By Christopher Gooding
SPRINGHILL - It was Literacy Activity Week at Nova Scotia Community College's Cumberland Campus last week and a man whose very life is literature in motion gave students a window into his chosen profession.
Author and poet Harry Thurston spoke with students about his life as a writer and the importance of dedicating himself to the written word, both as a means of employment and as form of expression.
"Writing has given me a tremendous way to explore the world," Thurston says. "My day-to-day writing life is not very romantic. I go to my office at 9 a.m., I work until 12 and eat a sandwich then I go back to work.
"I'm a freelance writer. I'm a small business owner. I work in an artistic discipline but I'm always looking ahead to the next story."
Growing up in a rural Nova Scotia home, Thurston says his passion for reading-and-writing was influenced by his family. While his grandfather was a school janitor with only a Grade 4 education, he recalled how his mother would save magazines and newspapers to pass on to help satisfy his lust for knowledge. His father, Harry said, was a cream farmer and voracious reader, who ended the workday with reading.
Thurston himself, who initially intended to become a doctor, says literature didn't rank high on his priority list until finishing his degree leading up to pre-med studies. It was then he felt his life taking a new path.
"I really began writing, not as a lark, but experimenting to see if I could do it."
With some poems published in small publications, Thurston found himself back in Nova Scotia from his studies, living in River Hebert and in need of money. Calling on his life experience, he began writing articles for Farm Focus and a chance interview in Tatamagouche saw him writing an article on cream farmers for Harrowsmith Magazine (now Harrowsmith Country Life Magazine).
"I studied the magazine, wrote the story and they liked it," Thurston said. "To be a writer you have to have skill, disipline and talent. But you also need a bit of luck."
The opportunity gave Thurston the momentum he needed to progress his career from a regional freelancer to a national writer and, later, international writer. He moved from Harrowsmith Magazine to its new, national publication Equinox and then accepted an offer to pen a story for the international publication, National Geographic.
"I'm living in River Hebert, which is a long way from the media centres of the world but things came together quickly in a short period of time but I happened to be in the right place at the right time."
That right place was Atlantic Canada. Many of the stories Thurston penned came from his backyard; be it the now closed coal mines along the Bay of Fundy or the Bay itself, there was an interest in the uniqueness of this region and Thurston was the right guy at the right time to become its laureate. He would go on to write books on the Bay of Fundy, shore birds, observations of the salt marshes literally in his back yard; giving him the credentials to land a book deal and author Island Of The Blessed, an account of the ongoing archeologocial dig at an oasis in Egypt which has been the scene of activity for thousands of years.
"[Writing] was not something I imagined doing, really, but I'm a professional - I taught myself to be a professional. I can write about any subject if you ask me to but I write best when I really care about the subject."
Sometimes, he says, those subjects are very personal. Poetry has rode side-by-side with his freelance career and Thurston has several poetry books published including Broken Vessel, which sprang from his travels in Egypt.
"Poetry satisfies an emotion in me," Thurston explained.
By Christopher Gooding