A grade 8 student – the amazingly talented Abby – baked this cake based on my new book! That’s the magical land of Perpetuum on the right. She put the purple hills in there, and a little BMX bike, and Finn’s bike ramp, all made of sugar candy, and chocolate trees.
I love the attention to detail – especially the red bookmark that hangs down between the 2 pages. I bet that took HOURS.
I just about wept when I saw it. Who wants a book award when you can have a CAKE!
Abby couldn’t bear to slice into the cake when the other kids arrived for the “author mingle party,” and I couldn’t blame her, what with it being a work of art that deserves to be in the Louvre and all. Still, everyone was glaring at us with their paper plates and plastic forks scrunched up in their fists, so I turned to Abby and she nodded and then I took the knife and sliced into the cake. “Everything is impermanent,” I said.
The cake was delicious. Better even. It was a beacon of deliciousness.
A bit of a miracle really. Two years ago, after ‘Ultra’ was published, I didn’t have a single idea for a follow-up book.
But then I got a phone call. From this woman, Rhonda-Marie Avery:
Rhonda-Marie had read Ultra and liked it. But that wasn’t why she was calling. She’d looked up my bio and discovered that I run ultra-marathons. And she was hoping I could help her out…
Have you heard of the Bruce Trail? It’s a 900-kilometer footpath from Tobermory to Niagara Falls. It runs along the lip of the Niagara Escarpment, which is essentially a 450-million year old coral reef. It’s incredibly rugged. Home to rattlesnakes, bears, wolves and 100-metre cliffs.
Perfect place for a blind woman, right?
Rhonda-Marie was born with a rare genetic eye disorder called Achromatopsia, which means she has no cones in her retina.
She has only 8% vision. And she decided to run the length of the Bruce Trail – all 900 kilometers of it – to show the world what blind athletes are capable of.
To help her out, she found 50 volunteers from the ultra-running community to ‘guide’ her. I was one of those 50. And it was a fascinating experience. For twelve straight hours, I ran 5 feet in front of Rhonda-Marie, and ‘narrated’ the trail for her. The guide runners had developed this whole language – to help Rhonda-Marie ‘see’ the trail in her mind.
This is what we sounded like:
“Rock right. Root left. Rock salad. Toe grabber right. Ankle-grabber. Okay, take three steps up! We’re running through some scalloped potatoes now, Watch out for the cheese grater to the right. Thread the needle! Dinosaur steps!”
The most important phrase of all was “death to the left!”
We were travelling north to south on the trail, so the life-ending cliffs were always to our left.
Anyway, after 20 days of straight running, and 30,000 feet of elevation gain (basically the equivalent of Mount Everest), Rhonda-Marie reached the end of the trail.
The final 500 metres
She ran 900 kilometers on one of the world’s gnarliest trails – with only 8% vision!
I was so inspired by this!
But here’s the thing… I shouldn’t have been.
For the past 21 years I’ve been close friends…best friends… with this guy. His name is Kai Black. He’s an executive producer at CBC Radio. He and I created three national radio shows together.
Back when Kai was 15, he was diagnosed with a rare eye condition called Stargardt disease. By the time he turned 18, he’d lost virtually all of his central vision.
A healthy eyeball
A Stargardt eyeball
Kai is one of the most heroic and inspiring guys I’ve ever known. If you met him on the street, you wouldn’t notice anything unusual about him. Stargardt disease affects the central vision, but it leaves the peripheral vision intact. That means Kai has full mobility, doesn’t use a cane, gets around with little trouble, and sometimes even rides a bike. My brother and I have gone downhill skiing with Kai – zigzagging down black diamond runs at Whistler. My brother simply wore a brightly-coloured ski jacket, which was easy for Kai to see against the snow.
Kai and I have run races together too. This picture was taken moments after we crossed the finish line at the Boston marathon a few years back.
Anyway, I don’t know when it clicked. When I suddenly realized that I had a great idea for a second novel staring me in the face!
Finally I blurted out what I’d been thinking. I told Kai that I had an idea for a new book… And that it was inspired by…uh…him.
“It’s about a kid who gets diagnosed with Stargardt disease,” I told him. “And he’s worried about the future, and he keeps riding his bike even though it’s dangerous, because his bike is his life, and he can’t bear to give it up, because that bike represents his independence.”
Kai thought about it for a minute, and then he nodded and said, “Okay… But it sounds kinda boring. You’ll need some other plot devices to ratchet up the tension.”
So I went looking for a second bit of inspiration.
Do you remember this book? ‘Oranges and UFO’s’ by Muriel Leeson? I bought it out of the Scholastic catalogue in 1975. It’s about a group of kids who get abducted by aliens, and go off to Mars where they have crazy adventures. But here’s the thing: when the kids are on Mars, time stands still! They stay there for months, and when they finally come home, their parents don’t even know they’ve been away.
I loved that! So I merged that idea with my earlier idea – about the kid with the visual impairment. Now I had a main character who was losing his eyesight – only, I had him discover a magical place where time stands still.
I was so excited about this idea. I mentioned it to my editor, Sandy Bogart Johnston. Sandy got quiet for a moment. And then she said, “Are you absolutely sure you want to write magic?”
Early diagram of ‘Perpetuum’ – my land where time stands still.
It turns out writing magic isn’t easy. It’s like building a condo tower. You need architectural drawings, a solid foundation, lots of rebar that nobody ever sees but that holds everything together… Once you’ve got all that in place, then you can wave your magic wand and start having fun… But not before.
Lesson learned. We eventually got the time travel stuff figured out. And by we, I really mean my editor, Sandy.
And there’s the book! It’s in bookstores – and available online – now.
Of course, I never could’ve done it without my guides. Many thanks to Kai Black, Rhonda-Marie Avery, and especially my editor, Sandy Bogart Johnston.
I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge the other day. A fifty mile race, up and down Blue Mountain, in 40 degree humidity.
It was a punishing course, on a punishingly hot day. 100 or so runners struggled up 800 feet of elevation gain in the very first kilometer. Stupidly, I forgot to take my salt pills, and by 2 p.m., after 9 hours of running, my mind had turned to oatmeal.
“May I please have a double ocean liner freeway paste?” I asked a volunteer at the aid station.
“I’m sorry?” he replied.
“I said, I want an ecclesiastical marzipan hope merchant on a tugboat—“
Inside my head, my little speech made sense. But for some reason, when it left my mouth, it came out mangled.
Suddenly I yanked in my breath. Someone was chopping away at my back with a pickaxe.
Wait a second – no. It was just cold water. The volunteer had poured a glass of ice-water down my shirt.
“That better?” he said, snapping his finger in front of my eyes.
My eyeballs narrowed into laser beams. Suddenly I was all-powerful and alert. I was the Millenium Falcon! I was a Kendrick Lamar song!
“Thank you very much,” I told the volunteer. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to run.”
I ran 11 more miles after that. The temperature spiked and the sun was unrelenting. Runners dropped all around me, from heat exhaustion, quad muscles torn to shreds, sneakers melted into gluey white puddles.
The entire time I kept asking myself, WHY? WHY do I do this stupid sport? Am I really so fond of the nausea and the knee pain and the medicinal taste you get in your mouth after sucking down 20-odd vanilla-flavoured gels and the sight of yet another 150 metre ski hill you must force your complaining kneecaps to ascend? For what possible purpose do I do this? Vanity? A trim belly? An uppity post on facebook?
Of course, my attitude changed when I got to the finish line. Shawna was there. She told me that she’d finished reading my new novel, and that it had made her cry, and that she loved it, just loved it.
Suddenly the race was forgotten. All the pain, all the nausea, all the self-loathing – GONE.
“Seriously,” she said. “It’s really good.”
It’s a weird feeling, when, after three long years, your book has finally been finished, and goes off to China to be printed. Your editor stops texting you hourly, and your agent moves on to the next in a long line of impatient writers, and you suddenly feel adrift. You can barely remember the anguish you felt, slugging through each of the book’s 240 pages. At times, it felt like the agony would never end.
Writing is a lot like running that way. It’s intensely painful while you’re out there, but once you cross the finish line, you just feel lost.
Sight Unseen comes out October 1st. You can pre-order your copy here.
(North Face Time-Exposure Photo credit: the awesome Kent Keeler.)
Instead, it’s about mountain biking. White-knuckle trail rides down vertical walls of rock. Stomach-twisting gap jumps and body-crushing endos.
Terrifying stuff. And guess who’s sitting in the saddle?
A kid named Finn. A kid who’s going blind.
Sound impossible? It’s actually not.
I know this because I have a friend who’s legally blind, and for many years he rode a bicycle through downtown Toronto’s busiest streets – even after he’d lost 90% of his vision.
Yes. A blind guy rode his bike through downtown Toronto. Not just once. He rode that bike for years.
I have another friend who ran the entire Bruce Trail – all 890 gnarly kilometers of it – in spite of having just 8% vision.
People with visual impairments have written hit records and climbed Mount Everest. One of them even served as President of the United States.
A healthy eyeball
I spared my protagonist a life in politics. instead, I made him passionate about mountain biking. And why not? I loved cycling when I was a kid. Of course, as I got older, I gave the sport up. I got more and more uh, what’s the word? Oh yeah – chicken.
The most common injuries among mountain bikers are (1) broken wrists, (2) broken collarbones and (3) broken ribs. For that reason, I have’t ridden a bike in years. I love running too much. Don’t want to risk getting injured.
Still, I love watching videos and reading about mountain biking. I’ll be keeping an eye on the goings-on at Crankworx next week. Speaking of which, here’s one of my all-time favourite videos. It centres around Brendan Semenuk; one of the best dirt jumpers in the world. As I was writing Sight Unseen, I watched this video over and over. My main character, Finn, dreams of landing some of the jumps Brandon does here. Finn is especially determined to do a ‘Superman No-Hander.’
Back in the fall, my publisher mentioned they’d be “interested” in seeing my new novel – provided I finished writing it by the end of the year.
Unfortunately, by the end of November, I’d only written 30,000 words. I needed to write 20,000 more – FAST! So I booked a week off work, and ran away to this cabin to write.
I didn’t speak to anyone, didn’t play Super Mario Brothers, and didn’t watch a single cat video. All I did was write. And occasionally run. For nine straight days. It was…intense.
The view out the window
December 3: I’ve been here for three days, and I’m not sure how productive I’ve been. In terms of page totals, I have nothing to brag about. The first couple of days were consumed with organizational stuff – mapping out the chapters, going through old drafts, harvesting descriptive passages for re-use, blah blah blah. Boring, but necessary.
Kai called yesterday. He asked if my characters are surprising me with their words and actions. I think I disappointed him by saying no. My characters aren’t very clear to me yet. I’m not sure what motivates them. I don’t even know what kind of music they like. Hiphop or Christian metal? Shoegaze or bro-country? Until I nail that stuff down, they can’t possibly speak for themselves, never mind set out on an unexpected murder spree.
4 December. I’ve been at the cabin for 4 days. I’ve only squeezed out 14 pages so far, and by no means are they polished pages. On the bright side, 10 of those pages were written in the last 24 hours, and I expect to continue writing at that clip (10 pages / day) until I return to Toronto Sunday night. I’m still hopeful that I’ll break the 160-page barrier while I’m here.
On the running front. things are great. I knocked off an icy 28k tempo run today in 2 hours 20 minutes. Didn’t even raise a sweat. Saw a beaver in a swamp at the side of the road.
5 December: Ideas are flowing now; literally tumbling out of my mind, one after the other. One of my characters did something I totally wasn’t expecting! I need to call Kai and tell him. I love it when that happens!
At the end of the day I went for a three hour run. It was cold and icy and I ran straight into the sunset. Later, sitting cross-legged on a cushion for 45 minutes, I felt my mind go quiet, and I thought: I do not want this day to end.I want tomorrow to be just like today, I want to write another 6000 brilliant words.
It won’t happen, of course. Tomorrows are never like todays. I need to be okay with that.
6 December: Another solid day of writing. Churned out 14 pages, including a soulful chapter involving Finn, and Tab, and a guitar. Basically, I was writing about my old friend, Christopher Lailey, who invented Wikepedia (without knowing it) when I lived with him in Ottawa in 1989.
So now I’ve written 29 pages in 5 days and I expect I’ll tie off at least another 5 pages tomorrow. That’ll take me up to the climax of the story when the storm hits and Finn runs away to the floating island.
11 December: Back in Toronto. I’ve been feeling gloomy lately. I’m still working on this crazy novel, every spare moment I can find, and I’ve become the most boring, least fun person in the world. All I do is write. Every. Single. Moment. I’ve forgotten how to joke around or have fun. I am a fun vacuum. It seems like forever since I’ve laughed or even smiled. I keep ignoring invitations to Christmas parties. I don’t even know how to speak to people anymore. I just mutter-mutter-mutter-mutter-blah-blah novel.
I don’t like myself this way. I don’t want to be a fun vacuum. I want to be the opposite. I want to be a fun...forced air gas furnace? A fun…leaf blower? Yes, that’s it. I want to be a fun leaf blower. I want to blow joyful leaves all over the place.
18 December: Got an encouraging note from a young friend. I met Luka at a school visit this past fall, and he took a picture of me, and photo-shopped me into the Sahara desert. I’ve always wanted to run in Africa, so thanks Luka, for making another of my running dreams come true!
23 December: I need to start my Christmas shopping, but I’m having trouble taming three sections of the book: Pages 125-132, pages 156-163, and pages 180-188. The rest is fairly smooth sailing. But I need those time-travel sections to hold together. Without them, the novel will crumble to pieces like that dry vegan cheese that doesn’t taste very good. Okay, that’s a bad metaphor. But you know what I mean.
25 December: It’s Christmas morning, and yes, I’m still working on this book. Chapter 14 is a total wreck, and I need to start laying track for the final 3 chapters. Will I finish this thing in time? I have one week left.
1 January 2015: I finished the novel yesterday, so yay. It’s 212 pages / 58,500 words.
I have no idea if it’s any good or not. I cried while I wrote the ending, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign. It might just have been the exhaustion though.
The chapters that take place in the magical land of Perpetuum still need to be sanded down or amplified or…something. I’m not sure what. I need time away from it. Later on, things will be clearer, and I’ll start in on the rewrites with a fresh mind.
There, I just sent it off. Mission accomplished. I don’t care what happens to it now. I just don’t care.
Post script: Last night (New Year’s Eve), me and Shawna drove to Collingwood for a party. The weather was appalling: freezing rain, white-out conditions. Biblical stuff. As we passed over the Blue Mountains, slipping and sliding through the Siberian landscape, I thought to myself; what if we spin out, what if we get sandwiched by a truck or smash into a hydro pole? My novel will never be read by anyone! It’s locked on my laptop and nobody knows where it is. All that work will have been wasted!
I drove the rest of the way at 15 km/h. I swear. Writers are so vain.
Writing a novel is hard. Have I mentioned this? Writing a novel is like running up a mountain of razor blades in an Antarctic blizzard while wearing high-cut Richard Simmons shorts and a pair of barefoot toe-shoes.
I was reminded of this particular brand of anguish these last couple of months. See, back in the summer, when I was younger and happier and the birds sang more sweetly, and my house hadn’t yet begun leaking and needing $87,452 in repairs, yes, back in those halcyon days, I sat down and wrote the first 70 pages of a new novel.
It was an innocent time, and the words flowed like honey, like an Iggy Azalea song really, and my potential publisher was encouraging about the direction of the project. Not so encouraging that they offered me a book contract. It was far too early for that. Still, they were warmly supportive, and they offered lots of feedback and guidance, which is, frankly, more than I deserve.
Anyway. I asked this esteemed publisher a very important question. If they did, potentially, one day, wind up publishing the book,when might it theoretically appear in book stores?
Potentially next fall, came the answer.
And if that were to happen, I went on, when would you need the full manuscript?
The publisher sat me down on a comfortable chair, and then said one word: Christmas.
NOTE: At that time of this conversation, Christmas was 58 days away. The novel was not even half written.
No problem, I said.
Seriously? the publisher said.
No problem, I repeated. I work best with a deadline.
So it began. I had 58 days to write half a novel. I determined that I would somehow accomplish this, in spite of having a full-time job and (more importantly) a full-time relationship.
NOTE: If you harbour any dreams of becoming a writer, you may want to STOP READING THIS BLOG NOW. The following journal entries detail some personal thoughts from the 58 most exhausting, most infuriating, most miserable and most euphoric days of my life.
9 November: Wrote all weekend. Like, every single moment from Friday night until now. Every 20 minutes my opinion of the book changed. It’s awesome! It’s a crap sandwich! It’s awesome! It’s a crap sandwich!
I hate the names of all my characters. I want to change them. Possible new names: Paz, Kap, Coley, Philly, Saba, Sab, Constant, Paquette, Skyforce (a dog)
* * *
20 November: Ermagherd it’s cold. I have to work upstairs because the main floor of this doofusy house is so frigid. I just sent chapters 10-14 to my trusted reader. Just to see if I’m on the right track. The novel is currently 113 pages, 33000 words. I just need to write another 20,000 words, or roughly 80 pages, in the next 35 days.
* * *
28 November: I heard back from my trusted reader. She had questions about the floating island section of the novel. Not questions. Problems. Yes, I think it’s fair to say she had problems with that section of the book. Basically, she was confused by the time-stopping business. She didn’t understand how it works. Admittedly, I’m not sure how it works either. I’m an artist, not a physicist. I’ve been putting off dealing with the mechanics of this issue.
Anyway, I read her email a few times, and then I threw a bunch of plates on the ground, and then I phoned Jian Ghomeshi and hung up on him (that’ll teach him!), and then I did some quick brainstorming, and came up with a handful of elegant solutions.
I called my trusted reader and told her that I agreed with everything in her note.
I need to make some hard decisions, I said.
I do not need those glimmer lines, I said.
Finn does not need to be parachuted into some alternate reality when he’s already in a perfectly good alternate reality, I said.
Why pile complication upon complication, I said?
Why give Finn X-Ray vision when normal vision will do?
I need to simplify, I said.
I’m going now, I said. I need to write.
30 November: Drove out to the Dundas Valley today. Ran 33k on trails under gorgeous blue skies. I should have spent the day writing, but I needed this, needed to drop a pain bomb on my quads and glutes and calves. One needs to live.
The valley was more beautiful than I’d remembered. I ran for nearly four hours, up and down zillions of hills. I barely even felt them. I can’t account for this. I haven’t done much training lately.
When I got home, I felt inspired, and hammered out 4000 words. A few of them were good words too. I figure that, for every page that gets published in a book, I need to write 20 pages of crap. It’s a 20: 1 ratio; like maple syrup. Therefore, a 200 page novel actually requires 4000 pages of writing.
Here’s a thought:
With running, success comes from mileage. That is to say, if you bank enough miles, you’ll run a fast race.
I think the same is true of writing. If you read enough good books, and write enough words, eventually you’ll compose something of value.
I’ve booked the week after next off work entirely. I’m going to run away to the cabin by myself and write for 9 days straight.
Then, 400 layoffs were announced. And there was much hyperventilating. And long lineups to cry in the disability washroom.
And then a trusted friend responded to the latest re-write of my manuscript with a weary and muffled “Well, it’s not all bad.”
Yeah, it was the worst week of ever. And me and Shawna ran away to the cabin in the woods and it snowed grey and heavy like a dirty old bath-towel. It was the first day of November, you understand. We still had 143 days left to go until Spring.
Now, we all experience bad weeks from time to time. And it’s perfectly natural to get bummed out. As Shawna reminds me, “It’s okay to feel sad. Honour that sadness. But then move on.”
That’s the tricky bit, isn’t it? The moving on. At a certain point, no matter how badly you’ve been clobbered, you need to peel yourself off the ground and head back out into the world.
Anyway, I’m happy to report that I did indeed manage to turn my frown upside down. Thanks to a young friend named Leonardo.
Leonardo is nine. He was reading my novel, Ultra. And he wrote me an e-mail because he was upset with me.
In my novel, there’s a character named Kneecap. Kneecap is the hero’s best friend. One day Kneecap tells the hero that he ought to have his own superhero catchphrase, since he’s a super fast runner. “All superheroes have catchphrases,” Kneecap says. “Buzz Lightyear says, To Infinity and Beyond! The Hulk says It’s Clobbering Time.”
That’s what I wrote in the book. But I was wrong – as Leonardo pointed out.
I don’t know how I could have made that mistake. The Hulk is green and wears ripped-up shorts. The Thing is orange and wears a diaper. Totally different.
Over the weekend, I did a lot of research on the subject, watching a bunch of Hulk and Fantastic Four movies. That pulled me out of my funk, alright.
So I would like to thank Leonardo not only for being so committed to the use of exclamation marks, which I find inspiring, but also for cheering me up when it was desperately needed. You might think his stinging rebuke would have brought me down. Instead, it did the opposite.
“Correct it, friend!”
I shall indeed. I hereby wish to offer Leonardo and all Ultra readers an unreserved apology for mixing up my superheroes, and I pledge that I will read one or maybe two books on superheroes so that, in future, I will get my facts straight.
Are you scared to let your friends read your writing? Do you live in fear of being told, ‘You’re no good?’
You’re not alone.
My first novel came out last year, but before that, I was constantly getting told that I sucked:
That rejection letter came in response to a very stinky novel I wrote in the early 1990’s. Nowadays it’s clear to me why it got rejected. It was more boring than following a bunch of rug-hookers on Pinterest.
All the same, I was DEVASTATED by that note. How could the Arsenal Pulp Press people be so cruel?
That one sentence: “Unfortunately we aren’t interested in seeing the rest.” Ouch!
I could have stopped writing right then. I sure wanted to. I wanted to lie down on the couch and inhale a bag of barbecue chips and never, ever pick up my laptop again.
But I didn’t. Instead, I kept writing. And when I finished my next short story or novel, I sent it out too, and got another rejection back.
I started to keep a collection of my rejections. The stack of letters grew until it was thicker than a phone book.
But here’s the thing. Rejection letters don’t make you a failure. They make you TOUGH. They make you stronger!
Rejection letters are like a dare. They’re daring you to work harder and become a kick-ass author.
Don’t let the rejections get you down. Yes, they sting, but they’re making you stronger. Hold them closely to your chest. Don’t give up. The finish line is out there – somewhere.
The other day I drove down to Niagara. A local school had invited me to join them in a fun-run.
Actually, it was a charity run for cancer research. Which should have made it un-fun. Except it wasn’t.
More than 12,000 people laced up for the 5k course. I met my team in the field beside the Welland Canal. They gave me a T-shirt that said WESTMOUNT TEAM ULTRA on the back. Yes, there’s now a running team named after my novel!
Select members of Westmount School’s “Team Ultra”
Fifteen minutes before the race, the kids dragged me over to the stage for a Zoomba warm-up.
“What’s Zoomba?” I asked.
“It’s hard to explain,” said the girls.
I still don’t know what Zoomba is, but it’s LOUD and there’s DANCING, and it’s, like, THE BEST THING EVER! Somewhere out there in Internetland, there’s a video of me doing Zoomba. When you see it, you shall know that I AM THE ZOOMBA MASTER!
When the Zoomba ended, I assumed the race would start. But instead, a little girl in a wheelchair was given a microphone. She was maybe 7 years old. She told the crowd how, a couple of years ago, she started having headaches and dizzy spells. The doctors discovered cancer in her brain and quickly operated and gave her six months of chemotherapy. Then the doctors did another operation to remove more cancer and then there was another round of chemo.
I know this isn’t much fun to hear, and it wasn’t much fun to listen to either. Of course, as hard as it was to listen to, I’m sure it was much, much harder for her.
This brave little girl sat in her wheelchair and explained to 12,000 runners how she grew weak from the chemotherapy and had to use a wheelchair to get around. Then she took off her red hat and cried, “And I lost all my hair!”
I was crying now and everyone around me was crying too, and I was glad that we’d done that Zoomba business first, because we certainly weren’t in the mood for it now. And I thought, this is why we are running this race: to drop-kick this stupid! bloody! disease! into the filthy Welland Canal!
After the little girl finished her speech, everyone started moving toward the starting line. The teacher who’d invited me to run the race pulled an orange card out her pocket and wrote the word “Mom” on it.
“What’s that?” I said.
“It’s who you’re running for,” she said. She pinned the card to the shoulder of my t-shirt.
I smiled. My Mom had cancer more than a decade ago. She’s now 12+ years, cancer free.
The race began. I ran with a group of kids from Westmount School, many of whom had orange cards pinned to their t-shirts too. As we ran we talked about the people we were running for, and of course, we talked a lot about books.
“Why do some people have orange shirts?” I asked suddenly.
Most of the runners were wearing white t-shirts, but here and there, I saw people dressed in orange.
“They’re the cancer survivors,” a grade five student answered.
We ran out to lock 3 and then turned around and came back. We passed a 900-foot freighter along the way. Some of the sailors looked down from the bridge and waved.
We finished the race strong, with a time of 37:30.
Of course, I’m used to running 100-mile races, which are 32 times longer than a 5k race. So I said goodbye to that first group of kids and headed back onto the course. Eventually I caught up with more Team Ultra kids. These students were walking, and they were fans of my book, so we walked and chatted, and they gave me some excellent suggestions for my second novel.
This time, we finished the race in 1:26:36. It was the first time I’ve ever finished the same race twice!
* * *
After the barbecue and the goodbyes and the hugs I drove out to Short Hills Provincial Park. I was energised from all the conversations I’d had with the kids, and I still felt the need to do some running. So I pounded myself, running up and down those spiky hills, and splashing through thigh-deep mud-slicks. At the end of my run I was way too mucky to get in the car, so I jumped into a fast-moving river to rinse myself off. A huge water snake darted between my legs. I shrieked with terror, then started to laugh. I thought about how lucky I was to be standing there, in a healthy body, snakes and all. And I sent that little girl in the wheelchair a whispered prayer of support.
My novel Ultra doesn’t have any pictures. But that doesn’t stop readers from drawing their own.
Here are some illustrations, drawn by kids, based on scenes in the book.
As you may or may not know, Ultra is about a 13 year-old boy, named Quinn, who enters a 100-mile footrace. Quinn runs all day and all night through a rugged forest. His little brother Ollie cheers him on, mostly over the phone.
Quinn has all sorts of crazy adventures during his 24-hour run. He sees hallucinations, meets crazy people, runs up and down mountains, and encounters extreme weather. He even has a run-in with a bear:
As he runs, Quinn thinks about his family, who he misses. He begins to think that he’ll never see them again, and that he’ll never finish this crazy race.
At midnight, after running for 18 hours, he arrives at the magical 75-mile rest station. There’s a disco ball hanging from a tree.
The disco ball gives him power and strength. So does the Krazy Glue on his feet (don’t ask)!
Eventually Quinn reaches the finish line. But does he beat the evil Dirt Eater? Is his family there to cheer him on? And why did he run this crazy race in the first place?
You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Thanks to the brilliant artists at St. Bridget’s School in Brooklin, Ontario for these amazing pictures. You all deserve a belt buckle!