“I used to be a fiction writer but I don’t write fiction anymore,” Lesley Buxton, MFA’16, explains. “I love fiction. I was very close to having a publishable book when my daughter got ill. I have never been able to go back.“
Instead, Lesley turned her writerly mind to creative nonfiction. “There is so much more story in truth than there is in anything I can make up.”
The story in her memoir One Strong Girl (2018, Pottersfield Press) is proof.
As a teenager Lesley had set her sights on being an actor. She went to England to study theatre but instead of taking to the stage when she came back home, she formed a company and began teaching acting to children. She also wrote a play.
“I started to realize I loved to write. I had just had a baby and writing plays requires a lot of people so I started to write stories. I didn’t know much about it so I took courses and wrote and wrote and little by little started to get accepted.“
Accepted by publications such as The Fiddlehead and The New Quarterly. Meanwhile her baby, India, began to grow up.
But when she turned ten, illness struck. India started to fall down. Other symptoms followed, it was eventually diagnosed as SMA-PME, an unbelievably rare disease. One in a million isn’t even close. Lesley chronicled their journey.
“I started this blog called Fall On Me, Dear about having a child who is ill and you don’t know what they have and you can’t get answers—and how I was consumed with worry.”
India’s illness was relentless. She died at 16.
Lesley continued her blog, writing about the grief of losing a child.
“Then one day I got a letter from Lorri Neilsen Glenn. She was a mentor with King’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program. She suggested I should apply to the program and turn my blog into a book.”
Lesley did apply and was accepted. With the help of her mentors Jan Silcott and Kim Pittaway, she began to turn her story into the powerful narrative in One Strong Girl.
Over the two-year program Lesley wrote and wrote and wrote. It wasn’t easy.
“I believe in the idea that if it isn’t hard to write, if it isn’t upsetting, then it isn’t worth telling.”
Her mentors were there with reassurances and practical advice.
“They helped me structure the book. When you’re telling a story that is hard on someone’s heart you have to give them moments to breathe. You have to learn how to pace these things. They helped me have the courage to do that.”
Lesley says she also learned how to speak about her writing, to pitch and promote—skills she continues to use today with new writing projects. Her latest is a collaboration with classmate-turned-colleague Sue Harper, MFA’16, called Time to Wonder. It’s about British Columbia’s regional museums.
Lesley has begun a new chapter in her life.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like if I hadn’t taken the MFA—if I had just kept on writing the blog. It saved my life. It really did.”
Date posted: February 2021