Over the years I’ve had some outstanding mentors – both as a writer and as a public servant. I started my career with the City of Halifax and was fortunate to work with some outstanding people including the Director of Social Planning, Harold Crowell and the City Manager, Paul Calda. Calda had come to Canada after the crushing of the Prague Spring, speaking Czech, Russian and German but not English. He was a very bright man and an excellent engineer. He managed to get a job as an engineering assistant with the city and ten years later had risen to City Manager.
However, the people who influenced me most were two exceptional women. Gert Maybe was an anti-poverty activist who had constantly challenged the city until Harold Crowell hired her to develop innovative approaches to deal with poverty. She was tough and smart and we shared an office for a while when I was 25. I think she enjoyed teaching the recent graduate a few hard facts about life. Later I worked for the new head of Personnel, Mildred Royer, who later became Deputy Minister of Labour in the Nova Scotia government. A former Executive with the provincial nurses’ union, I learned a lot about negotiations and management of employees from her. I also learned about vision – usually at dinners with just the two of us after lengthy negotiating sessions.
My good fortune at finding mentors continued through my life: Mike Whittington and Jim Sellers in the territorial government who taught me a lot about public service but also about life and what it means to be a caring, rational human being. I’m proud to say they remain two of my best friends.
When I first started writing, it was a bit of a struggle. The only writers I knew were exactly like me – just starting out, with no formal training. Fairly early on though, I met Sharon Pollock, 2 time Governor General Award winner for playwriting. Sharon was a pioneer in Canadian theatre, one of the first women artistic directors at a major regional theatre and a great writer – all accomplished as the single mother of five kids. My relationship with Sharon started when I took a workshop with her but it grew over the years to a strong friendship and was a source of much of what I first understood about writing and theatre. We worked together, along with another mentor who became a close friend, Gordon Pengilly, to reform Alberta Playwrights Network.
When I turned to science fiction, I was fortunate enough to take workshops with some of the giants of the field – Joe Haldeman, Connie Willis and, of course, Robert J. Sawyer, who has not only become a great friend but also taught me more than I can say about being a professional writer.
Mentors do more than teach you things; they provide models you can emulate. They help you understand your core values and lead you to become the best – worker, writer, person – you can be. I’ve been thinking about these people a lot lately because, lo and behold, I’ve recently taken on mentorship roles with a number of writers. I only hope I can do as good a job as those who mentored me.
And that’s ten minutes.