A career as a writer was not part of P.C. Beck’s plan when he graduated from high school.
Along the way, he raised a family, pursued a career in education, took up songwriting and volunteered with a prison writing group.
But the Armstrong author is making up for lost time, with the recent publication of his second novel, A Hard Land, and a third on the way.
“When I look back, I think I’ve always been a bit of a writer,” said Beck. “I wrote a lot of songs, a lot of lyrics, poetry, that kind of stuff, but didn’t really think of myself as a short story writer or a novelist at all.”
Beck’s life could easily be the subject of one of his novels. Born in Belfast, he was nine years old when he moved to Canada with his parents and older sister at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, when the overwhelmingly Protestant majority wished to remain part of the United Kingdom, while the nationalist, mostly Catholic, minority wanted to become part of the Republic of Ireland to the south.
“We were absolutely aware of what was going on,” said Beck. “I remember one night in particular my dad took a wrong turn coming home from my auntie and uncle’s, there was a checkpoint and there was a guy with a gun at my dad’s head,” said Beck. “My dad kept his cool through the whole thing. I don’t remember being traumatized, just being more fascinated.
“I remember playing with a young boy and at some point you say, ‘What are you?’ He was a Catholic and I was a Protestant and we never played again. It’s so ridiculous. That’s partially why we left, and we ended up in North Delta.
“It was a huge culture shock moving to Canada. What I remember most vividly was the size of the cars — you could raise a family in them — and the variety of food, those were the two things.”
After graduating from North Delta secondary school, Beck met his future wife in 1981 while both were working at a summer camp, she a lifeguard and he a camp counsellor.
Marriage and three children followed, and Beck earned his BA in history, a master’s in educational leadership and completed the Professional Development Program for teachers at Simon Fraser University, before returning to North Delta to teach at his old school.
“My colleagues were former teachers of mine, and I had not been a stellar student,” he said. “I taught primarily at North Delta, mostly social studies, and then I kind of morphed into more of an English teacher.”
In the late 2000s, Beck began volunteering with a writers’ group for inmates at Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford, sparking his interest in creative writing.
“From there I became more and more interested in the novel form of writing, and it was a really good experience,” he said. “The fellow who organized it, Ed Griffin, is a former priest and former teacher and he invited me to be part of it; he also started the Surrey Writers’ Festival.”
While Beck’s first book was fairly autobiographical, A Hard Land goes in a completely different direction, with no personal references
“Part of that was because I figured I’d have a broader scope. I wanted to do something completely different and I’ve always been interested in the western motif. But this isn’t a western, it’s set in modern times.”
A Hard Land tells the story of Maddy Saunders, who leaves her comfortable academic life in Canada to venture to Brazil to help set up a school. Amazon describes A Hard Land as a coming-of-age story about the choices we make, the lessons we learn through our mistakes, the arrogance of youth and the wisdom of age. It’s about finding our inherent inner strength in the face of evil and cowardice. And ultimately, it’s about the power of love and the inherent desire of the human spirit to overcome all odds when the stakes are your own flesh and blood.
“Thank God for the internet because I’ve never been to Brazil. A woman at the school I was at spent a year in Brazil and she was a great resource. I was going to set it in Rio and she said, ‘No, everyone does it in Rio, set it in San Salvador in the state of Bahia.’
“When I worked with an editor, they talked me into making it into two books, or it would have been a 500-page book, so this is actually part two. And the sequel will be part one, three and four, all combined.”
A Hungry Heart, the sequel to A Hard Land, comes out next month and is set in the Lower Mainland, Northern Ireland and Brazil.
The high school administrator is looking forward to the next two months, when he’ll have plenty of time to sit down at his lap top and write. At the moment, he’s considering writing a prequel to A Hard Land.
“Because there are characters in this book that when I first started writing I thought they were going to be minor characters and they have grown this life of their own and become my two favourite characters, but what happens with me is it’s always in the back of my mind and it’s always there and I’m trying to make connections.
“Right now I have a character in South Africa who has to get to Brazil in order for me to tell the story. This is where my history degree helps; I have to get them from South Africa during the Boer War to either Mozambique or Angola and then more than likely to Macau, then to Brazil, and somehow this person has to become an opium addict. So that’s in my head but you’ve just got to be patient. I haven’t really written anything yet and what I find is all those little bits will click in together.”
In addition to working on his novels, Beck has recently returned to the music he loved as a high school student, and has released several music videos on YouTube, including the haunting Dunluce, inspired by one of his favourite places in the world, Dunluce Castle on the coast of Northern Ireland.
“There are about 10 songs that acted like anchors to the book. Dunluce is in the book — the guy is in a bar, he’s had a few whiskeys and he sings it.
“I just wrote another one, Orchids, and I don’t know how but I know it will be part of the prequel to A Hard Land.”
Beck and his wife moved to Armstrong last August, brought here by a combination of job opportunity and the desire to get out of the busy Lower Mainland.
“We talked for years about moving, but we said we’ll wait until the kids are all out of the house. We survived our first winter — although people told me it was a mild winter — and we love our little home in Armstrong.”
Published by Purple Moon Press, A Hard Land is available through Amazon.ca in both Kindle and paperback versions. Locally, it is available at Bookland and Expressions of Time.
If book clubs wish to include the novel as one of their selections, Beck is more than happy to take part in a panel discussion with club members.
“And if people buy a copy from me, I would be more than happy to sign it for them.”
Books can also be ordered through the author by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Facebook.