How would you kill the English teacher?
That is the question Shawn Bird, a creative writing instructor herself, asked several of her colleagues at Eagle River Secondary in 2014. Their answers planted the seed for what would eventually become the darkly-comic novella Murdering Mr. Edwards.
There is no self-hatred at work in Bird’s decision on who should be the victim of the murderous plots afoot in the fictional high school she created – she says English teachers are simply the natural victims in a high school setting.
“I was asking my colleagues, how could you murder someone in your area of the school?” Bird said.
“The only answer from anyone who taught English was, the pen is mightier that the sword. I thought to myself, that’s kind of wimpy, I’d better make the English teacher the victim.”
What grew from joking conversations around the break room table eventually became a novella organized into a series of “tales” detailing each staff member of the fictional Canterbury High’s widely-varied plots to kill Mr. Edwards.
Edwards, an obnoxious and widely-loathed member of the school’s English faculty, is a character who Bird expects the audience to feel little sympathy for as he meets his end.
“Mr. Edwards is kind of an amalgam of every irritating person that you’ve ever worked with in your career,” Bird said.
She said the fictional English teacher wears regressive and misogynistic viewpoints on his sleeve, and his pompous privilege and obliviousness drive his colleagues crazy.
The murderous methods each staff member dreams up reflects their area of expertise; for example the titular character of The Physics Teacher’s Tale devises a large Rube Goldberg machine to take out Edwards.
“Some of them have some mighty skills that lean towards death and mayhem,” Bird said of the Canterbury High’s staff.
She acknowledges the roots of the plots targeting Mr. Edwards as well as some of the small details she used to bring Canterbury High to life are rooted in her time at ERS. She described hearing her colleagues imagining the extent of what could go wrong in the various departments of the school as a joyful collaboration.
Since it was published last April, Bird has given copies of Murdering Mr. Edwards to her Eagle River Secondary colleagues who inspired the plots that fill its pages. Bird said the book was met with excellent reviews and lots of laughter.
Bird is now a senior English teacher at Salmon Arm Secondary.
Five of the stories which were eventually included in Murdering Mr. Edwards were written while Bird was teaching at ERS.
The remaining seven core tales as well as three additional stories were added after an initial manuscript wowed a representative of Coffin Hop Press at a writer’s conference in Calgary.
Murdering Mr. Edwards is available at Hidden Gems Bookstore and Bookingham Palace in Salmon Arm.
It can also be ordered online through Coffin Hop Press’ website or on Amazon.