A Vancouver Island author returned last week to the elementary school where his writing career began more than 40 years ago.
Troy Wilson, based in Saanich, debuted his fifth book The Sinking of Captain Otter to a group of students at John Howitt Elementary School on Thursday, Oct. 25. Wilson was a John Howitt student in 1977 when he came up with the story of Captain Otter—originally written and illustrated on construction paper and stapled together by Wilson’s teacher, Mrs. Eivindson. Mrs. Eivindson read the story out loud to Wilson’s Grade 1 class and encouraged him to become a published author.
He achieved his dream in 2004 when his first book, Perfect Man, was published by Orca Books. During his classroom tour of Perfect Man, he decided to return to Captain Otter.
“I first thought of [publishing Captain Otter] after I had been out visiting schools,” he said. “I thought, how cool would it be to have the original in one hand and a new version in the other hand.”
Thursday was Wilson’s third time visiting his old elementary school, where he joined librarian Elizabeth Platz to read both versions of Captain Otter to a group of Grade 1 and 2 students.
It’s been 41 years since Captain Otter was read out loud for the first time, and a few things have changed. Wilson’s Grade 1 classroom is now empty. His Grade 1 teacher, Mrs. Eivindson, passed away a few years ago, but the duo did reunite over radio shortly after the publication of his first book. With illustrations by Maira Chiodi instead of Wilson, the new and improved Captain Otter is a slightly different story with a very different ending.
“This time is very special,” said Wilson. “Because I’m reading [The Sinking of Captain Otter] here for the first time. I knew from the get-go that this is the place I would read it first.
“It feels great to come full circle.”
Wilson’s updated pitch for Captain Otter was rejected in 2005, but after more than 10 years of persistence, The Sinking of Captain Otter was finally published.
“That’s something I emphasize with the kids,” said Wilson. “Persistence is the most important quality to have if you’re a writer. There’s persistence, luck and talent. Persistence gives you more chances to be lucky and allows you to get better at what you do.”
This lesson wasn’t lost on the students of John Howitt Elementary School. “We learned that he tried his best and didn’t give up,” said Grade 2 student Ellie Arcus after the presentation on Thursday. Arcus and her friend, Émilienne Lenormand, have written a book together, although they admit that they like drawing better than writing.
“I thought Captain Otter was really good,” added Grade 2 student Eli Darling. Darling is another John Howitt student who is interested in writing—he says he has written his own “small book.”
Wilson was happy on Thursday to hear that so many students at his former school are now interested in creating their own stories.
“I’m so glad to hear that long after me, new [students] are writing, as well,” he said.