White Rock author Ben Nuttall-Smith has written for many audiences over the years – his works have included forays into biography, memoir, historical novel, screenplay and poetry.
But he admits there’s nothing quite like the feedback he’s received from children.
That’s why, amidst a still-busy schedule of writing, and writing workshop projects, Nuttall-Smith, 87, has made time to read his own children’s story, Henry Hamster Esquire (available in hard copy from Rutherford Press) in a video for “all the little people stuck at home” during the COVID-19.
The story, read in the author’s own gentle style – and accompanied by his own charming illustrations – can be heard on Youtube.
“I’ve reached the point where I’m not concerned about money – I’d just like to give back to the community,” said the Oceana PARC resident, a former music, theatre, art and language teacher in Montreal and Delta, and a also a past president of the Federation of British Columbia Writers.
“And I’ve always loved children.”
Henry Hamster Esquire, published by Rutherford in 2018, was originally written for his three grandchildren; his daughter Heidi’s children Ariane (now in Grade 10) an Xavier (now in Grade 9) and his son Chris’ boy, Cormac (now in Grade 7).
It’s the story of Henry – owned by his master Billy – who lives a simple life, happy on his treadmill, until, in a moment of inattention, he is snatched from his cage by Ginger, the family cat.
The ensuing adventures include further pursuit by Ginger, an unwitting rescue by Jeremy, the German Shepherd, and meetings with a rat named Reginald Repulsive and a grass snake that eats mice, Nuttall-Smith said.
Lest anyone worry, it’s not exactly a spoiler alert that it turns out that Henry is finally, and happily, reunited with Billy.
“It was a story I started telling my grandchildren about five years ago, which I eventually wrote down and self-published with my own illustrations,” Nuttall-Smith said, adding that he would hand out copies to children –along with his book of haiku, Grandpa’s Homestead – who participated in his story-time appearances at libraries and YMCAs.
In pre-COVID-19 times Nuttall-Smith, also a skilled musician, would also accompany himself on guitar and sing songs as part of his appearances, he said.
While such interaction is currently curtailed, he said he is heartened by the positive reaction he has received from children newly discovering the adventures of Henry – including a South Surrey family who mailed him a picture of their youngsters listening to the story during snack time.
But even with quarantine conditions Nuttall-Smith shows no sign of slowing down with various projects, including taping a series of writing workshops for seniors in collaboration with Oceana PARC, which he hopes to debut for shut-ins later this year.
“Maybe, while they’re at home, they’d like to work on writing their own memoirs,” he said, adding that they can be both a legacy, and a means of healing past trauma, including bereavement.
Nuttall-Smith has definitely had his own experience of “recovery memoirs” through two of his books –Discovered in a Scream (Rutherford Press, 2017) his harrowing account of being abused as a child in England during the Second World War, and his most recent, Margot: Love In The Golden Years, a touching tribute to his wife of 16 years, artist Margot Thomson, who passed away early last year.
And he’s received recognition, both for his writing and for his generosity to other authors – he was winner of The Surrey Board of Trade special achievement award in 2011 for work as a writer and for service to the writing community, he was also awarded an honorary life membership by the Federation of British Columbia Writers, May 2013, “in recognition of extraordinary service and dedication to the ideal of ‘writers helping writers.’”
For more information on Nuttall-Smith’s books, visit bennuttall-smith.ca