My 50-year love affair with words and stories

Part of the reason I’ve started on this blog journey is to provide myself a writing challenge. Writing and reading have always been a huge part of my life.

My parents were both prolific readers, and they encouraged a love of reading in me. Books of all kind were always around our house: fiction, non-fiction, anthologies, reference, and various versions of the Bible.

We lived in a rural area, had 2 channels on our black-and-white television, and, of course, no knowledge of the Internet or video games.   This lifestyle created perfect conditions to develop a self-entertainer, as my husband calls it.

This was rural New Brunswick in the 1970s, a time when kids were unscheduled and roamed freer than they do today.  When I tired of the books at home, I would hop on my bicycle and head into the library in downtown Sussex, a 7-km round trip.

At the library I’d spend hours in the reference section reading about geography and mythology and I’d pick out a few books to read at home.  The pattern of biking to the library to return books and take out more books was repeated often enough to be a vivid memory.

My grandfather, recognizing this thirst for knowledge, bought me a subscription to National Geographic, which I lovingly collected through my teen years.

Yes…I’ve been a geek for a long time.

In this formative period, I was consuming books, assimilating knowledge, and living in conditions which were ripe for development of a vivid imagination.  By age 9 in the 4th grade, I was writing my own stories.  In February (1978) my first work of fiction was published in the school newsletter.

“The Thing From Space” by grade 4 Paula Harris, along with a variety of stories, recipes, poems, and illustrations by other students, appeared in the newsletter which was copied on a mimeograph (sometimes called by brand name Gestetner).

Mimeograph (Image source: Wikipedia).
1024px-Mimeograph.svg

If you’re from my generation, or older, you may remember the experience of cranking copies out of one of these machines in the school office, but if you didn’t have that experience, you’ll surely remember the unique odor made by the copying process.  Every hand-out and test bore this scent until the advent of photocopying

In the mimeograph process the pages were impressed with a purple typeset that blurred slightly at the edges, particularly if it was not left to dry long enough.  The copy I have of this newsletter from 1978 looks the same today as it did the day it was copied.

The thing from space Feb 1978

When I reflect of the origins and inspiration of this first story, and I also look back on the timeline of my life in 1977/78, I recall that had just seen my first big screen movie at the theatre.  Everything before this was on our 28-inch black-and-white TV.   The movie made a big impression on me.  My Dad also bought the soundtrack (on LP), and he played it often—thus keeping the memory of the movie alive in our house.

The movie was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released four months prior to writing this piece.  Close Encounters stirred an obvious fascination with aliens. Ricky, a fellow student, brought my description to life with his striking illustration of the “Thing”.

“The Thing From Space” is an amusing read now, forty years later, but it is also more than that.  This story, the many trips to the library, and the magic and inspiration of Stephen Spielberg, were the beginning of a life of story telling.  For the past 25+ years, stories, albeit not science fiction stories, put food on the table and kept a roof over my head.

Without a love of reading instilled at a young age, and a quest for knowledge that only deepened as I aged, I would not be writing this blog post today and I would not be helping others tell stories.

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