Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reflections on Moose and Writing by Victoria Chatham


I've lived in Canada now for 26 years. In all of those years I had never seen a moose. Black bears and grizzlies, skunk and porcupine, whitetail and mule deer, elk and big horn sheep, foxes, coyotes and wolves. I've even seen free ranging buffalo near Waterton National Park. Yes, I've been quite fortunate to see all of those over the years. I live close to the Rocky Mountains and enjoy camping and hiking so there have been plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife, except for that darn moose.

On a long distance drive one September travelling through much of Alberta and northern British Columbia, I watched avidly for moose, especially when we saw the road signs warning to beware of them for the next however many kilometres, but no, nary a one. On a research trip on another occasion, I happened to mention to the rancher I was interviewing that I had never seen a moose.

"Oh," he said. "I saw a big old bull down in the muskeg this morning. Let's go find him."

We set off in a vehicle that was so cobbled together I wasn't sure if it was a pick-up, jeep or ATV. What I was sure of was that it could never go off the ranch without risking any one of several motoring and vehicle infractions. It was also a testament to the strength of baler twine, as that was all that was holding the passenger seat in place. These anomalies not withstanding, said rancher toured me around the muskeg, brushed through undergrowth and never once did we see any sign of that old bull.

I can't tell you why moose fascinate me so. It may be because they are so big and ugly that only a mother could love them, or it may be that I have always felt slightly cheated and in turn envious of those who have said "Oh, I had a moose in my yard this morning", or "I saw a moose on my way to work". What did they have that I didn't? The closest I had come to a moose was the Fawlty Towers episode where Manuel was practicing his English. The mounted moose head that Basil Fawlty had so much trouble with remains a long standing family joke.

Now however, I have achieved that ambition in the past few weeks - not once, but twice and in the least
likely places. The first, a bull close to a town, the second a bull and two cows on the railway tracks running through a town. Their sheer size is impressive. The lore concerning moose as riding and draft animals is well documented. They have the reputation of being the most dangerous animal in Canada, largely because of the number of road accidents in which they are involved. As their heads tend to be higher than the average car headlights, it is difficult to see any reflection from their eyes, which are widely spaced on the sides of their head making it difficult to see both eyes at once. But now my patience has finally been rewarded!

So you are now probably confused and wondering how on earth my quest for a moose and writing can possibly be connected? Such are the workings of my mind that I equate my patience in finally seeing a moose  to the patience required in writing a book. My very first editor said that writing a good book is an exercise in patience and not giving up. Those days when you think you really can't write, or that what you have written is worse than anything you've ever written before have to be worked through. If you are a writer, there's almost a hundred percent guarantee that you know exactly what I mean.

There is no point in sitting around waiting for inspiration. That may take forever. In the meantime you have a book to write, so having the patience to sit every day and allow yourself to simply write until the words gel and begin to flow is an exercise in patience, although you may at times feel quite the opposite. I can't tell you how many times I nearly threw in the towel when my words would not come together and form the pictures on the page that I had in my mind. There are still times when I look at a phrase or a paragraph and think 'that won't do'. My method then is to copy and paste the offending lines to a blank sheet and play with them until they feel right and I'm comfortable with them. Then they get copy and pasted back into my text. It may sound like hard work but it works for me. Oh, did I mention that I'm a Virgo and was once referred to as nit-picking Virgo?

Patience is a virtue so the medieval poet William Langdon (or Chaucer depending on which you read) says, but if you stick to your guns, if you keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard have patience and do not give up, at the end of the that you will have a book. And I can tell you there is no finer feeling than when you have delivered that baby and finally hold it in your hands.

Victoria Chatham’s passion for the romance genre goes back to when she read her first Regency romance as a teenager. Now retired, she writes historical and contemporary romance. Her other passions include a love of animals, especially horses and dogs. She lives near Calgary but spends as much time as she can with her family in England.