Hi Rosemary, thanks for being interviewed! First easy question... Where did you grow up?
My Dad was a logger, so when I was a child, we lived in a logging camp and that was great. We (me, sisters, friends) had a rare freedom when we went out to play; we only needed to be back for meals. A big year in our school was fifteen students. The camp was a community with its own hall for dances, Christmas concerts, and badminton. We had lots to do. On the down side, we were insulated from the world. I won’t say I had a hard time when we moved to a town so I could go to high school, but for a while I was shy and nervous but kids adjust fast when they must, and I made friends and carried on.
Did you have a love of words back then?
Well... I still hear my teacher’s voice! She emphasized spelling, grammar, and writing paragraphs, but I was probably more interested in drawing a picture about the paragraph subject, rather than writing it down. I had a love of story from very early on though - I pestered my mother to read the funny papers of the newspaper to me, and I wanted to know every word in every balloon. I was almost seven when I started school but, because of my teacher, I read well by the end of the school year. For all six years of elementary school, I had one teacher, and she read to us every day. I didn’t write stories then, but I drew pictures and every picture had a story. I had running stories in my head, and could stare into space rehearsing the latest scenes. Sometimes though I did this when I should have been working on my arithmetic problems. My parents were readers, and when there was nothing on television, either due to poor reception or programming, we all read.
Did you go to University?
Well, yes. Twice. After high school, I completed two years of a teacher education course at the University of Victoria, in Victoria, British Columbia. At the end of the second year I was a young wife with a new baby, and no money to complete the course and obtain a degree. Fast forward about three decades, three children, (I won’t say how many husbands) and five jobs, one of which I was at for over twenty-two years: I resigned and enrolled in Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Richmond, BC where I focused on Creative Writing and Geography, earning an Associate of Arts Degree in Geography.
Is writing your full-time job?
It is now. I retired from nine-to-five work five years ago, but I started writing as a serious endeavour in the mid '90s after fantasizing for years about a ‘writing’ life. Why it took me so long to get at it I can only put down to raising a family, maintaining a home, and working full-time; when I finished for the evening there was little left in the tank. And yet, I know of many writers with the same challenges who produce masses of output.
Tell me about your very first writing engagement.
Hmm, I’m not sure it qualifies as an engagement, but in 2003, shortly after I went back to university, several incidents in my life reminded me of my elementary school education and my teacher. Initially I started an essay on how this teacher - Alice Marlatt - had influenced my life, but I had some questions for my mother as Alice and her family had remained a good friend of my parents long after the years in camp. My mother said that she thought that before Alice died, she had dictated her memoirs. When I contacted Alice’s daughter, she sent me tape recordings, letters, and pictures and with her endorsement. This initial essay became a book.
What are you working on at the moment?
OMG! How long do you have? I am finishing Five Nights in a Turtle – a travel memoir on camping Hawaii in a Volkswagen van - a journey both external and internal. I also have a first draft of a mid-grade story, and a mid-grade story outlined, several finished essays and articles that are in various stages of submission, a collection of related short-stories to be unified and polished, travel pieces outlined, drafted, finished, some family history stories and my ongoing memoir... for starters.
What really inspires you?
Inspiration arrives, as it has since I was a child, continuously. Apparently I will write about anything, but I like writing about internal exploration, revelation, and discovery - my own and others.
What is the process of transforming that initial moment of inspiration, or idea, into actual words on paper?
Thinking it out in broad strokes in my head, hand-writing into note-book without thinking - just scribbling as fast as I can whatever comes into my head, then the same process into a Word document adding points, plots or ideas as I think of them, then taking the dog’s breakfast of words and grouping ideas etc., and eventually forming sentences and paragraphs. During the process I think about the focus of the piece, or the point I want to make, or the plot points if it is a fiction piece.
Do you have a particular writing location?
I love my desk. I love my office, which is also the guestroom for my grandchildren when they visit. I don’t usually attempt to write when I have Granny Duty though, but it seems they are happiest playing together when I am in the room, even if I am not part of the games. My two year-old grandson hands me a car to hold in my 'garage,’ in front of my keyboard, my footstool has been kidnapped and pressed into service as a cave, and my granddaughter has asked me to say goodnight to the stuffed toys that are not nocturnal, so I am present and part of the story. Childhood is an ongoing story whose plot and characters keeps changing depending on whatever pops into their heads, and in which toys suddenly transform their uses. When my grandchildren are not in the house, this room retains their joy. My memories of their games and how they just play without ‘editing,’ helps me put a gag on my own internal editor and just write as it comes.
What are your plans for the future?
I suppose that depends on how much future I think I have. I’m a late bloomer, but that big future frost could nip off many potential blooms. Until then, I won’t shy from long projects - perhaps some of my offshoots will carry on if I can’t.
Name your THREE most favourite books and why.
Oh, darn, this is always hard. At what stage of my life? When I was a child, I consumed any stories related to animals: Black Beauty, Bambi, Lad, My Friend Flicka, The Sun Horse (and yes, I loved horses), but rounded this out with Anne of Green Gables, Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, and anything Enid Blyton. Of these, I think The Sun Horse remains my favourite because my Dad gave it to me for Christmas (I still have it), and because Catherine A. Clark was a Canadian and the story took place in B.C. It was my first realization that authors were not all foreign and a good story can take place anywhere.
In adulthood I read Harold Robbins, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, James Michener, James Clavell, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Philip Roth (Portnoy’s Complaint), and all Tolkien (I have read the Lord of the Rings a dozen times over the last forty years). My mother had a full set of Daphne DuMaurier. Devoured. When I discovered the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen, they too were consumed. Also read Lolita and Moll Flanders (in the days before internet, I have no idea how these fell across my reading path), For Whom the Bell Tolls, Dr. Zhivago, and Island (Aldous Huxley). This is about all that comes to mind in a hurry, and of the bunch, my adult favourite has to be Lord of the Rings. On every reading, I find details that I missed and comments which resonate differently with every passing decade. I love the writing for its humour, characters, and complexity. When I read Tolkien, I am in Middle Earth, and the trials of this earth disappear. Maybe it is time for another read.
In my Seniorhood, I read much more non-fiction than before, a lot related to research for various projects. The Dalai Lama’s Cat, The Invisible History of the Human Race, and The Happiness Project are recent reads, but not related to present projects. I also try to read works by those in my writing group and those in my writing organization (Federation of BC Writers). Even if the writing is not to my taste, one of them could be the next Hemingway, Tolkien, or Clark!
Lastly... what does writing MEAN to you?
Well answering all of your questions has been a lot of work and taken a lot of time. But it was writing, which is what I love to do and, apart from some of the silliness, it forced me to consider my answers. And so it goes with writing. For as many thoughts I write, many more come back to me - writing is the ultimate perpetual motion machine. I am sure this is not profound and other writers experience the same circular kinesis.
Since I was first able to hold a crayon and scribble, I have created stuff. Drawing pictures, oil painting (by numbers), led to knitting / crocheting / sewing and various crafts. The thing with writing is that the tools are simple –a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. It is a craft that goes wherever I go, and I have often filled time by scrawling stuff, and it doesn’t make my hands sticky.
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