A Saskatchewan author has published his first collection, made up of 53 short stories inspired by the prairies. Bert McNair’s first collection of short stories, Under The Living Skies: Conversations Between You, Me and the Fence Post, and he was at Yorkton Public Library on Nov. 21 to read from it and meet readers in the area.
When writing the stories, McNair admits that he did not originally expect them to become a book. It wasn’t until he began to look at his stories more closely that he decided to put it together into a book.
“I do all of my writing in longhand, and when I enter it on computer that’s the first edit. I wanted to get that writing into digital format, so I entered it all onto the computer, printed it off, looked at it for a while and thought, you know, I think there’s something here.”
Instead of a book, the stories began as part of a writer’s group in Meadow Lake, where he met monthly with other writers from the area.
“At the time they said if you’re going to do anything as a writer, you should write at least three pages a day. Some call it rapid writing, some call it morning pages… That’s what I was doing, I was just writing for the enjoyment of it.”
Writing is a physical process for McNair, and that also was part of the process when compiling the book. McNair printed off each story and arranged it on the floor while he figured out the order of the stories and which ones would work best in each section and in each order. This process also gave him a deadline.
“I would spread it out and work with it for about an hour or so, and I knew I had to get it off the floor so I would get it back together. By doing that and looking at it and putting it back together again, that’s how it happened.”
Writing in longhand might sound like an antiquated process, but for McNair it’s a way to keep writing fun and from feeling like a job.
“I’m an educator, my first half of my career I was in the classroom, the last half I worked in an office. The computer is a very important part of my work as an administrator, so sitting at the computer is work. Writing, this is my relaxation. I find it very quiet and enjoyable old fashioned exercise.”
As he began to go through the stories, he began to see connections between the stories and how it could form the basis of a book. The final work is divided into five sections. The first involves McNair’s ancestry, the second and third both talk about the influence of the church in McNair’s life. The fourth section he calls “warrior stories,” drawn from old texts about warriors, and the fifth section “brings it all back home.”
The title of the book is built out of the prairies, with the subtitle being what people say before they tell a secret, though that secret inevitably gets out, McNair jokes.
Beyond the book, writing the stories had an impact on McNair’s day job as well.
“I needed a creative part of my life. I found that by doing all of that writing it actually influenced the work I was doing as an administrator. I was much more conscious of the words I was using, communicating what I was saying. My work became very clear.”