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

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

BC Timber Sales’ operations on the North Island and Central Coast to be audited

The Forest Practices Board randomly chose the region to check for compliance to legislation

Comox Valley dance classes billed as female empowerment tool

New business focuses on ‘promoting positive body image’

Mount Washington to open Dec. 4 with COVID-19 protocols in place

Reservations for some services, face coverings will be required

New Cumberland fire hall goes to rezoning hearing

Official community plan is also to be amended for the site

COVID-19: 4 more deaths, 366 new cases in B.C. since Friday

A total of 8,208 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 since January

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

Group wants Parliament, courts to hold social media to same standard as publishers

Daniel Bernhard made the comments shortly after Friends of Canadian Broadcasting released a research paper

B.C.’s Chase Claypool catches first NFL touchdown pass

Abbotsford grad establishes new record for longest scrimmage TD by a Canadian

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. has highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita, federal data shows

B.C. currently has 1,803 active cases after weeks of COVID-19 spikes in the province

181 days gone: Family continues to look for man last seen in RCMP custody 6 months ago

Brandon Sakebow’s last known location was leaving Mission RCMP cell, police say; family has doubts

Most Read