I Am Not A Writer

After many years of wondering, countless hours spent with pen and paper, wearing out a number of manual and electric typewriters as well as several computers, I have finally come to the conclusion that – I am not a writer! Nor am I an author. I am both a writer and an author. I am a writer because I write things, constantly, and I am an author because I have had work published. At least that’s what the online dictionaries say and who am I to argue with modern technology?

Not to brag, but I have often been told that my ability to write things in an interesting and entertaining way is a gift and I imagine that is true for every writer and author. A dream come true, right? Maybe. Or maybe not. Depends on how often I get up night, scrambling for my notebook and pen to jot down ideas that pop into my over-active brain and refuse to let me sleep until I write it down. At such times being a writer, or an author, feels more like a curse. Then again, I’ve heard that using and challenging one’s brain can, if not prevent, at least help to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and I’ve never heard of anyone wearing out their brain. Use it or lose it – right? So maybe all the reading, researching and writing will have a positive impact on my health – except for the interrupted sleep! And yes, there are other things that can help in the fight against Alzheimer’s and Dementia too.

As far back as I can remember I have been a voracious reader, especially after I was introduced to the public library at the age of seven by my Grade Two teacher, Miss Margaret Bennett. I don’t know exactly when I started writing, apart from doing schoolwork. But I do recall that at the age of twelve or thirteen I was writing short stories, kind of a Nancy Drew type mystery which many of my friends were allowed to read. I remember one of them was called The Mystery of the Red-bearded Man. And the reason I remember that is because one of our teachers at the time caught one of my friends reading the story in class and promptly confiscated it. I was mortified!

When the class ended, I walked up to the teacher’s desk, all the while wishing a hole would open in the floor and swallow me up, wobbly knees and all. I took a deep breath and timidly asked if I could have my story back. ‘Come see me when school is over for the day,’ he told me. That wasn’t so bad, I thought and, thinking that it would be in my hands when I left school, my knees became a little more stable. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

When the last class ended I went in search of the teacher in possession of my story and asked to have it returned. He must have been impressed with it because he wanted my permission to send it away somewhere. I was so horrified by the thought that I don’t know if it was for possible publication or evaluation of some kind. When I declined, he wanted to give me the address so I could send it myself – to wherever it was! I distinctly remember telling him ‘You can give me the address if you like but I’m not sending it anywhere.’ At that age, writing was nothing more than a hobby. I wasn’t ready for anything more.

I think it was the following year when another teacher gave me a different kind of encouragement. We used to write essays or compositions back then and I enjoyed doing every one of them, though I didn’t think that was significant. Anyway, this particular teacher was handing back our most recent essays and when he got to me he said, ‘You must do a lot of reading.’ I looked up at him, replied that I did and asked why. He then said something that I have never forgotten: ‘It shows in your work. You use more descriptive language than anyone else in class.’ That put me on cloud nine. Hey! I was an impressionable young teenager.

After that I paid more attention to what I wrote and always did well with English classes, spelling, punctuation and grammar. And I kept writing short stories and poetry but I still kept it all to myself, like a dragon hoarding his cache of stolen treasure. It was not until 1973 that I mustered up enough self-confidence to take a chance on sharing something I had written, making it available for the public to read. I sent a poem to the Newfoundland Herald (a St. John’s, NL publication). Imagine my surprise – and delight – when it was published several weeks later!

Over the next few years I had some poems published but I was too busy at home to write much of anything else and, sadly, no one seemed to think it was important. I pretty much gave up writing for a number of years and it was 1987 before I submitted anything else. In 1988 I entered and took second place in the fiction category of the provincial Arts & Letters Competition, for a story which was later printed in the Newfoundland Herald. But it was not until 1998 that I found enough courage to send out what I considered to be a ‘serious’ story. I was thrilled when ‘The Last Voyage of the D.J. Thornhill’ was printed in the Sunday section of The Telegram. I had a couple of other stories published in 1998-99 but then the Sunday section was discontinued. Just when I was getting started.

Local people began to comment on my work and that was encouraging. One of those stories was a two-part story about the tiny settlement where I was born and spent the first six years of my life. All the information came from my father and it included the time when diphtheria struck the community. I had mentioned the doctor who diagnosed the disease upon his arrival, promptly quarantined the village, set up a temporary office and vaccinated every person there. Shortly after that was printed, I received a phone call from the doctor in question who said the story had brought back many memories for him and he had thoroughly enjoyed it. That call meant more to me than if I’d gotten a million dollars for the story.

From that point on I gradually began to submit more things and have been extremely lucky in getting quite a few things published. My work has been published in NL-based newspapers and magazines and I am very grateful to Canadian Stories for publishing many of my poems and stories. My first publication in Canadian Stories was in June/July 1999, based on a story my father had told me and titled ‘Refloating the Ark.’

Now I find that not a day goes by when I don’t write something, even if I discard it again the next day. There are notebooks and pens in every room of the house and my laptop seems to have become my best friend. I have been known to forget everything else when I am writing, even eating – until my stomach starts to rumble like Mount Vesuvius! And I intensely dislike being interrupted during the writing process because it disturbs my train of thought. On the positive side, I no longer lack the confidence to submit my work for publication, or the fear that others will not like what I’ve written. I know I cannot please everyone but if I am satisfied with what I have written, I am happy.

Unfortunately, while I am writing more, the market seems to be steadily diminishing. Newspapers and magazines are becoming slimmer or shutting down completely while some are developing a larger digital presence. Others publish content written only by in-house staff, leaving a very small market for those like myself. I realized long ago that I would never make a living with my writing but I get personal satisfaction from seeing my work in print. Publication on the Internet doesn’t have the same appeal for me but in this age of technology I might have to think about it.

As I edge closer to retirement, anticipating the time I will have for other activities, I find that ideas for future writing projects are accumulating rapidly. The reality is that my relationship with my laptop will most likely take precedence over everything else, slowly consuming more and more of my time. So much for sitting back in the ‘lazy-boy’ with my feet up and catching up on all the books I still haven’t read… or the knitting and crocheting I want to do… or changing the paint colours throughout the house… and finishing my family history! As I said at the beginning, I am not a writer, nor am I an author – I am both and writing is just one of many things I enjoy doing. Oh, and by the way, if you want to call me a writer, or even an author, I won’t contradict you.

© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Feb/Mar 2019

Non-fiction 1

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