By Kathy Tam
Some people have grandparents who read books to them before bedtime. Others have grandparents whom they write books about.
Margaret MacMillan, chair of Ryerson’s history department from 1987-1992, was at first reluctant to tell people that the book she had written featured her great-grandfather in a starring role. But word slipped out eventually last June, when the London Daily Telegraph ran the headline “Lloyd George descendant wins £30,000 [$74,620 Cdn.] book prize.”
MacMillan’s book, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World, beat six others to win the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize – Britain’s most prestigious and highest paying award for non-fiction. The book examines the policy-making and the partying of the politicians who assembled in Paris after the First World War to decide the fate of Germany, and also to organize the League of Nations – later called U.N. The conference brought together leaders from the victorious allied nations, including U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau, and Prime Minister of Britain David Lloyd George – MacMillan’s great-grandfather.
MacMillan says she didn’t mention the family link because she feared people would criticize her motives for writing the book.
“I thought people would say ‘she’s only doing it simply as an act of family loyalty,’” says MacMillan, describing the trepidation that almost kept her from writing the book. “I didn’t tell the book’s first publisher in England about the family connection because I didn’t want them to use it as publicity.”
Nevertheless, MacMillan spent five years researching and writing the book. She conducted research by visiting government and university archives in Canada, the U.S., Britain, and France. She gained access to unpublished papers by the world leaders and others who attended the Paris conference, and she also got a private tour of the French foreign ministry building where most of the meetings took place. When she finally finished the book there was just one problem: Canadian and American publishers weren’t interested in it. “They probably thought it would only be of interest to academics,” says MacMillan. “They weren’t ready.”
But England was. “My brother-in-law knew someone who worked at a publishing house,” she says. “[The publisher] knew that Women of the Raj [MacMillan’s first book] sold respectably, and it was willing to give out an advance.”
Paris 1919, then called Peacemakers, was released last August in Britain and Ireland to rave