David Bergen (Courtesy of Canada Writes)
In 1970, at the age of 14, I entered a short story contest offering a grand prize of one dollar. I won. This was my first foray into writing fiction. I loved reading and thought that it shouldn't be so hard to write a story. You just find an exotic setting, throw in some intriguing characters, a few colourful moments, and voila, the story works.
My story took place on a submarine in the Atlantic during the Second World War. Fact is, I was bereft of ideas. I couldn't have imagined setting the story in southern Manitoba where I grew up. Who would care? What can be found there that is glamorous? In the words of Nathanael: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" In my case it was, "Can any good thing come out of Niverville?"
I gave up writing for seven years (very Biblical) and picked it up again, still clueless and still seeking the exotic, when I was twenty-one. I lived in Winnipeg now but when I wrote I created characters that spoke upper class English. They said dinner rather than supper. They drank tea and ate crumpets. (I had been deeply affected by Somerset Maugham and Kingsley Amis.) My characters did not have last names like Koop or Friesen. They were obscurely precious. They even drove on the left side of the road.
Seven years later my brother came for a visit from Indonesia where he was a missionary bush pilot. One morning as we fell to talking I had an inspiration for what would eventually turn into my first published story. It would be about a brother who comes home on furlough from Indonesia to Manitoba, and the story would take place in Manitoba. The brothers would even drive up to Patricia Beach for a day. Just to hedge my bets, I threw in a reference to Irian Jaya, which I imagined gave the story some mysterious quality. But in the end, there would be no tea, no crumpets, and the brothers, when they ate, would sit down to supper. The title of the story would be, "Where you're from."
My next novel is about a woman who grows up in Southern Manitoba. Her name is Hope Koop. She calls the last meal of the day 'supper'. She drives on the right side of the road. She has never been to England. Like all of us, she sometimes yearns for another life. The thing is, she is exotic as all get out.
Award-winning writer David Bergen launches The Age of Hope this September.