For someone who loves the ocean, I now live somewhere that is hundreds of miles from it! In England, I could drive for 30-45 minutes to the seaside. The salty air, the granular feel of the sand, the sound of lapping waves, has always been my happy place. In Alberta, the closest I can come to that is a lake. The larger the better.
On our recent road trip to Cold Lake, I was delighted to have the ability to walk down to the harbour in the early morning and evening and hear the water lapping. I also discovered a tiny cove with a sandy beach. I sat there, with my eyes closed and imagined the ocean. The air was not briny but it was close to perfect. I dipped my toes into the water and wiggled them in the sand. Such moments evoke happy memories for me.
Sammie as always, was happy to explore and sniff.
We may not always understand why we are drawn to a particular element, but water is certainly mine. However, if I look up the element I should respond to, it is air. I can sort of understand that salty air is a favorite, but it has always been water for me from childhood. I can watch flowing streams, rivers and waterfalls for hours – my first love has always been the ocean though. I am drawn to it. Interesting enough, my spirit animal is a dolphin, which seems to be counter intuitive to an air sign to my way of thinking.
What is your favourite element? Does it correspond to your star sign element?
Time spent in our element allows us to relax, to re-energize and to refresh. This particular #GoEastofEdmonton road trip certainly gave me that and more. And, of course, we collected all the stickers for the game too.
I am pleased to be involved, in some small part with this project. I hope this blog will bring awareness of the movie and inspire you all to consider the impact of such an event and the consequences for all. Thanks to Charmaine for asking me for my support.
Back Home Again
By Charmaine Hammond
Have you ever had someone share their big WHY or dream with you and in a blink of an eye it was a “heck yes” to get involved? That was my response when I was introduced to Michael Mankowski, a Fort McMurrayite with a big vision and an important story to tell.
I had lived in Fort McMurray for 15 years. In late 2016, I returned to the community to work on a community recovery and resilience project with the school boards. A colleague suggested, Michael and I connect because we are both writers. Little did I know then I’d be saying “heck yes” to an incredible project.
In a 30-minute conversation, Michael shared the big why behind his vision for an animated film, that would become a conversation starter about mental health. His passion for this project is as strong now as it was when his idea was storyboarded five years ago.
Back Home Again was inspired by community resiliency, after one of the largest wildfire evacuations in Canadian history, impacted the lives of more than 80,000 residents of Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo in 2016. Told through the eyes of the woodland creatures that inhabit the land of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, Back Home Again has an all-star voice cast, who donated their time to the production, including Jeremy Renner, Martin Short, Kim Basinger, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Michael J. Fox, Howie Mandel, Ed Asner, Lorne Cardinal, Gordon Pinsent, Mena Suvari, Bill Burr, Tom Green, Norm MacDonald, Harland Williams, Sherri Shepherd, Marlon Wayans, Scott Thompson, and Tantoo Cardinal. The film will launch in September 2021.
Michael wanted to make this film because he grew up in Fort McMurray and was there when the tragedy hit. “I wanted to show the world how a community could come together and rebuild. I hope this film sparks conversations everywhere about how we are all one global community, and we all need one another.” Now, more than ever this local story with a global message could not have a more perfect time given what the world is living in and navigating through with a global pandemic. The film will be supported by mental health resources that are being co-created by Canadian Mental Health Association.
This film and project is rooted in community and collaboration, in fact, that was a big part of the reason that I was a Heck YES! A number of partners, sponsors, contributors, social ambassadors and community champions came together to bring this philanthropic film to life in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Red Cross. “The arts are fundamental to the human experience and are integral to healing and restoring well-being post-trauma. The truth of that statement shone through the events of 2016, through the community coming together as one, through subsequent hardships and recovery, and once again through this animated feature, Back Home Again” says Liana Wheeldon, who is the Executive Director of the Arts Council Wood Buffalo. This Heart of Back Home Again video, provides a great overview https://youtu.be/hw7YwU0pjY0
I always say “it takes a team to raise a dream” and Back Home Again and Michael’s commitment to his vision, is living proof of what happens when passion, purpose, powerful stories and people come together.
There are a number of ways that stories come to me, one is using writing prompts because they always spark ideas or images in my mind. Some result in a short story or, occasionally a poem, but others have become full blown novels.
I recently responded to the prompt below and the character emerged complete in my mind. I could see him walking along the sidewalk, and the effect he had on the people he passed. He may appear in a future novel – who knows. Some characters stay with me and after a time begin to demand attention. This one is mysterious and I am keen to know his backstory and his future plans.
Heads turned, chatter ceased and whispers began as the tall, dark clothed man strode along the high street. His focused gaze ahead, never glancing at the store fronts, or the recoiling of other pedestrians as he passed by. The summer atmosphere cooled as an ominous air pervaded his very being. The holiday town was used to many visitors but this one was different and dangerous.
Would you like to ‘meet’ this character?
One prompt that resulted in a published book was my novella, The Rython Kingdom, which was actually a series of prompts that combined into the basis of the story. The prompts were – blue beads, a beast and a medieval town. You can read the full story (and its sequel if you want) here:
Another inspiration are dreams. And the reason, I have a small notebook on my bedside table. If I don’t write it down immediately, the dream dissipates never to be remembered again. The opening sequence of The Commodore’s Gift was a snippet of a dream that just needed to be used in a story. At the time, I had no idea that Owena, would become such a integral part of the story and evolve into it’s central character.
Do you have questions about my writing inspiration? Please ask on the comments, I will be happy to answer them all.
Your novels tend to have unexpected protagonists/settings. Was this a conscious decision or the spark of an idea that evolved? My ideas hit me just as unexpected. It is not like I want to come up with this or that like a contract writer where an idea is developed and catered to a market, I am on the other end of that spectrum. I am not in control of my ideas, and there are plenty, and many I can’t even tackle, most of them I won’t finish in my life time. The once that make it are pressing, have an immediate impact on me and when they linger over weeks I know I have to sit down and deal with them. What brings us to …
Do you plan an outline or free flow write? … this question, and yes I do. For the longest time I had to keep up a job to buy myself time to write (and food and the other trivialities), so I couldn’t just write into the blue and hope the novel turns out well somehow. I had to be sure. I could not waste any time. Early on I developed my outline technique where I work only on 1 letter sized piece of paper, which I could take anywhere (jobs etc.) at all times. Everything is on that 1 page, the entire outline, like “They steal the car”, that’s a beat, at that time I don’t know where they do this for example. Only when I see these beats work and I understand my protagonists, hear them, feel them, know them, and I clearly hear the narrating voice I start the novel. This planning phase takes between 2 and 15 years before I start writing, but then the 1st draft is the novel.
Can you explain how the process of writing with a fellow author works? Is it a chapter each or a combination of thought and writing? I did this more than once, but always we agreed one of us writes a quick first version and the other expands on that. This way the voice of the novel is not flopping back and forth – except there are 2 distinct views or narrators, then this would make sense.
What differences are there from writing a novel to a film script to a song? A song or a poem is the entire opposite to a novel to me. These happen in an instance, a spontaneous outburst in under an hour, unplanned, unmanaged, quasi anarchic in character. A film script (as well as a radio play or a theatre play) is planned like the novel, but the writing is a fraction of it. I love film scripts, I wish more people would read them and they’d become an own literary genre.
Does your music affect your writing or the other way around? All the different media I am working in influence each other, ideas bleed from one form into another (example my song “Joyride Sky” was inspired by my novel “For a Spin”, I invented a band that pops up in a number of my novels, and for the dystopian novel “2112” (working title) I am currently working on I recorded an entire album you can listen to on Bandcamp, the band is called JENNY HAS TRAFFIC. It is fun and adds to the characters.
You have been prolific in the number of publications. Are the ideas still coming as quickly? Do you have a folder of ideas pending? Oh yes, ideas come constantly, I have to dodge them, write them down and put them in the folder. That folder is full with ideas, no way I can write all of them.
What challenges do you face with language? English is my 2nd language. The biggest challenge for me as a writer is not so much the spelling, grammar, vocabulary (you can work on that), but the fact I did not grow up in the English culture, I miss out on most childhood references, sport and political events, etc. I have to live with that, there is no way I can catch up with that.
When you write songs what influences you? My mood. My mood dictates the feeling of a song. Many lyrics come from darker places, I am not a musical comedian although I wrote many funny novels and had the pleasure to experience their impact first hand during my readings in schools between Denmark and Italy.
What propelled you to start you podcast? I was the kid (14 years old) that stayed up late to listen to radio shows at midnight. I always loved the medium, for music and word. I worked for radio in Germany, and as a volunteer I had an own 4 hour show at CJSW at the University of Calgary called PolterZeitGeist where I mixed words and music. Since technology evolved digitally I was able to get the equipment and do it myself.
Can you tell us about your latest project? I received this year the Literary Arts Individual Project Grant by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts to write the dystopian novel “2112”, and I document this process on my homepage in words, photos, audio and video until February 2022.
Is there a message you would like to share with your readers? Don’t judge a book by its cover, please read the first page. Even with my novels, because the narrating voice changes.
Thorsten Nesch is a German author who lives in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. 2008 Nesch’s first novel Joyride Ost was nominated for Oldenburger Kinder- und Jugendbuchpreis and the Landshuter Jugendbuchpreis. 2012 the book won the Hans-im-Glück Award
My daughter asked me to find certain photographs for her recently. As I went though hundreds of photos (not the digital kind either!) in this large tea chest, that belonged my Mother, it was quite apparent that the numerous family day trips and vacations all had one common thread – nature and wildlife. We went to zoo’s, safari parks, wildlife parks, and even family walks ended up at farms or in fields and forests. This interest has been passed down from parent to child and grandchild. It is a family interest to this day.
My narratives reflect this fascination, even if a location is ‘off world’ there are always references to the natural inhabitants of that world. In Ockleberries to the Rescue, although there are magical woodland sprites caring for forest animals, it is based on Earth. Each chapter allows a child to learn about a specific animal or bird on Earth. These sketch’s by J.E. McKnight illustrate some of the chapter headers.
In Clickety Click there is a hidden world within our own and in Creature Hunt on Planet Toaria there are fantastical plants and animals of my imagination. The initial spark for the story behind Creature Hunt was a chance encounter with this enormous mullein plant on one of my road trips. As can see it was taller than me! You will have to read the book to find out what character it plays.
In The Twesome Loop, an Italian olive grove is a fundamental part of the story. Olive trees can grow for hundreds of years and their gnarly trunks give them character. The story is set between England and Italy, two places I love very much, having lived in one and visited the other.
I used my new found knowledge of my new home, Canada, for the setting of my novel, Life in Slake Patch, which has a prairie location. And The Commodore’s Gift has my protagonists living in a forest cavern, while I take my readers back to medieval England in The Rython Kingdom and Rython Legacy.
As you can see the settings for my stories are as much a character as the protagonists are. It allows my dear readers to imagine the surroundings and the flora and fauna. I personally love discovering the natural world, while letting nature relax and inspire me. There is always something new to learn and see from a bug to a bison, from a flower to a tree.