Yukon Eighth Grader Published Her Second Book And Writing Many More

Ursula and Rachel Westfall with their newest book

Ursula Westfall is a Yukon 8th grade student with a very bright future ahead. She’s co-written two books with her mother Rachel Westfall and has plans for many more.

The Westfall ladies are a Whitehorse-based daughter-and-mother team. They’ve successfully collaborated on their second published work, which is the book, A Trail of Dreams. This work was published in autumn of 2015. Before they wrote A Trail of Dreams, this team published their first book, which is titled, Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall has a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany from the University of Victoria in B.C. and her daughter, Ursula Westfall, is a student in the city of Whitehorse. Rachel now works with the Yukon government as a senior statistician.

I met young Ursula and her mother, Rachel, in Whitehorse’s Starbucks coffee shop during the month of December 2015 for a conversation about their newest book.

Rachel introduced the book by giving a quick and fascinating summary, which actually included information about both published novels:

“The main characters in both of these stories are the residents of a village which is an intentional community living in the wilderness. They’re people who have rejected modern society, which in the story is quite dysfunctional. It’s a bit of a dystopia. And, in A Trail of Dreams, one of the residents of the village starts having dreams that something terrible is going to happen to the village and she thinks that it’s coming from the direction of the city, but she can’t figure out what it is.

So, she goes on a journey to try to figure out what the threat is and whether she can do anything about it. So she gets to the city and meets a bunch of very strange characters, finds out what the threat is, but she can’t actually do anything about it. So she has to go back to the village and in the village there’s been some drama going on involving a Sasquatch who has befriended some of the villagers. But other villagers don’t know the Sasquatch exists. So there’s some funny scenes there. And then a solution comes their way.

So both stories have that tension between nature and city life, there’s that tension that really sets the stage for the stories.”

Rachel and Ursula’s second book is a stand-alone story as well, so if you haven’t read the first book, the second book will still makes sense. However, the same characters appear in both novels and they also share the same setting. So, this new story is interconnected with the last tale, but it’s still an independent story.

Rachel told that they did most of the writing over a period of about a year, off and on, after they published the first book in 2014. They got the second book published in the fall of 2015 through the publisher, Createspace. This book is also available at Amazon and in hardcover as well.

“Finishing one story, we were inspired with ideas for the next story,” Rachel mentioned that she and her daughter were inspired by the first book. “And it’s the same with the third story that we’re working on now. As soon as we finished the second story, we got inspired to write another one. And you get a lot of energy from finishing a project. And it gave us— I guess we felt encouraged that we could write more.”

“I usually write every evening in my free time, like I set aside some time for writing,” remarked the accomplished Ursula, after she was asked to explain how she balances school work and writing. She said she wrote non-stop, even on Saturday and Sundays, and, to date, she has written a lot of fantasy tales. The subjects of Ursula’s fantasy writings are things like dragons, with a lot of complex lore. She creates the lore and creatures and realms and loves creating fantasy stories which may be classified as “dragon fantasy”.

Ursula said that they were planning to make three books in the series and they would complete the whole story in the third book. They are expecting to complete their third book in the fall of 2016.

The Cover of Ursula and Rachel Westfall ‘s Book
The Cover of Ursula and Rachel Westfall ‘s Book

On the question of next projects after the third book is written, Rachel said that her daughter Ursula has got a number of novels that she’s working on right now and some short stories as well:

“If we decide to do another collaborative project, that would be great, too, but right now we’re just trying to get the third book…that’s what we’re focusing on right now, is the third book in the Halftree Village series. And then we’ll see after that.”

Rachel is originally from Victoria BC and grew up in Quesnel, in central B.C. She has lived in Vancouver and Victoria and she moved to Whitehorse ten years ago. So, Ursula’s really grown up in Whitehorse.

Rachel said she also had a passion for writing since childhood. However, most of the writing she did as an adult has been technical writing, which is a more academic type of writing. In addition, she wrote quite a lot of poetry as well. However, writing fiction is fairly new for her:

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And Ursula’s really opened that door for me because of her passion for fiction.”

On the question of challenges of collaborating with immediate family, Rachel said that they teamed up really well, “I think if we didn’t we would not have been able to finish these books. There’s no way we could have if we were arguing about what was going to happen or how we were going to write it. It wouldn’t have worked.”

Equally excited, Ursula concluded, “We urge each other on.”

Rachel further elaborated how her family is working as a team to make writing a family affair. She told me that her son is also involved, as a proofreader.

“Where he’s involved is we bounce off a lot of ideas off of him. He helped proofread the new book. We all read it out loud together as our bedtime story over a period of a few evenings and he helped to go through that process and we cleaned up a lot of things that didn’t make sense at that time.”

On the question of hobbies other than writing, Ursula said, “When I am not writing I am usually playing music or reading. I also play the piano and the flute.”

“When I am not writing, I am busy raising my new baby,” Rachel added. “I like gardening, silversmithing, music. I also play the piano and things like that. I have more interests than I have time for. Right now I’m focusing on the writing.”

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 3

My daughter in law, Shellane on the bow of the AUDREY ELEANOR in the Lynn Canol between Skagway and Haines Alaska

The Girls on The Docks

There are few women who live on the docks. When I happened to meet these women there an instant kindred connection. Our conversations are about boating, but with a feminine twist. One of my many rants to my kids is; the more you know, the less you will learn. It is great to listen to the experiences of these ladies. The information they pass on is exceptional and has contributed in unusual ways to my life, to this day.

The curiosity of it is that the three women whom I recall most clearly were named Jenny. These were my first teachers. Jenny off of the Jenny B in Ketchikan, Alaska, was the floating dentist’s wife. Jenny from Smithers, B.C. she and her husband were retrofitting the Debby J in McLean’s shipyard, and little Jenny, the dock handywoman who went places that most men can’t.

Jenny from the Jenny B is an enigma and would be anywhere that she went. She and her husband built the boat, Jenny B from the hull up. The boat progressed in stages and as her children grew, so did the boat. They raised two daughters aboard; the girls finally went aground when they needed to attend university.   Their mother home schooled them while they floated through Alaska for all of their childhood years.

As the Dentist’s wife, she was also his receptionist. She met clients at the stern and escorted them into the dentist chair, then helped them off the boat with a smile and a Kleenex. We arrive onboard for tea; she appears in the saloon with her usual, perfectly coiffed hair, a blouse and skirt with one of those little frilly aprons that matched her shoes and nails. It is amazing,

I am ecstatic if I manage to haul the laundry topside and have clean socks. How does this woman do this? In addition to maintaining this immaculate, if unusual appearance, she cleaned and sanitized all of the dentistry equipment and had dinner on the table by six. In her world this is how it was done.

She was by no means a plastic lady. This is her style and by the goddess she can take charge of the helm, read the charts, tie her boat up or drop the anchor whenever needed.  Men rule the sea, she contributed to the feminine. She is truly a good person and a very nice lady. The fishermen went out of their way to be courteous to her; she added a wonderful softness where there is little of it.

The Jenny off of the Debbie J is a formidable lady. The first sailboat that she and her husband bought was a 35 foot something, she wasn’t sure what. They took a crash course in sailing on a weekend in Vancouver and then set out onto the briny sea. She said that it took several weeks for her to relax and realize that the great walls of seawater weren’t going to crash down and swamp them from behind. They were out in the blue water and onto 35’ swells.

They went from the 35’ mystery boat to a 65’ Robertson steel sailboat. Their kids were growing and by now they had sailed south to Mexico and through the Panama Canal, they had been at sea for a year, it was expansion time. This type of expansion is not to be confused with one ‘footitis’, which is common in boating circles. The ‘footitis’ virus (I think the strain originates in Texas) attacks people who think that they need one more foot of boat for whatever reason. Commonly the reason is either to haul more “stuff” or to keep up with the Davey Jones’s.

We have a rule on board Audrey that we now carry over into our shore lives. If you bring something aboard, you have to take something off. This makes you pay attention to what essential truly means. Does it nourish you? Keep you warm and dry or provide you with healthy diversion? (Books and music are essential by the way) How much do you really need? Stuff weighs you down, it anchors you on the hard and it sinks you at sea.

Back to the 65’ Robertson, they had engine problems outside of New York harbour and were going to have to come in under full sail. Coming into any harbour with a large boat is hard on the nerves, an unknown harbour is extremely painful, and a New York type Harbour on any day of the year is my nightmare.

Jenny said that they had to choose between their love of living at sea or paying to insure their sailboat, they chose their love. They did not insure the sailboat, they were prepared to step off of the boat and hand over their keys if they encountered a problem. Into the harbour under full sail they come! Kids are in their positions with mom and dad at the helm praying hard.

People are scrambling over each other trying to get their precious boats out of the way of this larger then should be free sailing boat. It is real exciting! Dad swings her hard to portside, there is only one space big enough to tie up, the kids drop the sails and they gently swing into the berth. Jenny said she stepped off holding the ropes, shaking in her boots, hoping that she would not throw up and praying that it didn’t show. A large crowd had gathered, with shaking hands Jenny calmly tied her up and said to the kids, “OK let’s do lunch.”

This Jenny explained to me that you never eat crab on your boat. Crab is served dockside on some kind of makeshift table with lots of good friends, wine and butter. You simply cannot get all of the small crab parts picked up and this attracts nasty critters that will cause grief in the long run. I know from personal experience that at sunrise the damned birds love to run around the top deck pecking at the crab pieces that I’ve missed. This dance floor is right above our stateroom; there is no sleep with the funky seagull going on above your head.

Little Jenny is less than five foot in height and weighs possibly 80 pounds. I would guess her age at somewhere between thirty and eighty. Some days she looked thirty and some days she looked eighty. If you were looking for a hard worker for cheap, you called Jenny.

Because of her size she could fit down into the stinky bilges and fish holds that most adult size people couldn’t get into and wouldn’t. Her boyfriend was the shiftless kind, didn’t work unless Jenny absolutely couldn’t. He was known as “Rusty” on the docks. Whenever someone approached him to do a job of any kind, his response was always, “well I’m a little rusty at that,” hence he was known as Rusty to all.

Jenny would spend the whole day down in a tight, smelly, dark old hold working with nasty chemicals and come bouncing out at the end of the day with a big smile on her face. She was a voracious gardener. Her little trailer was an oasis in an otherwise tin can wasteland. When we left McLean’s Shipyard in Prince Rupert she gave me a clump of for-get-me-knots that I transplanted into my son Bob’s yard here in Whitehorse, forgot to tell you about that Bobby. I believe that they are still there.

May was an exceptionally hot month in Prince Rupert. Jenny had been mucking out the hold of a large tugboat that originally had been scheduled to be scuttled. A new owner had stepped in just before the final countdown. This big tug was a mess. Jenny was determined to make this tugboat shine. I don’t know what she was using for cleaning agents or for paints either, but she had spent the whole morning and part of the scorching afternoon swimming in toxic brine.

At two o’clock in the middle of this heated afternoon, she came wandering down the dock not her usual perky self, “are you alright Jenny?” “Yes came the reply but I think I’m dehydrated.” The water had been shut off on the docks and of course we had chosen this day to clean our water tanks. “How does a beer sound?” The big smile is back. “That would be absolutely wonderful,” she says. She perched on the sawhorse with her beer, took a big swig and fell over backwards, unconscious.

By the time that I got off the boat and on to the dock her eyes were wide open and she was staring in wonder at the sky. “Wow, what was in that beer?” was all that she said. We drove her home.

P.S. The Debby J was being retrofitted from a fish boat into a global gypsy. The 30’ troller had a gardener engine in her that topped out at 8 knots but only burned 3 gals of fuel per hour. The Debby J and crew were headed for South America, Chile in particular. They are probably out there still, we wish them well.

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 2

Relief at feeling solid ground under our feet at Kah Shakes Cove, our first stop in Alaska after broaching the Audrey Eleanor in huge seas crossing the infamous Dixon Entrance.  The Captain holds firm the Terra Firma.

Dixon Entrance

We are onboard The Audrey Eleanor; a custom-built fifty-four foot 1948 wooden yacht headed north to Alaska. After a near disaster with two multi-million dollar U.S. yachts at the Prince Rupert Yacht Club in Prince Rupert B.C. We are ready to take on Dixon Entrance. This is our first salt water crewing experience.

The shortest route out of Prince Rupert is north through Metalka Straight. We decide that we are not ready to take on the narrow, twisting Metalka with its range markers and rocks; and opt instead for the route that allows the B.C. and Alaska State Ferries safe access out of the Harbour.

We cruise serenely by the docked Alaska State ferry with sleepy passengers waving from the decks. Audrey’s unique design attracts attention wherever she goes, she is a show off. We slip past the ferry and run smack into a wall of fog.

You literally hit fog walls, banks whatever you prefer to call them.  We slid through the curtain and are in muffled world of soft greys and cool whites.  Nothing appears to be real as the fog climbs up on the bow and pulls its wall of white down behind it.  Everything disappears.  In a muffled cocoon, sounds are distorted; it is surreal and very dangerous.  Wooden ships or boats often don’t show up on radar, we are a ghost ship moving undetected through a shipping lane.

We do have radar on board our ship.  We had both assumed the other knew how to work it.  Neither of us knows how to make this ancient gadget work, the Captain is a better bet; he has used instruments when flying airplanes.   I head for the bow to stand watch or more accurately, to listen for approaching objects. What would a floating dead head sound like?

The Captain calls me back into the saloon.  He’s worried that if we hit something, or something hits us the impact would drop me into the salt chuck. Thanks to his bush pilot experience, he’s figured out the radar. Now we’ll be able to see our demise before it hits us.

A few feet further and the fog drops away as quickly as it came. We head face first into the sunshine.  This is the point in the channel where we take a starboard turn and are now in Hecate Straight. The seas begin to build.  Audrey’s displacement hull easily cuts through the chop that is bouncing other boats in the area around. I wonder how well I will handle it if it gets really bouncy…how well will Audrey handle it? We haven’t had her out of Prince Rupert Harbour and aren’t sure what she’s made of. Beautiful little Islands slip by and the people on the lighthouse wave enthusiastically as we cruise northward.

Dundas Island appears to our portside. (Am I starting to sound like I know something?) We navigate toward the Island and our anchorage at Brundigee Bay. One of the great things about traveling at this time of year is that there are virtually no other boats on the water and consequently no audiences,

You can drop and drag your anchor to your hearts content, or until hand cranking 100 feet of chain and one hundred and fifty feet of rode wears you out. My arms are still sore from doing battle with the U.S. yachts in Prince Rupert. This has to be done right if we are to get any sleep tonight…and I did mention, this is the first time we have anchored the Audrey Eleanor.

Huge orange Lions mane jellyfish attach themselves to our rode. Resembling Alien “blobs” from a bad sci-fi movie I believe that during the night they plan to slither up the rode, shanghai our ship and drop our bodies in the darkness of the bay. We sleep through the night; I do not believe that if we had drug the anchor or been eaten by Lions Mane Jellyfish I would have noticed.

We plan to get through Dixon entrance as early as possible. Winds tend to raise in the afternoon so the earlier the start, the better. I look overboard to see how far the orange aliens have made it up the rode; and oh my, is that diesel fuel rainbows that I see on the water?’ One of the fuel filters has blown a seal. An early start is no longer reality. Rick disappears into the  “Troll Hole” otherwise known as the engine compartment to deal with the busted seal.

The decision is to make breakfast and enjoy the scenery. We are really doing this!  Casting free from land, assuming total responsibility for ourselves and our boat, heading NORTH TO ALASKA! We had gotten to the point of both buying a boat and learning about a life on the high seas or to simply shut up and stay running the rivers of the Yukon. JUST DO IT – We just did it, finally!

At noon we are ready to cross the infamous Dixon Entrance. We are half an hour out of Brundigee Bay; there are bright blue skies with a light breeze tweaking the water’s surface but no Dixon demons here. What we didn’t realize is that we have started out at a full slack tide; as the tide turns, the winds tend to pick up.

The winds are now howling down all three of the enormous channels, we are headed out into Open Ocean in the direction of the Queen Charlotte Islands. The tides are running hard against us and the wind is blowing the tops off the waves.  A huge volume of water is dumping a massive deluge, pouring down on us from Alaska, British Columbia and I am sure, Japan.  We will sink, we will be drowned.

The wind is blowing hard against the waves, we have confused seas, the waves are having a nervous breakdown, pounding water is bouncing and slamming us everywhere.

The Captain has thrown his chair out of the way and he is working the helm with his whole body, feet braced wide apart for stability. I run through the boat duct taping the slamming doors shut, trying to stop the cupboards from spewing their contents all over the floors.  The noise of banging and crashing is deafening. It’s too rough to stand; I have to crawl back to the main saloon.

I see the Captain working the helm battling to take control of his ship.  The waves throw us sideways; he hangs on and with all of his might fights the wheel to take us in he opposite direction. There is nothing that I can do except to try to hold on.  I open the starboard door in the main saloon and have a death clench on the doorframe. The opening is about three feet by three feet and my thoughts at this moment are ‘if this ships going down I am not going to be trapped inside.’  I will not go down with this ship!

We are falling; Audrey hits the bottom in the trough of the wave full on her precarious beam. She shudders; the impact reverberates through her hull and feels like she is breaking apart at the seams. I have braced myself in the doorway to prepare for the impact; I am slammed against the doorframe, it takes everything I have to keep from being hurtled into the boiling black sea.

I cannot believe it! She is coming back around, I’m swung hard back against the chart table. The Captain is fighting for our lives. We begin to fall again, this time we don’t fall as far and we hit part way down on her side, the best of the worst and backward we roll.

The Captain has control. I can feel the change in Audrey. He’s in charge of our ship and he’s going to take us out. He looks at me and I yell at him “just drive this *@#! Boat; don’t you dare look at me!”

He can’t be distracted if he’s going to get us out. He said later that he was sure that I was having a heart attack. The waves are huge… my eyes are huger.  The waves are bigger than Audrey and Oh no…He’s heading further out to sea! I am going to have a heart attack! I am pleading, “please, please, don’t go out there!”

We have to head further out to sea in order to tack back.  We are in 18-foot seas and have no experience on turning a 54-foot ship around in this life-swallowing maw of an ocean.  “OH MY!’’  The Captain is now using Audrey as a giant surfboard and we are surfing the huge waves.  We are going to make it!

Our friend Don Pilsworth insisted that we take his survival suits, we have them, they are on board…in the back closet. In a very short time we went from a light breeze on sparkling blue waters, to fighting for our lives. We could not physically get to those suits, never mind put them on. It was simply too late.

Foggy Bay is considered the first good anchorage after Dixon entrance. One look at the waves breaking in the entrance to Foggy Bay and we keep going. We anchor at Kah Shakes Cove and when we finally shut down the engines… I start to cry.

P.S.  This is a popular storey with the gang at the Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse.  Hello to all of you, save us a beer.

 The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 1

Taking On The Big Boys

YUKONERS FELL IN LOVE WITH A 54’ 1948 WOODEN YACHT. FROM JUNE OF 2008 UNTIL DECEMBER 2010 A WORLD WIDE FOLLOWING READ ABOUT THE ADVENTURES OF THE AUDREY ELEANOR IN THE WHITEHORSE STAR. WE ARE PROUD TO BRING THESE ADVENTURES TO YOU ONCE AGAIN.

THE Captain, Rick Cousins spent the winter retrofitting Audrey in McLean’s shipyard in Prince Rupert B.C. McLean’s shipyard is reputed to be one of the oldest working shipyards on the west coast of Canada. This a great place to be when you have an old boat. I had to return to Whitehorse, as our home there had been flooded. The three-week restoration work on the house turned into a four and a half month project from beyond belief. I don’t wish an insurance claim on anyone.

By the time the Alaska State Ferry dropped me off in the terminal at Prince Rupert, the Captain had made the most of his winter. With the help of our friend Bruce Cairns, he removed old rusted fuel tanks from the hold and built new tanks to replace them. This is not an easy thing. You have to remove these tanks through the back wall of the stateroom so the aft deck had to be modified. Rick decided to install sewage holding tanks in the back head (toilet), the foc’sle already had one. Our plan is to visit marine parks and areas with low flushing bays; you should take your poop with you when you go!

In January, days before I was forced to return to Whitehorse the temperature dropped to minus 12 Celsius in Seal Cove at Prince Rupert. Minus 12 on the black ocean is bone chilling cold. Salt water does freeze and so does toothpaste; walking on the docks and gunnels is dangerous. Falling into a bay of liquid ice will end life. There are few persons crazy enough to be out on the docks; McLean’s shipyard has shut down their operation until the weather warms up. There is no one out here to rescue a sinker in the sea; it would be difficult to drag yourself out, clawing over iced boards.

The cold makes getting into bed a serious challenge. The challenge is who can sit up the longest so as not to have to be the first one to crawl between the icy sheets. We have since learned that if power is available, an electric blanket is your best friend…it gets rid of the damp, as well as the cold.

It is now finally springtime! The Audrey Eleanor is registered in Haines, Alaska; all that is left to do is paint her serial numbers on her bow and her name and port of registration on her stern.

It’s time to cast off. Prince Rupert has been Audrey’s home for the past twelve years. We purchased her in the summer of 2003 and are finally taking her to her new home in Haines Alaska, we want her as close to Whitehorse as possible. As the raven fly’s this will be six hundred kilometers north through the famous inside passage. It will be our maiden voyage, but most certainly not Audrey’s.

Both Rick and I have extensive and varied fresh water/wilderness skills. Rick has flown bush planes, retrieved planes from lakes, built boats, and welded underwater from the Arctic to the Antarctic. I grew up on the Mackenzie River and on the coast of the Arctic Ocean. Armed with a powerful dream, the Canadian Power Squadron Navigation course and more enthusiasm than experience, we are headed “NORTH TO ALASKA”, yeah Johnny Horton!!

Rick has concentrated his energy on ensuring that his Perkins engines purr.   We hear horror stories of crossing the infamous Dixon entrance. Rick wants no hesitation in the engines in the event of a rough crossing; the man is a psychic. We are ready, the seas are calm, a few wisps of fog give depth to the majestic mountains, it’s six a.m. and we are under way. We are heading home, North to Alaska; go north the rush is on!

This is wonderful! Audrey’s stately bow slices through the sea. We traverse the shipyard maze and are cruising past the floating Esso fuel docks. Not too bad, we begin to feel cocky enough to consider docking at Cow bay and running up for a coffee to go. Docking a yacht of this size, she weighs 30 tonnes, especially without a bow thruster is intimidating the first hundred times you try it. The Prince Rupert Yacht Club is straight ahead. There are two multi-million dollar U.S. yachts tied to the north end of the dock leaving plenty of room for us to bring our bow in.

The Captain steers Audrey’s bow straight on to the dock with the intent of gently swinging and bringing her stern alongside. Suddenly the current grabs a handful of Audrey’s thirty tonnes, we have no control. We speed up and are on a bow on beam collision course with those shiny metal mini-ships. The huge steel bows of these metal demons look determined to thrust themselves through Audrey’s oak ribs and pierce her Perkins hearts. The thought of a probable lawsuit brought on by the south of the border boys pierces my heart.

I throw out our now ridiculously small bumpers and prepare for impact. The big boys we are about to impale ourselves on are confident enough in their bulk that they have no defense bumpers dangling off their sides. What’s a girl to do? Throw herself in front of her yacht of course.

I have no idea what is going through my mind. I am five feet tall with a medium build, but I must be super woman! I position myself between them and us, I WILL BE THE BUMPER! I do manage to slow us down enough so that when impact occurs it isn’t significant enough to even wake the sleeping crew. At least the lights don’t come on. Now what? I am wedged between grinding metal and petrified wood ships!

How does it feel to be the human filling in this sandwich you ask? I realize how deadly the situation is when I look up to see that the Captains face is deathly white, I am having difficulty breathing. Rick is slamming levers and manipulating the throttles trying to get us off these guys. Audrey’s thirty tonnes are slowing grinding down the steel sides of the yachts with me acting as the resistance between them and us; this is not fun anymore.

The Goddess returns and the tide turns, stops or whatever it does. Maybe the Captain figured things out and like nothing had ever happened, we gently swing back out the way we came in. I can breath, the yachts sleep on and we don’t have to sell all of our future grandchildren to satisfy a possible lawsuit.

“God hates a coward.” We will try this docking thing again. Besides now we really want that coffee. We have a new approach and Audrey gently swings into place beside the big boys on the dock as if to say “hey boys, that’s all you get.” We wobble up the ramp to Cowpuccinos in Cow Bay looking for coffee; Tequila would have been better. So what will Dixon entrance bring…if only we knew then what we know now? That will be another one of the Adventures of the Audrey Eleanor.

Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul

Writer's block

By: Melanie Hackett

Talking Writer’s Block

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Writer’s Block”. But what exactly is it? Is it the block of notepaper that writer’s use to jot down ideas? Is it the weighted block used to contain the strewn mountain of disorganization typical of right-brain thinkers, for when the cat jumps on the pile?

No, the feared Writer’s Block is something much more terrible, something deeply dreaded by those relying on originality of ideas for their work. It is when the glass of creative juice has been drunk to complete emptiness. It happens when all ability to generate sentences and paragraphs of any sort simply stops. Kaput.

It is like the athlete that suddenly cannot perform a skill they have succeeded at countless times, or the musician that suddenly forgot their concerto. This mysterious psychological phenomenon can have several causes.

Sometimes a writer’s brain goes into overdrive and there are so many ideas all seemingly hyped on quadruple espresso, whirling around inside the skull in a struggle to burst out whilst merely colliding into each other, and run-on sentences just run on and on too fast to catch and freeze on some paper, thoughts racing far past the constraints of finger dexterity…

The solution? My god, take a chill pill! Simmer down the boiling over alphabet soup! Sometimes writers just need to chillax. My dad, author of several books, occasionally does this by enjoying a cold beer or puffing a Cuban cigar. But there are also healthier methods than his think drink or his think stink. How about a hot bath, a walk or a ski on the river? Then, once the overdrive has been geared down, some form of coherent thought can begin to assemble on the pages of your notepaper block.

The polar opposite can also happen. Your brain could feel like a black hole, devoid of any thought whatsoever. But, ideas are a dime a dozen. The joy of writing is that unlike most activities, the subject matter can be anything at all, and constantly changing. From mystical extraterrestrial creature sightings in the North to the latest seasonal beer at Yukon Brewery to, heck, even Writer’s Block, one can write on whatever it is that piques your interest at the time. Topics are easy to come by, and the problem lies not in a lack thereof.

So perhaps the black hole issue stems from a tree of emotions within the writer. Whereas runners can run on, accountants can count on, professors can blab on, politicians can fib on, emotional states within writers can simply halt the flow of ideas. Maybe fear of disappointing yourself paralyzes you to become frozen stuck. Or perhaps the writer is bored, uninspired, or discouraged.

Well, we’ve all heard of countless remedies for such dilemmas. Do yoga, drink antioxidant tea, go for a long walk on the beach. Take a hot bath, smoke a Cuban think stink, have sex with your lover. Talk to the cat, eat chicken noodle soup, go see the shrink. Listen to music or try other methods of creating, such as painting, photographing, or dancing, just to fill up that glass of Creativity Punch.

But perhaps the real solution is merely to view Writer’s Block not as a problem, a dreaded ailment of those attempting to produce originality. Perhaps Writer’s Block is simply the footprint for creativity; the priming of the right brain for an explosion of vocabulary onto the parchment. Given enough time and patience, supplemented with the Chill Pill, writers are bound to move past this stage of inventing a masterpiece. After all, the empty punch glass can only be replenished once again!

The Spell of the Yukon – A Poem by Robert W. Service

Emerald Lake, Carcross, Yukon. Photo: Gurdeep Pandher

A Poem by Robert W. Service

I wanted the gold, and I sought it;
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy—I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it—
Came out with a fortune last fall,—
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth—and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer—no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness—
O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ’em good-by—but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back—and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight—and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell!—but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite—
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

Source: The Best of Robert Service (1953)

A twelve years old writer and already writing 5 books – A literary dialogue with Ursula and her mother Rachel Westfall

Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Ursula is a twelve years old published writer. She has a passion for writing and is already working on 4-5 books. Ursula’s mother Rachel Westfall is also a writer and an avid fiction reader. Mother and daughter were going on walks through the forest in the evenings, they were trading thoughts back and forth, many characters were being evolved, and finally came up with an idea of writing a book together based on a Sasquatch tale. Mother-daughter team met me at the Yukon College to talk about their book and future writings. So here is a literary dialogue  – Gurdeep Pandher


 

Yukon Times: Congratulations to you and your mom for writing this book!

Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Yukon Times: Tell me about your book, what’s your book about, and what’s the title of the book?

Rachel Westfall: It’s called Estella of Halftree Village: A Sasquatch Tale, and the main characters are a couple of young women who live in a village, and their village is an intentional community that broke away from the city to get away from all the crime and violence that was going on in the city life. So they live in a very old-fashioned way – very low-tech society – and they’re in the middle of the woods. And there are sasquatches living in the area, but they’re still sort of a legend, so not many people know they’re real. But a sasquatch starts to make friends with one of the girls and starts leaving presents and things for her. And they develop a friendship and then some bounty hunters come from the city and they’re looking for sasquatches. They want to catch a sasquatch to take back to the city to sell to some researchers. So there’s a lot of the story is built around the tension between the city life and the village life, and the struggle to keep the sasquatches a secret. And there are other secrets there as well that they have to keep from the city people. They don’t want the city people to know about certain things about the area because they want to preserve their lifestyle

Yukon Times: What inspired you both to write this book?

Ursula Westfall: We always go on walks through the forest in the evenings. And we trade ideas back and forth. Like ideas about stories and things. Me and mom were just having a nice walk in the forest. We started talking about this book and then we got enough ideas collected together that we decided to write a book. So it was an ongoing, continuous dialogue.

Yukon Times: Can you let me know how this idea was developed?

Rachel Westfall: Really, like Ursula said, we go for walks every evening together, and we talk and we share a lot of story ideas. And when we started writing the story, it was really a romance in the beginning, and then as the story developed, we started to build a lot more drama into it and a lot of humour. So a lot of our conversations in the woods were around character development, or around funny scenes, things that could happen that would be entertaining. And then we took turns doing the writing. So each of us would write a scene and switch back and forth. Like most of the sasquatch scenes, Ursula wrote, so she really created the sasquatch’s character. It just evolved like that. Once we had enough ideas, we started writing it right away. We wrote almost the whole first draft over the winter holidays.

Yukon Times: When did you start writing this book and how long did it take for both of you to complete this book?

Rachel Westfall: So it was over the winter holidays, and it took us about a month to do the first draft. And then after that it needed editing and proofing. And so there was probably about another month of that type of work before it was polished up. It took about two months, I think, altogether.

Yukon Times: How did two of you work together to write this book? Did you face difficulty working together to write a book? When we work together, especially in a closest family relationship; like son or daughter, sometimes people face some sort of challenges teaming up for a mutual project. Did you face any difficulties, challenges, or things like that?

Ursula Westfall: We didn’t really. We worked together really well.

Rachel Westfall: Yeah, it was beautiful. Yeah. There weren’t any problems working together on it. If anything, we kept each other going, because both of us have started novels before, but we never finished them. And so, to do it together, we were really able to work together, work through any of the blocks that we ran into, the challenges. And I think it was much more successful because we worked together.

Yukon Times: Who contributed more to this book, you or your daughter? Is this 50-50 percent contribution, or one contributed more and the other contributed less? 

Rachel Westfall: I did most of the editing. But I think we shared the writing a lot more evenly. I just have experience as an editor, so for me to do the editing and make sure that the voices float smoothly, and that kind of thing. I did most of that. Ursula did a bit of editing. It was more around the story and what happened in the story. So each chapter has a few scenes in it, and we switched by scenes rather than by chapter. We set up the chapters after all the scenes were written.

Yukon Times: This is a question for you, Ursula, specifically. Was it easy for you to balance the work of writing this book and your school work? 

Ursula Westfall: It was easy, because I usually don’t get much homework. So right after school, I’d just start writing.

Yukon Times: Is this your first book?

Rachel Westfall: Yeah. I’ve done academic writing and published that before, but this is my first fiction novel.

Yukon Times: What is the hardest thing about writing, according to your experience?

Rachel Westfall: I think envisioning the whole project, and getting beyond that first three chapters. I think that’s the hardest thing; to be able to envision where you’re going with it, and then just make it happen, give yourself time and room to do that. Because it’s so easy to start something, and it’s so hard to see it through to the finish. So I think it’s envisioning that product to the end, and then getting there.

Yukon Times: Is this the final story scene which you envisioned the very first day, or is the final story different than the first day?

Rachel Westfall: It’s definitely different. It got a life of its own.

Yukon Times: Who published your book?

Rachel Westfall: We published it through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon group. So it’s self-published, and it’s available through Amazon and on Kindle. And I can order copies through CreateSpace, so Mac’s Fireweed Books carries it.

Yukon Times: Is it mainly in electronic format?

Rachel Westfall: It’s paper and it’s also available through Kindle, as any book. Most of the sales so far have been the paper version though.

Yukon Times: How can readers discover more about you and your book in the town, and where can they go to buy your book?

Rachel Westfall: So in Whitehorse people can buy it at Mac’s Fireweed Books. If they’re outside Whitehorse, they can go through Amazon – any of the Amazon sites, so amazon.com or amazon.ca. We also have a website: sasquatchtales.com.

Yukon Times: Do you read much? And, if so, who are your favourite authors?

Ursula Westfall: We read almost every day. We read very often. And my favourite author is Brandon Sanderson.

Yukon Times: Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction? 

Ursula Westfall: Yeah, mainly fiction.

Ursula and Rachel Westfall
Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Yukon Times: Science fiction too?

Ursula Westfall: Sometimes.

Rachel Westfall: I love fantasy, the whole genre. I’ve read all the sort of famous epic fantasy books. Ursula is named after Ursula Le Guin, who is an epic fantasy writer. I really like Steven Erikson – he’s one of my favourite writers right now, he’s Canadian. Again, a fantasy author. Together we read a lot of Brandon Sanderson. We’ve read Ursula Le Guin, we’ve read Tolkien. Who else? Lloyd Alexander. All these fantasy genre writers, we’ve read out loud. As a family we read a lot of the books, so we take turns reading out loud.

Yukon Times: Are you both planning to write more books?

Ursula Westfall: We are. We’re already starting a sequel for Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall: Right now we’re hoping to get that one done this summer. But Ursula has several other books that she’s working on as well. I’m only working on the one. She’s working on four or five!

Yukon Times: So you’re working on four or five books?

Ursula Westfal: Yeah, I might not get them finished, ’cause sometimes I just start the books ’cause I get some good ideas. But then I just can’t get through them all.

Yukon Times: So you are going to be a future writer of Canada, Ursula!

Ursula Westfall: Yeah.

Yukon Times: It’s great that you are getting great encouragement from your mom, Ursula. Are you both getting a good support from the Whitehorse community for your book?

Rachel Westfall: There’s lots of support for, I think, the arts in general, in Whitehorse. And, certainly, we’ve had lots of interest from friends and family, and the community at large, in the book.

Yukon Times: Thank you so much for joining this conversation, and I wish you both the best for your next books!

Rachel and Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Learning about our dear writer Alice Munro

Alice Munro's book "Dear Life"

By: Gurdeep Pandher

Author Alice Munro has been in the news a lot lately, because she recently earned a Nobel Prize for her achievements in literature (2013). If you’re curious about the life and times of this living legend, you’ll enjoy this article.

By detailing some of her most impressive literary efforts, as well as a bit of biographical information about her Canadian upbringing and her personal life, we’ll allow you to gain a deeper understanding of the author and her unique sensibility.

First, let’s talk about her early life…

Biographical Information

Alice Ann Munro started out life as Alice Ann Laidlaw. Her father farmed, while her mother worked as a teacher. During her teen years, Alice Munro began to write stories which already displayed her unique and resonant knowledge of human relationships and their endless (and fascinating) complications. After graduating, she moved on to post-secondary education at the University of Western Ontario.
While studying English and journalism, she earned money by waitressing, picking tobacco and working as a clerk in a local library. By 1951, Munro decided to take another path. She eschewed university in favor of marriage, to James Munro, whom she’d met at UWO. At this point, the couple moved west, to Vancouver, so James could work in the retail industry. By 1963, the couple were ready to make another change. They journeyed to scenic Victoria, B.C., where they opened a book store.

Career Highlights

During the late 1960s, Munro’s anthology of tales, Dance of the Happy Shades, was awarded the Governor General’s Award. Afterwards, she penned her famous grouping of interconnected stories, Lives of Girls and Women, which was published in the early 1970s. Everything that Munro touched seemed to turn to gold, as she continued to produce top-tier work, such as Who Do You Think You Are?
During the late Seventies, Munro became a globetrotter as she visited a range of nations, including China and Sweden. By the Eighties, she was ready to settle down, by taking on the esteemed position of in-house writer at Vancouver’s UBC.
In fall of 2013, Alice Munro earned the Nobel Prize which has triggered so much media fanfare. Because her mastery of short stories is virtually unparalleled, she is clearly very deserving of this literary price.

Munro Has a Unique Voice

Alice Munro celebrates the culture of Canada by setting the majority of stories in her childhood home of Huron County, Ontario. In addition, she creates atmosphere by utilizing an all-seeing narrative style. Her characters typically balk against the conventions of the region, in understated, yet powerful ways. In this respect, she shares some style similarities with another literary great, William Faulkner.
As you can see, Munro is a highly-accomplished woman who is a great credit to her country. In addition, she is a loving mother, a screenwriter and a contributor to some of the world’s most important magazines, such as New Yorker and Vanity Fair. If you haven’t read Munro’s works, be sure to experience all that she has to offer as a writer. You will surely not be disappointed.

The Works of Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro

OUR own Canadian writer Alice Munro, “master of the contemporary short story,” has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for her body of work. Here is a list of books by the 82-year-old author, who recently said she was retiring from writing:

Best-of collections:

Selected Stories (1996)

Vintage Munro (2004)

Carried Away: A Selection of Stories (2006)

Stand-alone books:

Dance of the Happy Shades (1968)

Lives of Girls and Women (1971)

Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974)

The Beggar Maid (1978)

The Moons of Jupiter (1982)

The Progress of Love (1986)

Friend of My Youth (1990)

Open Secrets (1994)

The Love of a Good Woman (1998)

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001)