Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why I Write: Catherine Knutsson

This confession may go against the grain when it comes to writers, but, here it is:  I never set out to be a writer.  Sure, when I was younger, I wrote, and I enjoyed telling stories.  Looking back on my childhood, there were signs I was meant to be a storyteller, but then...things happened.  For example, in Grade Three, I wrote a story about a cat named Smartie, and read the story aloud during our class’s weekly story time.  Smartie the Cat was a hit, and before long, everyone in the class was writing stories about Smartie.  I was less than pleased about this first experience with plagiarism, but rather than asking the class to write stories about characters of their own creation, my teacher decided to ban Smartie the Cat from the classroom all together.

And that was my first experience in censorship.

It was also one of the first times I remember being silenced, and, because I was the kid I was, sensitive and insecure and odd, and who, most days, wanted to be a horse rather than a girl, I assumed I had done something wrong.  That I deserved the silencing.

By the time I was in middle school, I pretty much felt like I was doing something wrong all the time.  I didn’t act like the other kids, and I didn’t think like the other kids, and I liked books a lot more than most of them, and I still wanted to be a horse.  I tried being like them, I really did, and only ended up getting bullied, or trying so hard to fit in that everyone thought I was really weird, or really arrogant, or a big know-it-all.  I probably was, but I was also desperately trying to figure out how to fit into this great big puzzle called life.

And the figuring-out part wasn’t going very well.

I’m not sure where it happened, but somewhere along the line, between middle school and adulthood, I decided that whatever I had to say wasn’t really worth saying.  So I stopped speaking.  Oh, I said words (sometimes), but those weren’t true words.  They were a mask, a front I presented because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.  And so, I held everything inside of me, all my thoughts and feelings and wonderings about the world.  By the time I went to university, I was completely lost.  I felt like I was wearing a skin that was squeezing me, compressing my true self, and sooner or later, all that would be left was a little hard raisin that was once me.

What I didn’t know was that some part of me is a survivor.  While I was doing my utmost to kill the parts of myself that scared me most, another part of myself was cradling them, holding them closer, and saying: Just wait.  You’ll need this voice.  You just have to find it again.

The finding of that voice took me years, and then, it took even longer to start writing.  In fact, I only started to write because I was teaching singing and went through a series of events that confirmed what I suspected:  I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do.  So, what, exactly, was I supposed to do instead?  I wasn’t sure, but writing was there, waiting.  It was free, for one thing, and I didn’t need to go back to school to do it.  So, one night, I started to write a story.  Before long, it was a novel, and then, I started to write another story.

Now that I have a few novel under my belt, I see a theme running through them.  My stories tend to be about characters who have been silenced in one way or another, and need to run the gauntlet to find their true selves again.  All my characters are broken and scarred, and desperately need healing, and that healing process isn’t easy, or pretty, or nice.  But they’re good souls, these characters, with good hearts, and when they learn to stop hurting themselves, when they begin to listen to their own truths and speak those truths with clear, honest voices, they begin to mend.
I think this is my way of healing that past self, that girl who always felt so odd and out-of-place, who was told she was too sensitive, too bossy, too quiet, too weird.  It’s a work in progress, finding that voice, but writing is where I find truest self.

And that’s why I write.

PS: I still want to be a horse.

Catherine Knutsson lives on Vancouver Island, where she's spent most of my life, aside from short stints living in Iran and in Vancouver. When she's not writing, she runs (currently aiming for her first 10k in June, and then a half-marathon either in October or Spring 2013), ride horses (not as often as she’d like, these days), hike, garden, take photographs, and bake bread. And, sometimes she knits, and sometimes she paints. Oh, and she's a classically trained singer (early music specialist) and taught singing for years.

And, like Cassandra, the main character in SHADOWS CAST BY STARS, she's Métis, though she didn’t learn this until a few years ago, and she's still learning. For example, Tawnshi! (That means hello in Michif…)

These days, she lives in Nanaimo, B.C., home of the famous Nanaimo bar, and shares her home with her ultra-supportive husband, Mikel, and their two cats, who are frequently featured on hrt blog, much to their delight and/or chagrin. She's never quite sure, but figures at some point, they’ll let her know.

Her novel, SHADOWS CAST BY STARS will release June 5, 2012 from Atheneum (Simon & Schuster). 

Find Catherine Knutsson online: Website / Goodreads / Twitter / Facebook

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  1. It's strange (and often wonderful) how our past shapes who we become and what we write. I wonder if it would be any easier going through struggles and challenges as kids/teens/young adults if we could somehow trust that all those experiences are helping make us into who we're meant to be. Probably not, lol.

    Thanks for sharing this personal story, Catherine. You're brave, and wise, and in that respect I suppose you'd make a great horse, but I'm glad you're you. ;)

    Also, if Cassandra's experience turns out anything like Smartie the Cat's, you'll probably sell a million copies. Go, Cass!

  2. Thanks for reading, Shari. I always appreciate & am so grateful for your support!

    This wasn't an easy essay to write, but I'm very glad it meant something to someone, ya know?

  3. Learning to be honest on the page is almost as hard as being the true you in real life. It's tempting to live behind a facade because then whatever happens can't quite reach our tender places. At least, that's what I remember telling myself as a young woman. You've provided an intimate glimpse of why you're not only a writer, but why you're a very good one, Catherine.

    Wishing you much success with SHADOWS CAST BY STARS. :)


  4. I was sent here by Careann. Your childhood and mine were similar in that I was always in books (or my piano), and I was the odd duck in our small town. Fitting into a group was nearly impossible. I hear and feel your struggle. How good that you've found a healing place and method.
    Grace and peace,

  5. Here from Carol's place. I went to a conference last weekend where i heard over and over the admonition to write from where it hurts, to write from the places that bring us to our knees, to write from our pain, to take off the mask. Sounds like you are doing that--and that He has plans to use the hard stuff.

  6. Catherine, thanks for sharing this. It made me pause and reflect on why I write. I haven't thought about the reasons in many many years. Good luck on your career. You have a wonderful voice.

    Joylene Nowell Butler, Author

  7. Thank you for sharing this blog post of why you write. It is a moving, emotional story. I am so happy you found your voice through writing.