In the summer of 2019, Helen Row Toews was visiting her elderly uncle in Manitoba. As they sat together, he told her something that changed her life.
“He clasped my hand and urged me to do the things I’d always wanted to before it was too late,” recalled Row Toews. “He said, ‘I had dreams too. But now it’s too late for me to fulfill them. Don’t let that happen to you’.”
Inspired, Row Toews returned to her family cattle ranch near Marshall, Saskatchewan and began writing a fantasy novel. It was completed in six weeks and published that November, launching her Runestaff Chronicles series. Even more remarkably, while this was a first ever foray into novel writing--she’d published a collection of humour columns a year earlier--Row Toews did it all in her late fifties.
It was a long time coming, Row Toews admits, but says it was "dogged determination and a will to succeed," that overcame early challenges.
“There was the fear of failure, and then learning the myriad things to know in publishing and promoting a book,” said Row Toews. “(But) finding my words were well-received reinforced my belief that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. I’ve not looked back since.”
Memoir part of musician's legacy
St. Albert resident Peter Jansen has written a memoir of his remarkable career in the music business. He got his first 100 copies in July, 2022, just one day before turning 80 years old.
Called 'Let’s Take it From the Top! A Musical Life Odyssey,' Jansen’s autobiography recaptures his experiences performing in venues and festivals across England and Europe, Africa, Bermuda, the U.S and Canada. He and Mary, his wife and performing partner, met in the Caribbean and continue to do multi-instrumental shows for audiences of all ages.
Jansen recalls his venturing into live music as a 19-year-old in Kent, England. His rhythm and blues band, The Manish Boys, even had a brush with musical history when, just after Jansen’s departure from the band, it took on 17-year-old David Jones and recorded the single I Pity the Fool. That David Jones took on the name David Bowie, moved on to another blues group, and a legacy was launched.
“I left about two or three months before Bowie came. I knew him better later on,” said Jansen, adding writing a memoir is a "more interesting way" of chronicling his life journey.
“Initially, my wife asked me to make a list of things we did, because I’d had a pop band, rhythm and blues, and done so many other things. I said that sounded kind of boring. So I wrote a book about it.”
Described as evocative and witty, Jansen's memoir unfolds in eight acts--a 450-pager that took about four years to write.
Though he's proud of writing a book documenting his long career in music, from the 1960s music scene to touring with Mary around North America, Jansen says he's pretty certain making music has been his life's calling.
“You do it because you have to," he said. "If you have to stop and think about it then don’t, because it’s not for you.”
In your 80s? No big deal.
For Diana Lee, writing her first novel in her late 80s has shown her it’s never too late to answer a calling.
Publishing as D Wellington Lee, the Edmonton resident just received copies of her second novel, The Pipeline Pugilist. Her book launch in early 2023 saw over a dozen copies sold.
Exploring the divergent motivations of environmental protection and fossil fuel development, The Pipeline Pugilist sets the main character at odds with the CEO of an oil and gas company.
Lee’s first novel, published three years ago, is another thriller that takes the reader inside the world of espionage and the lucrative aluminum mining industry around Saguenay, Quebec.
"My first book was a spy novel. But I had so much fun writing it,” she said on why the writing keeps coming.
Her own upbringing near Chicoutimi, along with an honours degree in chemistry and a few years work with CIL--a chemicals manufacturer--gave Lee the know-how to write the novel’s backdrop. But it was the rewards of the work that spurred her on--that, and the tragic loss of her husband in 2015, after a life raising four children--when Lee began writing in earnest.
“I could have spent the rest of my life reading and playing bridge, but I thought I’d be creative," she said.
Now 91, Lee is working on her third novel.
“I just keep going,” she added. “I’m competing with destiny right now. I mainly do it because I love doing it.”
Row Toews feels the same.
“I don’t have a whole lifetime ahead of me to develop my craft. I’m 61 now, I must give it all I’ve got, every moment I can!”
Last year, Row Toews published a fourth Runestaff novel and she continues to work on her Chateau de Belliveau series. Her books can be purchased through Amazon or from her website at www.helentoews.com. Diana Lee’s books are available at Audrey’s and Indigo, or email at [email protected]
Let’s Take it From the Top: A Musical Life Odyssey is available on Amazon and from PageMaster Publishing. Peter Jansen’s website is www.peterandmary.net.