by Eric Wilson
Kneeling behind a tree, Frank Hardy studied the cabin in the woods. It looked deserted, but minutes earlier he'd spotted a movement within the suspicious structure.
Frank signalled to his brother Joe, who was cautiously approaching the cabin from the north. It was too bad that the Hardy Boys couldn't count on Chet Morton for backup, but Chet didn't like detective work. At this moment he was probably in the Bayport soda shop, talking sweet to some pretty girls, or motoring through the countryside with Biff Hooper in his souped-up roadster.
Frank shook away these distracting thoughts. Right now, he had a major problem to solve. Frank's great fear concerned his Dad, the famous detective Fenton Hardy. He had been missing for days, perhaps investigating undercover or perhaps a prisoner in this deserted cabin.
Taking a deep breath, Frank moved out of hiding and then ... The flashlight jumped from the hand of little Eric Wilson as his bedclothes were pulled back by his mother. "It's very late," she said. "Time for lights out."
"One more chapter -- please!"
So began my love affair with words -- under the covers at night with a cherished edition of a Hardy Boys adventure mystery. Oh, the places I saw! The adventures I shared with Frank and Joe!
My devotion was such that I opened my own detective agency in the attic of our Winnipeg house. Eric Wilson, Associates did not solve any crimes, but one thrilling event made it all worthwhile. In our neighbourhood was a deserted house, a dark and scary place that I investigated one evening. Heart in my throat, I climbed to the upper reaches of the empty house and then suddenly experienced pure terror. Because from downstairs I clearly heard the sound of footsteps, and they were coming my
way . . .
Somehow I survived this experience! Years later, in a White Rock classroom, I began working with teenagers who detested the printed word. Most hadn't encountered books until they entered Grade One, and reading had remained an alien and unwelcome chore.
How to solve such a problem? I turned for help to my university textbooks; they suggested the classics, so I chose Tom Sawyer. I remembered the delightful opening sequence, in which Tom used his smarts to advantage, and therefore I read my students chapter one.
"That book sucks!" was a typical response. "The words are too hard! Nothing exciting happened!"
Alarmed, I turned to other classics. KIDNAPPED, TREASURE ISLAND, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. Forget it! To these kids, words remained instruments of torture and nothing would ever change their minds.
Only one possibility remained -- I would write a story myself and design it specifically for my students. Therefore it must be a thrilling adventure with action beginning in the first line, and lots of dialogue, and of course cliffhanger chapter endings to keep those "reluctant readers" turning the pages.
On January 1, 1970 I sat down at my typewriter and wrote my first words as an author: Underarm pollution. Many months later I carried a manuscript to school and read these same words to my students. Every face turned my way, and a boy demanded what's that mean? So I continued to read, and the kids continued to listen until they'd heard every chapter of the story.
That first adventure novel was called FAT BOY SPEEDING. It didn't find a publisher, and neither did my next effort or the next. But I was encouraged by my students to never stop trying, and eventually I decided to write about little Eric Wilson with his flashlight under the covers, his Winnipeg detective agency and his investigation of the creepy house.
I turned him into a character named Tom Austen, boy detective. This red-headed pint-sized fan of the Hardy Boys made his debut in 1976 in MURDER ON THE CANADIAN, the first of 22 Austen adventures to date. From Ucluelet to Quebec City and Lunenburg, from King William Island to Big Muddy, Tom Austen and his sister Liz have shared many suspenseful moments while exploring our nation.
All along the way, I've never forgotten my students at White Rock Junior Secondary School. If I hadn't seen their disdain for words turn into love, and if they hadn't encouraged me to keep searching for a publisher, I might not have persevered. I became an author to repay the dedication of my students, and throughout the years I've tried to instill in my readers the same delight I take in the magic of words.
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