Gil Balance is 93 years old, a former educator, Pasquotank County native and now an author. The man that grew up in Newland has penned a novel based on the life of his family, and life in the rural region of Pasquotank County in the early part of the 20th century.
“Leah’s Journey Home,” is a story about a pregnant woman from Currituck’s Outer Banks who marries a man from Newland. It’s a story about the hardship of those early days and the joy Leah finds in life here in Pasquotank County.
Ballance will be at the Newland United Methodist Church Sunday to sign and talk about his book from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“The book is about a young, unmarried pregnant woman on the Outer Banks of Currituck going to marry soon, but her boyfriend is accidentally killed in a hunting accident,” explained Ballance form his home in Charlotte. “She marries an older man in name only.”
The woman is based upon Ballance’s mother, however the author does take some creative license with her character and experience. The people in the story, however, reflect his memories of growing up in Newland, a story that involved several years of research with the help of folks such as former Museum of the Albemarle design chief Don Pendergraft, and the late Fred Fearing, Elizabeth City’s unofficial historian.
Ballance’s mother married his father with two children in two. His father brought 10 children to the marriage, and the couple would go on to have three more children of their own.
Ballance’s father was 73 years old when he was born.
“My father and mother’s background were so unusual I thought hey, why not write about my family which is most unusual because when I tell people my father was 73 when I was born, they say ‘He Was?’. Of course my mother was 30 years younger.”
Ballance’s father was born somewhere around 1846 in Virginia, he said. The man was a teenager when the Civil War broke out, but he would stay home with the family farm while his own father went off to fight the war with a slave that had been with the Ballance family for some time.
“It’s nothing to proud of,” Ballance said of his family owning a slave.”
Ballance says he’s not certain when his family settled in the Newland region of Pasquotank County, but it would have been some time ago.
He says he wanted to set the story in Newland and around the Great Dismal Swamp because these are places near and dear to his heart.
He drew his characters not only from his family, but also from his neighbors. The story line reflects life in the region during the early 20th century, detailing what Elizabeth City native and head of the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says is “uplifting.”
“Gil Ballance’s social drama modeled in part on his own family history is precise, good hearted and uplifting,” Simpson wrote of the book. “A welcome addition to the literature of eastern North Carolina.”
For his part, Ballance had always dreamed of writing a novel, but there was a lot living to do. He would join the Army Air Corps before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and subsequently fight in World War II.
He would go on to earn a degree from UNC Chapel Hill and work in the broadcast industry for a while before becoming a broadcast teacher at Charlotte’s Central High School.
He and his brother, who is now 100, are the only surviving children from the 14 raised in Newland.