Have you ever heard of “Pencil Box”?


I was seven years old, in grade three, and my parents got me my first puppy.  I named her Friskey.  My first piece of creative writing was about my dog.  It was unsolicited, but I was allowed, no encouraged, to read it to the class.

You may have the distinct impression from some of my earlier posts, that I’m not fond of school or teachers.  Some of the greatest creative difficulties and nartiest guardians at the gates I’ve faced have been thanks, in part, to various schools and teachers, but teachers have also been some of the greatest guides and mentors in my creative life as well.

Some of my best friends are teachers or professors and I know that they struggle to be among the best in their field.  Though I’m a corporate trainer, I’m a teacher too, and so I will not paint all teachers with the same brush.  Just like people, there are good teachers and bad ones.

The influence of great teachers:

We all have at least one teacher in our past that was important to our development as a person, if not as a writer.  I’ve been lucky enough to have several.

The first great teacher in my life was Mrs. Debbie Arnold.  She was the one who encouraged my early creative efforts in grade three.  She also advised my parents to enroll me in voice lessons as the result of my enthusiastic performance in her music class.

Though professional voice lessons were too expensive, I auditioned for and was accepted into the church choir.  I was also enrolled in an after school piano class.  We didn’t have a piano though, and that caused a few difficulties.  I wasn’t keen on the instructor either, and dropped out before long.

Then there was Siobhan Riddell.  She was an amazing artist even then, though I don’t

This book cover was one of Siobhan’s pieces.

think she was in high school yet.  She and a group of her classmates had made story books and they came into our class to show us.  Hers was a fairy tale and I loved it.

Siobhan’s story was my call to adventure.  In the wake of that revelation, I started drawing characters, super heroines and the like, but what are characters without stories?  So I started writing little stories to go along with them.

I’d been watching CBC’s “Pencil Box” every Saturday.  They featured stories submitted by their young viewers which they dramatized on air.  It was awesome.  That was my first literary submission.  I must confess that while I still have the letter acknowledging the receipt of my story, I never did find out whether it was produced.  My great aunt Florence swore she saw it, but “Pencil Box” went out of production that year and I never did.

Years later in university, I made an enquiry with the CBC, but short of my going down to their archives and finding the dear little thing myself, the costs of paying someone to search for it were prohibitive.  I’ve never gotten back to it.  I don’t even know if those particular archives still exist.

Who was your first great teacher and what influence did he or she have in your life?  Who or what was our first inspiration?  Your first creative effort?  Your first submission?  How did that turn out for you and where did that experience lead you?

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