Author and painter Dickson takes lifelong learning to heart

Not many writers are also accomplished artists and crack shots with a .22. Or are finishing their fifth book at age 92.

THE LATEST NOVEL by Ruth Dickson will be available this Sunday at the Pearl Ellis Gallery of Fine Art

THE LATEST NOVEL by Ruth Dickson will be available this Sunday at the Pearl Ellis Gallery of Fine Art

Not many writers are also accomplished artists and crack shots with a .22. Or are finishing their fifth book at age 92.

Comox resident Ruth Dickson is all of the above.

This Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., she’ll be signing copies of her new book, Among the Blue Mountains, at the Pearl Ellis Gallery of Fine Art at 1729 Comox Ave. Some of Dickson’s paintings will also be in the Brushworks group exhibit until Nov. 27.

Among the Blue Mountains is a warm, charming and often funny story about family life in a logging camp at Fairbridge near Cowichan Station and the author’s first camping trip — a seven-week sojourn with her husband and their three children.

Dickson has a knack for taking an “incident” and creating a funny anecdote out of it. While reading the book I gained insights into a once common way of coastal life and enjoyed the adventures of a lively young family living in an isolated community.

And I laughed out loud on more than one occasion.

Dickson grew up on a lighthouse in Scotland. When she was eight, her family immigrated to a Saskatchewan farm. She started writing in Sayward.

Her husband, George, worked away and Dickson spent a lot of time alone with her small children. She jotted down poems, hiding them in her sewing basket. She also experimented with her kids’ paints and pastels.

“My mother had a wonderful education and I wanted one, too,” explains Dickson. “But I grew up in the ’30s and that didn’t happen. So after I got married I decided to learn something new every year. I discovered you can learn your whole life — and to never be afraid to try something new.”

Eventually Dickson taught herself how to use her daughter’s typewriter and the “scraps in her basket” became Voice of the Salmon River, an illustrated book of poems. The Forest Museum in Duncan had agreed to publish the book but when funding dried up, Dickson self-published.

The family’s move to the Cowichan Valley in the 1950s connected Dickson to other artists and writers. She participated in group and solo art shows, won won writing contests and wrote articles for the Victoria Times Colonist, The Scots Magazine and had a children’s column in the Duncan newspaper. In 1984 she won first place in the poetry division of the Surrey International Writing Contest.

After a poem and short story were accepted by Nelsons for one of their language development readers in 1973, Dickson began taking night school English courses at university level. She also took her art portfolio to the University of Victoria and was accepted into the second year of the art program.

“I always write the first draft of a book in longhand,” she says. “It all just pours out in a stream of consciousness. Then I go over it time and time again, shortening the sentences and putting events in order.

“The books are easy for me to write but I fret about having them sound right. I don’t think a person can ever do too many rewrites.”

Originally the stories were just for family. But after moving to Comox, neighbour Angela Burns suggested she consider a larger audience.

Dickson wasn’t sure if her work was good enough. So, at age 90, she attended a week-long workshop at the Victoria School of Writing.

“I arrived with my writing and my walker and discovered that I was the oldest student they’d ever had,” she recalls.

To her surprise, the instructor said her work was funny and good. Then a story she wrote for young adults made the short list in the Surrey International Writing Contest. That was the encouragement Dickson needed to proceed.

The Lighthouse Kids, a fictionalized account of her family’s experiences on lighthouses came out in 2008 with Pebbles in the Stream — River Rocks following two years later. Pebbles is a memoir about Dickson’s life in Sayward and includes the story of her shooting a cougar as it crept up on her four-month old baby.

Among the Blue Mountains, the sequel to Pebbles, is based on diary entries and sketches made while the family living in a logging camp and spent a summer camping. The cover features one of her original paintings.

Dickson has a clever and amusing writing style that makes the reader feel like they’re hearing a first-hand account of a sticky situation over a cup of coffee. Her stories are personal, yet universal; sometimes frightening and often funny.

Although Dickson turns 93 on Dec. 10, she isn’t ready to retire yet. She still paints and is working on her next book, Strangers to the Land, a memoir of her life in Scotland and on the Prairies. She’s also got plans for a collection of young people’s stories and an idea for a short story series based in an imaginary mill town.

“I like to keep interested in things,” Dickson says. “I like to create things and keep my mind working. And it’s rewarding to share what I create with others.”

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Andrea Cupelli of the Comox Valley Coalition to End Homelessness told council the coalition’s needs assessment for non-market housing continues to grow throughout the region, as well as within Comox. . File photo
Coalition to end homelessness asking for additional funding from Comox

The coalition’s needs assessment for non-market housing continues to grow

Work on the first phase of renovations at the Village of Cumberland office is nearing completion. Record file photo
Cumberland office close to re-opening after reno

First phase with COVID measures should be done this month

Cumberland has long gone its own way when it comes to parks. Record file photo
Cumberland hesitant about regional park service

Community was left out of area park plan back fifty years ago

Comox town hall. Black Press file photo
Comox looking at proposed CVRD parks service; councillor seeks to include UNDRIP in framework

Coun. Stephanie McGowan proposed a motion to bring UNDRIP to the town’s framework

3L Developments has stated it is pulling the plug on its plans to build a residential neighbourhood in the Stotan Falls area. The company has repeatedly offered to turn the Stotan Falls area into parkland, if the CVRD were to amend its Regional Growth Strategy to allow for a residential community to be built in the area. The CVRD has steadfastly turned down the development company. File photo.
3L says negotiations for Stotan Falls development and parkland are over

The company said there will be no further development applications filed with the CVRD

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Michael Buble is an Order of B.C. recipient. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Nominations being accepted for B.C.’s highest honour

Nominations are being accepted for the Order of British Columbia, the Province’s… Continue reading

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Most Read