Stephen King

1086242_35259126I have had less time to read lately since I have been so tired. My brain is tired, my body is tired, and when I get home I just want to “be”. Still, I have found a few minutes here and there to read, and right now I am slowly making my way through The Stand. It’s not the first Stephen King book that I have read, and it probably won’t be my last. I enjoy his stories, but sometimes his style throws me off.

When he references music, I never know what he is talking about. Lyrics and bands that make their way into his work always force me to stop and scroll through my brain to see if I know of them. It’s extremely rare if I do. When he uses those strange and awkward phrases and sayings, I usually don’t even know what they mean. I can get the gist of it, but they aren’t anything that I have heard or read before.

And the characters! There are always so many characters! It’s refreshing, in a way, since we aren’t just focused on one or two people the entire time. It gives us and the characters a little break from each other and it adds to the story by allowing it to be told from multiple (and I mean multiple) viewpoints. I do find it hard sometimes to keep track of them all, even the main ones. I am about halfway through the book and sometimes when I just read a first name in a new chapter I have no idea who that character is from earlier in the book. I can’t always tell if it’s a new character or not.

I believe that Stephen King books (I’m not sure about his short stories, I have a plethora of them on my “to buy” list) require attention and study. They aren’t books that you can read casually. You have to have the time to be fully devoted and interested in order to fully enjoy and appreciate the work. The reason why I have trouble with remembering the characters is that I sometimes go a day or two or three without having the time or the drive to read anything. I spent the last week in the office reading and writing, sometimes I need to get away from the words for a little while.

I know that there are other books like that as well. They aren’t for light reading, and they aren’t for the faint of heart. They require attention, dedication, and effort. I started the latest book when I had less to do. Now I am finding it hard to maintain focus because I have to use so much brain power before I can remember what happened last, which character is doing what, and the general feel of the story.

Do you feel the same about Stephen King? Do you have any other books that you believe require study?

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The Jobs Behind Writers

Work_life_balance_rat_raceBefore I went to school, I did a lot of research on what I wanted to be. I emailed people from all over the world who had the jobs that I wanted to see how to get there. This was how I figured out what I wanted to do. At first, I wanted to be a copyeditor. I have always wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to learn the intricate rules of writing so that I could write in the best way possible.

After figuring out where to go to school, what to take, and so on, I started classes and soon changed my mind about being a copyeditor full-time. I thought that I would despise sales and marketing, but I actually really enjoyed it. Although I have never liked selling things to people who didn’t want them, I found a lot of joy in assisting authors with selling their books and getting the word out to other people who would be interested in them.

I asked every one of my instructors how to start my career, but found the answers to be vague and less than helpful. It seems that writers, marketers, and editors all have different starts. It isn’t as easy as “go to school, graduate, get a job” like in some professions. I faced the usual “you need experience to get experience” difficulty. I did an internship and started to offer writing and editing online and through family and friends. My business did not prosper immediately, but after I signed on with an independent publisher, things got a little better.

Still, I wasn’t satisfied. I spent a few years gaining experience by offering social media marketing, writing, blogging, and even by volunteering once in awhile. I provided these things to many different businesses in various industries. I had to branch out from publishing, but I was ok with it. Still, the constant issue of inconsistent income had me down. Doing what you love doesn’t always pay the bills.

Tomorrow I will be starting my first job as an employee since I went to school. I won’t work for myself, I won’t be a consultant, and I won’t be a contractor. I’ve finally gained enough experience to become employed as a full-time marketing writer. This is both exciting, and a little overwhelming. I’ll still be taking some clients here and there, because I’m addicted to the high that comes with giving someone a hand, but I’ll be doing less and I’ll have a boss that isn’t me.

I know that many writers and editors start out by growing their own businesses while working full-time at an office or elsewhere. It’s what we have to do to get the experience that will get us to where we want to be. I don’t know if I am there yet, but I have been lucky enough to be able to catch a job doing something along the lines of what I want to.

Where are you on your journey as a professional writer or editor (or other)? What’s the best or worst job that you have had while trying to get to where you want to be?

Note: I’ll try to keep up on my posts, but I might miss a few in the beginning as I adjust to my new schedule. Bear with me, folks. I have a feeling I’m going to be pretty worn out.

The Classics I Love and the Ones I Don’t

Timeless_BooksThere are numerous classics out there, from Harper Lee all the way to Shakespeare. I’ve got quite a few on my shelf, and I adore many of them. My favourites include Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, Of Mice and Men, The Hobbit, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer…shall I go on?

I’ve also got some heavier literature on my shelf, and I suppose many of them are classics as well: Lord Byron, Longfellow, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and Tolstoy to name a few. I’ve got the complete works of Shakespeare and Poe piled on there too. We’re encouraged to read classics because they were essentially the first stories. These were arguably the first authors to lock themselves down in history by writing fiction. Books only became widely available during and after the renaissance, so many of these authors were the first to be heard in such large numbers.

We read these books to learn about technique, style, and to understand language. Some of them are easy to get through as the language used is similar to the English that we speak today. Others are not so simple. For someone unused to words such as “thine”, “quoth”, and “whence”, Shakespeare might be a bit of a challenge. Dickens himself was quite wordy, leading some to find his writing to be overly descriptive.

As a reader and a writer, I feel like it’s my duty to not only read, but to appreciate, all of the classics. I have learned that this is impossible. Just because something is a classic, it does not mean that it is to my taste. Take Moby Dick for example. I have tried to read that book at least five times and I just can’t make it passed chapter two. I find it rather drudging. I understand that other people have loved every word of it, and I acknowledge that the author was a brilliant creator. It’s just not my thing.

I even find Shakespeare hard to read at times. Not because I have trouble understanding his writing, but because I find it slow. Not dull, mind you, just passive at times, even through all the passion in his words. But Poe? Give me Poe on any rainy day and I’ll savour it, even though I find the writing to be similar to Shakespeare in certain ways.

My point is that we all have different interests. It’s ok to be unable to find satisfaction in a classic. These books didn’t become classics because everyone that ever read them raved over them for days. I have yet to hear of one single book that everyone (or even just every reader) will delight in. I sometimes feel guilty, and even less well-read, because I can’t relate to some of the classics. Our language has gone through so many evolutionary changes that some require too much brain power for me, and others just don’t take hold of my imagination. Some stories have characters that I just cannot stand, and others have characters that I cannot understand.

We’re not meant to read every single classic out there, and I don’t think that we are meant to enjoy every one of them either. They’re there to entertain, educate, and inform us. They’re there to stand as a reminder that literature can live long after the authors have left. They are there to show us that different styles, tones, characters, stories, and writers can make it. They tell us that each genre has had a master, and that each genre can obtain success.

That is amazingly inspiring. Especially when we peel back the pages and look at the story prior to the success. Many have been through rigorous submissions issues, rewrites, rejections, and controversy. If they made it, our stories can too.

What are your favourite classics? What ones do you dislike or find hard to navigate?

Parents Are Expendable

family-161068_640In a lot of fiction, whether in comic books or fantasy, the parents of the main character (MC) are often dead, unknown, or unavailable. Whether it’s one parent or both, it is a very common theme. Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Katniss Everdeen, Kvothe, Merlin, Lyra, Luke Skywalker, and many, many more have complicated family structures.

The lack of at least one parent is a common theme which creates sympathy and depth in the MC. For some reason, damage grabs our interest and pushes us to feel empathy towards another. It’s rare to see a character who has two loving, supportive, and living parents, whether together or not. The most prominent characters usually come from sorrow, neglect, and/or tragedy. Even the parents that are alive are less than satisfactory as mothers and fathers.

Then, almost always, we have a guardian (or multiple guardians) for that character. Someone who cares for them, guides them, and treats them as their own. This “guardian” is usually like a guide. Pushing them towards the “good”, and keeping them from the “bad”. Teaching them about life and encouraging them to overcome the “evil” that they face. These characters are generally older, experienced, and a lot of them end up sacrificing themselves for some reason or another in the end. They almost always die or disappear, leaving the MC drowning in depression until they bounce back.

I often find myself wondering why parents are so expendable in fiction, and why it is almost necessary to keep them from being a living part of the story. I understand that we need to feel for the MC, and that sympathy is an excellent way to create empathy and a strong character. We love to see the MC rise from the ashes, overcoming all of the hardships of life only to become strong and brave. But wouldn’t it be more enthralling, and challenging, to create a character who was just an everyday person, with a regular life? A character that real people could relate to?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that everyone comes from a normal, happy, cookie cutter life. Broken homes are all too common, and many children have faced some sort of abuse in their lives, but that doesn’t make them extraordinary. I didn’t have what I would call an ideal childhood, but I don’t feel special because of it. I don’t feel like everyone needs to have a sad tale to tell for them to be a good person or to succeed in life.

I feel like it would be extremely refreshing to experience a book in which the MC was just a regular person with regular parents. No dead mother, no dead father. No abusive or cold caregivers, no lack of love or attention. They don’t have to have a perfect life, the parents don’t even need to be together. I would just like to a piece of fiction where the MC is encouraged to achieve their goals not because they started so low, but because that’s what they want to do.

As much as I love fiction, I feel that in situations where the MC has had a hard life, we are being taught that to become great we must have a sob story. Many of us do have sob stories, but I for one don’t want to be recognized and applauded for the darker parts of my life. I want to be recognized for my skill. I don’t think that to love a character we should have to pity them. I would like to see a character who is so well-written that I can’t help but enjoy them. I want to see a character that doesn’t need sympathy to pop. I would like to see a few parents who aren’t either dead or useless. I want to see parents that aren’t expendable.

MCs don’t need to be shattered every time. We can enjoy them for who they are, not what has happened to them.

What about you? Do you agree that parents in fiction are often expendable? Do you know of any fiction where the MC doesn’t have a twisted, depressing, or broken past?

The Worst Death

Grim_Reaper_by_totemicdruidI have experienced many deaths in reading, and some stay with me a long time. I don’t grieve for the character as I would a loved one, but I still feel a sadness drift down and rest on my shoulders like the ash that covered Pompeii. It’s all the worse since I have to witness each death alone in my own head and the world keeps on turning around me. No one else seems to notice that the most devastating thing just took place, but how would they?

When you’ve read thousands (I would guess) of books, you experience a lot of death in the writing. Especially if it’s some kind of fiction. You can generally expect death in horror, that seems like a given. It’s the same with crime and mystery. Not always, of course, but there’s a lot of it in there.

I have read about a lot of deaths that broke my heart. Rowling wrote a few that stung and George R.R. Martin wrote too many for me to handle. There have been a few close calls with Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Philip Pullman that had me completely devastated, only to find later that my fear was unnecessary.

Then we have the actual deaths in non-fiction that aren’t created for readers. Those cut deeply, whether they are adults, children, or animals.

When characters that we relate to are facing the worst, or they are removed from the book completely, it is a painful experience. We become so attached to characters that our brains can even believe that we are the ones experiencing what we are reading (according to a recent study that was all over the internet). These characters become part of your subconscious while you are reading, and they dig in deep.

The worst death in literature, for me, was probably that of Dumbledore (I know that’s potentially a spoiler, but that book has been out for years and years). Of all the deaths that I have read about, fiction and non-fiction, his was the only one that actually caused me to weep. I felt sadness wrap its cool fingers around my heart and settle there for days. To know that he sacrificed himself did nothing to make it better, it only made it worse. When Harry was feeding him that potion I didn’t want to keep reading. I wanted to open the pages, throw myself into them, and drink it for him so that he wouldn’t suffer anymore. I suffered along with him and the only way that I could repay him for his years of comfort and entertainment were to keep on reading, even if it hurt.

Let’s think about the brilliance of that. Ink smeared over a flat piece of mashed wood caused me to feel strong emotions. Another person, who I have never met, silently communicated some of the only written words that have made me cry. Those books and everything in them took place completely in my head while everything in the world just went along doing its thing. Dumbledore’s death meant more to me than the death of a movie star or even an author that I had loved. Why? Because I felt connected to his struggle. I felt like he was a part of my life. I felt as if I knew him. That’s an amazing feat in writing.

The practice of reading books is actually quite insane when you peel away the layers that makes it sensible. If you remove the details and shave it down to the most simple description, it sounds nonsensical. But there’s beauty and wonder in nonsense, and it’s only nonsense until it becomes socially accepted.

In reading, what was the worst death for you? What was the book?

Why Aren’t Kids Reading?

Child_with_red_hair_readingThere’s been a lot of talk lately about the lack of kids reading for pleasure. It seems that the statistical numbers are dropping, and less children are finding solace in the written word. If you simply do a google search on the subject, a plethora of articles will appear with opinions and suggestions and discussions from all over the world. I’ll give you yet another.

I don’t remember ever despising books. I seem to have always savoured them, even as a very small child. However, I don’t think that this would be the case had I not been encouraged to read. It’s not like I come from a super rich family that could afford all of the new toys and gadgets. I am the product of a single mother who lived in her childhood home (with her parents and three brothers) for the first three years of my life. One thing that we did have was books. Dr. Seuss, Robert Munsch, Mercer Mayer, Stan and Jan Berenstein, and many others told me stories in the quiet evenings before bed while I gazed at the teddy bear wallpaper that my grandmother picked and my grandfather applied (according to family legend, it was the only room that he has ever willingly papered).

As I grew, my tastes changed, and so did the books in the house. When I first decided that I was interested in animals, my grandparents piled books like Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, and The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be on my lap. Since they had read the books themselves, conversations about the stories became part of the norm. Although I no longer lived with my grandparents, I spent many of my weekends tucked away in a corner of the old red shingled farmhouse with a book in my hands and a plate of fresh cookies within reach.

My grandparents would find something for me to read no matter what I was interested in at the time. From animals, to Egypt, to The Romanovs, to Tolkien and beyond. If they didn’t have a book pertaining to the subject already in their collection, my grandmother would pick up whatever she thought I would like second-hand from a used bookstore or a flea market. Their collection has no rhyme or reason, there are books piled in all kinds of secret places, holding their secrets tight until you find them there, shining with information and calling your name.

I believe that children won’t read for pleasure unless taught. I also believe that in order to show the children in your life how magical books can be, you need to nurture their interests. I never would have been interested in a mystery book as a child, or even now really. If the only books that I had been encouraged to read were outside of my interests at the time, how would they catch (and keep) my interest? They wouldn’t.

In order to get people to read, we need to show them the power that books hold. Their interests may be different than our own, so we need to provide them with content that suits them, not us. It can be a tough pill to swallow hearing that someone doesn’t think a book was as brilliant as you did, but just tell yourself that it’s for the greater good.

To encourage a growing child to read, books should be a part of your home and your life. Real books, not just the ones that you can read onscreen. They should be visible and inviting. They should be available to grab your hand and pull you into another world when it suits you, not hidden away in a file on your e-reader or jammed into a storage box.

I think that fewer kids are reading because fewer kids are being encouraged to read. They need to be shown that there are books about almost anything, that there are characters and stories that will fit their interests and expand their imaginations. How would they know that books like that exist if we aren’t showing them?

Why do you think that fewer kids are reading? What do you do to encourage the kids in your life to read?

Characterization Inspiration

 

da2_cast_lineup
Let’s talk characterization, shall we? When I was taking a class for editing fiction, one of my instructor’s told us something that opened my eyes. It was a small thing, something that is actually quite obvious. Nonetheless, it forced me to think about characters of all shapes and sizes in a new light.

What he said went something like this: Our personal experiences have a definite influence on how we view characters. We must be very careful when figuring out what is working for a character in a story and what is not. Is that character designed to make you despise them, or do you just have an irritating aunt that resembles that character? Do you dislike the character because the writing makes them that way, or do you dislike them because they go against your personal views?

This couldn’t make more sense to me, and though it has not changed how I despise characters, it has made me understand why they irk me.

I’m going to go through two characters here from Dragon Age 2. I know, it’s not a book, but it is still so relevant. If you haven’t played and want to, be warned.

In that game, we have two elves that can become companions to your MC, Hawke: Merrill and Fenris. The elven history in the DA games is mostly negative, since some elves are treated as slaves, others are basically quarantined in certain areas in the cities, and the rest live outside of society.

Merrill is a Dalish mage, who showed up briefly in the first game if you played through as an elf. The Dalish are wood elves and wanderers. They live outside of society and keep to their clans. You get Merrill by completing a few quests and then she becomes part of your party. She was second to the “Keeper”, the leader of her clan.

Fenris is an ex-Tevinter slave and warrior. When you meet him, he has semi-recently escaped his master and is set on revenge. His childhood was spent as a slave and he has a penchant for revenge. He becomes part of your party after completing a few quests related to him. He is alone and, as a fugitive, has no family or friends.

Now that you know a bit about their backgrounds, let’s look at their personalities:

Merrill is shy, unsure of herself, and desperate to help her people in any way that she can. She is naive and inexperienced. She is not opposed to blood-magic (generally frowned upon by most) and sympathizes with demons and people who become possessed by them. She is nice enough, with a sort of quirky personality that just makes you want to help her.

Fenris is broody, dark, and quite dry. He has learned to despise magic because, long story short, that’s what caused him to be raised in slavery. He is smart, very useful in battle, and is confident in his beliefs. He does not support blood magic or demons. At first, it is his desire for revenge that drives him to become one of your companions. He has little emotional attachment to anything.

Which character did I prefer? Fenris. Broody, dark, depressing Fenris. Why? Because Merrill struck me as an irritating, unreasonable character who has no logic or sense in her. She might have heart, but, in comparison to my character, her goals were counter-productive.

It was easy for me to understand why Fenris was so morose—he grew up as a slave. It was easy to understand why he didn’t like magic too—that’s what enslaved him. He smart, quiet, and knows himself. Merrill is constantly seeking approval and assistance in things that my MC wouldn’t want to get involved in. Blood magic and demons usually means bad things.

Fenris is useful, and I know where his loyalties are. He is straightforward and you never need to guess about what his response will be.

On the other hand, Merrill has become a favourite with many DA2 players. I was just involved in a conversation where it was argued that she was cute, friendly, and just so “charming”. Those aren’t the words I would use to describe her.

This goes to show that your own personality and life experiences does change the way that you view characters when reading a book or playing a game. I am more like Fenris, and his goals are akin to mine as a player. Merrill, to me, was quite different from what I look for in a friend or companion in real life.

If you’ve played the game, which elf did you prefer? Why? Are there any other examples, in books or games, that really spoke to you?

The Writing Brain

Vatican Museums Spiral Staircase 2012I am always thinking about writing. Whether I am in the garden, playing video games, or on the phone with a friend. Just about everything sparkles with the beginning of a story when I think about it. Whether a long tale, or a short one. Poems sprout up among the dirt and the weeds as I prepare the earth for planting. Butterflies pull trails of words behind them as they dip and hover through my yard. Stories dance and squeal as they grasp at the heels of my romping dogs. Beginnings float up into the air through the evaporation over my saucepan. Endings whisper in the sunsets and the melting snow.

Everything speaks to me, and it is both a welcome experience as well as a curse. It’s hard to just “be” when your brain is constantly running. When I dream, my dreams are often vivid, and I will wake with a new character or setting and nothing to do with it just yet. Meditation has always been a novelty to me. To sit and think of absolutely nothing would be impossible, although I admire those who can accomplish that level of inner-peace.

Always thinking about writing doesn’t mean that I can just start writing these thoughts down and creating millions of stories. If you have ever seen Sherlock, you will have heard of his “Mind Palace”. I’ve got one of those, but not quite like his. I do not have the ability to store information on multiple subjects in folders and boxes in my head. I can just keep notes and a few files in my mind for long periods of time and I pull them up when the file starts to get full enough to begin to shape a story. Those files can stay in there for years. For example, I have been internally building a book that I would like to write for about 2-3 years. I’ll write it eventually, but it’s not quite there yet. I still need to smooth some things out. I am a planner, I cannot start writing without having worked out certain problems.

This is my process. Think, ponder, decide, change, and eventually write. I have a decent memory, so it’s not hard for me to retrieve files stored in my head. When I come up with a new angle or change, I just make a note of it and it’s simple for me to pull it up later and review it. I know that a lot of you write constantly, but for me, the story starts becoming something long before there is any concrete evidence of its existence. That’s why I don’t set writing goals for myself. If I write before I am ready, it will be garbage and I will discard it without hesitation.

What about you? What is your process? Do you have a “Mind Palace”? What is your brain like?

PS: I highly recommend the Sherlock mini-series. It’s brilliantly written, the actors are highly skilled, and it will get your brain working.

The Owls, The Wolves, and Mutt

farley_mowat_by_lezleydavidson-d4al72jWe lost Farley Mowat yesterday, and though I had mixed feeling about the man, I still feel a stone-like sadness in my soul at his passing.

Mowat considered a lot of his writing to be “subjective non-fiction”, which means that he took a little (and sometimes a lot) of artistic license with his work. Would they have been as enthralling without? I doubt it. Do you need to read them with that in mind? Yes, you certainly do.

The first book that I read of his was Owls in the Family, and by the gods, didn’t I want a horde of pet owls more than anything else in the world. I begged my grandfather to get me an owl. I dreamed of having one that I could raise from a chick into a great majestic bird, with snowy white wings and piercing eyes. I spent hours ignoring the world, eyes glazed and distant, as I thought about what I would call it, how I could keep my brother from playing with it, and how we would be the best of friends. Of course, no one ever got me an owl. The closest I got to having one was gazing at the Snowy Owls through a wired dome at the zoo.

The next book that I read by Mowat was The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be. As you have probably guessed, after reading that I wanted a dog who would wear goggles and climb trees. We did get a dog eventually, but her time with us didn’t last because she liked to herd vehicles and almost caused a series of accidents from trying to nip at moving tires.

After going a few years without reading anything else by Mowat, I eventually picked up Never Cry Wolf. It was right after I had read a NatGeo article about how the culling of wolves in Northern Canada had caused the ecosystem to respond negatively (too many caribou, not enough flora, etc.). This book, more than the others, pulled at my heartstrings and left an ache. I was older, smarter, and better read than before. I had trouble believing it in its entirety, even though I so wanted every word to be true. It was the first time that I wondered about the actual truth behind his words, the first time that I felt let down.

I did some research after finishing the book, and what I found made me feel even worse. The book itself received a lot of negative attention from experts and researchers in the field. If you want to look more into that, just click on the link for the book. It’s not the only book that caused a bit of controversy, but it’s probably the one that caused the most.

Yesterday, when I heard that he was gone, I started to think about my experiences with the books I have read by him. Regardless of the fact that there are some questionable “facts” in them, the experiences and feelings that I gleaned from them were real. I know a lot more about owls than I ever would have without him. I hug my dogs a little tighter when I think about Mutt. I know that humans make stupid decisions when it comes to the natural world, and that those decisions can cause nature to respond in ways that we hadn’t anticipated.

Would I have learned these things without him? Would I have been able to escape the long bus rides home from school, fraught with bullies and loud children and strange smells, had I not had my nose jammed in one of his books? Probably not. Sure, I would have found something else, but Mowat had a knack for writing. His words caught you like a fish on a hook and reeled you in. He was amusing, intelligent, and easy to get along with in his writing. He taught me to be interested in things that mattered, like nature and animals, and our environment, instead of nail polish and lip gloss. I am a better person for having read his words.

Farley Mowat has given me so many things, and though he has passed, I will continue to receive these gifts he has left every time I read one of his books over. He wasn’t a perfect writer, but he was a damn good storyteller.

Cheers, Farley. Your name is one that won’t be forgotten quickly.

Who Started It

4680_81036482638_4835733_nI remember my first hardcover vividly. It was around my seventh or eighth birthday, and I was staying at my grandparent’s house for the weekend, as usual. I am a child of spring, so that day the heavy warm breeze tousled the tulips and confetti bushes that sit below the old wood-framed windows and that grasp at your legs as you walk by. The sun was high and bright. One of those suns that makes water sparkle like diamonds and grass shimmer like a field of emeralds. I was a flower child, tasting the wind and taking life from the budding trees and using it to fuel my passion for making decadent mudpies.

My grandfather called me over to the basement door and, swirling and twirling, I obeyed. My grandfather (Pips, to me), is a tall man with black hair and authoritative eyebrows. He has a black mustache that sits just under his nose that adds sharpness to his features, but that curves delightfully when he smiles. His vest, which he always wears, was pulled out from his body, and I was curious to know what was inside.

Carefully, quietly, he told me that he had something for me. I could feel the thrill of excitement in my bones. Curiosity tickled my spine. I waited patiently as he drew out three books and placed them in my hands. The weight of them was delicious. I sat down in the dirt and gathered them on my lap. I studied the first slowly, taking everything in. The protective cover squeaked beneath my fingertips and reflected the sun so boldly that I had to squint. I pulled the cover back gently, not wanting to crack the spine. I could smell paper and ink mingled with warm apple blossoms and sunshine. The pages were smooth and white and perfect. When the breeze buffeted the pages, I closed the book, fearful that the words would be blown away with the dust.

I remember not knowing what to say. I’d had books given to me before, but I’d never had three brand new hardcovers to call my own. We’d even shared stories from the books before, but now he had given me the chance to learn them on my own, to read the ones that he hadn’t shared. He had, in that small moment, given me my own escape from the darker days of childhood.

He has since given me many more books, some old, some new, all handpicked by him for me. We have spent the years exchanging our favourite stories, poems, and adventures, all while living far from each other for the last seven. I have enjoyed every single book that he has given to me, even though some I never would have picked for myself. It is because of him that I love the written word. He started my great love affair with writing.

Who started yours?

If you’re curious as to what books I received that day, they were All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, and All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot. I recommend these books to animals lovers of any age. They are still some of my favourites to this day.