I met Christopher at a reading in Miramichi. Discovering he published his debut novel last year, I was intrigued.
I now own a copy which I’m looking forward to reading in the very near future.
I invited Christopher to be our guest this week and share the news of his novel with the Story Behind the Story.
I’m a father of two crazy little boys, Gideon (3) and Sullivan (1), and beast-dad to three dogs and a cat (Colby, Zelda, Stanley, and Gemma). My wife, Annie, and I (et al) live on the gorgeous Tabusintac River where we help manage my parents’ campground, Ocean River RV Resort. Summers are spent working outdoors, tending the grounds, and winters are spent in relative creative isolation. We moved here in 2021 from Hamilton, Ontario and the change in pace and lifestyle has been incredible for our family and for our creative work (Annie is a very gifted visual artist, creator, singer, and, not least of all, mom). I’ve been writing for quite literally longer than I can remember and fairly recently decided to “seriously” funnel my ambition and creative energy into what has been my life’s passion. I took broadcast journalism at Mohawk College in Hamilton and screenwriting at University of Toronto. Journalism was fun but being awakened to screenwriting changed my life and really lit a fire under the writer in me—I wrote several screenplays before I got up the guts to write my first novel. With Annie’s encouragement, I quit what I assumed would be my career for the discernible future and got to work writing. In March of 2022 I published my first novel, The Boy in the Canvas.
Working Title: The Boy in the Canvas
Synopsis: The Boy in the Canvas is a coming-of-age / magical-realism / horror novel set in 1984. It tells the story of twelve-year-old Joseph Ward who, after the death of his mother, is sent to St. Theodore’s Academy, a correctional school run by a frightening headmaster. During his time in the school, Joseph befriends Odilon Mercier and makes a startling discovery—he is able to enter paintings and experience them as real worlds. Using this newfound gift, Joseph plans to escape St. Theodore’s and its sadistic staff. But the paintings themselves are inhabited by their own dangers…
The Story behind the Story: The idea for The Boy in the Canvas comes from a couple of places. The notion itself of someone being able to travel into the world of paintings was something I’d had floating around in the creative ether of my mind for a while. But all I had was the idea. There was no story, reason, or purpose behind it. So, I scribbled it down somewhere in a short paragraph—which is how I record most of my ideas—and forgot about it.
Sometime later, my father had instigated an investigation into training schools, institutions that were a popular place to stick “incorrigible youth” from the mid-1950s until the late-1970s or thereabouts. He had been thrown in one of these places where he, and countless others, had suffered some pretty horrific stuff. He suggested to me one day that I write a movie based on his experiences there. It wasn’t something I was keen to do—the notion of recreating the real-life horrors that had occurred in those places made me ill. So, I let the idea drop.
Then my writing mentor gave me one of the most practical and memorable pieces of advice I’ve received about writing. He said, “Write what scares you.”
I took the advice to heart and it didn’t take long for me to apply it to my compunctions towards writing about the training schools. And in the magical way that few, if any, writers can explain, the idea of a boy jumping into paintings came hurdling at me from out of the blackness at the edges of my imagination and landed itself right on the doorstep of what I suppose is an avatar for those wretched institutions.
A couple of years and dozens of rewrites later, The Boy in the Canvas saw the light of day.
A question before you go, Christopher:
Can you tell us about the perfect setting you have, or desire, for your writing? Music or quiet? Coffee or tequila? Neat or notes everywhere?
I prefer a closed room, if possible. My current workspace is in a corner of our open basement but I’m able create a closed-off atmosphere by putting my devices on Do Not Disturb, turning off the lights, and using a warm-glowing lamp.
Music is essential, though when I’m in the zone, I don’t notice it. I find it’s a good buffer between my brain and everything going on in the world around me. I’m a bit of a classical music nerd and listen pretty exclusively to that or movie soundtracks when I write. I listen to a lot of horror and sci-fi movie scores.
Coffee is often essential, especially since I typically write in the morning. If I’m writing after eight o’clock, bourbon is preferred.
I’m a notes everywhere kind of guy. By the time The Boy in the Canvas was finished, I had two walls full of sticky notes, scraps of paper littering my desk, and several notebooks and a few legal pads on my shelves and in my drawers just for that one project.
Thank you for being our guest this week, Christopher. Wishing you continued success with your writing.
Thank you to all our visitors and readers.
What is your favorite genre to read?