The writing of Michelle VanNice’s first novel, SerendipiTEA, could be called a serendipitous meeting of some of her best dreams.
VanNice—her pen name is Thelma—grew up in Vanderhoof, B.C., and spent summers on her grandparents’ Century Farm in Sheridan, Ore. She once worked as a proofreader at the Nechako Chronicle, and spent 12 years teaching adult students at the College of New Caledonia Prince George campus.
Now an English teacher in Port Alberni, VanNice has always dreamed of writing a book about stories. After taking an aboriginal storytelling course, she set about creating her own reality.
“Through telling stories we can get to know each other. Even if those stories aren’t about yourself,” she said.
What goes hand in hand with reading a good book but a steaming cup of tea? And that is another of VanNice’s passions. A bit of a purest, she prefers boiling fresh water and pouring it over loose leaf tea.
“I love tea too. It’s a mysterious, exotic, crazy drink,” she said.
Tea is a focal point in SerendipiTEA, set in the fictitious town of Wolfton. Most of the action takes place in the tea house as well as the bookstore next door, Dragonfly Tales.
The book starts out slowly, something VanNice is quick to point out herself. However, there is a rhythm to it, and once you catch on the story wends its way nicely from chapter to chapter. The lives of Wolfton’s characters are revealed bit by bit as they meet at a tea house/ bookstore for weekly storytelling classes.
VanNice is adept at mixing eclectic pairings of people in her tale. “I always noticed in small towns there’s such a variety of people…and we’re all just at the co-op buying our milk,” she said. “You just got together and did things because you had to.”
Some of the characters are loosely based on people in VanNice’s life, and a couple of her own tales have made it into the book, albeit disguised.
Readers with an appreciation for tea will love the sections where VanNice writes about the history of certain teas, and how they are made. A favourite part for me was her description of a blooming art tea—both how teas with names like Dragon Lily and Tiffany Rose Melody are assembled, and the process they undergo as they unfurl in a teapot or teacup.
VanNice accomplishes her storytelling goal by having each character’s story published in the Wolfton Howler newspaper.
VanNice is selling her books at the Harbour Quay Farmer’s Market, sharing a table with Angie and Gord Blake of Harbour Quay Teas—an appropriate pairing.
VanNice is also working on her second novel, and promises some of the characters from Serendipitea will appear.
“I can’t seem to help myself,” she said. “I miss my ‘people’.”