Saturday, May 15, 2010

And The Winner Is...

I'm taking the lazy way out today, but then, it's the weekend and I have a camogie match to get to. (Don't ask me.  Just look it up on Google.)

I posted this essay on Writing4All a little while back, and I just found out that it won the monthly contest for Best Nonfiction.

Why I Write

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They had a place in the Middle of Nowhere, a few acres of woods and a small lake. Thirty or forty years on, thanks more than anything to a mythic sense of nostalgia, that place sounds idyllic now, my own personal Narnia, or at least my Hundred Acre Wood. But that came later, after being fitted for my grown-up pair of rose-coloured glasses. Back then, it was just Grandma's.

Grandma's did indeed lie over the river and through the woods, where neighbours were friendly, but far flung and rare. Back then, the world was just a little bit bigger, and the Middle of Nowhere was a little further from the Edge of Anywhere. There weren't any other kids for miles around. My sister was there, but well, she was my sister, so clearly that wasn't an option. I was going to have to find another way to play.

What I did have was one big honkin' playground. The woods were filled with trails to explore. The rest would have to come from imagination. And so, during my time there, I chased monsters, fended off super villains and alien invasions, and generally defended the world from Bad Things which tended to show up in the woods, just out of sight of the house.

Between invasions and crime waves, I spent my time drawing. Sometimes, I illustrated my own courageous deeds, or came up with new adventures based on these earlier exploits. Sometimes, I just drew stuff I saw on Saturday morning television. I went through my share of crayons, markers, pencils, the odd bits of chalk, just about anything that would leave a mark.

There was no doubt that stories were going to matter to me. There was no escaping it. But the clincher, the real deal-closer, the reason I decided that I would have to tell my own stories, that would have to be my Grandad.

Late one evening, just a little before bedtime, I was sitting on the front porch swing, watching the fireflies and looking for all the world like a scene out of Andy Griffith. Grandad came out and joined me, sitting in his rocker. We sat there in the twilight for a few minutes before he lit up a cigar and he started to tell me a story.

He spun this amazing tale, about a farmer with a talking dog who fended off giants and dragons and became a hero by accident. It was funny and scary and magical. It was years later that I learned that the story wasn't his own. Tolkein's Farmer Giles of Ham was one of Grandad's favourite books, and he knew the story well enough to tell me off the top of his head and make it his own.

Grandad would tell me lots of stories over the years. Some were his, some weren't. Over the course of a summer, I heard about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. He told me stories over the dying embers of campfires and in the flash of thunderstorms, stories of Arthur and Perseus and Coyote. He told me stories of his youth, the kind of true stories that may have never happened. He showed me how to make magic.

Of course, over time, kids outgrow Neverland. Mostly. Oral storytelling will always be something special to me, but I adore a well told story, regardless of the medium. A good story, whether aloud, in print, or on the big screen, is still magical. I took the scenic route before coming back and trying to tell my own stories, but I was always going to wind up here.

It's in the blood.

I have a few other pieces of varying quality there as well.  You can see them at:

Henry on Writing4All

There's a lot of good work on the site, and it's worth checking out some of the other writers as well. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go support the school team.