Eric Walters visits Tumbler Ridge

eric walters at the tumbler ridge public libraryTrent Ernst, Editor

Eric Walters is a name that many adults may not be familiar with, though people under the age of 30 may be familiar with his work.

Walters, you see, is Canada’s second-best selling author, behind Bob Munch (“He insists you call him Bob,” says Walters.)

While Munch writes nearly exclusively for young kids, Walters writes for most school-aged kids, though he has made his bones writing for the so-called young adult market, generally kids ages 12–18.

Walters is a former teacher who began writing to encourage his grade 5 class to become more interested in reading. His first novel, Stand Your Ground, was written specifically for his students, set in the school where Eric was teaching, Vista Heights Public School, and incorporating some of the features of the community of Streetsville into the story. Even many of his students showed up in the book.

Since that first book in 1995, Walters has written more than 100 books, and shows no signs of slowing down, even though he is making hundreds of public appearances per year.

Walters has won more than 100 writing awards including eleven separate children’s choice awards.  He is the only three time winner of both the Ontario Library Association Silver Birch and Red Maple Awards – in which over 250,000 students participate and vote the winner.

In November 2013 he received the prestigious Children’s Africana Book Award – Best Book for young children – for his book The Matatu.  This American award was presented to Eric in a ceremony at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

How does a Canadian writer win an African writing award? In 2007, Walters and his son travelled to Kenya in 2007 to visit with the family of a close Kenyan-Canadian friend. While there, Walters met a young orphan boy, Mutuku, in the marketplace of Kikima, Kenya.

The boy was one of more than 500 orphans in the region and Walters decided he had to help. He began helping Mutuku, then a group of four, then founded an project called Creation of Hope. The project currently supports over 400 orphans and impoverished children throughout the area. At the heart of it is an orphanage called the Rolling Hill Residence, where 50 plus orphans are supported.

Every summer, says Walters, he travels to Africa to help out in the orphanage, and he uses his experiences there to fuel his stories.

One of his best-known projects is a series of novels called Seven. Walters invited six other authors to each write a book as part of the series. In the original series, grandfather dies, leaving behind a series of seven tasks for each of his seven grandsons. Each book is written by a different author. Walter’s contribution to the series, Between Heaven and Earth is the story of DJ, the eldest grandson. His task is to scatter grandfather’s ashes from the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Walter’s own experiences climbing the mountain form the basis for much of his presentation to the kids, explaining the hardships and experiences he (and, by extension) his characters face on the climb up and down the mountain, showing photos that he took of his journey. (See this? He tells the kids. That’s an outhouse. It looks like it’s in the clouds. That’s because it is. It’s built on the edge of the cliff with a hole in the bottom. A few years ago an American tourist was using the outhouse when a wind blew it right off the edge. There’s no more embarrassing way to die than in an outhouse.)

Climbing Kilimanjaro was all part of the writing process for Walters. ‘The most important thing anybody ever told me about writing was to write what you know and the only way to get to know things is to do your homework and research before you write,’ he says. While he spends a lot of time reading about subjects, it also involves trying to experience the things that the characters are going through. This has included rock climbing, spending time in a wheelchair, playing with tigers, hanging around a tough biker bar, standing out in his backyard in a blizzard in a t-shirt and shorts to experience freezing to death, hiking across the Sahara Desert, and walking across Kenya.

His presentation in Tumbler includes photos and video clips from his time researching his books. Sometimes these are images he has found as a visual aid for his writing. More often than not, they are his own photos.

While Walters is making not one but two presentations today—Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd—he still tries to write as much as he can. He already had seven pages done by the time he came to today’s presentation.

He shows the kids the two books he always carries with him. One book is for the book he is currently working on, containing scenes, characters, ideas … all the grist that goes into the mill to create a new book.

The second book is a book of quotes. Not inspirational quotes, but things people tell him that will, again, show up in the mouths of his characters.

Walters finally stopped teaching in 2006, but continued working part-time in an emergency department in 2009 to write full time. He writes, he says, so that kids will learn to love reading.