Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Writing: The Early Years

Composed for the Writing Essential Group prompt for Thursday, August 28, 2014

I received an email from my friend S. She is a long time writer, but hasn’t had much opportunity to create lately. She wanted to know what influenced my desire to write, and if I always held that desire.

My poor friend. If only she knew how little encouragement I need to share my story. I started the email, “Good afternoon!” and closed it with “There. Aren’t you glad you asked? It’s 8:28, almost bedtime. That’s enough for now, don’t you think?” I also warned her that a good portion of that email would likely end up here on the blog. But since the word count approaches “long read” status, just shy of 2000 words (my poor friend!) I think I’ll focus on “The Early Years” of my illustrious writing career.

The first time Muse called me was in grade school. Perhaps the fourth grade, 1965. It’s hard to imagine, but apparently I had the literary wherewithal to cobble together a story that ran a foolscap page-and-a-half long. Mickey Maple was about a maple leaf who refused to leave the tree come autumn. But he got lonely for his friends and family, so finally, he let go. The End.

And that, as I recall was “the end” of my fiction writing career. I looked forward to more composition classes, but they either didn’t happen or I had lost connection with Muse.

However, like my friend S, I was a voracious reader. I asked her, “Do you remember the bookmobile?” I lived for those days when we got to march out single file, to the traveling library parked on the paved playground. Those days were so magical for me, they feature in my recurring dreams.

The science and nature books were at the back, up in the area raised above the wheels. Fiction, I recall , was directly opposite the entrance. I spent most of my time in these two sections of the bookmobile.


Some of the titles from those days I remember easily. Babar, Curious George, Madeline , and Harold and the Purple Crayon


As I outgrew the picture books, I moved on to age-appropriate fiction. The one and only title that I can recall is Cheaper by the Dozen. One take-away from that story: I was mightily impressed to learn that one can button one’s shirt more quickly from the bottom up.*

At home, I would pour through children’s reference books of animals and an old volume of Audubon’s Birds of America. I enjoyed reading a book of Bible stories and Hammond’s Complete World Atlas. A very odd mix, to be sure. I still have all three of these volumes. I’ve tried to part with them, but can’t bear to let go.

reference books keepers

Maps, birds, and bible stories. I read the third book several times over through my childhood. Not out of any pious devotion, but for the entertainment value. The story of Moses was particularly compelling. Today, as I read the chapter titles, they sound like something out of a Friends  episode: For example, [The One] Where Pharoah’s daughter finds a baby in the bulrushes.”

It’s interesting to note that when I was young, I almost always read fiction for entertainment. At bedtime I was able to tell a reasonable make-believe story to my brothers. Today? Today I could not write fiction to save my life. Sometimes I feel that that’s a flaw of character. But then I shrug my shoulders and write a story about my favourite heroine, me.


*This little tidbit about faster buttoning of shirts came up in conversation a couple of weeks ago. I mentioned it to Reiner when talk turned efficient use of time on the job. He said something along the lines of “That’s absurd”. I think he shouldn’t argue with Frank B. Gilbreth, the father of time-management studies, but what the heck do I know?

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44 replies

  1. Oh, you bring back many memories for me. I remember the bookmobiles too; do they still have those? For me, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden were my two literary heroines. I still have the battered books in a bookcase upstairs. Wouldn’t think of letting them go.


  2. Great start to the story. Can’t wait to hear more. 🙂

    I loved Harold and his purple crayon. I was just talking about the Clifton Webb movie of Cheaper by the Dozen with my mother the other day. My never-give-away books are my mother’s copies of the Anne of Green Gables books.


  3. And why shouldn’t you be your favorite heroine?! 🙂 Love it!


  4. I’ve kept ‘Anne of Green Gables’ too, but my favourite L M Montgomery was ‘Jane of Lantern Hill.’ And my very favourite book of all was ‘Ballet Shoes’ by Noel Streatfeild (although goodness knows I couldn’t have danced to save my life).


  5. Your maple leaf story is creative, and, with watercolors, would make a lovely children’s book.

    I have both “Cheaper” and its sequel 🙂


  6. I still remember my first piece of writing to this day. I was in the fourth grade and it came out crooked this way:
    As sure as I was born
    I’m gonna lose a tooth
    Chewing green corn
    Sad story
    Bad story
    Chewing green corn
    Down in the kitchen
    Chewing away
    Chewing green corn.
    My fourth grade teacher loved it.

    Liked by 1 person


    And it was enjoyable taking the trip back in time with you, and learning a bit of your early interests!


  8. I tried to impress my wife many years ago with the fact that I can unbutton my shirt two buttons at a time. “Think of all the time I’m saving” She really wasn’t that impressed. Improving the little processes is important.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for sharing and bringing back nostalgia for me! I read those books as well but handed them down to my nieces and nephew a few years ago. When I babysit them, they want “Ainy” to read the books to them. I always do! Also, the Bookmobile was the best part of any week when it came rolling around. Love it! 🙂


  10. Too many writers are not only discouraged by the difficulty of writing but by what they perceive as the effortless wonder of the “talented”. All too often, talent is nothing more than the product of a heck of a lot of work – but not always, sometimes we encounter “a natural talent”.

    Personally, I am glad I am not “naturally talented”. More often than not, it is more of a liability than an asset. When you have to work hard at everything, you become practiced at working hard. When you have to overcome obstacles you become good at overcoming obstacles. Sadly, people who are naturally talented often do not have the strength and endurance that is acquired by having to work at everything you do.


  11. We didn’t have bookmobiles – just our tiny library in the basement of one of the uptown buildings – we had an uptown, not a downtown 🙂
    Every Saturday, rain or shine – usually snow, I made that walk uptown to the library for my weekly allotment of books. Fiction was, and still is, my favourite genre … but I couldn’t cobble together a decent story. I greatly admire the skill in other people though.


  12. I agree about buttoning them from bottom to top. If I start with the top and get to the bottom, I have to undo it all because I started with the wrong button hole.

    I made it fast and easy for hubby. Replaced the buttons with magnetic ones. Only problem is when washing his shirts, they attached to the washing machine and I have to pry them off..


  13. Ah, the bookmobile! I loved it too. I also loved Anne of Green Gables fiercely, and NONE of my girls have taken any interest in her! It’s a bit maddening!


    • What are the young girls reading these days? I’m completely out of touch.


      • Well, Moo prefers non-fiction, particularly science, but she did dabble in A Series of Unfortunate Events, Ramona books and is now into the Percy Jackson books. Sassy will consume anything she finds interesting, but she leans to Dystopian and Supernatural. Last week she read a Percy Jackson book, Wake (a book about a girl who can steal dreams) Born at Midnight (more Supernatural) — but the week before that, it was To Kill a Mockinbird, The Giver, and The Color Purple.
        She reads like her mama, love her heart! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  14. “I write a story about my favorite heroine, me.” I love, love, love it when I read something, get to the ending and cannot wipe the smile off my face because of the very last line. You are my hero, too, Maggie. I could not write if my life depended on it. I hide behind making catty remarks about my pets! 🙂


    • I cannot think of a thing that could make me smile more, actually, bring a tear… than this. Thanks so kindly, Lois.

      Blogging is a kind of performance art, I think. It’s a combination of writing, visual art, even music sometimes, and most importantly engaging with the audience. You’ve got blogging, just fine,my dear.


  15. I remember the bookmobile! It supplemented our small one-room town library, which was located in our WPA school/town hall building. We had grades 1-4 in one classroom and 5-8 in another.


  16. You are a delightful writer, Maggie! And I love the idea of the maple leaf story 😉


  17. I can’t do it either. Fiction. Sigh… maybe in my next life…


  18. Thanks Maggie, you always leave me with a smile! 🙂


  19. I loved this, Maggie and look forward to more of your literary journey. My grandmother read Hitty Her First Hundred Years to me as a child, published in 1929. It was my first introduction to a book, and I’ve loved her ever since. Found a copy in a book sale years ago – “…the world is always arranging new experiences for us…” Thank you for some moments to reminisce !



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