by Joyce Sandilands-Whittle
(yes, it’s authorized!)
An Unplanned Career
In mid-1995, for the umpteenth time finding himself on crutches and unable to move around a great deal, my husband sat in front of his computer … typing with one finger! (He said he could keep up with his thoughts this way.) Over the next few years, a wonderful new hobby took shape due to having nothing else to do for the first time in his 62 years as he fought for his life (this time for several years from a deadly staph infection). Robert surprised us all by writing fiction and enjoying it! After that, a little voice in my head nagged so hard, that in August 1998, I decided it was time to publish the 3rd book he had written and it became … Lizzie: Lethal Innocence, the first of a 4-book series set in early 1800s London, England.
Fast forward to 2010, Robert was now selling 10 novels on his market stand in Bastion Square, Victoria, BC … three of which were Canadian (BC) bestsellers and we had together won 2 Gold Independent Publisher Awards (IPPY).
Each year he met and talked to possibly thousands of tourists and locals. This has been his position and passion for the past 14 years (4/5 days a week from April-Oct at Bastion Square as well as indoor Christmas Shows), and yes, some of these days are mighty cold and/or wet! Some of the comments he hears are: “You are always so happy” or “friendly” or “good-looking” or “what a wonderful voice you have” – the latter prompting us to produce an audiobook of his bestselling book Lizzie and, in 2005, a partial autobiography on CD entitled Laughing Through Life, Tales of a Yorkshireman. We recut our CD products several times until 2015 but you can now download all of the audio products from this website.
We sell our books right here on this website or, if you live near Southern Vancouver Island, BC, you can phone us and pick up your order to save shipping costs. We also have ebooks and Print on Demand books now, to make it as simple and inexpensive for our readers.
Purchase Robert’s Bio-CD via download
When people met J(ohn) Robert Whittle you were instantly impressed with his wonderful voice, ready smile and his ‘largeness’. At 6’2″ this broad-shouldered Yorkshireman was a gentle and sensitive, family man known for being a helpful friend to scores of young people who have been lucky enough to meet him. Yes, he was capable of a harsher side too, especially when people asked too personal questions ie., about how much he made from his books!* His lifetime of fascinating and unusual, often dangerous, accomplishments have taken this raconteur and entrepreneur to the four corners of the globe and blessed him with a remarkable life. Yes, and being a true Gemini, he also has a nasty side, not seen as often in later years but his sharp comments are often difficult to keep in check! This comes to the forefront when he witnesses situations where he doesn’t agree with what is happening. It began as a little guy when he knew he had to protect his little sister, Hazel, from all manner of situations even until she was an adult.
* most authors, especially self-published authors, are certainly not wealthy, as was often said to us. Expenses made our adventure a labour of the best kind … having a love of meeting people, sharing our talents, and making people interact with us and smile as we went through our retirement years.
Bob was the eldest son and second born of a Yorkshire farming couple. Even at four-years-of-age … born in 1933, he understood that his family had more hardships than others. His parents ran a small working-class farm and he was expected to help, even lifting heavy bales of hay as a six-year-old. He was wiry but strong from an early age and was disappointed when his mother refused to let him sell their farm goods at the age of four and a half! As a young but skilled 12-year-old wicketkeeper, even broken fingers didn’t keep him from playing … when the coaching staff had gloves fitted with metal fingers so he could still play in the English finals. As a young Mining Engineer, his work ethic set an example to his workmates many years older than himself; and as the leader of a First Response to Disaster Team in the coal mines at 24-years-of-age, he sometimes spent many, many months nursing serious work injuries in his 20’s and 30s. In the 60s, he had another serious accident breaking his neck when falling from a broken swing-stage on a Canadian construction site. But he always remained the consummate happy-go-lucky fella, often driving the nursing staff crazy! Robert always enjoyed people and, kids, in particular, thus reflected in his family style writing.
This ‘crazy Yorkshireman’ or simply ‘Uncle Bob’, as many young people have called him over the years, was the eldest son and second-born in a family of ten children. His parents were hardworking, happy, farming stock who taught him that hard work never hurt anyone. His father often said, “I got me a hard-working horse when you were born, Bobby lad!”
Bobby Whittle, well-known in his village for an outgoing personality, was a scrapper even as a scrawny kid. Armed with secrets of defense gained from his pro-wrestler grandfather, he often took on bigger lad(s) in defense of others … and he didn’t always win. His hardworking ethic began early in life getting up each morning at 4:30 to milk the family’s cows and then deliver the milk even before beginning school … later, when his sister, Hazel, came along she joined him on their 3-mile journey to school picking up the milk containers on the way home. Later, when the older boys started acting mean and keeping the little kids from crossing a stream, she would tell them, “You better look out cause Bobby will be here soon and he’ll get you out of our way!” He was also a seasoned business-kid from the ripe-old-age of six thanks to his step-grandfather, Mark Appleyard!!
But despite his full schedule, he somehow found the time to allow the love of the sport to invade his young life playing soccer and County Cricket in which he particularly excelled, representing England at 13-years-of-age. He was notorious for his skills as a wicketkeeper beginning long before he was 12 (trained by his mother throwing eggs at him through the kitchen window!). At 16, he began a 10-year career as a highly sought-after professional wicketkeeper around England, at the same time studying, working the mines and graduating from Leeds University as a Mining Engineer while having his own trucking business on the side (which began with a horse and cart at about age 7).
After graduating from Mining College at 19 and ready to accept his Degree of Mining Engineering, he was told that by British law he was too young to receive it and would have to retake the course which he refused! Thus, he was hired by the British Coal Board, who had given him the University scholarship and he soon found out they had other plans for him. Recognizing his quick reaction time and underground mining skills, as those desperately needed in the dangerous field of underground coal mines, they continued to train him and wait until the time was right … at 24, offering him the important but potentially deadly job as the Leader of the British First Response to Disaster Team. He was on-call 24 hours every day of the year for that job and he was often taken from a cricket match by the local police complete with sirens, when he was needed to be taken to a mine emergency somewhere.
For his efforts saving people, he often suffered the consequences of what must have been the most extreme job of the era, spending about 50% of his working life in hospital beds and recuperating to go back and do it all again. On the upside, however, he gained the respect and gratitude of the many men and their families whose lives he saved. The local hospital staff was often heard to comment that it was nice to have his pleasant personality around but they were sure glad to get back to normal when the fun-loving miner returned to work.
In the mid-60s, recognizing that his reaction time was waning, he packed his family off to Australia seeking a less dangerous life and worked in the Australian desert for a few years trying to keep his work experience a secret. In 1970, the Canadian Government discovered who he was and lured him to Baffin Island and he again found himself working the extremes … in Canada’s Far North at Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, (now Nunavut) building a school and making friends of the Eskimos (later called Inuit). He gained his Canadian citizenship in 1971, soon after arriving in Victoria, BC. We met while working in the same area of the city. He moved back to England on family business for some years but in 1985, he returned. We formed a personal and business partnership, marrying some years later.
But let’s move forward a wee bit … to the time of his first knee surgery in Feb 1994 when his life nearly ended and our lives were changed forever. Knowing he would be out-of-commission for 6 weeks for that surgery, I persuaded him to use our old XT (1980s computer) to try his hand at writing. He had always entertained us by telling wonderful stories of his youth and I wanted him to start writing his memoirs for his grandchildren. No one else would be able to tell Robert’s story quite like he could!
However, true stories were not in the cards for the moment and to fill his recuperation period he began writing an adventure story of 18th C Yorkshire, a time he often said he wished he could have lived. Somehow an interest in history developed from an early age when they lived in their Yorkshire farmhouse with its 18″ stone walls because he remembers always having a thirst for the subject. He had also developed a wonderful ability to conjure up exciting bedtime stories for his many siblings. As he wrote that first book, history and storytelling quickly became intertwined. What happened next, however, was the beginning of a horrific health challenge with a staph infection that over the next 2-3 years almost cost him his leg and potentially his life as flesh-eating staph infections began attacking unsuspecting people. It laid him up for 4 years and we had t hope it wouldn’t return. A miracle, however, was also beginning to develop in the guise of historical novels!
An Unexpected Talent!
In his first book (unpublished), a historical novel about a lad named Josh, a storyline began to emerge of his beloved moors and some fascinating characters quite possibly drawn from people he had met in his youth. He read me bits and pieces and we were both amazed at his incredible ability to weave a story without any thought or planning. We had definitely found his hidden talent and with nothing but time on his hands he soon completed his first full-length novel. By the time his R&R ended after a major knee-replacement surgery almost four years later, he had completed his third title!
It was this third novel that we found ourselves self-publishing in the Fall of ’98. As Robert was now a Senior Citizen, we decided not to dally around waiting for a publisher to accept his manuscript and give him his big break! So when Deborah Wright, a professional proofreader born in England, whom we met in the most extraordinary way, offered to give her assistance, we jumped at the opportunity.
As a result, Lizzie: Lethal Innocence, a novel set in early 1800s England about a young girl much like Robert himself had been as a youngster, was born. We formed our own publishing company (Whitlands Publishing) and began learning the ropes … but we had no idea what we were in for! However, 2,000 copies (of one-to-one sales) and 16 months later, we launched our first sequel, Lizzie’s Secret Angels. We figured we must be doing something right with readers demanding sequels and, continued to do so over the years! Lizzie was his favourite character and no wonder!
On April 1st, 2000, we introduced Lizzie’s Secret Angels to a small group (it was the first bright sunny day and some of our gardener fans forgot about our first book launch) but those present at the Victoria Art Gallery were eager and our first and only official Book Launch was highly successful. From here on, we usually launched each new book at whatever show we were next attending. Lizzie sales reached Canadian Best Seller status by late 2000. Three printings later, a local professional publisher told us this was a magnificent feat for a self-published book of fiction and to keep doing what we were doing!
Over the next five years, we released the Victoria Chronicles Trilogy and the last two books of the Lizzie Series. The Victoria trilogy became hot sellers at local markets and shows due to their factual content and his already well-loved Whittlesque Style (a phrase coined by Joyce). The first two books of the Trilogy became Robert’s next two bestsellers and the third book won our 2nd Gold Medal in the 2008 IPPY Awards.
In 2003, we branched out into Audio Books (CD, MP3, and Tape) with Joyce narrating Leprechaun Magic (1 CD) and Robert doing a masterful job with the Lizzie Lethal Innocence unabridged audio (6 CDs). Later, we added another leprechaun book, 3 On a Moonbeam plus the matching CD and it became the Moonbeam Series very popular with grandparents. Soon, their grandkids were eager young readers too and noticed our books at the markets and Christmas Shows and another generation began reading our novels!
To purchase our books, order directly from this website (the best method as I don’t take credit cards at the moment), leave a message on Facebook OR phone/text us (on Joyce’s smartphone 250-857-0840). Please leave a message so we can return your call.
An astounding discovery … by 2008, having collected addresses for many years, Joyce and Tara compiled the information and plotted it on a map. We had sold books to visitors from over 65 countries, every US State (our highest sales were in Washington, Oregon, California, Florida and Texas) as well as all over Canada. Hundreds of local readers had also supported us over the years, for which we are eternally grateful. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.
Our efforts surprised even us …
Over the past 19 years, we’ve attended over three thousand market/show days selling our books in all kinds of weather and Robert sometimes in frigid cold at Bastion Square. Between us we met many thousands of wonderful, supportive people who were often shocked to hear we’d done all of this by ourselves, assisted only by Joyce’s one-day-a-week OA, Tara Poilievre. Initially, we mainly sold our books at the small James Bay Farmer’s Market (2 summers) and then the BC Ferry Terminal Crafters Market at Swartz Bay (mainly Joyce for 3 summers). Robert was by then selling at the Bastion Square Market (for 14 years). Together, we began selling at The Sidney Street Market in 2003 and Robert assisted Joyce, rushing down to Sidney after packing up at Bastion Square to help Joyce for many years until his health began to decline. Yes, he was stubborn but he was such an honourable guy thinking he had to look after me!
In 2003, Robert turned 70 and with Tara helping me to contact family, friends, and fans we feted him at a local restaurant where he gave an impromptu talk telling some of the hilarious tales of his young life in Yorkshire. At last my desire for him to share his memoirs was coming to fruition. In March 2004, he told even more of his stories at another event attended by fans. Then, armed with close to 50 professionally recorded stories, Joyce met with Corrie Struive from Majestic Recording Studio and together they produced a much-anticipated new CD.
In the Fall of 2005, we introduced Laughing Through Life Tales of a Yorkshireman a compilation of these delightful stories from Robert’s past. People say our CD is a ‘hidden gem’ from another time and we heard that at least one senior’s home in Victoria played a new story each morning over their speakers to give their lodgers an upbeat start to their day. I wouldn’t be surprised if more got the idea from reading this!
For well over a decade, we attended 6 Christmas Craft Shows during November and December, on Vancouver Island in Delta and Chilliwack, all in BC. Our books became a labour of love that just kept rolling on and we hope that as long as people continue to want to purchase our books, they will be available, if only as ebooks, somewhere down the road. Robert passed away in August 2017 but God willing, Joyce will be found making appearances at select (smaller) markets and craft shows beginning in 2018. Keep checking our Events Page (above) for up-to-date-info.
We very much appreciate our readers and the people who purchase our books as gifts for others. Your support was what kept us going for 19 years. We hope you’ll not forget us because you don’t see us at the markets. Keep checking our Events page for more details. Up to date news of our events, etc., will be posted firstly to our Facebook Page. (This is a public page, you don’t have to be a member? Check it out!)
Now, go and do something nice for yourself or someone you care for . . . visit our bookshop right here on this webpage and buy one of our very popular novels by Robert and Joyce … many discounts are now being offered! Thanks in advance!
Locals and Visitors: We have added a “Pick Up” option … you can still order from this website, pay for it online with a credit card (making it easier for Joyce) and pick up your books (we’re near Sidney). We will be notified and contact you. Otherwise, phone (250-477-0192 or my cell: 250-857-0840 (best place to leave messages) or email her (whitlands at shaw (dot) com) … to book an appointment … although it is preferred you order via our website as Joyce shuffles her responsibilities and often forgets to turn up the volume of her phone! I also do not directly take credit cards at this time but our website uses Paypal.
This website is written by me (Joyce) but here’s a more personal message to you in 2017-18: Please bear with me as I try to carry on with the books by myself, despite a host of health complications in recent years. I am making every effort to make Robert’s books available to everyone who wants them before I retire, probably in a few years 🙂 If anyone knows a local school who could use our Lizzie or Victoria Series, please let me know. Thanks.
Love and gratitude to you all.