I was asked at a recent book reading if I have always thought of myself as a writer. As far back as I can remember, I have. I assumed that being a human was synonymous with being a writer, since both my parents wrote feverishly all the time. My mother was always clacking away on her Remington, waving absentmindedly at me to run along when I would appear with my friend Rolfie and say, “we’re going off to play in the train yard. We’ll probably be killed falling into an abandoned, rusty oil tanker car.”
When he wasn’t away inspecting geological specimens, my father, to whom I’d never announce my dangerous play plans, used to hide in a separate man-office and write something my mother called ‘God Books’. In later years I learned that he expended his free time writing thousands of pages intent on proving the non-existence of God. When he made no headway with it, he devoted his last few years to showing up the failures of capitalism. No one ever seemed interested in either project, but it kept him off the streets.
So, I knew that sooner or later I too would be sucked into the maw of writing. I took several early stabs at it. As an eight year old I wrote a story about a squirrel that I thought was very good. I still remember the pride I felt presenting it, complete with illustrations, to my 3rdGrade teacher, Senorita Alvarez, because, I thought, “I’m just like my parents now!” Alas, it fell flat with the critics. I suppose one ought to look no further than the illustrations; I once had an 8thgrade student put up a hand as he looked at my notes on the overhead, and ask, “Miss Whishaw, do we have to draw as badly as you?”
After the ignominy of the squirrel, I didn’t write anything till I was in my thirties when I wrote a book aimed the middle school audience called “The Silver Button”, a fascinating time travel book, no really, based on the true story of my meeting some 14th century ghosts in an English village church. I finally finished it and sent it off and it came swooping back like a boomerang with the judgement that it was not “fast enough for the age group it was intended for”. That was the year the first Harry Potter came out. Honestly I wish I’d known then that JK got rejected 12 times, I would have put in more of an effort. However, on the plus side, the book was enough to get me into the Masters program at the UBC creative writing program. I was humbled nearly out of existence by the work shopping process, but managed to produce a collection of short stories, which sit on today in my filing cabinet. I hear them squeaking from time to time, begging to be allowed out to find an audience.
I had a very successful children’s book in the 90’s, and then another long silence until 2012, when I finally began writing the Lane Winslow mysteries. Slotted in among the quiet years were some poetry publications in obscure journals read by 12 people.
Anyone with a capacity for arithmetic can readily calculate that most of my life was in fact, spent not writing. I mean, I wasn’t lying about doing my nails: there was a son to bring up, kids to teach, schools to run. That’s what I told myself, anyway.
So, was I a writer when I wasn’t writing? I was. I was a suffering, guilt-ridden wreck of a writer. I never forgot for one moment, that I was supposed to be writing and I wasn’t, failing in the most basic human expectation. I used to look at my friends; carefree happy people who liked to lunch and travel on all you can eat cruises. People who napped or went golfing without a care in the world. People who never lost a minute of sleep feeling guilty and haunted by not writing. What must that be like? I used to ask myself, wringing my hands. I feared I would never know the freedom of not wanting to write. And I haven’t. So let me just say; thank you Lane Winslow. I am no longer haunted. I just write.
Meet Lane Winslow!