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 past eighty and still writing, with more than fifty 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 five 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 twenty-five 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 sprung from tragedy.
My sister, Sarah, went missing from Vancouver’s downtown eastside in April 1998. You can read more about her on my speaking page and 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. I’m excited about the opportunity to coach and mentor writers, to work with people who are on the verge of change, and with people who want to figure out how to love without judgment, guilt or shame (like I did at last with Sarah, but only after she was gone).
I’ve spoken out a lot since Sarah disappeared. Since Bill C36 (the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act) became law on December 6, 2014, we face a new, more patronizing, restrictive (and dangerous) set of sex-work laws. I feel called to learn more. To start off, I’m listening to sex workers, I’m writing about what I’m learning, and, on November 1, 2014, I gave a TEDxSFU talk entitled The Red Umbrella: Sex Work, Stigma and the Law.
I grew up in Vancouver from the age of three. I’ve lived in other parts of Canada, and I spent extended time in Europe and Mexico in my twenties, but I’m now back home in a townhouse overlooking the Fraser River, with my husband, Roland, and our two Burmese