A new book reflects on Dianne Miller’s time in Saskatchewan education, including time teaching in Yorkton.
“This is my first published book,” said Miller of her book Chalk Dust. “The idea for the book evolved as I recalled and recorded several of my experiences as a student, teacher, and administrator.
“I cherish my memories of young children’s innocent observations, adolescents’ good-natured wisecracks, and humorous, poignant, sad, and even frightening situations. I’ve retold these stories through the years because of their impact on my life and my heart.”
So the book collects her stories, some harkening back to her Yorkton time.
“I appreciated my years as a member of the friendly, progressive Yorkton community,” said the Weldon, SK. born Miller. “My stories from there relate mostly to my experiences with adolescents in Grades 7, 8, 9 at St. Joseph’s Junior High School. I wrote, ‘Student behaviour at a school dance pretty much provided a perfect illustration of the microcosm that is junior high. Grade 9 students, draped over one another, slow-danced in the middle of the gym. The Grade 8s hung around the perimeter, nudging, giggling, and working up enough nerve to be part of the action. Meanwhile, the Grade 7s played tag around the outside of the circle’.”
Miller spent seven years in Yorkton, one at Dr. Brass Elementary and six at St. Joseph’s Junior High.
For Miller writing the book was a new experience.
“Other than an interest in creative writing as a student, having completed several English university classes, and the need for creativity in my teaching and administration (including those infernal month end reports) I’ve received little formal education as a writer,” she told Yorkton This Week.
“Following retirement I took a writing class at the local college and since then have been a member of the Swift Current Prairie Quills Writers’ Group and the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild. Through the local group and the Guild I’ve attended numerous workshops and retreats.”
But, why did Miller think the book was worth writing?
“My aim is to entertain and inform,” she said.
“I think retired, current, and prospective teachers will enjoy my ramble through the many pedagogical, societal, and personal changes I observed through my lifetime.
“Everyone has attended school, and I feel will be reminded of their own, hopefully positive, experiences.
“I also hope that, through Chalk Dust, I can encourage others to write down their memories. We jot down short tweets, posts, and emails, rarely writing in complete sentences, thus losing much of our personal history.
“I feel it’s extremely important for people to record their family, career, or other life stories. Write down those snapshots of memory. Even if you put them in a shoebox in the closet, your family will appreciate your tales.”
That does not mean the book necessarily came easy to Miller.
“Gene Fowler said, ‘Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead’,” she offered. “With memoir writing, usually the seed of an idea is easy to find and the key is to dump the memory onto paper oblivious to correct grammar, sentence structure, spelling, or punctuation.
“Then the real work begins as you edit for content and mechanics.
“I was fortunate to work with Heather Nickel of Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing in Regina, and after she suggested I follow a chronological order in which to weave the many disparate stories, the chapters flowed more easily.”
Of course there were still challenges to writing Chalk Dust.
“When you’re recording memories that include other people, there’s always the possibility that your recollection of a situation differs from theirs,” said Miller. “My disclaimer is that these memories are mine, and I hope former friends and colleagues will indulge whatever delusions or discrepancies may surface.
“I also interviewed several colleagues who gave consent for me to share their stories which I’ve woven, often with embellishment, through the book to further illustrate various points. I hope I have retold their stories and mine gently but truthfully.”
People seem to like what Miller has created.
“To-date, response to the book has been positive,” said Miller. “People tell me how they’ve ‘burst out laughing’, ‘giggled all the way through’, and sometimes ‘shed a tear’.
“Some have related recollections triggered by my stories. I’m pleased the book has been well received.”
As the author Miller too is satisfied with her effort.
“Yes, publication has been a huge learning experience, but I’m gratified that readers are enjoying my story,” she said.
Chalk Dust is available through YNWP.ca, Skbooks.com, Prairiebooksnow.ca, Chapters.indigo.ca, Books.apple.com, and Amazon.ca. It’s available at Coles outlets around Saskatchewan and in Yorkton, at the Parkland Mall Coles store.