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My Very First Piece of Writing

As a writer, I owe my parents a great deal, especially my mother who devoured books and loved going to the local library. Many of her passions became mine, especially detective novels (Agatha Christie, etc.), police procedurals (P.D. James), architecture (she eventually became a librarian at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Architecture), art and design, and poetry and drama.

But another thing I owe to my parents is a habit of never throwing anything out. After I left home (moving often given my chosen career), they stayed put and kept everything I’d left behind (books, stamp collections, comics, toy cars, school and university essays, you name it). In my later years, I’ve been fortunate to live in houses of sufficient size (and with sufficient closet space) that I now perpetuate this habit.

Amongst the things they saved was my very first story, done – I think – when I was about 10 (considering the penmanship). It’s a detective story (naturally) and called Mystery Killer, (a straightforward title and certainly on point). In it, I managed to include my father (at least his looks, not his manner of speech) and the family dog (a Tahltan bear dog we named Trixie, https://www.ckc.ca/en/The-Dish/July-2020/The-Tahltan-Bear-Dog. She came to us when we lived in Whitehorse, Yukon in the early 1960’s – and that saga is a story unto itself).

The author and his dog. Whiteshell Lake, Yukon, 1962

I suspect my mother typed the story up, but it might even have been me (so many mistakes!). I note the original Chapter 3 was deemed not up to snuff, crossed out and replaced (see page 2). The formatting also changed.

In the story, I can see the roots of my current writing style – lots of dialogue, a mystery to solve, a trapdoor and secret exit, a twist at the end, along with the occasional local character. Interestingly, there’s the American influence – I chose the FBI rather than the RCMP; I must have been thinking even back then of the larger international market and readership. However, one thing’s for sure – having taken seven volumes to tell the saga of the Ravenstones, I’m no longer as concise in telling a story.

My mother, being an avid (amateur) water-colorist and oil painter, also sketched two of the characters on the back of one page (see below).

After over half a century in storage, the whole thing is rather the worse for the wear (the second page used for scribbling and math work). For some inexplicable reason, it’s finished off with a few hand-written lines that proceed onto a fourth page.

Elsewhere, I also created entire worlds with individual countries (usually in Eastern Europe, a part of the world that still holds great mystery and where borders often change) with histories, monarchs, noble lineage, neighboring friendly and enemy states, conflict, wars and revolution. I’m guessing these tales were inspired by a school project about Albania or through reading Hergé’s King Ottokar’s Sceptre. Whatever the case, where these stories ended up is one mystery I could not solve.

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