Sheila Murray's novel Finding Edward is a story of personal discovery and of Canada's Black history 

The Hamilton, Ont. write talks about the little-known Black Canadian history that inspired her debut novel
Finding Edward is a novel by Sheila Murray. (Ken Straiton, Cormorant Books)

Sheila Murray is a writer born and raised in England who now lives in Hamilton, Ont. Finding Edward, her debut novel, is a novel about a man, Cyril Rowntree, who discovers letters from the 1920s that reveal the story of a white mother who gave up her mixed race son, Edward, for adoption. Cyril has recently moved to Toronto from Jamaica and was abandoned by his own white father, so Edward's story intrigues him. He begins to search for Edward and the truth about what happened to him. This journey of personal discovery is also one of Canada's Black history. 

Finding Edward was a finalist for the 2022 Goveror General's Literary Award for fiction and was named one of the best works of Canadian fiction in 2022 by CBC Books.

Finding Edward was on the Canada Reads 2023 longlist and CBC Books named Murray a Black writer to watch in 2023.

Murray spoke with CBC Books about the inspiration behind Finding Edward.

Lost and found

"Finding Edward is about a young man, Cyril, who arrives from Jamaica in 2012 in Toronto. He's there because other people thought that was the right thing for him to do. But he doesn't have the social supports that he needs to get by. He's very lonely and he comes across the sort of ephemera of a man, Edward who was born in the 1920s.

"What's important about — and the connection that he makes to this man — is that both of them are Black, of mixed white and Black heritage. Both had been abandoned by their parents. 

I wanted to tell the story of Black Canadian history — these relationships that go way, way back.

"Although I have never worked as a journalist, I have a background in journalism. I have, however, made some documentary films. I understand storytelling in that sense — if you want to present facts, they need to be compelling if people are to engage with them.

"A great way to do that is to tell a story with the facts sort of embedded. I wanted to tell the story of Black Canadian history — these relationships that go way, way back — and do it in a way so it would be told through characters, be surprising and hopefully engaging.

"I think I've gotten close to that."

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Of Black and mixed race

"The story I set out to tell was about the experience of being mixed race, as I am. My father's Black Jamaican, my mother's white English. I've been around for long enough to have pondered this question — and now, in 2022, I am thinking about what it all means.

The story I set out to tell was about the experience of being mixed race, as I am.

"I am Black, and I'm also white — but I'm also from a multitude of other cultures. It's extraordinary how identity is critical to life advantages and/or disadvantages depending where you're situated. Some have a better chance than others and so what does that have to do with race? Who gets to say: you are Black, you're white, you're a multitude of other things?

"I had a degree of advantage. I came to Canada when I was in my late teens. I got to make my own decisions about what my life would be. I did things on my own terms. In essence, both Edward and Cyril do things on their own terms, but they have to fight to find their own space to make the ground solid under their feet.

"That takes time for both of them."

A light on history

"My overall intention was for people to understand that Black people have been in Canada for a very long time. I wanted people to understand there's been a Black experience, over centuries, in Canada. Cyril discovered Edward's history and in so doing helped readers to learn about this Black history in Canada.

"I want to engage people with this Black experience. It's not just what we've learned since the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been so important and remains so. But before that, there were lots of other moments — and a tremendous amount of Black experiences, contributions and accomplishments."

Cyril discovered Edward's history and in so doing helped readers to learn about this Black history in Canada.

"I identify as Black. I write about Black issues because I have some understanding of how challenging life can be. It can also be full of joy — and I wanted this range of experience to be present in the book. I wanted people to read something I'm hoping that they didn't know about — a slightly different perspective on what Black life is in Canada."

Sheila Murray's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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