After almost my whole life in the big city, I live in a small town now. On an island!
In June 2017, my husband, Roland, our cats, Misha and Sophie, and I moved from Vancouver to Ladysmith, just south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Instead of a busy thoroughfare, we back onto green space with trees that tower over our house. I sit sideways on the couch and gaze endlessly out the big picture window when I “should” be working. I watch hummingbirds, blue jays, juncos and flickers and, of course, chickadees. Deer wander through our yard, stopping to munch on whatever looks appetizing to them. Twice now, I’ve watched the maples turn blazing red and drop their leaves. The snowdrop bulbs I brought from Vancouver are pushing up shoots here for the second time.
I’m still teaching creative writing at UBC, which is keeping me connected. I’m writing too, and beginning to feel my way into a new project, another historical novel, I think, drawn from my father’s stories of WWII.
My picture book Swimming with Seals came out with Orca Book Publishers in 2018. It’s beautifully illustrated by Janice Kun. Frieda Douglas at Salamander Books here in town runs a cozy well-curated bookstore with an excellent children’s section. She helped me launch the book last May.
I was honoured to be asked to write 5000 words for the March 2018 issue of Room Magazine. I ended up with excerpts, at least I think that’s what they are. I called them “Morgan’s Story.” Morgan is a teenaged girl, but there’s a lot of me in her, even though I’m now 57. Perhaps I will be drawn back to her story. Perhaps not.
My maternal grandmother, Dr. Flora Gauld Little, started medical school in 1918, when she was only sixteen years old. She retired when I was eleven and she was seventy. My great aunt (her big sister) was a nurse who worked much of her life in a leper colony in China. My mother was born in Taiwan shortly before the war, the daughter of two Canadian medical missionaries (one of them the grandmother already mentioned); Mum was a nurse, head of the geriatric ward at the hospital at the University of British Columbia and, later on, at Vancouver General, and she has raised four children and two grandchildren. Mum’s older sister, my aunt, is the Canadian children’s author, Jean Little, who is now in her late eighties and still writing, with almost sixty books to her credit, as well as co-parenting those two grandchildren, her great niece and nephew, with my mother. Aunt Jean has been blind since birth.
My paternal grandmother, Dieuwertje Kikkert de Vries, wrote several children’s stories before she had children of her own. Dad’s older sister, my aunt Minke, was a protestant nun for sixty years, and the head of her community in Switzerland for a quarter of a century.
As you can see, I have some strong female role models!
And given that I was showered with books throughout my childhood, and that I have a children’s writer for an aunt, I don’t think it’s surprising that I gravitated to writing when I was a kid, and have now written an adult memoir, two teen novels, two children’s novels and six picture books, or that I was a children’s book editor for seven years (at Orca Book Publishers in Victoria), or that I’ve been teaching children’s literature courses at universities now for thirty years, most recently shifting from literature to creative writing, which suits me beautifully.
The public speaking and coaching parts of my life came a bit later on, and sprang from tragedy.
My sister, Sarah, went missing from Vancouver’s downtown eastside in April 1998. You can read more about her in two of my books. Here I will simply say that after she disappeared, I changed; I learned so much, and gradually realized that my thinking had been part of the problem, that we as a society tend to see sets of stereotypes instead of human beings when we look at people like my sister (sex workers, drug users). As I learned, I wanted to share, to invite others along on my journey, so I wrote Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss and, later, a novel, Rabbit Ears.
In 2013, I surprised myself by signing up for life-coach training. The course (with well-known coach and writer Martha Beck) lasted almost a year, and gave me a chance to figure out what I really wanted in my life, and who I really wanted to work with. For the last few years, in addition to writing and teaching, I have been a writing coach, coaching and mentoring writers, especially those who are writing about their own lives.