Leslie Davidson: Launching her writing life

Newly-published author and winner of the CBC Literary Prize for Creative Non-Fiction will read at the Grand Forks library Thursday, Oct. 13.

Leslie Davidson

Four weeks ago, Leslie Davidson, a former resident of Grand Forks, was over the moon about reaching a watermark in an emerging writer’s life, the imminent release of her first published book. Two weeks ago, upon learning that she had reached another pinnacle in a writer’s life—the winning of a prestigious national award—she had cleared the moon and was last seen vaulting Jupiter.

She knows that neither luck nor magic has anything to do with either achievement, but is understandably incredulous that they are happening simultaneously.

“This has been an amazing month for me. The day in which I received the news that my submission Adaptation had won the CBC Literary Prize for Creative Non-Fiction was absolutely wild. I was surprised to the point of shock, humbled….especially after having read the other four powerful, beautiful stories that were also short-listed for the prize…..and thrilled.”

Is there a word for “Is this happening and I am so very happy”? At almost 65, this past month has been a testament to “It’s never too late.”

And a testament to Leslie’s grit. The day in which Leslie received the news about her writing award (which includes $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a 10-day writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity), she was attending, as a delegate, the World Parkinson Congress in Portland, Oregon.

Though she has been dealing with Parkinson’s for over four years, and her husband, Lincoln, with Lewy Body dementia, her determination to give form to that voice that has lurked behind her consciousness all her life has guided her steps forward as a writer.

Feelings unearthed as a result of a recent move from her beloved home in Grand Forks to Revelstoke (to their two daughters and three grandchildren) and the ongoing challenges of living with the realities of their life-altering diseases, have found solace in the intricate crafting of a simple story. Her prize-winning story, Adaptation, spins gold, the hard-rock kind, from a tale of two lives holding fast against the unpredictable changes inflicted by aging and two unforgiving illnesses.

You can read her piece by going to, or listen to Leslie’s narration of a piece on this CBC website:  cbc.ca/books/2016/09/leslie-a-davidson-wins-the-2016-cbc-creative-nonfiction-prize.html.

And her book release? While winning the writing prize thrilled her fans, including those here in Grand Forks, it is the long anticipation of seeing/purchasing her first published work that has generated the most excitement. Due for release on Tuesday, Oct. 11 (though already available in many book and gift stores, including our gallery 2 and Pedaller’s Place), Leslie counts the experience of seeing her children’s story, In the Red Canoe, go to print as one of the most thrilling of her life.

“After so many of my submissions getting the kind but dismissive nod from publishers, the call three years ago from Orca Publishers—who were interested in my manuscript for Red Canoe—will long be remembered. Orca is a highly regarded publisher of children’s books, and I had become very familiar with their work through years as a kindergarten teacher and librarian. It was a wonderful honour to have my writing be selected for consideration by them.”

The acceptance of her manuscript was provisional, however, dependent on her restructuring the rhythm and rhyme scheme of her story so that it worked more effectively as a long narrative poem. Leslie got back to work, revising and rewording her text (without tampering with essential bones of the story), with results that delighted both the author and publisher.

An illustrator (Laura Bifano) was contracted, and the images of the tender portrait of a young girl’s first canoe trip with her grandfather  are richly realized and faithful to the memories that had inspired the story.

“Early on in retirement from teaching, my husband and I would load the canoe on our VW and head out to the Chilcotin to camp. The longing for grandchildren was particularly intense at that time, and as we quietly paddled and noodled along the shore, I imagined their grandfather—who was sitting behind me in the canoe—opening magical worlds for them as he pointed out the natural wonders of our wilderness lakes. Each image in the book was something I had seen or had felt during those times.”

Retirement brought that other gift—the gift of time—that Leslie needed to begin piecing together the thoughts and experiences that had shaped her writing consciousness. Her years as a teacher, for instance, were seminal to her writing life.

“I wrote for my classroom—verses, stories, song stanzas—when there was a dearth of material for the child at the edge of reading and writing. If I needed to fire kids up about ants, I would write a poster-size word poem about ants! My classroom would be full of larger-than-life words and rhymes that might open a door to reading for the children I taught.”

Certainly the literature and lectures absorbed as an English major in university were also important to her development as a writer, but Leslie suspects a familial bent towards storytelling (and talking!) has likely had the greatest influence on her writing style.

“I come from a family of talkers and storytellers. I remember gathering around my paternal grandmother as she regaled us with stories of her Winnipeg childhood at the turn of the 20th century and of her experiences as a young Prairie town school teacher.

“It was a way of structuring and relaying experience that, I guess, I unconsciously absorbed because all of my life, between keeping scraps of paper with scribbles of ideas and searching for ways to place life’s inscrutable moments, I have felt compelled to tell my story and those of the people I love. And it is wonderful to be in that quiet space today, where, after a series of unforeseeable transitions, the stories that have been stalking me all my life are finally getting written down and shared.”

As Leslie marvels at how, with writing, she always gets to a better place than where she began, we can only hope that the unequivocal endorsement of her gift as a writer this past month emboldens her continued efforts towards “better places.”

Luckily, residents of the Boundary will have the opportunity to wish her well on this journey when she visits Grand Forks next week on her book launch tour.  She will be appearing at the library on Thursday, Oct.13 between 6:30 – 8, Friday, Oct. 14, for Storytime at 10:30 a.m., and Saturday, Oct. 15, at Pedaller’s Place on Market Avenue, for book-signing between 2 – 4 p.m.

 

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