Mary Raimes Curtis - One Writer's Journey

How did I get here from there?
One writer’s journey

Hi, Marion. Thanks for inviting me to talk about my writer’s journey. I hope you don’t mind, I brought my huge mug of kick ass cappuccino with me? My day doesn’t start right without a caffeine boost. It wasn’t always this way. Growing up in England tea was a staple—morning, noon and night. My grandma kept a big pot on the stove until it turned to black sludge.

Authors are often asked where their ideas come from. Sometimes it’s a conundrum and unanswerable. Right now, looking back on my journey towards being an author, I know that all that went before this moment, this place, provided endless possibilities for stories. The dark and the light, the laughter and the tears, and the diverse characters I met on the journey have been stored away. Yes, I weave diverse elements into all I write, until the source is unrecognizable. So my answer to the question of where my ideas come from is simple: they come from all I am and all I have lived through.

So here’s how my journey started and some of the stops on the way. I was born in London during the blitz—it was a heck of a time to enter the world. We were bombed out of three homes and huddled in bunkers much of the time. Then we moved to coastal Yorkshire where my mother worked in a munitions factory. Unfortunately the bombs seemed to follow us—a child’s perception, when their actual target was the iron and steel works close by. Yup! It was that long ago. My four siblings were evacuated to farming families in Devon and Cornwall, so when we met up years later we were strangers. Except for JC, I’m not sure that gap was ever fully breached. They were boisterous and I was the quiet one hiding in shadows, reading whatever I could get my hands on, and skipping school—the reasons why were varied. It was an interesting life although it was often fraught with menace and the need to run, hide, pray.

At one point we lived on an abandoned army camp and I ran wild with the other kids. Although bleak, the camp was a treasure trove. In one hut we found an abandoned fencing foil, in another a battered army helmet. Climbing the high chain link fence where empty bomb racks still stood we discovered an underground bunker and dropped stones into the oily black water below. Of course, we were ready to run if a monster rose from the depths.

Through it all I had an impossible dream—to become a war correspondent. Some dreams are never meant to be although, sadly, wars continue. When I turned fifteen, making a living was imperative. So I began, first as a shop assistant, scraping maggots off mangy bacon then selling the rashers to unsuspecting customers. It was definitely not my thing. Then it was on to a factory full of stroppy women and raunchy men where gossip ran rampant. I lasted a full week before scarpering. Even though I was underage, I became an usherette in a local cinema. It was the best job I ever had—all those free movies and scads of guys to flirt with, what’s not to like? Later I moved to London, lived in an East end hostel, close to the haunt of Jack the Ripper. The hostel was full of fascinating characters who could have stepped out of a Dicken’s novel. Close by Trafalgar Square, I found a job as a printer. Okay, I sort of lied and said I knew how to operate their printing presses. I learned fast, mostly after everyone left at six pm. From eight to midnight I pumped petrol at a garage and weekends waited tables. And every Friday night I went dancing. I’m jealous of all the energy I had back then.

After breaking an engagement, I decided to sail away to Canada, the best decision I ever made. Especially when I found a boss who didn’t care that I had little schooling. After running the print section for a while, he decided that because I wanted to be a writer I could take over the association news pages. (Crikey! And I didn’t even lie to get the job.) Years later, as the editor and communications manager of a large organization, I developed a full color magazine for professional engineers and managed the in-house art department. Then I truly lost my mind and hung out my shingle as a freelance writer for a variety of corporate clients. (Have no idea how this happened, didn’t know squat about where to plonk a comma, or parse a whatever. Still don’t.)

So there I was, without a clue, helping to develop specialized newsletters, or writing stuff about laser technology and weight bearing walls, then penning speeches for guys in snazzy suits, and writing brochures to explain to the public how nuclear waste was ‘safely’ stored, (That was alarming and I’m still waiting for the big bang.)

Along the way I wrote travel articles, loved that. Then a friend sent a short story I had written to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. To my utter shock it was broadcast across Canada. Then there was some experimental theatre scripts involving lousy prose and very bad poetry. At night a bunch of us read our scribbles at a jazz club. Thankfully my voice was drowned out by an enthusiastic percussionist.

Then came the time to retire and get serious about my stories. The journey took me to the shore of a tidal river in Nova Scotia. It’s a wonderful place that allowed me to try and write a book worth publishing. My dream became reality when Lea Schizaz, MuseItUp Publisher, contracted Taming the Hawk, a historical romance with a dark edge, and Luscious & Lethal, a contemporary romantic suspense. Lea paid me the greatest compliment when she said that Taming the Hawk reminded her of The Taming of the Shrew. No wonder she is my idol.

Sometimes life interferes with your master plan. The death of a longtime companion and friend blocked me for two years. I finally rallied and began working on The Janus series, set in Victorian London. Then life became bitchy once more. I had a bone-crushing fall on icy steps and couldn’t sleep in my bed for six weeks. Reclining in a lounger, sleeping little, unable to work on my laptop and trying to teach spoiled cats my chest is not a trampoline, was the pits. However, my brain didn’t shut down and an idea for a new blog developed around the theme: A Writer’s Journey.

So here we are, ready for the next step. Marion Sipe created the great covers for both my ebooks and I knew I wanted her to work on developing a banner and layout for A Writer’s Journey. Then, crazy as it seems, I decided to serialize a story in the blog, a la Charles Dickens. For some time a young musician, who had lost her way, kept knocking on my brain trying to tell me her heartbreaking story. She wouldn’t pipe down even when I told her to get lost, I didn’t have time. I’m a sucker for a hard luck story so her tale, Candle Without A Flame, started to take shape. The truly scary part of this is, I’m going to publish the chapters as they come from my keyboard. My thinking: why not let readers see the evolution of my character and her story as it happens. After running the idea past friends and other writers, the support for the idea was fantastic.

The decision made, it was necessary to give Candle Without A Flame a cover. I checked out Marion’s pre-made covers and found one that could have been made especially for my story. After adding my name and title, Marion included a small extra touch—the musical element that is integral to the story. I love this cover. And now it’s show time! I hope you will sign on to follow Erin’s journey in Candle Without A Flame. And understand when I have a meltdown now and then.

Thanks again, Marion, for allowing me the space to ramble on about my journey. Do I hear someone snoring in the back row? Okay, I’m outa here. It’s time to go home and see what mischief the cats have been up to and figure out who keeps leaving the basement door open. It’s not me and the cats haven’t fessed up, so there’s another mystery to solve…I hope a cleaver isn’t involved.  


What a fascinating life you've lived. My son is doing a speech today on what life was like in Great Britain during WWII. He talks about those same things. He's ten. Anyway, this was a wonderful blog. So glad I took the time to read it.
Marie Laval said…
This was a fascinating post. What a life you have led and what a success you have made of yourself. Good luck with your writing.
Thank you for dropping by,and your kind words, Suzanne and Marie. I would love to be able to hear your son's speech, Suzanne. Would you tell him I am cheering him on? Mary
Anonymous said…
I was riveted to your story, Mary. My dad was evacuated from Manchester to the Lancashire countryside; my mum from Manchester back to Ireland; and my father-in-law from the Blitz in London to Kent. Being separated from their families affected them for the rest of their lives. I'm glad you made such a success for yourself in Canada, and I'm really looking forward to your story from your blog
Lynne Ware said…
As often as we have talked and all that we've shared, I still learned tons more about you Mary. Thanks for sharing!
Hi, Helena. Being split up at a young age did an enormous amount of damage to many families. I'm not sure it was necessary to evacuate at all. I guess at the time it seemed prudent.
Hey, Lynne. Now you know why I'm so weird. For anyone checking in, Lynne is a fount of knowledge about feral cat colonies and has allowed me to go along when visiting a number of them. The research is great for the next book in the Gilded River Chronicles. Although I hope Lynne doesn't meet up with murder and mayhem as she checks out abandoned barns and houses. My heroine isn't so lucky.
Hi Mary, I really enjoyed reading your blog as I love hearing about other peoples' lives. It's fascinating to find out what makes a writer tick and the process they have to work through to reach the finale. I'm excited to be able to read your new story Candle Without a Flame. Thank you for sharing this.
Kathy P said…
Hi Mary,I love hearing about your wonderful life of adventure. You are amazing. Even a big crash down the icy steps didn't scatter all the stories you have yet to tell. Thanks for keeping us entertained.
Hi, Julie and Kathy P. Thank you for dropping by. Sometimes I wonder how I really did make it from back then to here. But I'm glad I did. I hope you all will follow when A Writer's Journey blog is finally launched. Check into my Facebook page for the date--not long now.
Wendy said…
I can imagine you hiding away, Mary, and reading everything you can get your hands on, creating a safe little area around yourself. How sad to have been separated from your siblings. Sad for them too.
You sure have plenty of life's experiences to draw on as a writer..
I was evacuated from Coventry to Gloucester, but came home just in time for the second big blitz on that city. As an adult, I lived in Ontario for two years so there are a couple of similarities between us. :-) Best wishes for plenty of sales on each of your books.
Mary Curtis said…
Thank you all for dropping in. It is wonderful to hear from Australia, England, the US, and across Canada. Thank you for the book, Taken, Marion. Couldn't resist peeking while having my morning cappuccino. It has shot to the top of the pile.
Kevin Ryan said…
Hello Mary. I think that I know the understanding boss of which you speak! It would be nice to hear from

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