us ‘Whoever you marry, you have to stand on your own two feet.’ He told me I could be a writer, but asked ‘How are you going to support yourself?’ That's when I made the decision to get into nursing at age 17, taking a two-year accelerated program because there was a shortage of nurses at the time.“
Van Lankveld grew up in Niagara-on-the Lake, but has lived in Ridgeville since 1987 with her family. Her nursing career, which spanned 46 years (she retired in 2021) had a profound influence on her in terms of understanding the human condition.
While a registered nurse, she earned two diplomas from Mohawk College, followed by a Bachelor’s degree in Community Health Sciences from Brock University. Although her writing skills earned her awards and acclaim in many clinical settings and professional nursing journals, Van Lankveld never lost her desire to write fiction.
She completed her first novel, The Road to Alright, in 2019, with her second book, The Park Street Secrets, completed in 2022. She is currently writing her third novel, Follow Polly’s Lane. All three have local references.
“My first book takes place in a fictitious town called ‘New Pelham,’ and the second novel is set in Niagara Falls,” said Van Lankveld. “The book I’m currently working on is set on the shores of Lake Erie, in a fictitious hamlet called ‘New Abino’”—an obvious reference to Point Abino in Fort Erie.
The Road to Alright follows Gracie Sheehan as her mundane, mid-life existence is shattered when her husband dies and she loses her job within an eight-week span. Gracie is pulled from her Toronto roots to the tiny hamlet of New Pelham, where she is confronted with the challenge of fresh start, all the while questioning her own values and integrity.
The Park Street Secrets involves a medley of characters, including Gracie Sheehan, who take up residence in an historic government building in Niagara Falls that has been converted to condominiums. Love, betrayal, and the need for human connection are key themes in the novel.
“For most of my career, I specialized in occupational health, then delved into the field of mental health,” said Van Lankveld. “Those last years were the hardest, especially during the pandemic, but were also by far my most rewarding. The Park Street Secrets is dedicated to the people whom I have had the honour of caring for. They defined adversity and gratitude in such unique and distinct ways. While none are represented in my novels, they planted the seeds for some characters, usually long after they were gone.”
Van Lankveld laughs as she refers to herself as the Unofficial Writer in Residence at the Fonthill Library.
“Living in rural Pelham, the internet service has not been great [although her home just recently connected to high-speed access] and I routinely have traveled to the Fonthill Library for some solitude with my computer to work on my writing.”
She has won accolades for her work, and will be submitting an entry in the Fred Kerner Book Award, honouring the Canadian Authors Association (CAA) member who has the best overall book published in the previous calendar year.
“I work hard to portray my characters as real people, full of faults and feelings,” said Van Lankveld. “Most of them move on, but few rarely stay the same.”
In terms of the creative process she employs, Van Lankveld said that her stories “just sort of happen. I have an idea, which evolves into a plot that involves an antagonist and a protagonist. They get into trouble that can potentially happen in real life, then try to make amends.”
Blessed with a sense of curiosity and a good memory, Van Lankveld seeks peace and quiet when she sits down to write.
“I’m not a writer that can go into a noisy coffee shop and concentrate,” she said. “My husband is a saint, but a noisy saint, so I am very fortunate to be able to run away from home to a quiet location for weeks at a time [occasionally to Costa Rica] to get a good chunk of writing done. I’m a daily walker, so I’m often deep in thought thinking through character situations.”
The central themes of Van Lankveld’s novels deal mostly with real-life experiences like betrayal, reconciling relationships after they end, finding a new purpose in a life that’s somehow been messed up, and the need for human connection.
“My novels usually involve odd collisions of people, and the events that blend them together,” she said. “The easiest part of creating my characters is naming them.”
Van Lankveld has a fourth novel underway, which she says is “ten percent written and 90 percent in my head. The beginning and the end are very clear to me, but it’s the guts that need to be digested.”
All of the royalties from Van Lankveld’s novels are donated to local not-for-profit charities, or causes where there are little or no administrative fees.
“That’s my way of giving back for the good life I have, and my love of words,” she said.
Van Lankveld offered a concluding takeaway.
“I’ve always told our two sons that their choices are ultimately their responsibility, so I have to practice what I preach. I never take someone, or what they say, for granted. You can never underestimate, good or bad, the power or impact of what you say, write or do.”
Van Lankveld will hold a book signing at Cole’s in the Pen Centre on April 1. Her work is available in print and electronic versions (no audiobooks as of yet) and can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, as well as at independent bookstores. Additional information on her novels is available on her website at www.yvlauthor.com