When characters come knocking

In 1987 I was at a crossroads in my life. A personal tragedy had me questioning my future and I decided to change directions and go back to school. But what to study? My two life interests were nature and creative writing. I made a difficult decision to set the writing aside and study biology. Little did I know that my two passions would eventually converge. 

I headed off to the University of Victoria where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a minor in Environmental Studies. After graduation, I started doing contract work with various government and non-profit agencies, which allowed me to be at home with my two children. Then in 2000, a story started living in my dreams. I would wake up every morning with sentences, scenes and characters running through my head. I pushed them away. I didn’t have time to write, I argued with myself. I was a single parent with a job, an old house and garden to look after, a dog to walk. But the story continued to pester me. Out of the blue, a friend called me to ask if I would like to join a newly formed writing group. Yes, please! Help me get these characters out of my head.

I wrote my first novel in six months through that supportive group of women. We shared our draft work with each other, gave positive feedback, attended literary events and writer’s festivals, and laughed and cried together. Magically, Decomposing Maggie was published by an independent Canadian press the following year. My book and my writing career were launched, thanks in great part to those women and the sharing of our creative stories. The day my box of books arrived, we celebrated with champagne. When new and aspiring writers ask me how to get started, I tell them to find or form a writer’s group and let those characters and ideas come knocking.

For the past few years, my work has taken an unexpected detour from fiction, which has brought my writing and my biology together in a new way. I’ve written two non-fiction ecological literacy books for middle readers:  Dive In! Exploring Our Connection with the Ocean Bird’s-Eye View: Keeping Wild Birds in Flight. My most recent, just launched this year, is a non-fiction book for teens. Urgent Message from a Hot Planet: Navigating the Climate Crisis. All three are focused on conservation and inspiring young people (and their adults) to make a difference in this wonderful but imperiled world.

— Text from Ann Eriksson

— Photo by Elisabeth Bond

Ann Eriksson teaches Wri(gh)ting the World: A Creative Workshop for Eco-engaged Middle Schoolers, and is on the Finding Light Through the Darkness panel. Both events are free on Oct. 16 at the Whistler Public Library. Please RSVP online.