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Sharing their stories: Local authors, illustrators featured at library showcase

Showcase at the Lakeshore branch of the Innisfil ideaLAB and Library, during National Novel Writing Month

The roots of any library are in its books.

While it may diversify, like the Innisfil ideaLAB with its digital resources and Hack Lab, to meet the changing interests of the community, books – the words, pictures and stories, the adventures and the ideas – are its foundation.

So, what could be more appropriate than for the Innisfil ideaLAB and Library to host a Showcase of Authors and Illustrators, introducing some of the talented writers and artists living and working in the community?

Nine writers and illustrators shared their work at the Lakeshore branch on Thursday evening – from Brenda Wood, motivational speaker, teacher and author of more than 50 books, to new author Alison McGregor.

McGregor, author of children’s book ‘Antoinette and the Story of the Jelly Fish Monster’, was introduced to writing when she worked with her dad on her grandfather’s war journals.

“The stories were filled with terror and bravery, and surprisingly, humor,” she said. It inspired an interest in transforming family history into stories – including the tales of her own mother, “the real Antoinette."

During the pandemic, pregnant and with a one-year-old child – “The perfect time to start a new project!” – she wrote her book, based on a true story of her mom’s adventure in Jamaica. She now has a second book in the works, to be released Mother’s Day 2022.   

Wood, a resident of Sandycove Acres adult lifestyle community, teaches writing at the Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre in Penetanguishene.

She is a cancer survivor herself, and her latest book, ‘My Affair with Cancer’, co-authored with four other survivors, is a fundraiser for the facility.

“Each of us wrote our own story,” Wood said, each with the same purpose: “To make you laugh, to make you brave… They are good stories, they are raw stories, they are painful stories.”

She advised anyone interested in writing to be true to their own voice. “Everyone has to have a story… Your book has got to be from the heart, and it’s got to be ‘true’. You’ve got to be true to yourself.”

Author Raimo Strangis drew on his own experiences to write both ‘The Kingdom of Grape,’ a fairytale written for his own children; and his young adult fiction novel, 'With Little Means.'

"That one is more about my semi-life story," he said.

With Little Means’ is the story of a musician forced to give up his dreams of stardom due to ill-health. He marries, starts a new career and a family, then gets a chance to revisit the world of stardom virtually, and becomes enmeshed in the reality of the illusion.

Strangis was a musician and songwriter in a band that toured top Toronto venues, “and then I got sick and couldn’t play anymore. You miss your 20s, and your rock star days.” His book is a ‘what if’ – what if he could have pursued his dreams; which reality would he choose?

“I hope it inspires others to write,” he said.

Several of the participants have inspired each other.

Primary school teacher turned children’s author, Margot Edge was inspired to write her first book, ‘Follow the Red Wagon’ after purchasing a painting by illustrator Valerie Losell – and asked Losell to illustrate the tale of the red wagon’s adventures through each season.

“Immediately she said, I’m up for the challenge,” said Edge. The book, with its local settings, captured the interest of young readers – generating demands that the wagon do something more exciting than sleep during the winter months, tucked away in a shed.

That led to a second book, ‘The Red Wagon’s Winter Dream’, also illustrated by Losell.

Losell discovered art after her teaching career was abruptly ended by injury, 12 years ago. Suffering brain and spinal injuries, she signed up for watercolour art therapy.

“I found it a real source of joy,” she said.

Losell has written one book of poetry, ‘Holding Up the Sky,’  illustrated with her own watercolours and pastels.

With the help of her photographer husband, she has turned some of her works into a series of greeting cards – another source of income.

“It gives me a wonderful boost to get up every day. I can’t wait to get down to my room and start painting,” she said. The opportunity to work with Edge, and “amplify in some way” the written words, has been both interesting and challenging. “It really has been quite lovely.”

R. Murrey Haist was an internationally acclaimed artist before turning to authorship.

An award-winning pyrographer – creating burned images in wood; an artist who has designed logos for companies that include Purolator and Costco, in addition to book covers, illustrations, and paintings, he is also a poet, and now, the author of a mystery trilogy.

The first two books in the trilogy – ‘Tuoyawon’ and ‘Escape from Tuoyawon’ – have been published; the third volume, ‘Beyond Tuoyawon,’ will be out next year.

“I like twisting your mind around. It might twist around and come back to where you started from,” he said, creating books “that people have trouble putting down.”

The suspense is all in the mind, though, and in the surprise endings. “No profanity, no violence,” Haist said; just true-to-life decisions and their consequences.

Linda Smith, in addition to children’s stories illustrated with her own “goofy cartoons,” was encouraged by Brenda Wood to write adult books. She took up the challenge at the age of 63, with a series of biographies.

Smith works with the subjects to tell their own stories. One of her favourites is ‘Anna, Outpost Nurse’ – the biography of nurse practitioner Anna Moller, who worked with remote Indigenous communities, including Mishkeegogamang and Pickle Lake. The book is illustrated with photos taken by Moller herself.

Moller passed away this year; the book remains as a tribute, “a testament to her amazing and adventurous life,” Smith said.“I found I loved writing. It seems to flow from this source you didn’t know you had."

For Ann Lillian Burke, a journalist and freelance writer for publications like the Toronto Star and Sudbury Star, reality has always been a source of interest, and writing a non-fiction book “was always on my bucket list.”

She planned to write a biography on retirement, but a violent incident in Dufferin County in the 1990s, where she was co-ordinator of a local community centre in Mulmur, led her in a different direction - into social work, victim services and social activism.

It was a meeting with an old school friend, in the late ‘90s, that led her to the decades-old crime that is the subject of 'The Seventh Shot'.

The friend told her that the suspect finally arrested had been in their Grade 12 class.

The Seventh Shot’ details the 30-year hunt for the ‘.22 Calibre Killer,’ who one day in 1970, knocked on the door of a home on Bethesda Sideroad, then raped and murdered Doreen Moorby, shooting her seven times with a .22-calibre gun, leaving her 19-month-old toddler unharmed.

“I think I was meant to do this story,” said Burke, who was also acquainted with some of the investigating officers. She noted that the man eventually charged with two murders, a former Toronto police officer, was “never, not for one moment” suspected of the crimes in those pre-DNA days. “No-one had a clue.”

Most of the authors attending the showcase were self-published, but Cameron Allie, who writes romance and erotica novels and novellas, is under contract to not one but two publishers.

When she started writing at 15, “it was not this kind of stuff,” but young adult fantasy.

It was at 15, however, that she read her first romance novel that her mother had borrowed from the library. She became hooked as a reader, but it wasn’t until she was in a creative writing class that she turned to the romance genre herself.

“One of the stories I handed in had a love scene in it,” Allie explained. “Everyone said it was the best written part of the book.”

For the past five years she has been writing contemporary and paranormal romances, with titles that include ‘The Perfect Fox,’ and ‘Not His Type’ among her four novels, eight novellas, and short stories.

“I’m never giving this up,” she said, admitting that she was surprised when the ideaLAB accepted her application for the showcase.

“I didn’t think I was going to get in because of the content of the books… My themes are pretty explicit!”

In fact, the showcase was all about the range of creativity and the power of the written word – a perfect event for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.