Back in the 1700s, Natalie Kinsey-Warnock’s ancestors sailed from Scotland to the U.S. and settled down on a swath of land in the higher latitudes of the Green Mountain State, in a region famed for its pristine natural beauty—the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont or the N.E.K.
Since that time, the world has seen much. But even more than 200 years later, some things haven’t changed. The 50-year-old author of children’s book, Warnock, is the seventh generation of her family to call the N.E.K. her home.
Surely, the deep forests, the undulating hills, and the crystal-clear lakes that surround her, are a source of literary inspiration, but none that are greater than the tales of her own forefathers.
For Warnock, the greatest of stories are found hidden in a sepia-toned photograph, in the tea-stained pages of a great-grandfather’s journal, or in the yellowing scraps of a letter written by an ancient aunt.
“Families are the best sources for stories,” she says.
Warnock was recently in town at the Bedford Hills Elementary School to talk to a group of young audience comprising kindergartners to fifth-graders.
Of the 20-plus books she’s written so far, all are fictionalized versions of real-life incidents, involving members of her clan. And so are most of the 50 more project she’s presently working on.
Her very first book, “The Canada Geese Quilt,” which she started at the age of 26, was born out of her wish to immortalize in the form of a novella, her admiration for her grandmother and her knack for quilt-making.
“I had a very special relationship with my grandmother. When she [suffered] a stroke, I realized I wasn’t always going to have her. So, I wanted people to know about her and remember her. That’s when I decided to write a book,” she said.
“[Her grandmother] started making quilts at the age of 65 and over the next 24 years, she’d sown 250 quilts. It can take months to years to make them, but she was so good at it that she could make one a week,” she beamed.
Another book, “The Bear that Heard Crying,” is about her great-great-great-great-great-aunt, who, as a three-year-old toddler, was lost in the woods for four days in the summer of 1783.
Some of the other titles by her include: “The Fiddler of the Northern Lights,” “From Dawn Till Dusk,” “As Long As There Are Mountains,” and “A Christmas Like Helen’s.”
Unless put down in writing, memories of notable events in a family’s timeline and nuggets of dynastic lore tend to be erased by the sands of time. Those of Warnock are no exception to that.
“A lot of my family stories weren’t handed down. [So,] we had to find them out through researching our genealogy. My sister did most of that,” she says.
One of her upcoming works is centered on one of the worst, if lesser known, maritime disasters in U.S. history: the explosion on board the overcrowded steamboat Sultana, on April 27, 1865, which killed 1,700 of its 2,400 passengers.
By combing through records and documents, Warnock discovered that one of the lucky few to have survived that shipwreck was her great-great-grandfather.
If motivating youngsters to “interview their grandparents for stories” was her goal, then, she’d certainly achieved it.
“I want to be a writer. I think that it’s great she writes about families. She puts a lot of effort and detail into what she cares about,” said second-grader Carmela Culhane.
“We wanted to invite an author, this year, as part of the school’s curriculum-enrichment program. We chose her because she’s someone who’s a great rapport with the kids,” said Whitney Barbera, an event co-organizer.
During her hour-long presentation to each grade, she regaled the kids with a slideshow of her home in the mountains and her numerous pets that may well make up a mini zoo: eight dogs, seven cats, and three horses.
The showstoppers, however, were her grandma’s quilts, each a product of excellent craftsmanship and themed on nature and fauna, depicting the northern lights, gulls, ducks, and loons.
Surprising as this may be to a new breed of writers, who transmit their thoughts directly from the mind to an electronic keyboard, Warnock considers technology to be a hindrance to the free-flow of ideas.
“My brain shuts down in front of a computer,” she says. What gets her creative juices flowing, instead, is sitting with a pencil and a pad in the middle of a field under the open sky, or a tree branch.
Other than being a writer, Warnock is an athlete and a naturalist. In her spare time, she runs, goes mountain-biking, kayaking, swimming, canoeing, rock-climbing, windsurfing, and cross-county skiing.