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Friday, May 26, 2006

THE YOUNG WRITERS

"She was quite young -- about twelve or thriteen. Her wide, frightened, blue eyes looked up piteously at the Canadians. Her long braids were the colour of dark honey. She was dressed in a threadbare white blouse and a blue skirt. The shoes she wore were old and ragged, and one of her stockinged toes peeped out from the shoe leather. Her only cloak was thrown over the still form of her companion. She looked up again at the soldiers and then to her brother.
"He is my brother Karl," she said. "He is sick. Maybe you can help?" Then she smiled at the sergeant. It was a cute smile -- the way all girls smiled. Her bottom lip seemed to curl in between her pearly teeth, and two dimples appeared on her ruddy cheeks. The soldiers' hearts were touched."
written by Wynn, age 13. My first publication in the Girls Guides of Canada 1948
from a novelette "The Real Peace" a character study of a Dutch war orphan, Janni.

I started writing things when I was about 8 years old. By the time I was 10, I was writing plays for my classmates. It was during WWII and most of us kids had dads, uncles, grandpas or brothers serving overseas. I wrote little propoganda plays about the war for school and at home I composed fairy tales to entertain my neighbouhood playmates. When I was 12 and the war ended, we travelled by train across Canada to the West Coast. I was enthralled by the vastness of the Prairies (where I was born and lived til I was six) and imagined what the life of Pioneers must have been like. I began writing their stories in little scribbler books in pencil and pen with my own illustrations. By the time I was 14, I had switched my historical interest to Romans and stories set in Palestine (influenced by Bible stories). And in high school I was introduced to Alexander the Great and began my long love-affair with all things Greek.

My first job out of high school was in a newspaper editorial department. I had aspirations of becoming a journalist. I was also a playwright and wrote/produced a play about kids using heroin (something dreadful and unheard of then, but it had happened to my boyfriend and his pals and was so horrifying I had to write about it.) That play was later rewritten, updated and produced successfully in 2000.

All during my school years my only wish was to become a writer. But there was little encouragement. In fact often my mother was called to the principal's office and informed that if I spent more time concentrating on Math and Science and less time off in my own dreamworld or with my nose stuck in books (usually historical fiction or research) then I would be a better student. I barely scraped by with a 'pass' out of High School but I didn't care as long as I got to write and be around writers.

Yesterday all these school-day memories flooded back to me when I spent the day at a Youth Writer's Conference where I had been invited to present as a travel writer. The conference was sponsored by the School Board and organized by a friend of mine, a writer, who teaches elementary school and used to be one of our Scribbler's group. I was thrilled to be invited and be able to speak to kids about writing, remembering how I had longed for such attention when I was their age.

These were kids 10 -13 yrs old from various Vancouver schools, all invited because of their keen interest in literary things. In fact, each of them had contributed to an anthology of student writing which was presented to each of the instructors.

The auditorium was full of kids, teachers and assistants. There were many different presenters including writers of novels, plays, humour, and history. A number of presentations were given: a children's book writer/illustrator; several slam poets; a reading by an actress/playwright; comedy sketches by the comedy writers and the main speaker,
James Delgado, a marine archaeologist. Several students were also chosen to read their work from the anthology.

I had two separate groups of kids who came to learn about travel writing. I spoke to them about my experiences as a writer, from childhood to present. I showed them some of my writing from when I was their age and also some of my travel articles -- the ones I thought that would capture their interest most. They were given a short exercise, to write a lead and start a story about a trip they'd been on or wished to go on. It was amazing how talented these kids were, and how keenly interested.

When the readings were given by the chosen students, I had a flashback to my first experience at reading my own writing in front of an audience in the school auditorium. It was the first time I'd ever been in front of such a large group of my peers and the first time I'd ever been introduced to a microphone. When I stood up to read and got the echo and amplified sound back off the mike, I froze. It was like a hand closed around my throat and I was absolutely speechless. I couldn't read a word, I was so terrified by stage fright. It was one of the most embarassing moments of my youth. These kids who read yesterday were so self-assured and articulate. I was impressed!

When the keynote speaker got up to address them, everyone was enthralled. Mr Delgado told some amazing stories of searching undersea wrecks off the coast of Japan -- a Mongol fleet who had come to invade Japan had been scuttled by the Samurai. The legend was that a wind (the kamakazi) had come up and the storm sank the ship. But when Delgado and his colleagues began searching they found instead that the ships had been set afire. He told how they'd come across the remains of a man who had worn leather armour, and where his outstretched hand had been was a cup with his name on it "Wang". He was identified as the commander of the fleet. To parallel this story, Delgado told about descending to the depths of the Atlantic to explore the wreck of the Titanic. He talked about seeing parts of the ship which he related to stories of that fateful day -- the place where the captain had stood, the broken mast and crowsnest where the bosun had first spotted the iceberg. And how he had seen clothing, left from those who had perished including a pair of leather women's lace-up shoes. The story brought tears to my eyes and there wasn't a sound in that big room, the children were so enraptued by the tale.

It was so inspiring and rewarding participating in such an event, with children who are so passionate about writing just as I had been at that age. I've spent time in classrooms before on the "Off the Page" program that I participate in each year through the Federation of B.C. Writers and it is always a rich experience.

This week has been a particularly dense writing week. Starting last Saturday when I spent the afternoon with two other writers screening entries for a one-page contest (and thrilled to recognized that two of my night-school students had their entries make it to the finals!)
All week I've had my critique groups, workshops, and classes -- yesterday's Youth Conference being the highlight. Tonight is the AGM for the Fed, more writerly activities, speakers, and generally schmoozing with literary folk. I'm feeling super motivated by all this and anxious to get back to my novel again, feeling somewhat empowered.

Listening to Mr. Delgado's talk yesterday made me realize how much I have missed the company of my scholarly friends in Greece, the Classical Scholars and archaeologists I know there who have helped me so much and kept me grounded in Alexander's world. Something has been missing for me for some time now and I recognized it yesterday. Perhaps that's what made me feel so emotional. It's a lonely enough world being a writer but when your mind is way out there in a far distant past world, it makes it seem even lonelier somehow. Thankfully, though, I do have a lot of writer associates. And those discussions I have with my workshop group and classes are like adding fuel to the fire.

"I was never allowed to read the popular American children's books of my day because, as my mother said, the children spoke bad English without the author's knowing it."
Edith Wharton 1862-1937 "A Backward Glance." ch 3


1 comment:

Wynn Bexton said...

Ha! My luck still follows me. I went to the FED AGM last night and won another prize - a $50 gift certificate for books. Guess it's true, I should be buying lottery tickets! Tomorrow there's an AGM for the Pandora's Poetry Collective (I'm a board member). No door prizes, but I've been told they're serving chocolate fondue!