Q: Could you tell us a little about your background?
I have a very eclectic background, as you mentioned. I was born here in BC. My father died when I was 12 and my mother took us all off to England, where I soon had a stepfather and I was one too many mouths to feet. So I got pushed off into the Royal Navy at a 15 years of age. I was there for four years, working on helicopters, electronics. I came out of there and contrary to what I was told, my qualifications in the Navy didn’t transfer to the streets. So, I spent a couple of years selling electrical goods, TVs, fridges, and sewing machines, all sorts of stuff. Then I was a short-order cook for one season from my parents and their takeaway shop. And then I worked in the public health lab.
So I spent 10 years in the hospital service, a few of those years in the operating rooms. It was fascinating. I really enjoyed that, but the pay wasn’t going to ever allow me to have a family and a house. So I went back to school and four years of electronic and ended up making tape decks for NASA back in the eighties, quarter of a million dollar tape decks, but now you can buy the same thing from Western Digital and put it in your shirt pocket for 30 bucks. I moved back to Canada, back to Vancouver, in ‘87. The book starts in England, ends up in Canada.
Q: I’m always amazed when I ask authors about their background. I like how varied it is. I find that amazing. And then my next question is, so you haven’t always been a writer, right? When did you start writing?
Q: So you have been writing for a long time before you wrote this book. So tell me about this book. Why write a book?
Q: And she didn’t want to write it?
Q: So you wrote it with Christine’s blessings and encouragement. So let’s turn to the book. Tell me about the book. What is it about?
Q: So really it’s about you learning her story, interestingly enough. So it’s about her story, but kind of overarching, that is your experience of learning her story. So in that kind of cocoon, what would you say is the promise of the book?
Q: That’s really important because I think that’s true. I think a lot of kids who face abuse, particularly severe abuse I don’t mean the regular smack on the behind here and there, as that it wasn’t abuse when you were a kid. And it wasn’t abuse when I was a kid - it might be considered abuse now, I don’t know. We’re not talking about those experiences, but when we have severe abuse, very traumatic experiences, we do think we are the only person in the whole world and somehow it’s our fault and we should keep it a secret and it’s shameful, right? So once the book was out in the world, did Christine read it? What did she think of it? Can you tell us? If you’re willing to just talk a little about how she felt about it.
Q: She felt she came across as flaky, but I don’t think that was your intention. I guess it can be hard to get into depth on, on one issue when you’re really focused on something else. It’s a bit of a balance. You can’t write a 1000 page book and bring in every aspect of her so I can imagine that would be a challenge. You supported her for many years and she’s supporting you in the book. That’s lovely. So I’d like to turn to talking about your author journey. This is your first full length memoir, manuscript. What was your book journey like?
Q: I think there’s a difference between writing your memoir to sort through it, to heal, to find, you know, that, that release and writing your memoir for readership, for an audience, for the public. What you just said, you know, I wrote it and then it hurt too much and I walked away and then I came back and I tore it up and I wrote it again. I think that’s a very common story for people who write memoirs that are, that are difficult and challenging and painful. I, I believe that your experience is not outside of the norm for memoir writers. Tell me when your biggest challenge was writing the book.
Q: And so what did you, what did you do about that? What did you do to overcome that?
Q: I think you make a good point. If you have a story and you have a message that you want to get across, whether you have a PhD in English or you left school at 15 doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you have something to say, you have a story to tell, and you have a message that is important. And if that’s true, just getting it out in whatever form you can, and then allowing somebody else to support you through the process of taking what you’ve put down and helping you mold it into something that is a saleable book that other people will read and get that message from. That’s the job of a good editor, right? I think the lesson here is if you have a story, but you don’t think you’re a writer, don’t let it get in your way, just get it out, somehow, get the help you need to get the story out, because these are important stories that need to be told.
Q: And don’t worry about what it looks like the first time. Don’t worry about it. It can go through several revisions before you release it to the world. I wanted to talk a little about editing, because I remember you told me a story about one editor you had who, while editing the book, made a comment about a choice you had made during the relationship. I remember you telling me that story. And I remember as an editor, as a developmental editor being horrified, that somebody would have an opinion around the actual content of your choices, because when we’re writing a memoir… you talked about writing it and it hurts so much that you walked away from it. When we’re writing memoirs, especially about difficult things, this is our raw soul that we’re putting out there and these choices have been made. For anyone, especially a professional editor to say, you shouldn’t have said that, that must’ve… can you just tell us about that?
I needed an editor and so I looked at the Federation of BC Writers and the Canadian Association of Authors, and I found this professional editor that was available. I warned her about the content of the book being about abuse. She said that was no problem. So I paid her a retainer, and I gave her the first quarter or third of the book on paper printed and doubled space, so she could write in columns. Off she went. I didn’t hear anything for a while. And then I start getting stuff back from her. And there was a lot of really good advice, which I did follow, but there were also a lot of comments in there.
So one of the difficulties in this relationship was dealing with Christine’s parents and in places where she read this in the book, she was writing instructions on what I should do to deal with Christine’s parents. Well, this is 35, 40 years too late. But there were a lot of suggestions in there. And a lot of questions, why did you do it that way and not this? So yeah, there were comments like I wouldn’t do it the same way. But there were some really positive suggestions, which I did follow, and I went through to make the second, and third draft. But it still wasn’t in a state (where it was ready) and she basically dropped it. She sent back what she’d done and and she told me that she couldn’t do anymore for me. She wouldn’t charge anything and she dropped out.
So very luckily I had two friends, both offered to do the edits, and I wasn’t totally convinced because I didn’t know enough about their backgrounds to know whether they were capable of editing the book. But I sent a copy off to each of them. And I got back very positive feedback. In fact, a lot of good instructions, a lot of help. And I followed both for their sort of instructions. We worked the whole thing. And it was still a few little bits and pieces when it ended up in front of the proofreader just before it went to press. The two friends cost me nothing and without them it would really be tough to read it.
Q: And they did this without judgment. That’s the point I want to make. Professional editors are not there to judge the material. They can choose to edit it or not edit it, but they’re not there to make a judgment on the person writing the book or the characters in the book or, or whatnot. When you’re looking for an editor, that’s not what you want. So based on this experience, what would be your advice if somebody’s written a memoir and it’s really close to their heart and they certainly don’t want to be judged. What’s your advice for finding a good editor? Would you ask certain questions next time?
Q: Wherever you live, there are an editors’ association, writers’ association, and an authors’ association. You can go there looking for editors. And if you’re writing a memoir, I think it’s important to find an editor who knows how to edit a memoir. Editing a memoir is very different than editing a fiction book. Parts of the story, yes… that’s the story. Although in a memoir you don’t have to give every single fact, you do need to be truthful. And certainly as an author, you don’t want to be judged for it. So will you write another book?
Q: I think you have another book in you, Mr. MacArthur. French toast... tell us where can we buy French toast?
Q: Good distribution. Well done. Excellent. I’m assuming there’s some photographs behind you that you have taken. Colin, thank you for joining me today. I really appreciated it.
Links Buy Colin's book: French Toast
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