the joy of self publishing

Women of the West Coast and the Joy of Self Publishing

by Marnie Andersen


I spent my early years in the Vancouver area and, although my family moved to Alberta when I was ten and I later married and we raised our family in St. Albert, I never got the salt water out of my system, or, the sand out of my shoes. Later, as I approached my fiftieth birthday, I began to feel there was something more that I was meant to do in life.

In a few years our three daughters would be graduating from university and on their own in their chosen careers. I began to explore, in my mind, the options that might soon become available to me. The possibilities were interesting. Would I however, have the courage to reach out and seize the opportunity when it presented itself? Indeed, would I recognize the opportunity when it presented itself?

In the summer of 1985 I visited the west coast of Vancouver Island. As a family we had been making summer pilgrimages to the Long Beach area for many years but this time it was different; I was alone. I was free to explore the area and mingle with the townspeople. I began to hear stories, wonderful stories, about people born on, or transplanted to, the rugged outer coast. I remember thinking “I hope someone is collecting, and preserving these tales.”

Next, I set about collecting books about the outer coast, and, as I read the stories, one thing became abundantly clear: while there some wonderful stories about the coast and its peoples, particularly the pioneers, there was rarely any mention of the west coast woman.

Had she been imported – like Mandarin oranges – once the men had tidied up the land, built the homestead, and tilled the soil? Or had she, as I suspected, been there from the beginning; creating homes and raising children under conditions that were truly daunting?

A few months later my father passed away and left me a small bequest. I felt compelled to write his biography and detail his final years, spent in the dark clouds of dementia. This account was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal The generous payment for the article was nice, but, more important, was the confidence it instilled in me; the permission it gave me to think of myself as a writer. In fact, it went completely to my head.

Within weeks, after consulting the family and obtaining their blessings for the proposed journey, I resigned from my mind-dulling job.and flew to Nanaimo, where I bought a respectably decrepit car, in a fitting rust colour. (I had no desire to stand out in a west coast crowd.) The next day I drove to Tofino, prepared to gather those tales of the colourful coastal characters into a book. Ignorance is bliss they say. Indeed it is. I had not stopped to consider the facts, which, if I had done so, would surely have doomed the project.

First of all, I couldn’t type. Nor had I ever interviewed anyone. I was almost pathologically shy, and rather seriously hearing impaired. However, I had always had an adventurous spirit (buried for years beneath diapers, parent-teacher interviews, thousands of home baked cookies). Well, you get the picture. What I did have, in abundance however, was a deep and abiding love of the west coast and its people.

For the first month I cowered in my rustic cabin on the inlet, reading the book I’d purchased in the Vancouver airport, titled “The Art of Interviewing,” and learning how to operate my neat little tape recorder. Luckily I’d purchased three bags of groceries in Port Alberni. Finally I ventured out onto the streets (street actually) of Tofino. I purchased a sou’wester, rubber boots, and a pen, guaranteed to write under water. It was a “dark and rainy afternoon” and in the gloom I couldn’t make out any colourful characters. So much for the first chapter.

Time went on. I knew the family was waiting for word to meet me at the Edmonton airport. “She’ll be home any day” they told themselves. I could feel the vibrations of those voices during the lonely nights, as the rain beat a tattoo on the roof of my cozy A frame home.

I decided a devilishly hot place would freeze over before I would slink home with my tape recorder dangling from my purse.

One morning I met an older man down on the Crab Dock. In the course of our friendly conversation, he asked me who I was and, in a sudden flash of delusional grandeur I shared with him the amazing news that I was a writer, come to collect and record for posterity the stories that made this area so unique. He, in turn, shared with me, the fact that he was one of the area’s “colourful characters.” What a stroke of luck for both! He was my first “interviewee” so to speak and followed my rather erratic progress from that day forward with great interest.

I set about meeting the women of the area and requesting permission to write their life stories. Once the focus turned to women, my incredible journey began. The stories were there; and freely given; once I managed to overcome the women’s modesty and gained their trust. I visited lighthouses and floathouses, native villages and .fishing boats, usually during the winter months, when people weren’t as busy.

It took three years to do the research and another four years to write the book. During that time my husband Tage, an artist, and teacher, was creating the illustrations for each chapter, working from photos I had taken. Finally the book was finished, and in 1993, after receiving several rejections from mainstream publishers, I decided to self publish. Once again, I was facing a challenge. I needn’t have worried, because the colourful, assertive women portrayed in Women of the West Coast ~ Then and Now appealed to the reading public, and over time, became, statistically speaking, a Canadian Best Seller.

In early times Vancouver Island was western Canada’s frontier and, from the Indian princess to the wives of the settlers, and, later, the missionaries, miners and loggers, these feisty women all had a hand in making the area what it is today.

As the years passed, a new generation migrated to this area of stunning beauty and bountiful gifts of sustenance. Many were fleeing conscription for a war they didn’t agree with. They were among the first to challenge the policies of off shore multinational corporations, which threatened a way of life and an environment that had sustained people of the outer coast particularly the aboriginal communities, since time immemorial. In the year 2000 the efforts resulted in Clayoquot Sound being declared a unesco biosphere reserve.

For west coasters, the evolution from picturesque, but struggling, Long Beach communities; dependant upon the uncertain harvesting of natural resources, to world class tourist destinations, in a relatively short time has been a huge leap of faith. Today, tourism is definitely the engine that drives the outer coast economy.

Ten years after producing the original book, I decided to revisit the women or their families to explore how the new prosperity has impacted upon their lives and those they love. To blend the new reality, a postscript has been added to each chapter. In some cases these postscripts have been written by the women themselves. This has served to increase the authenticity of the stories.

Learn how the Ladies of the Lights cope with retirement to so-called civilization, with its puzzling parameters. Pop into the Common Loaf Bake Shop and scan the new menu while sipping Guatemalan coffee. Welcome Maria, who has new reasons for living and embracing her proud cultural heritage as a First Nation woman. Share the excitement surrounding Strawberry Island these days. Know Shari, the whale researcher, who is living her dream, south of the border. Enjoy a visit to an area of stunning beauty and meet some of its fascinating people.


The book, Women of the West Coast ~ Stories of Clayoquot Sound ~ Then and Now has truly been a labour of love on my part. I feel blessed to have these women in my life. Without their trust and enthusiasm for this project, there would be no second book; nor would there have been a first book.

Marnie Andersen’s book ‘Women of the West Coast’ is available in its revised form at the Wildside Bookseller’s store in Tofino.

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Women of the West Coast author Marnie Anderson writes about her experiences with self-publishing her book.

tofino time december 2004

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