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Part-Time Writer: Bridge Between Worlds

For more posts in the ‘Part-Time Writer’ series, click here.

I’d pay almost anything to transport some of the fictional characters I’ve written about into the real world.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out with Ciaran, the sarcastic five-year-old dragon who pretends not to be smarter than everyone else and knows his Fred Astaire movies?

Or even better: Phealan Caine, who in a single day on Earth could probably end all wars.

Or Karen McMaster, the only woman I’d ever dream of stealing from her husband. Ahem.

Unfortunately, the conduit between the real world and imaginary universes is strictly one way –– I can send fictionalized versions of friends into these fantastic environments, and I can even go myself, but none of the inspiring, magical, magnificent things are ever going to come back.

Perhaps that’s the reason I’m so head-over-heels in love with a lady from Halifax.

If you’re new here, let me explain: I’m obsessed with a septuagenarian who plied the North Atlantic at the same time as my grandfather during the Second World War. It’s quite likely that they saw each other at one time or another, as she made it her business to protect him and thousands of other sailors and servicemen crossing from Newfoundland to Britain and back.

I’ve written plenty about my connection to this lady called HMCS Sackville. Read more here. But why is the connection so strong?

Because Sackville and her crew are a fixed point between two worlds: they are in reality precisely what they are in fiction, just with some different details.

I write about ships and people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others when the stakes are impossibly high. Sackville and her crew literally did that. She embodies things I have spent years of my life crafting stories about, and her own real life is far more spectacular than any imaginings that come out of my head. I realized this the minute I first stepped aboard her in 2005, so I did the obvious thing: I kidnapped her.

First DCNS Sackville joined the Belt Squadron in Defense Command. Then the ship herself was added to the Newfoundland Patrol Force in Champions so she could swim the North Atlantic alongside Alex and sometimes Ciaran. She became a two-way conduit between worlds –– not a fictional hero coming to life, but a real hero so powerful she can belong in both reality and fantasy.

Any time I visit Sackville, I find myself surrounded by all the ideas and values I’ve spent decades exploring in fiction. That’s why I’m so grateful to be part of her community, and why I was especially touched when I opened a piece of mail yesterday.

Steve Rowland –– who Champions readers know as the ship’s XO –– sent me a most precious talisman: a piece of steel from one of Sackville’s boiler bands, taken off during her time in drydock last year. Now it’s been shaped into a keychain with a Sackville pin embedded in it.

Two ladies who didn’t really exist in 1941 –– and one who did.

A piece of the ship that tangibly connects our real world to the make-believe ones. Alongside my grandfather’s Royal Canadian Engineers cap badge, this is now one of my most prized possessions. It’ll be in my pocket every day, reminding me that the fantastic worlds about which I write are just reflections of reality. And that brings me back to the theme of this series of author notes: being a part-time writer.

Until this surprise arrived, my plan this week was to explain how I thought being a part-time writer equipped me to find my dream job, and do it properly. That will be next week’s post. For now a more philosophical thought about the benefit of writing part-time: it forces you to keep one foot in the real world.

I only ever tried to write ‘full-time’ for a couple of months after grad school, and one thing I always remember is how isolated I felt –– how it was just me and an imaginary world that I loved, but could never touch. It started driving me mad. Getting a day job rescued me.

Work outside of writing has given me the opportunity to experience many things that I couldn’t have otherwise imagined… and just as importantly, I’ve had the chance to find people, places and things that bridge our real world with my fictional ones.

I cannot recommend this enough: as a writer of fiction, do whatever you can to spend time outside the confines of your own mind. If you can find ways to make such exploration a part of your day job, even better. More on that next week.

For now, deepest thanks to Steve Rowland, Pat Jessup, Jim Reddy, and the rest of the crew looking after Sackville in Halifax –– and in imaginary worlds besides.