As she has always done, Sylvia Tyson is telling stories.
But rather than the lyrical form they usually take, these stories are part of an epic first novel from the Canadian folk icon.
“I don’t know that I decided to write,” she said. “I had these characters in my head asking for a story.”
The result is Joyner’s Dream, which follows several generations of a family from 1790 to the present day. Tyson wrote it in journal form, with a member of the family from each generation entrusted to write of events, often in secret from other family members.
“There is a different voice in each chapter,” Tyson said.
The novel is set in the past but Tyson hesitates to call it historical. At its heart, it’s a story about family and the events of history naturally have an impact.
Tyson established her music career in the 1960s as part of Ian and Sylvia. The duo penned the songs You Were on My Mind and Great Speckled Bird, which became folk-rock standards covered regularly by recording artists.
She continued her career as a solo artist, as well as performing with Quartette, an all-female folk group. She was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Order of Canada in 1995.
Music is such an important part of Tyson’s life and it comes through in her novel – she included original titles for songs in the book.
“It would be great if there was music but it didn’t exist,” she said.
But Tyson set out to change that and recorded an album of songs based on the book and time period in which they are presented.
“The music is very much in the time of the person who’s writing,” she said.
While she worked with specialists in old music to ensure the authenticity of the songs, Tyson was familiar with the styles and formats dating back to the 18th century.
“It’s a period of music that I listen to a lot,” she said.
A second album is in the works for the second half of the novel, which covers eras of ragtime and jazz forward.
Tyson doesn’t perform the music at book readings, but uses the music to complement the passages she reads to audiences.
She meets Nanaimo readers Sunday (Aug. 7), 1-2 p.m., at Harbourfront library in downtown. Admission is free. For more information, please call the library at 250-753-1154.