The book that changed your life: Sarah Ellis

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      The annual Word Vancouver festival is back again with a massively varied menu of author readings, workshops, and events, set to run at venues around town from September 24 to 28. As part of the runup, we asked some of the writers on the bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which books gripped their imaginations early on? Which ones showed them what words can be made to do?

      Here’s what Vancouver’s Sarah Ellis told us. She’s won Governor General and Lieutenant Governor’s awards in recognition of such books for young readers as Pick Up Sticks and Odd Man Out. She’ll read from her latest, Outside In, at 4:20 p.m. on September 28, in the fest’s Kids Words Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

      There’s nothing like the pleasure of a book discovered by chance. I was 11 and it wasn’t the best summer of my life. I was at a cabin at Boundary Bay. The Boundary Bay kids had their own garrisoned world and I was having no luck storming the ramparts. Not for the first time, I took refuge in reading. The books in the cabin were faded, musty hardcovers, slightly swollen by sea air. I chose one at random. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Holed away in the top bunk I read it in one long day. A poor family living in a castle? That was enough for me.

      Then I forgot it, or so I thought. Years later I encountered the book again. Whole passages came back to me, chunks of dialogue, details of setting. I was flabbergasted to discover that it was a romance. I had completely forgotten that element of the plot. I was equally surprised that it was a book about writing. The father is a writer. The main character, Cassandra, is a writer. The first line is “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”  I thought I had forgotten this book but it had wormed its way into my DNA. This was the book that turned me into a writer.