In school I was the girl reading a book on her lap while the teacher was explaining the day’s assignments. I wrote poetry during algebra class and stories instead of doing my homework. I decided at an early age to be a writer, but not just any writer, I was going to be a famous writer. I was encouraged in this by my grade twelve English teacher, Mr. Kohuch. He took it for granted I would write. No one else had ever taken me seriously.
It wasn’t enough, though. Writing was forgotten as I took a business course, got married, moved to a farm, and had children. The closest I came was writing long letters to family. It’s hard to get famous that way.
Then came the long days in the garden trying to keep the kids picking green peas when they’d rather play. To divert their attention I told them stories. Soon after, I pulled out an old manual typewriter and started putting words on paper. Surprisingly I didn’t begin with the stories I’d been telling the kids in the garden, but new ones about them and me and living on the farm. In a sudden fit of bravery, I gathered together several of these and mailed them to Western People, a small prairie magazine. Imagine my amazement when the editor liked them and asked for more! Over the next few years they published about 100 of these short pieces. (Ask my kids if they liked their friends reading about their escapades in the paper.)
It was just what I needed to get started. I sold a few short pieces to other periodicals, spent a couple of years reporting for a local newspaper, and wrote a two or three easily forgotten and unpublishable novels. Everything I wrote taught me more about the craft. And editors. One of the first things I learned was that if I didn’t keep to the word count, the editor would do the cutting. On one occasion, a sentence appeared in print containing two clauses beginning with the word but. It was a valuable lesson.
My first novel, Anywhere but Here, (Red Deer Press) a mystery for 8 to 12 year olds, takes place on a Saskatchewan farm, a setting not seen often enough in our literature. It has a family in financial difficulty, seeing friends move out of the province. Marjorie wants to leave too, especially when a boy, and the son of her school principal at that, moves on to the neighbouring farm.
My second novel, Nettie’s Journey, (Coteau Books) takes us across the ocean to Ukraine during World War I and the Russian Revolution. Nettie and her family face unexpected changes when their peaceful lives are disturbed by soldiers, anarchists, and hunger. Based on the life of my mother-in-law, I drew on many sources to tell a historically accurate and compelling story.
The New Calf is a grade three reader for Scholastic Literacy Place for the Early Years.
It grew out of our experiences raising cattle here on the farm. Beautifully illustrated by Janet Wilson, it’s popular with rural prairie teachers for reflecting their students’ lives on paper. Farm kids like to hear about how the word dugout was removed from the book because the editor didn’t know what it was.
Right now I’m finishing the edits on a novel about a boy who leaves his home in Norway in 1908 to come to Canada with his mother, sister, and stepfather. What with building a sod house, breaking the soil to plant a crop, and meeting up with horse rustlers, Erik has little time to miss his home in Norway. It is scheduled for release in 2010 by Coteau Books.
I’m looking for a home for Bone Walking. Fifteen year old Faith is concerned about her friend Meredith who is obsessed with exercise and seems to have quit eating.
Also seeking a home is Everyone but Me, a sequel to Anywhere but Here. Craig and Marjorie find dead cats and marijuana. Are the crimes connected? And how can Ryan afford that new red Mustang? There are more suspicious people in Dudley than the kids ever guessed.
Chances are I’m reading. Or birdwatching. Or doing the farm books. Or working at the bank, which I do a few days every month. Or visiting a school and talking to kids. I do that about a dozen times a year, and would love to do more.
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