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Corner Brook native writing about the struggles and successes of Newfoundlanders after the cod moratorium

Corner Brook native Jennifer Thornhill Verma travelled to Little Bay East on the Burin Peninsula to conduct research for her upcoming book "Saltwater Cowboys: What Happened to Newfoundlanders When the Cod Fishery Closed." The house in the background was once owned by her grandfather.
Corner Brook native Jennifer Thornhill Verma travelled to Little Bay East on the Burin Peninsula to conduct research for her upcoming book

Jennifer Thornhill Verma has lived in Ottawa for the last decade, but home to her is still Newfoundland.

The Corner Brook native said Newfoundlanders have a passion for home that she doesn’t see in people that she meets from elsewhere. That passion is what draws her home, to where her parents Pauline and Don Thornhill and sister Angelina Thornhill still live, as often as possible.

She’s exploring a bit of that passion, and the struggles and successes of Newfoundlanders as she writes her first book, “Saltwater Cowboys: What Happened to Newfoundlanders When the Cod Fishery Closed.”

Halifax-based Nimbus Publishing plans to release the book in fall 2019.

“I wanted to write a book about the cod moratorium that was about people first,” said Thornhill Verma. “It really shares the struggles and successes of Newfoundlanders, including my own family during and since that time.”

Once finished the book will be a bit of a memoir, have stories from other people, include some history and will touch on the revival in the fishery.

It’s about families who either left the fishery, or outport Newfoundland or both.

This summer Thornhill Verma has travelled all over the province talking to people and doing research for the book.

Her travels took her to the place where her family’s connection with the fishery began, Little Bay East on the Burin Peninsula.

Her grandfather Reginald Thornhill was born in 1913 and started fishing a year after the 1929 tsunami hit the peninsula.

He fished from a dory on the Grand Banks and later worked on coastal vessels.

But the family fishing legacy goes back beyond him.

Thornhill Verma is writing the book as she completes a masters in fine arts degree in creative non-fiction through the University of King’s College in Halifax.

She graduated from the university in 2002 with a degree in journalism and later completed a masters of science degree in medicine at Memorial University in St. John’s.

When she moved to Ottawa about 10 years ago she started working for the not-for-profit Canadian Foundation for Health Care Improvement as a senior director in programming.

As her career grew and she and her husband, Raman Verma, a physician in Ottawa, grew their family with the addition of daughter Navya Verma, writing was always something she wanted to pursue more.

About two years ago she wrote a story about her grandfather that was published in Downhome Magazine.

It was that story that got her to thinking about writing the book.

But, even though she trained as a journalist, Thornhill Verma didn’t think it was something she could do without some guidance and mentorship.

She’s found that in the creative writing program at King’s. She started the program last August when she was six and a half months pregnant with Navya. Now nine months old, Navya is part of the reason she wanted to write the book.

She didn’t want to risk it being lost and not being able to share it.

She believes the story is also for a lot more people, who want to learn about that history.

The creative writing master program is set up such that participants complete four residencies, two at the university and one each in Toronto and New York. In between the residencies there are assignments to work on at home and Thornhill Verma also works with a mentor, author Ken McGoogan.

She won’t complete the program until May 2019, so to have already have a deal to have the book published has Thornhill Verma feeling pretty good. She said she wanted to see it on a bookshelf one day, she didn’t envision it happening so soon.

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