I am often asked how I wrote my first book. It really began in 2012, when, knowing I was going to retire in two years, I nervously read up on what retirees ought to know about their new lives. Nearly the first thing I read said “don’t plan to write a book.” It went on to say that most people never get around to writing books, and only end up feeling bad about it. Get on to the golf course instead. Play a round, have a gin and tonic.
I’m easily rattled by experts who have data to back them up. It turns out most people don’t write books, (though as you can see on your local bookstore shelves, quite a few seem to manage it). I did see that after years of not writing, a person leaping into an unfamiliar practice, like a couch potato suddenly undertaking a marathon, could hurt themselves, so one evening, fortified by a gin and tonic, I sketched out a program of gradual training like a proper athlete. I decided that every day I would write 400 words before I set off for work. I had two natural advantages; I am awake by five in the morning, and I am not wholly unfamiliar with writing, having wanted since an early age to become a writer.
“How did you know what to write?” I am asked. I didn’t. I remember that first morning. I was a bit panic stricken and the minutes of the precious hour were ticking away while my fingers hovered over the keyboard, when I suddenly thought about what it must have been like when my mother first saw the house she bought for our family in the BC interior when I was a tiny child. My mother was obsessed with houses because in her life, and in ours as a family as well, we moved incessantly, so losing houses was habitual. But she loved that house over all of the many other houses we lived in, and it became mythical…the shining white house forever on a dappled green sunlit lawn with a view of a lake…the Eden we lost. That is the moment when Lane Winslow was born.
I had in mind that I wanted to capture that moment, and in a way to counter Thomas Wolfe’s assertion that you can’t go home again, and perhaps allow the character to stay there, to make it her home. I spent most of my childhood years longing to stay in one place, and wondering what the lives of other people who never moved must be like. Here was a chance.
And so it began. Every morning I would read the output from the day before, thought about what kind of neighbours she might have, what she could see out her windows, and finally, one day, what she would do if she discovered a body. I carried on like this for the final two years of my life as a high school principal, and then one beautiful June morning, I looked at my word count and discovered I had amassed 80,000 words. I was pretty sure that was about the size of the average book. I knew, at last, that I could write a book, and furthermore, that it was very likely that I would write some more.