Sidney artist Wendy Picken’s latest book stems from a camping misadventure where she nearly took off her thumb.
Her second book, which took more than a decade to complete, is among the Emerging Authors Collection at the Greater Victoria Public Library.
It started as a poem, written for a friend to ensure she understood the camping trip – her first visit to Fairy Lake – wasn’t a bust despite the injury. Due to the thumb, that technically needed stitches but instead kept her immobilized for the entirety of the trip, she sat around, sketched and wrote impressions.
The friend was worried she hadn’t had a good time. So the artist wrote the poem about all the things she loved about the place.
“That poem kept growing into a much larger, larger piece about everything I loved about the coast,” she said.
That 2011 poem was titled after an artwork she’d done called Honeybees and Rainbows and was heavily inspired by Edward Lear’s The Scroobious Pip (1969).
“I took it from an approximately 4,000-word poem and I set a word count deadline. I wanted it close to, or under, 1,000 words,” Picken said. “That was a journey to just erase and erase and erase and edit and edit. It was a fun journey to be on and it wasn’t a journey I wanted to rush. The longer I took the more I understood the story and what I wanted to express. I wanted the book to be a celebration of the west coast and all of the things I love about living in Sidney, Victoria, the southern part of Vancouver Island and even beyond.”
Over the next decade, it became the beautifully illustrated book Rainbees and Honeybows: A Vancouver Island Fairy Tale.
It is the story of tiny heroine Angelina Carolina Wilhelmina Figs – a damselfly-mouse-bird-moth-frog-beetle – rhyming and singing her way through adventure.
The artist also created her own bright illustrations and it all culminated in the book completed by October 2022. When she went to donate a copy to the Greater Victoria Public Library at the Central Branch, the staffer there reminded her of the Emerging Authors Collection and offered an application. While she did write and self-publish a book in 2007, Picken qualified and Rainbees and Honeybows: A Vancouver Island Fairy Tale became part of the 2023 collection.
“I was thrilled to find out that even existed. You need all the support you can get as an emerging author or even as any author,” she said. “Any little bit helps.”
The collection includes self-published, independent, and small-press books by local authors and covers all genres and types of books, from poetry to picture books, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and more. To date, 1,300 unique titles and more than 900 authors ranging in age from six to 90-plus have been showcased.
“We are excited to provide a platform for the tremendous literary talent in our community. The Emerging Local Authors Collection is a testament to our local authors’ creativity and storytelling abilities,” said Cheryl Landry, public services librarian. “Ultimately, this is about connecting readers and writers. It’s an opportunity for authors to boost their book’s visibility and reach a broader audience. It’s also an opportunity for our community to discover new voices and stories.”
That’s the case for Picken, who says a new audience is finding her book. More families in particular reaching out to say they enjoy the local setting and that there’s something for everyone in the book.
“Since the intake for the 2024 collection opened last month, we’ve had dozens of applications,” said Stephanie Marston, a GVPL public services librarian. “Whether you’re an aspiring poet who has printed a handful of copies of your chapbook, or you think you have written the next bestselling cookbook, we invite you to submit your published work.”
Print books from this year’s collection are on display at the Central Branch on Broughton Street in Victoria and can be placed on hold for pickup at any GVPL branch. Ebooks are available through BiblioBoard.
Authors and illustrators from southern Vancouver Island can apply to be part of the 2024 Emerging Local Authors Collection now through Jan. 15, 2024. Find the forms online at www.gvpl.ca.
Picken’s advice to first-time authors is to stick to it, even if they’re not ready for the 2024 collection.
“If they’re not ready this year, just keep working on it and hopefully the library can keep having the emerging authors program,” she said. “Sometimes the work takes longer than one might think… you have to honour the creative process and just keep doing it.”