Like many of you, I’ve had to reinvent myself a number of times.
During my university years, I worked summers first as a tour guide at a museum, then as an actor. I served as a member of the university senate for three years, and as president of the student union for one. In my Honours year, I wrote a column, “The Mason Line,” for the student newspaper. The university’s student-run theatre also staged a couple of my plays. …These are best forgotten.
After graduating from university in the early 1980s, I went to work for the Canadian civil service: my portfolio was job creation, and it involved visiting a number of small Ontario towns and villages and encouraging organizations and businesses to create work for young people and for older folk seeking to re-enter the workforce. I monitored the short-term projects they created – cleaning up river banks, “brushing” trails, planting trees, renovating run-down properties, and supporting victims of sexual assault.
Three years of working for the government left me feeling restless, so I segued into running a dinner theatre, then, a year later, accepted a teaching post at an independent school.
I spent over thirty years at Lakefield College School, teaching English and Drama, supervising advisees, coaching the debating society and junior soccer team, directing plays, and meeting some extraordinary young people in the process. When I wasn’t looking after my own young children during the summer, I wrote several plays – two of which were published and have been produced in a number of different towns and cities, and another two which won awards of one kind or another. Sister Camille won the 1996 CITA award for best full-length play.
Those years also saw me write two novels: Battered Soles is a mostly comic account of an imaginary pilgrimage between Peterborough and Lakefield to see a statue of a blue-skinned Jesus with healing powers in the basement of St. John’s Anglican Church. It was nominated for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 2005, but a fair number of people took the book very seriously, and the minister telephoned me to complain that he kept being interrupted in his office by people wanting to see the statue. He handled it wonderfully, however, eventually posting a notice that read, “There is no statue of a blue-skinned Jesus in the basement of this church … but anyone wishing an encounter with the living Christ should join us for Sunday services at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m.”
The other novel is The Red Dress. It features a seventeen-year-old boy growing up poor and confused in rural Ontario. He is befriended by a much older, worldly couple, whom he comes to idolize. The relationship is disrupted, however, when he sees them doing something abhorrent – an act that, for a time, destabilizes him morally and emotionally.
After I retired from teaching, I took a few months to read and reflect, then decided to explore the world of voice-acting. I made a voice demo under the direction of Tracey Hoyt, and was lucky enough to find an agent very quickly. I was lucky again: I landed the first role I auditioned for (voicing an animated guinea pig!), and was also offered an onscreen role as a wicked high school principal. It wasn’t a big part, but it launched me into a career that has seen me appear in fifteen feature films, seven network television series, and many smaller projects. … I am a long, long way from being famous, but I get enough work that it makes sense for me to remain a member of ACTRA.
Since retiring from teaching, I have had three more books brought out by a mainstream publishing house: The Night Drummer, a novel, came out in 2015. Publishers Weekly gave it a warm review, saying, in part, “Ellis’s memories of first loves and jobs and an endearingly oddball assortment of friends, including Otis, a preternaturally wise and kind Ojibwe boy adopted by devout Caucasian parents, give this portrait a welcome sweetness that draws attention to the innocence, sheer possibility, and blithe lightheartedness of youth.” A Pug Called Poppy (my one children’s book), was published in 2017: I had hoped that Poppy would become the Canadian equivalent of Paddington Bear, but so far that hope has not been realized. And The Rogue Wave, my most recent novel and first thriller, came out in 2021. This book was heralded by Canadian librarians as one of the three “most anticipated Canadian books published in April,” and, yes, it’s had some favourable reviews, but publishing a book in the midst of a pandemic, when bookstores are closed and public readings impossible, has hurt.
I should add here that while most of my work has been brought out by conventional publishers, I have self-published two books: Jim’s Star & Other Christmas Stories had been sold to an American publishing house, but that publisher was taken over by a larger press, and that imprint cancelled its fiction line. And I have also self-published a pre-production script called Maisie’s Bench. Both of these volumes are available through Amazon. All of my conventionally published works are available through private bookshops and via major online booksellers.
My four published novels address, at some level, how we should live in a fallen world. Yes, this is a Christian theme, but my approach is not didactic; I detest preachiness in a work of literature. If you didn’t know that my orientation is liberal Christian, it might well not occur to you. If my writing is Christian, then, it is so because it assumes that there is a moral order to the universe; that life is charged with meaning; that actions have spiritual ramifications; that the God of Love presides over Creation. You won’t find these explicit declarations in my fiction, but they are the super-structure for the stories I tell.
If any of the foregoing interests you, may I invite you to investigate my work?
Paul Nicholas Mason