Bruce McLean, 91, grips his favourite photo of himself and his wife, Pauline St-Pierre Dion, whose battle with Alzheimer’s inspired his first novel, The Manana Treehouse. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

Bruce McLean, 91, grips his favourite photo of himself and his wife, Pauline St-Pierre Dion, whose battle with Alzheimer’s inspired his first novel, The Manana Treehouse. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)

91-year-old Saanich man publishes first novel based on wife’s Alzheimer’s experience

Former journalist Bruce McLean ‘on cloud nine’ after making fiction debut

It’s rare to find someone in their 90s still chasing career goals but this fall, 91-year-old Saanich resident Bruce McLean made his debut as a novelist.

On Sept. 15, The Manana Treehouse was released and McLean, a former journalist, checked publishing his first book off the to-do list.

The novel took McLean some eight years to write and was inspired by experiences with his late wife, Pauline St-Pierre Dion, who spent her last seven years with Alzheimer’s before her death in 2012.

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The Manana Treehouse centres on Connie Kish, a professional children’s storyteller who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but remains wry and imaginative while helping her husband, Max, come to terms. The pair navigate the highs and lows of their relationship as they face her diagnosis – finding a new dynamic that’s both playful and loving.

Like the book’s main character, McLean said his wife took her diagnosis “very bravely.”

The book title comes from a story within the story: Kish slips into her own little fairy tale throughout the book and comes across the manana treehouse – a place of healing and possibility, McLean explained.

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From the 1950s to the late ’80s, McLean worked at several newspapers in Toronto and Vancouver.

“All along I aspired to do more,” and try other writing styles, he said, noting that he started a few other novels but felt this story rooted in personal experience would be the one to “hit pay-dirt.”

McLean added that writing about what he and his wife shared became a way to “digest and get through it.”

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In February, McLean received an email from Thistledown Press saying that the book was approved for publication.

It was “one of the biggest moments of my life. I was on cloud nine,” he said.

The moment when he was finally able to see his book “between covers” was another thrilling part of the process for McLean because, after starting his writing career on a typewriter, a project doesn’t feel real for him until it’s in print.

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McLean, who finished his career at the Vancouver Sun/The Province in 1989, said he prefers journalism to fiction because of all the human interaction but said creative writing has its draws.

“There’s another kind of thrill in writing fiction because it’s with you all the time,” he said. While it can be tough, there’s nothing better than when the writing is going well, he added with a chuckle.

McLean noted that his daughter, Moira Chambers, helped him throughout the process and acted as his press agent. The Manana Treehouse is available at Munro’s Books, on the Bolen Books website and on Amazon.


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