A candy store where all treats are free might be the fantasy of many small children but, for the young Judith Millar, the local library contained the stuff of which her dreams were made. “The most amazing thing to me was that you were allowed to borrow any book at all from the library. Even many at once!” she laughs. For Judith, this was largesse almost too wonderful to comprehend and it was available to anyone and everyone. No wonder, then, that Judith became an avid reader of all types of books and a prolific writer whose work is widely recognized.
Born and raised in Southern Ontario, Judith says she was happiest when curled up with a book lost in reading. Ill health meant her mother was often unwell, requiring much of her father’s attention, and Judith could escape into her stories. It was her mother’s wish that Judith be a pianist like herself, so while Judith duly practised, she’d hide a book behind the sheet music. “I remember reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn while I played my scales,” says Judith.
Captivated by the written word, young Judith also discovered she could use words in creative and interesting ways. As a youngster, she would use her childish wit to help lighten the mood at home and thereby discovered the power of words and humour. “I’d try to make daddy laugh,” Judith recalls. “I’ve since read that many comedians used words to help defuse situations in their childhoods.”
At Wilfrid Laurier University, Judith pursued her love of words and majored in English and French. Proficient in Spanish as well, she thought of a career as a simultaneous translator. But she decided there might be too much competition and adjusted her sights and let her love of words lead her along other pathways.
Having inherited his mother’s musical talent, Judith’s brother, Ron, played bass guitar and toured with bands. In their spare time, Judith and Ron would work together; he’d compose the music and she would write the lyrics, then Ron would sing on the demo. One of their songs caught the attention of then teen idol Ricky Nelson and, “we were invited to come to the U.S. (on our own dime) to try penning some songs,” says Judith. At the time, she was a young mom and sighs, “with no cash and lots of responsibilities, it seemed too far-fetched, but who knows where it might have led?” This fledgling combination of sibling talents was destined to bloom more fruitfully in the future in the form of children's entertainer RONNO Song, which has earned numerous awards and, over the years, the pair have written more than 100 songs together.
Judith continued putting words to work in other ways as an advertising copywriter and, at one time, wrote rhyming verse for a large greeting card company. “I wrote hundreds, perhaps thousands, of verses - special occasion and inspirational,” she says, adding, “The market is obviously all about birthdays - but I loved writing condolences for the change of pace!”
Insurance writing was another avenue down which Judith’s words took her. She worked as a Communications Manager and her report writing skills earned her awards. But she missed creative writing, and when the time came in her life to relocate and take the opportunity to downsize, Judith had a chance to focus on developing a long-time area of interest - using words to write essays, poems and short stories for adults.
Judith and her husband had been thinking of moving to Phoenix for the winters, but after attending a conference in Seattle and taking a side trip to visit a friend in Nanaimo, it became clear to them that Vancouver Island would be the perfect place to settle. Judith is now in a position to pursue her writing ambitions, and her diligence has more than paid off.
“I’ve been encouraged by a number of prizes I’ve won,” she says, which include the Alice Munro Festival of Writing prize for a short story, the 2009 Nanaimo Fiction contest and, in particular, the John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award in 2009 for an extended version of her short story “The Insomniac.”
Continuing her education, Judith took a third year novel-writing course at Vancouver Island University and has now embarked on two novels. “But all these words aren’t much good if they don’t reach a reader,” she says. Judith writes, she says, “to entertain, to connect with people’s emotions, to give them an experience of some sort. That’s one reason I was delighted to discover Nanaimo’s monthly WordStorm when I came to the Island.”
Through WordStorm Judith and fellow writers have a venue where they can read original writing to live audiences. “Writing is such a solitary experience,” says Judith, that “it’s great for me, and other writers, to be able to try out new material and develop spoken word skills on stage. Being part of the WordStorm crew, as well as a member of a writing group called Easy Writers, has helped me overcome some of the loneliness and homesickness I felt on moving to the Island.”
When the opportunity presented itself for Judith and fellow writer, Cindy Shantz, to perform at Nanaimo’s Port Theatre in the Random Acts - Studio on Stage series, they jumped at the chance. Calling themselves WordChickz, the pair’s premiere of Eclucktomania was staged early in February. The name reflects the eclectic nature of originally written material they offered including, “everything from humorous pieces about the communication problems that can arise between men and women, to a poem about the point of view of a dog, along with a serious short story about a woman coming to terms with her mother’s Alzheimer’s,” says Judith.
In between all the words, Judith finds time to put down her pen and pick up a paintbrush, directing her attention to the canvas. As with her writing, Judith’s artwork runs the gamut from capturing local scenes, such as Piper’s Lagoon, to the portrait of a sax player she saw in Marina del Rey, to bold and larger abstract works. “Creativity always comes when you put different things together,” she muses, “one idea juxtaposes another idea and you find you didn’t know it was going to go in that direction.”
Whether creating with words on paper, or with paints on canvas, Judith relishes the prospect of the many possibilities and different directions in which each genre might take her.
APRIL 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER ISLAND
Children’s Music www.ronnosong.com
Judith Millar’s Blog www.Millarlite.wordpress.com
Writers-in-School program www.bcwriters.com
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