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It took a long time until I could legitimately call myself a fiction writer, although I remember wanting to do so when I was about 12 years old. Now I have two books to my name: The Astreya Trilogy and The Laughing Princess.
I studied English and Philosophy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario Canada, and went on to do a Masters in English at the University of Toronto. In those days, a MA was sufficient qualification to teach in many universities, so I became an assistant professor at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where I married and my first son, Robin, was born. It was during this time that I met some of the people whose lives inspired The Hippies Who Meant It. Three years later, I moved to Canada’s west coast to teach at Simon Fraser University. Three more years, and I returned to Queen’s to complete my PhD (on American Science Fiction) just in time for a cyclical slump in hiring by Canadian universities.
I returned to Nova Scotia and worked first as a contract writer and editor, then as a communications officer in the provincial government. I also wrote and voiced radio essays and theatre reviews. It was during this time that I sailed on Mike Whitehouse’s schooner Hakada to the south coast of Newfoundland – an experience that was the genesis of Astreya.
Government communications experience led to my next academic job in the graduate school of Communications Studies at the University of Calgary. It was while I was teaching at the University of Calgary and hiking in the Rockies that I began The Laughing Princess. The harp music of Kim Robertson played as I wrote.
After four years of teaching in Alberta, I returned to Ottawa, the city in which I had gone to school. I married Katherine Fletcher, and we moved a few kilometers into Chelsea, Quebec and had a son, Ben. Until retirement, I taught part time at Ottawa University and wrote and edited extensively for both private sector and government.
Astreya had been on my mind since the 1970’s, increasing in volume by fits and starts. In retirement, it became a full-time activity, growing from a short novella to a trilogy. The Laughing Princess followed The Astreya Trilogy into print in 2012. In 2015, I published The Hippies who Meant It.
Some more detail for those who haven’t lost interest yet.
I am from a seagoing family going back many generations. I learned to sail a dinghy from my father, who, like his grandfather, was a Master Mariner and Lieutenant Commander in the British Navy, and later in the Canadian Navy. In 1946, when I was five, my father read Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner to me out loud. At the time, I thought it was autobiographical, perhaps because he was a bearded master mariner who had spent the six years of World War II in the British Navy.
I was conceived during the brief shore leave between his first command, a corvette in the Mediterranean and his second, a frigate in The Battle of the Atlantic. Before he died at 99 and three months, he read a first version of Astreya, and called it, “A good yarn, once you get rid of the bit where your hero biffs someone over the head with that novelist’s weapon, a belaying pin.”
When I was fifteen, I thought that the best thing a person could do would be to write a book that would be enjoyed by people who had read what I had read. At that time, my list of authors included Arthur Ransome, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, C.S. Forester, Captain Marryatt, and Captain Joshua Slocum — all of them men who wrote about the sea and sailing ships.
When I was 30, I wrote a PhD thesis on science fiction. My then current list of authors included Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. The degree essentially made me unemployable at any university where I could imagine myself teaching. So I became a contract writer and part time civil servant for a decade, after which I reinvented myself as a professor of communication studies for a few years. Then I went back to editing/writing. In twenty years, I had written for more than 25 government departments and agencies, plus a few private sector companies.
In the 1970s, I escaped the daily grind for a few days and sailed as mate on a traditional 50-foot wooden schooner from Nova Scotia to Grey River on the south coast of Newfoundland. The coastline is a wall of cliffs that fall hundreds of feet into the sea. Had it not been for a flashing light on a navigation buoy, the entrance to our destination would have been invisible. Inside the narrow passage between the cliffs was a fjord that widened into several high-sided bays and inlets, on the least steep of which was a tiny community. We met with children picking cloudberries, which are like big, white blueberries, and found that we could barely communicate, so strong were their accents. Apart from the one or two summer visits from a supply ship, we were their first visitors in longer than the children knew. It was from this experience that Astreya evolved.
I eventually acquired three increasingly impractical degrees. Like many Canadians, I moved around a lot in my very large country. I grew up in Ottawa, my first job as an English teacher was on the East Coast in Nova Scotia; my next in Burnaby on the West. It was many years later while I was teaching in Calgary and hiking in the Rockies that I wrote The Laughing Princess, borrowing from Pamela Nagely Stevenson the names of a dozen dragons she had sculpted in ceramics. The harp music of Kim Robertson played as I wrote.
I studied English Literature because I loved books, particularly fantasy, which was no help at all in becoming successful as an academic. Reasoning that all those years of education must have at least equipped me to research and write, I spent the last 20 years of my working life as an editor and writer-for-hire, which helped me do my share of bringing up my second son Ben and keeping the Golden Retrievers fed. After I retired, my wonderful wife Katherine soldiered on, giving me the great gift of being able to write for me, instead of someone else.
I live in Chelsea, Quebec, just north of Ottawa, Canada, and have done for more than 20 years — the longest I have ever spent in one place. This is where I completed a lifetime’s ambition to write a story for boys and tomboys of all ages: The Astreya Trilogy, and where The Laughing Princess came out of a box in the basement and ventured into print. Emboldened by all this, I dug out another MS The Hippies Who Meant It and went to work to bring it to publication. After 45 agents and two (Canadian) publishers turned it down, I decided it was time to self-publish. The book will launch on December 17, 2015.