Patricia Jean SMith
Patricia Jean Smith lives with her husband of forty-three years–writer, publisher and editor, Ron Smith–in Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island. Although she was born on the bald prairie in Edmonton, Alberta and can vividly remember the icy wind and snowdrifts of a winter blizzard, since the age of ten she has lived in British Columbia. The beauty and diversity of this landscape, from the Rockies to the surf of the Pacific Ocean, continue to awe and inspire her.

The Smiths live in a new timber frame house which they designed and built themselves with the help of their brother, Brian Philp, and their site supervisor, David Ingram. Central to the creation of their home is the inclusion of two studies–one for him and one for her. Each Smith has a room of their own in which to indulge their enduring passion for the written word.

Unlike many authors who proclaim that the muses touched them at an early age, the young Pat knew, by the time she was ten, that there were two things she could never do–1. Stand on her head –2. Write a book. She knew that the first was out of the question because her older cousin, Cheryl, had tried to teach her the trick without success. Number two was impossible because, knowing herself to be a very normal, albeit very lucky, kind of kid, Pat lacked the requisite genius and imagination. Her mother, the daughter of Norwegian pioneers, could recite long passages of Shakespeare from memory and, with her mother’s encouragement, the young Pat got herself a library card and became a regular at the Prince George Public Library. Diary entries from these early years revealed that the highlight of each week was Pat’s visit to the library, much to the subsequent amusement of her brother, Bill, and her friend, Suzanne, who purloined the diary and gleefully tormented Pat by reading aloud her accounts of each and every visit to this northern sacred shrine.

Luckily for Pat, she discovered a wonderful book on a shelf in the Prince George Public Library–The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff. It was the most wonderful book the young girl had ever read and she searched high and low for more works by the British author. But the year was 1957 and at that time, Rosemary had written a mere six books, only one of which was then available at the Prince George Public Library. What the young Pat did not know was, that when she grew up and became a mother, her ten-year old daughter, Nicole, would bring home a book from the Lantzville Elementary School Library–The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff!

Mother Pat: “Where on Earth did you find this?”

Nicole: “In the library, of course.” (in that disdainful tone children reserve for mothers when they ask stupid questions.)

Upon receiving this information, Pat grabbed the book out of her daughter’s hands, rushed to her rocking chair in the dining area, sat down and began to read. The words enchanted. The Sutcliff magic was still there and, in the twenty plus years since the young Pat had discovered The Shield Ring, Rosemary had been producing books at an average of one a year!

Encouraged by Ron, who suggested Pat write to Rosemary Sutcliff and tell her how much she loved her books, she did so. To this day her collection of Sutcliff first editions and the correspondence which she and Rosemary exchanged until Rosemary’s death in 1992 are amongst Pat’s most prized possessions.

In 1960 Pat’s father, Tom Murdoch, was promoted and the family moved to the Kamloops area, specifically Savona, on Kamloops Lake. After being promised her own horse, Pat agreed to go along. She never got the horse (and that’s another story) but the move turned out to be full of fabulous new experiences for the teen. She learned to swim, water-ski, fish for rainbow trout, and, best of all, she became a basketball player. In the 60’s the Kamloops Red Angels provided stiff competition for the Salmon Arm Jewels, and the two teams would duel their way through the league and the districts, all the way to the provincial finals in the Women’s Gym at UBC, four years in a row. Pat’s experiences from this period of her life inform much of the story she tells in A Song for My Daughter.

Flush with cash from scholarships, Pat entered UBC’s Bachelor of Arts program in the fall of 1965. She had determined that she would become a diplomat in order to usher in a new era of world peace. However, the move to the coast initially proved to be a difficult one. After the sunshine of the Thompson Valley, the rainy climate of Vancouver proved troublesome. Living in residence with its curfews and monoculture was depressing. Where were the little kids? The dogs and the cats? The elderly? She felt alienated in the big city and hemmed in by the mountains, the ocean and the American border. These blacker experiences are examined in some depth in her novella, Double Bind.

Fortunately, at the beginning of her fourth year at UBC, Pat met Ron who had a bold vision: He had lived in Europe. He was going to return. And he was going to be a writer. This dream immediately resonated with Pat. She and Ron decided to get married immediately, and would have, but for her parents’ assertion that “Once you’re married, Pat, you’re on your own. You’ll have to come up with your own living allowance then.” Prudently, Ron and Pat decided to postpone their wedding plans until the end of the university year. For a fuller examination of their married life and the chance curves that Fate can throw at one, the curious would do well to read The Golf Widow’s Revenge.

After the wedding and a year and a half abroad, the couple returned to Vancouver and to UBC where Ron enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English Literature and Pat enrolled in the Masters program in Comparative Religion where she specialized in Hinduism and East Indian philosophy.
In 1972 the couple moved to Vancouver Island. They liked it so much, they stayed. During the first couple of years of his employment at Malaspina College Ron organized a series of readings with the help of the Canada Council. Thanks to the energy of her husband, Pat was able to meet and get to know many of Canada’s emerging and established writers, about fifty in total. Her personal highlights from this era remain: out drinking John Newlove; beating Al Purdy at pool; and seeing Michael Ondaatje in his pyjamas. The ultimate lesson for Pat was this. Writers should not be put on pedestals. They are ordinary mortals. They have clay feet. If these folks can learn to write, so can you. In fact, armed with Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, you can even teach yourself to stand on your head.

At this stage of her life, a phase that Pat likes to refer to as her Forest Dweller Stage, her vanaprasthashrama, her greatest joy remains her family. She feels an enormous sense of pride in the accomplishments of her children, Nicole and Owen, and their partners, Iain and Jen. And with the arrival of her granddaughter, Flora, Pat knows that her legacy is secure. Now she can get on with finishing all those manuscripts she has in her drawer. She might choose to publish them serially, on line. She has the technology. And she invites you to join the adventure on her blog.