A guest post by Glenna Jenkins, a graduate of our Creative Writing by Correspondence program, about her inspiration, her writing process, and a few things she learned on the path to her first published novel.
My father grew up on Prince Edward Island. He built a cottage there and this is where we congregated in summer. Aunts, uncles and cousins would drop over and a lot of storytelling took place. Most recounted the many tragedies that befell my ancestors – the Great Miramichi Fire of 1825, the Sturgeon Uprising of 1870, and the Spanish Influenza that killed Aunt Kit. One day, my father recounted the events of his father’s death in a fiery explosion in Everett, Massachusetts, a borough in Greater Boston. When he slipped in the minor detail of Babe Ruth helping my Grandmother out subsequent to my grandfather’s death, this got my interest.
I did a lot of research and sat down to write. Naturally, when one is writing about family, one wants to be certain not to leave anyone out. So what I thought was going to be a seamless rendition of my grandmother’s life, ended up including all of the anecdotes I had collected from relatives during my research, most of my grandmother’s thirteen siblings, the neighbours, the love interests of the siblings and neighbours, two parish priests, the school teacher, the neighbourhood gossip, and the bootlegger and his wife. Tolstoy would have done a much better job of organizing the confusion that was transposed onto the page.
Somewhere in there I applied to the Humber School for Writers and brashly asked for David Adams Richards as my instructor. Antanas Sileika must be a patient man, because he let me in and matched me up with one of Canada’s literary giants. David Adams Richards was a terrific instructor. Looking back on it now, I know I was not a terrific student. David immediately pointed out that my writing seemed anecdotal and that it paid surface attention to the story. But instead of considering what he was trying to say, and going back and revising the outline, rewriting and resubmitting, I ploughed ahead. I was determined to finish a 90,000-word manuscript and get it published. And God bless him, David Adams Richards read every word and reported back with more or less the same advice every time. I am embarrassed when I think back on it.
Nevertheless, my instructor’s skilful instruction, patient encouragement, and many attempts to set me straight on the rules of fiction eventually sank in. I soon began to study fiction as opposed to simply reading it. I wanted to see how characters were fleshed out, how the writer got inside a character’s head, how they developed their setting and plotted out a believable story that kept their readers riveted from beginning to end. I submitted the manuscript for my novel, Somewhere I Belong, to Acorn Press Canada in July 2012, and it launched in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, on November 1, 2014.