Saturday, May 17, 2014

“On becoming a writer” by Lurlene Winter

My dad was a born storyteller. When my siblings and I were young, we used to look forward to his return from work. We could hardly wait for him to finish eating his supper and reading the newspapers so we could listen to the tales that he wove for us, either from memory or from one of the numerous books he had.  The five of us children (the older two felt they had outgrown fairy tales) would settle down on his bed, ready to be enthralled.

He did not disappoint.  We would listen open-mouthed to stories of long ago, told in his mellifluous voice, as he acted out the different roles of the characters in his stories. My mother, Martha to his Mary, would putter around the house, cleaning and tidying up, muttering to herself, “I do all the work in this house, while he has fun entertaining the kids. Nobody appreciates me. Nobody.”

Yet many a time I caught her casting indulgent glances in our direction as she heard us squealing in pretended fear at the more horrifying portions of his stories.

One story I vividly remember is his tale of the “Red Etin of Ireland,” a tale of blood and guts which thrilled me to bits.  To this day, I have no idea who or what an Etin was, but that made no never mind.  I trembled inside when my dad recited the words” “He dings her with a bright silver wand.”

I wondered, What was the Etin doing to the poor daughter of Malcolm, the King of Faire Scotland?  But I never did have the courage to interrupt my dad in full flight, just to ask him to explain.  I preferred to let my naive imagination fill in the blanks.

Another great favorite was his tale of Bluebeard.  I shared the heroine's terror as she questioned her sister Anne: “Sister, Sister, can you hear anyone coming?”  Her sister's response: “Nay, naught but dust a-blowing, naught but the green grass growing,” filled me with dread. I prayed that the brothers would hurry up and ride in on their trusty steeds to save their sister from a fate worse than death at the hands of the dastardly Bluebeard.

All this storytelling engendered in me a love of reading.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I haunted the local library for books by my favorite authors and gobbled up stories of Billy Bunter, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, the Chalet School series, stories of William and his derring-do , plus of course as I grew older, the penny-dreadfuls of the Mills and Boons authors that told of young love, beautiful but poor girls and their rich swains. 

Luckily for me, since my father so loved reading himself, he never complained when I forsook my homework assignments for a novel.  He defended my actions to my not so sanguine mother with the words: “Leave the child alone.  She'll learn more from books than those fusty French texts.” 

Encouraged, I took to hiding my novels under my pillow and whipping out a text book as soon as I heard my mother's  approaching footsteps.

Reading so voraciously led to the next step for me – writing.  I had no original ideas of my own, no theme, plot, sequence of events or any of the other literary devices that I later taught my students in English classes.  All I did was copy my favorite authors and try to produce stories just like theirs. 

My first attempts were awful.  According to my older brother, whom I persuaded to read my endeavors, I was so successful in my imitations that all my characters were white, lived in a country which, though never named, sounded a lot like England. and had nothing to do with the real people in my life. 

My sole comfort was that my little sister liked my writings so much that she couldn't wait for the next installment of one of my serial stories.  Strangely enough, the only story I can remember is  one I called “The Twins' Dilemna.”  I loved the juxtaposition of the m and n in that word.  When I finally checked the dictionary and realized that the word had two m's instead, I was so disappointed that I took a long break from writing.

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Now I am back at it.  I still find it difficult to plan my story or to make copious notes on character development, literary devices and stuff like that.  For me, it is easier to let the story write itself  and let the characters speak for themselves once I have the germ of an idea, hoping against hope that everything will sound real and true to life and that  my readers will grasp what I am trying to impart. 

I take great solace from the fact that Stephen King, in his memoir On Writing advises that a writer should read a lot, always write the truth, embellishing it a bit when necessary to add some flavor to the tale, and be willing to set aside so many hours a day to hone her craft. 

I am not so sure about the last criteria.  I can't seem to take myself seriously enough to spend untold hours locked in a room, trying to produce so many words a day, writing and rewriting. But I do love to read and I do enjoy writing.  I hope this will translate into something that my readers will appreciate.

I guess I will continue to write and maybe one day, who knows, I'll actually pen an entire novel, perhaps even a best seller!   If I close my eyes tightly enough, I can see the headlines in the Globe and Mail:  Grandmother Wins Award for Best First Novel.

And young men shall see visions and old women shall dream dreams….

Lurlene Winter lives in Burlington, Ontario. She was born in Guyana, went to university in Jamaica, got married, accompanied her husband to  England where he was studying for his masters degree in metallurgy, had a son  and went to Zambia, where she lived for ten years. She is now a retired high school teacher of French, Spanish, and English. She joined Brian’s writing class to pass the time and rediscovered a love for writing short stories.

See the courses offered this summer here. And see Brian’s full schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Barrie, Brampton, Bolton, Burlington, Caledon, Cambridge, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Stouffville, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Algoma, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. If you're not prepared to put in the long hours, it's unlikely that you'll ever write a novel.