By Sue Tiffin
Readers familiar with seeing Deborah J. Reed and Janet Trull’s names and written work in the Haliburton County Echo and County Life will now see their names on a colourful collaboration: a picture book celebrating childhood, freedom, nostalgia and nature.
Field Hooky, a book featuring Reed’s autobiographical poem, illustrated by Trull was created by the two writers and artists working remotely together this year to self-publish the work.
“It’s basically my story as a kid from age six to about 12,” said Reed. “And that’s all. It’s innocence, it’s freedom, it’s beauty, it’s just that whole song that the world makes for a kid when a kid isn’t encumbered by any tragedies or restrictions.”
“It was special,” said Trull. “The thing though that I found about her poem, was that the themes really are universal. We all have similar nostalgia for our childhood. Everybody can remember that special time when you were alone in nature and it was powerful.”
Reed has been living in Haliburton for the past three years and visiting the area for much longer. After moving to the area, she felt restless, missing the family, friends – Netflix – that she left behind, and said she started writing more and more, works that have been published in this paper.
“On the bus up and down to and from Toronto, I began writing,” she said. “I’ve been doing that for a couple of years, just on my iPhone and sometimes the painting I did happened to match or sometimes I did a painting and then wrote.”
Writing, she said, kept her “out of trouble in terms of loneliness, inertia” as she adjusted to the passing of her father and her mom’s dementia, and also helped calm nervousness while on the bus traveling to visit her mom at a long-term care home this year.
“It was curative for my spirit,” she said.
But being creative was part of her childhood, too, her love of language coming from her dad, and her passion from her mom.
“I did a lot of writing and drawing as a kid,” she said. “I was a really isolated and lonely kid. This poem came from that awkward childhood of mine, being totally in my head and introverted. My mom and dad just let me play by myself at the end of that road and that became Field Hooky.”
The poem is one of her favourites from her collection of writing, the self-publishing a sort of Christmas gift to herself, but also to her children, their children, and even former students who have ordered a copy of Field Hooky.
“It’s just making a lot of people feel good right now,” said Reed.
Reed asked Trull if she might want to collaborate on the project after seeing her creative work, turning to her to illustrate the poem.
“It’s so personal for me and powerful for me that I don’t want to touch it with my paintbrush, I want somebody else to figure this out for me.”
Trull, Reed laughs, had high-speed internet, enabling her to lay the book out. But besides that, she was able to create the visuals for Reed’s memories.
“I needed her,” said Reed. “I needed her experience, her vision, her generosity, and she just jumped right on board. I was very flattered and blown away by what happened.”
Trull said yes right away.
“I love it when people ask,” laughed Trull. “She phoned and asked if I would illustrate it and I said yes. I very rarely turn down the chance to do something that’s new and creative and the chance to work with somebody new and get to know them. It’s just, that’s the great thing about Haliburton, there’s so many creative people and opportunities to test your creativity.There are a lot of people out there and I think you have to just say yes when somebody comes up with a good plan.”
Also a former teacher, Trull said she often encouraged her students to avoid using a pencil, which then leads to erasing lines that have been put down. Instead, she starts with a Sharpie.
“I always sketch with a Sharpie and you just trust that you’re going to come up with an illustration that is OK. I enjoyed putting my Sharpie on the page and seeing what happened.”
The pair worked together to add a woodland creature, a sort of talisman on each page to follow along with the child in the poem, to help bridge a gap between generations, with modern-day parents potentially feeling uneasy with a child exploring by herself in a field.
“I think my favourite is the final illustration in the book because it shows the ghost of a girl climbing a big tree, and then on the other side it shows mother, who brought her daughter back to the meadow to show her where she grew up and to show her the big climbing tree,” said Trull. “Of course the climbing tree is gone so they’re sitting on a stump and looking over the meadow and how it’s changed but there’s a little pail and trowel and sapling to show they’ve planted a new tree. That was my connection between the generations, and hopefully people will see that connection, that our stories from our childhood are good ones to connect to the kids today.”
Trull called it a colourful story, and an enjoyable experience to work on with Reed.
“Especially right now, people are trying to get their kids outside and tell the tales of a time when there was more freedom for kids to wander,” said Trull. “We’ve actually imposed a lot of restrictions on kids that didn’t exist before so it is nice to remember the forest and the meadow and all those places are actually pretty friendly.”
When more copies of Field Hooky arrive at the end of December, they will be available at the Rails End Gallery in Haliburton.