‘Mousehouse’ comes out from its corner; Book launch tonight

Posted on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Tonight is the launch of “The Mousehouse Years” and wishart is dressing up to hit the town. We’re gonna speak volumes about author, Velvet Haney and publisher, Jim Hilborn. A great team we are happy to play a part of! 

The Toronto Star caught up with Velvet recently and gave her a huge notice in yesterday’s paper. How appropriate it should run on Thanksgiving.


Ex-model Velvet Haney 
pens graphic memoir of life 
in Toronto slum

By: Nancy J. White Living Reporter, 
Published on Monday, Oct 13 2014

Velvet Haney didn’t speak at her mother’s funeral. Her five siblings did, but not her. “Oh my God, if I had tried to speak it would have been a therapy session,” says Haney.

Instead, she saved her eulogy for now. Her graphic memoir The Mousehouse Years tells the story of her mother, Meg McLaughlin Richardson, who grew up wealthy — private schools, horseback riding, idyllic summers on the family’s island — and raised her six children alone in a tiny house in a Toronto slum during the early 60s.

It’s about the mother’s turbulent marriage to Bill Richardson, father of her six children, a prospector who made and lost a fortune, a philanderer and outrageous personality. When the mother and children lived on a Durham farm, he once dropped a bag of toys and a dozen roses from a plane and then landed the Cessna in the yard.

Haney, 60, talks about her unconventional parents and her childhood in an Alexandra Park slum, an area later razed for the present-day housing project. She now lives in a Forest Hill home, seven kilometers apart but a lifetime away. In her upstairs home office, shelves are packed with books, and pages of her drawings hang off a line running across the room. There are lots of family photos, including ones of her mother as a university student and later white-haired, her grown children surrounding her.

The tall, blonde Haney became a fashion model, on the catwalks of Europe and North America, before marrying John Haney — one of the creators of Trivial Pursuit — and raising two children.

The book is a tribute to her mother, with whom she had, what she calls, a problematic relationship. “I was the oldest girl and she had a lot of dreams not fulfilled,” explains Haney. “Six kids can hold you back.”

One of those dreams was to be a writer. In the book, Haney used entries from her mother’s journals and excerpts from letters. “She would love this book and she would appreciate she’s being published finally along with me. Her voice is so strong in it.”

The mother’s dream to be a writer had become the daughter’s dream as well. It took Haney ten years to do the book — which included teaching herself how to draw on the computer.

Haney had started the book in straight prose, but was unhappy with the manuscript. “It was not the voice I had singing in my head.”

After reading the graphic memoir Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, she was inspired. She hired a computer expert to get her started drawing, then she created her figures and frames through trial and error. Her drawings are simple, child-like.

As she drew and wrote, she could hear her mother’s voice. “I could feel her talking back at me,” says Haney. So throughout the book, Haney created an ongoing dialogue with her mother, frames of the author at her computer drawing board, her mother lying in a hospital bed. Her mother died of cancer in 2000.

The drawings also helped her tell what she refers to as “dad’s slimy stuff.” She dreaded getting into that in the book, but her siblings encouraged her. So a chapter deals with her father’s obsession with sex, abusiveness and overall lewdness. He gave Velvet aPlayboy subscription for her 11th birthday and a vibrator for her 12th. “Every family has got garbage,” says Haney.

“Graphics enabled me to tell some of the dark bits in a light way, which is my personality, the way I look at life and live my life,” says Haney. “I don’t let the dark stuff inside. That gives it power it doesn’t deserve. That’s sort of the way I’m genetically wired.”

Perhaps a bit like her mother. Haney talks about her mother’s ability to look at life with “rose-coloured glasses cemented to her face.”

In the book, Haney includes photographs and newspaper clippings. Her mother had a letter-to-the-editor published in 1959 when she and her children lived at 81 Vanauley St., their 700 sq. ft. house in Alexandra Park. The mother wrote in defense of her “warm and darling ‘slum,’” of the wild flowers in the back lanes and friendly street life with people of all nationalities.

“My mother was such a character,” says Haney. “When I read some of her journal entries, I laughed out loud. But she was also strong to be a non-conformist in that era, to go against the way she was brought up and buy that little house in the slums against her parents’ wishes.”

In hindsight, says Haney, she’s glad to have lived in the tiny Alexandra Park “mouse house,” so named by her mother. Growing up, Haney knew 79 other kids on Vanauley and they all played endlessly in the street, largely unsupervised. They treated the city as their backyard. “I had fun as a kid,” she says.

Haney was married with a young child when, at age 42, she was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts and underwent a double mastectomy. The disease prompted her to think about what she wanted to accomplish in life. A high school dropout, she had always been intimidated by academia, but got accepted as a mature student at York University, where professors encouraged her as a writer. She first started this book in creative writing class.

Next year she’ll start a master of fine arts program at Lesley University in Boston. She has other graphic works in mind, possibly a memoir about her modeling years.

“I feel I’ve done a good job for my mum,” says Haney, referring to her book. “It’s the eulogy I didn’t say at her funeral.”

PHOTO CAPTION: The Mousehouse Years tells the story of her mother who raised six children alone in a tiny house in a Toronto slum during the early 60s.


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