Finding a Voice

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Margaret Epp

Last Friday, as part of my trip to Write! Saskatoon, I detoured to Rosthern to interview Margaret Epp. Her nephew Gerry and his wife Ruth met me there and were a great help with filling in gaps and moving the conversation along at points.

Here's a quick draft/remembrance of our visit:

Miss Epp, winner of the Leslie K. Tarr Award in 2003, was a professional writer from age 35 to 77. When she was just seven years old, God told her that she would be a writer. At 95, she recalls that moment vividly. She was at a boarding school in China when “the revelation” came, and went outside to stand under a tree and absorb it.

Even so, did not begin writing for another 28 years. It wasn't a practical for a Mennonite farm girl, but the depression made space for many young people to receive higher education, so Margaret attended Bethany (now Bible College) with her brothers. After graduation she was invited to stay on to teach English (which included manners). She taught until age 35, at which time she just knew it was time to start writing, and spent that first writing winter alone in the old family farmhouse: wood stove, no electricity, no car, only a phone and dependence on the neighbours. Her family was dubious about the living arrangements, but they did not questioned the writing, unlike other people in the community who were convinced that writing fiction meant Margaret was dealing in lies.

So Margaret wrote fiction, mainly for children and teens, mainly for Sunday School publications through Moody and Zondervan. When that stream dried up in her late 50s, the Lord led her into several projects that required major travel: a travel diary, a history of Bethany, a history of missions at Prairie Bible School, a missionary biography, a fiction-based-on-fact historical novel about women in the Steinbach area, and the story of a mission church in Europe. I love the thought that these travel projects came later in her life. You just never know when and how you might literally take off!

Just as clearly as when she had begun, she knew at 77 that it was time to lay down her pen.

Now at 95 she lives in the Mennonite nursing home in Rosthern. She has been blind for 5 years. Gerry and Ruth say her world is closing in, and being without sight is a terrible loss for someone whose life was words. Margaret told me, "I am lonesome for writing." In the nursing home, Margaret said her writing doesn't matter: “No one asks about it.”

During our visit, a childhood friend stopped in and when the friend left, Margaret was disappointed she couldn't stay longer and said, "I have been longing to see her."

Lonesome and longing. This haunted me all day at Write! Saskatoon. Gerry & Ruth said Margaret kept office hours, but we couldn't work out her schedule. When asked what hours she kept, Margaret said, “Seven and a half in the morning, seven and a half in the afternoon, and seven and a half in the evening.” Mmmm ... maybe not. Never mind the details for now. She wrote A LOT and diligently. Pages were her constant companions. No wonder she gets lonesome for writing.

I asked what she's been hearing from the Lord lately. She replied, “Be still and know that I am God.”

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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 12:25 PM 4 comments

Monday, April 28, 2008

Freefall writing

On Saturday I attended Write!Saskatoon, a one day writers’ conference. In the afternoon I participated in a Freefall Writing workshop with poet Susan Plett.

The concept is that you start writing and you don’t stop. You don’t stop and you don’t edit. Keep your hand moving, keep the pen moving, go with the energy so that you get through to what’s deeper.

When we write things that we recognize ourselves as essentially true, reading them out loud to each other is important, because it makes you own it.

It’s easy to leave it as words on a page if you don’t speak it into the air.

We all have words and phrases that have had a tremendous impact on us.


Firsts (group brainstorming): date, bike ride, love, child, trip

Quick listing/word association:

Season: summer

Colour: blue

Song: The green, green grass of home

Flower: Daffodil

Wild animal: Ox

Mouth, lips or teeth: soft, luscious (lips)

Acutely embarrassing moment: walking out from shower in college dorm

Now use the words from your second list to describe a first.

Here’s the story that emerged as I typed. It’s entirely fictional.

First Love

It was the summer of my early adolescence. My eyes were as blue as the sky and full of wonder. The bright yellow daffodils of spring were fading away and being replaced by the summer flowers. The grass was somehow greener than I had remembered in previous summer. The world was full of possibility.

Then Dad fell from a ladder and wounded himself so badly that he couldn’t work for the rest of the summer and into the fall. Doctor’s orders. Out of commission.

How would we harvest the crops and care for the cattle and work the garden without Dad? The prospect seemed too overwhelming for Mom and myself. My oldest brother was overseas in the army. I was next in line, next oldest at 13, and not particularly strong. My baby brother was six and eager, but not particularly hardy for heavy farm labour.

There was no way around it. We needed help. We needed a hired hand. So we advertised in the paper.

I remember the first time I saw him. He wasn’t all that old – only 18. But he was a strapping young man from a few towns over east of us – strong as an ox. His own father had died and his family lost the farm. He had been doing odd jobs here and there, but when a neighbour told him about our need, he volunteered. He would sleep in the barn loft and take meals with us in the house.

I didn’t notice or know all of these things the first time I saw him. That first time was seared in my memory from sheer embarrassment. I knew he was coming, but didn’t know when. As an adolescent girl, I had a new fascination with bathing. Even though we hauled our water, I showered daily, sometimes for a long time. On the morning Clive arrived, I was in the shower and didn’t hear him come in. Didn’t hear Mom clanking the cups and plates and giving him coffee and banana bread, thick with butter. So I emerged from the shower, clad only in a towel, and started towards my room, the path being through the kitchen.

I was mortified.

EXERCISE #2 from The Practice of Poetry by R. Behn & C. Twichell

Write in the voice of a widow whose husband has drowned. Imagine that widow who now hates water is forced through some kind of circumstances to face that fear.


It was winter.

He was too young.

By the water

He was alone.

Just the dogs.

One went with him.

One came home.

In the winter.

He had gone fishing.

He was young.

Shack on frozen water.

He was alone.

Just the dogs,

One drown with him.

One came home.

He had gone fishing.

I hadn’t gone swimming,

Not since I was young.

I wouldn’t go near water,

Especially not alone.

I’d shower quickly.

Never soak in a tub.

Home was so empty

I’d never go swimming.

But my children swam.

Somehow fearless

I watched from a distance

Achingly alone.

I’d never wear a swim suit

Never walk in the waves

Never enjoy sunsets

Before going home

After my children swim.

One day my children swam

And the water held my son

Split second, I held my breath,

Kicked off shoes, ran in,

swam desperate, purposeful,

Unthinking, to him

My little man, and brought him home

That day my children swam.

It is summer.

The sun sparkles on the lake.

­I sit at the edge of the water

Dipping my toes and smiling.

My children play laughing

I smile at their joy

And then we go home

In the summer.


I have no idea where either of those pieces came from, but it was satisfying to write them. The first one made me giggle and the second one choked me up so much I wanted to cry, especially while reading it aloud.

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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 2:19 AM 2 comments

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sonicbids EPKâ"¢

I thought you might be interested to see my new SonicBids site. Please feel free to share it with others!
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Colleen Taylor
Genre: Singer/Songwriter
Secondary Genre: Folk


... a prairie soul with a heart for the world, working to make a difference through musical messages and fairly traded merchandise. Her music tells poignant stories, laments injustice, calls for change, and celebrates the gifts in life.
BioAudioVideoPhotosPress ReviewsSet ListBasic RequirementsCalendar

Artist Information

Colleen Taylor - vocals, piano, guitar, and more ...

Colleen has always been musical (singing, playing several instruments, writing songs), yet music was a nice sideline, a hobby. She pursued a career in higher education, teaching English in Asia and teaching and administrating at Briercrest College & Seminary. In 2000 she recorded a CD of her own songs--just for posterity, as she thought she was going to China. In 2006 she quit her day job at Briercrest to finish an MA thesis and reorient towards a career in the arts. After a two-month music tour in September and October of 2007, doing house concerts in three western provinces and Ontario, she moved to Duval, SK to live with her brother Jeffrey, a professional potter & photographer, to help with his arts business and work on her own artistic pursuits.

Colleen's message is "SIng RElease TO NAtions." She sings and teaches about making a global difference, offering ways to do that. Instead of t-shirts she sells coffee, dried fruit, and natural sugar that have been traded fairly (, with 50 percent of her own proceeds going to Servants Anonymous' Cups of Care program ( to help get their training materials online so they can help more women (and their children) escape the sex trade.

Good Storyline, 2000
(listen and purchase single songs or whole CD on
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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 11:16 AM 0 comments

Sunday, April 13, 2008


 A redemptive story about two Irish musicians. Everything Music & Lyrics was not (which is a good thing; what did I expect from Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant?).


Saw it last October. Absolutely enamoured with it. Moved in with my brother and urged him to put it on his list. It arrived this week and we watched it tonight. Picked up our own guitars and played afterwards, inspired by the simplicity (it’s like a home movie), musicality, and hopefulness.


I could go on about it, but Andre Harden says it as well as I ever would – and probably better – here.  

posted by Colleen McCubbin at 11:55 PM 0 comments

Thursday, April 10, 2008

update on Serbia studio

For my birthday this year, SIRETONA raised money for a studio in Serbia.
At this point we have more than $400 towards this studio.

Thank you to everyone who has participated.
If you would still like to contribute, contact me here.

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posted by Colleen McCubbin at 10:23 AM 1 comments