“Our Stories Are the Teller of Us”
James Ellsworth has long been a contributor to INSPIRED Senior Living magazine. With the recent release of his new novel, Apparent Wind, we sat down with James to peek inside the writer’s mind.
INSPIRED: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
JAMES: “Yes. Unlike an elephant’s gestation period of 95 weeks, my quest to write lasted considerably longer – almost 50 years. My Grade 9 English teacher encouraged me; I had some poetry published in my college newsletter, some reviews in professional magazines, and I’ve kept diaries to record travel and daily events since my wife’s pregnancy with our daughter. But I never had the discipline to get up in the few wee hours before work and write; that is until I saw retirement on the horizon. Then, I seriously cultivated my desire to write.
Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway would write 500 words a day; Stephen King reportedly pens 2,000. If I could discipline myself to attempt the practices of that heady company, then just maybe I too could be a writer. The first step was to write daily, the second to write for purpose. I applied for or took opportunities to write where I could: informational packages for Grand River tour guides; articles for a fledgling news website, where I covered the 2006 Canadian Open; travel pieces on sailing and a tugboat touring business; and educational/curriculum work, which culminated in being part of a best-selling text, Exploring World Religions (I wrote the chapter on “Aboriginal Spirituality”).
‘Practice and learn, learn and practice’ went hand in hand like a mantra. I took a travel writing course with Eva Shaw, Californian author of more than 70 books; and I participated in a week-long writing session at the Banff Centre for the Arts with a focus on memoir with Governor-General Award nominee Saskatchewan’s Trevor Herriot. He taught me to always carry a notebook because you never know when an idea or observation may occur. And always read; it helps with style and turn of phrase.
My first bit of writing was published with the Globe and Mail in 2003, almost 15 years ago. The recognition and the pay cheque were wonderful stimulants to write more.”
INSPIRED: How did you come to write a novel?
JAMES: “Once again, it was an idea that germinated for a long time and morphed through several iterations. I started gathering stories of my father’s youth as a family history or biography. Then I added the idea of the Foreign Service, after turning down an invitation to join too late in my career. That element and the idea of keeping journals were somewhat autobiographical. Then the creative narrative took off. Throw in my love of history and some unsolved Canadian spy issues and the story took shape. It only needed the prodding of those close to me and a resolution to set pen to paper, as it were.
J.K. Rowling took six years to write the first Harry Potter book, The Philosopher’s Stone, Margaret Mitchell spent 10 years on Gone With the Wind, and Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park in eight years. The research, preparation, writing and editing can take a while. It took me four years to compile Apparent Wind above and beyond research. That’s a half-dozen drafts, chapter titles, glossary and incorporating focus group feedback. Afterwards, I received several encouraging ‘rejections’ during a year appealing to literary agents and publishers. Finally, I took the initiative. After an independent-publishing course, the novel’s birth occurred in February 2017.
It was a great project and the reviews have been very encouraging. Readers seem to have taken to the parallel stories: one of Des, the spy who worked for Canada’s RCMP from 1935 to 1985 in the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, World War II through Ortona and Monte Cassino, tracking double agents in Vancouver and terrorists in Cuba; the other of his son, David who tries to find himself while following his father’s journals. It’s a mid-life coming-of-age story perfect for Canada’s 150th anniversary.”
INSPIRED: Do you have further plans for your writing career?
JAMES: “Most definitely. I continue to write features and travel articles for INSPIRED Senior Living. This keeps me practicing my craft while interviewing interesting people and experiencing new places. I am also working on a sequel to Apparent Wind, following the Dilman Diaries from 1985-2015. It’s called Wing-On-Wing, another sailing metaphor. I have plans to write a third novel about Métis and identity entitled The Middle Ground that chronicles my family tree from 1729 and the War of 1812. Perhaps even a compilation of selected features called, A Decade of Definite Articles. I have a passion for writing and the ideas for projects are like pokers in the fire.
As Frank Herbert who wrote the Dune Chronicles said, ‘There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.’”