The house that Jack built

It’d be stretch­ing it to say a plate of scrambled eggs launched my writ­ing career. But there is one break­fast I’ll always remem­ber.

It was 1986, my year to take risks. I quit my job and told myself it was now or nev­er if I was going to be a writer. But I had no idea how to make that hap­pen.  

Then I saw an ad for a writer’s fest­iv­al at Strathcona Park Lodge. I signed up hop­ing that being around real writers would some­how nudge me in the right dir­ec­tion.

At Strathcona I met all sorts of people involved in the BC book industry.  Anne Cameron, Hilary Stewart, George Bowering, Christie Harris, Bill Valgardson and Susan Musgrave were some of the authors present. Publishers Howard and Mary White of Harbour Publishing were there as well. I was more than a bit awe-struck.

Strathcona Park Lodge is known for its ample and deli­cious cuisine, all served buf­fet style with folks sit­ting togeth­er at long tables. On the first morn­ing of the event I sat down with my break­fast and a few moments later one of the “big names” of the fest­iv­al took the chair across from me.

It was Jack Hodgins, author of The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne, The Invention of the World and Spit Delaney’s Island.

I remem­ber his head of curly brown hair, the spark­ling eyes and a friendly-look­ing smile. I even remem­ber the clothes he was wear­ing – a white safari-style jack­et and pants.

But I mostly remem­ber being over­whelmed by an acute attack of shy­ness. What could I pos­sibly say to this award-win­ning writer?

And then, as I bash­fully fumbled with my fork, Jack broke the ice. “Where’d you get that?” he asked indic­at­ing my plate of food. And so began a cas­u­al con­ver­sa­tion that imme­di­ately put me at ease.

In his nov­els Jack Hodgins por­trays a unique and affec­tion­ate vis­ion of the Vancouver Island land­scape and the char­ac­ters that inhab­it it.

 

I didn’t see Jack often but we kept in touch over the years. We dis­covered that Strathcona was a turn­ing point for both of us. I achieved my dream of becom­ing a pub­lished author; Jack real­ized he could teach writ­ing out­side a classroom.

This July Jack, who grew up in nearby Merville, vis­ited Courtenay where he was induc­ted into the Comox Valley Walk of Achievement. This award is presen­ted to former res­id­ents who have excelled in their field of endeav­our and who inspire Comox Valley youth to believe in them­selves and pur­sue their dreams.

Over his writ­ing career, Jack has received many pres­ti­gi­ous awards includ­ing the Order of Canada. But I think the recog­ni­tion by his homet­own com­munity meant some­thing spe­cial to him. 

I know it meant a lot to those in the audi­ence. The tra­ject­ory of Jack’s kind­ness and ment­or­ing seems to stretch into infin­ity.

Although I’ve nev­er taken a work­shop with him, Jack has influ­enced my writ­ing in many ways. His work, of course, is a stel­lar example of qual­ity crafts­man­ship. But even more import­ant has been his con­sist­ent encour­age­ment and interest. 

Sitting next to me in the Sid Williams Theatre was Susan Ketchen, author of Born That Way and Made That Way. She stud­ied cre­at­ive writ­ing with Jack when she was in grade 12. “I still have some of the stor­ies he marked,” she said. “They really weren’t very good but he always found some­thing pos­it­ive to say.”

Harold Macy, author of The Four Storey Forest, told me he’s exceed­ingly grate­ful for Jack’s sup­port and guid­ance while put­ting the final touches on his book.

A plaque hon­our­ing Jack’s acheive­ments was placed in front of the Laughing Oyster Bookstore in down­town Courtenay.

During the cere­mony Harold read some com­ments by Matt Rader, author of A Doctor Pedalled Her Bike Over the River Arno and oth­er works. “Jack Hodgins and Jack’s lit­er­ary world are for a young writer from the Comox Valley some­thing like what Faulkner and his world are for writers of the American south…He has a pres­ence in this val­ley that guides our ima­gin­a­tions. And that is a lot like love.” 

I think of the more than 15 nov­els Jack has writ­ten as a vast house with many levels and rooms. Each time a per­son opens one of Jack’s books, they enter one of those rooms. They’re dec­or­ated and fur­nished in a sim­il­ar style but each pos­sesses a unique view of the Vancouver Island land­scape and is inhab­ited by the quirky char­ac­ters that call this area home.

How lucky we are that Jack keeps adding onto his house, rein­vent­ing the stor­ies he heard as a child into some­thing that we can all treas­ure. And how lucky are those who have benefited from his gentle encour­age­ment.

 

 

 

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