Editor’s note: following is the first in a two-part series on former Vernon residents Jenny Story and her mother, Janet Walmsley, both of whom have just had their first books published.
When Jenny Story graduated from high school in 2011, there was no question the Fulton honours student was going to make a name for herself.
And now that name is on the cover of her first book, Dysnomia: Outcasts on a Distant Moon.
But if writing books doesn’t work out for her, she’s got a solid future in the world of animation, having recently graduated from the animation program at Vancouver Film School (VFS).
“Right now I’m really focusing on the writing; they both take the same hours to do,” said Story, on the phone from her home in Vancouver. “I’m hoping to do some animation for the book, though, and I’ve done some drawings for it.”
At 22, Story has come a long way from the little girl whose mother was told that her daughter would never succeed after being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
But Janet Walmsley was determined to do everything she could for her daughter, refusing to accept that Jenny would not succeed.
“I’m so happy for her, to see her come from sitting in that clinic when she had all those tests, and told she won’t do this or that, and to see her now,” said Janet. “She’s a professional animator, she’s the youngest published author at Influence Publishing and they want her to do a trilogy. We can dream big. We were her cheerleaders, along with the dream team of professionals who worked with us.
“I said this is proof that look what she’s done with all the obstacles she’s had to face, going into a war zone with school every day. The diagnosis was not a death sentence, it’s a life sentence. I never pushed her, I wanted to make sure those opportunities are there.
“I wanted her to believe in herself. There will always be those little facets of autism that are there. Jenny is normal with special needs and we are normal without special needs. She has come a long way, but for her to go out and meet with friends is just fantastic and she has met some great people from around the world who are now her friends, and I am over the moon happy for her.”
For Jenny, her art and creative writing classes at Fulton were always where she felt comfortable and where she began to explore where the future would take her, starting with the book she began writing in teacher Liz Wallberg’s classes.
“She really pushed her and said you have to publish this,” said Janet. “She was very encouraging, and gave us names of publishers. She really believed in Jenny.”
Janet and Jenny moved to Vancouver after high school graduation, a big change after living in Vernon. Dad Travis Walmsley commutes to the big city to visit his girls and Jenny’s older brother Chris regularly Skypes from his home in Australia.
“We love it here — Travis doesn’t like the big city so eventually I’ll move back to Vernon, but Vancouver is very familiar because every year we’d go to the PNE, and Jenny loved the Aquarium since she was a little girl, and so we did get to know a bit,” said Janet, adding that their home on Vancouver’s west side has one thing that makes her daughter very happy. “When we moved into our place, Jenny said, ‘Oh, I’ll be fine, Tim Hortons is close by.’”
Before she started her first classes at VFS, Jenny was given a tour of the facility by two of her teachers, to help ease some of her concerns.
“It was having those fears, such as what are people going to be like, will they like me, will I fit in, just trying to stay positive,” she said. “I was getting nervous but talking about animation and my favourite stuff, and having conversations with people about the things we like really helped. And then they have an orientation day before it started.”
Teachers were strict and the days were long, but Story loved every minute of her classes, both her 2D animation and then her 3D digital character design classes. For the uninitiated, 2D is traditional animation, using drawings, while 3D is all done by computer. Think Snow White for the former, Toy Story for the latter.
“I was really excited to see my dreams coming true. It was just a new open door for me. I was going to miss home a little bit, but I was just happy to move forward,” she said.
Jenny discovered animation as a youngster, when she would spend hours watching her favourite movies such as The Fox and the Hound, 101 Dalmatians and Bambi. More recent favourites include How to Train Your Dragon 2, Frozen and Oscar nominee Song of the Sea.
That life-long interest in animation was heightened when her mom took her to Vancouver while she was still in high school. Janet arranged for the pair to have a tour of animation studio Rainmaker Entertainment.
“She fell in love with it and right then and there said she didn’t ever want to go back to school, that this is what she wanted to do,” said Janet, laughing at the memory.
When Jenny started classes at VFS, she knew immediately she had found her niche.
“The friends I made were great at VFS, and I was getting to learn to love what I do, all the neat tricks I did, getting to make my own little short films and doing character design,” she said.
Jenny completed several films while at VFS, Where’s the Honey, Alienated and Happy Birthday.
“At her graduation, they played everybody’s films and her film Happy Birthday was so funny, and my friend said, you didn’t tell me she was so funny,” said Janet. “When she was going to school, I never saw her as she was gone from early in the morning to late at night.
“To see that smile on her face, she would say ‘I love this, Mom.’ And I’ve got to give credit to animators — I wouldn’t have the patience for it. To see her with these animation people, to see that smile on her face, to finally see her believe in herself and be proud of herself and to see what she’s done, I’m very happy for her. I always told her, ‘you’re not done yet. Reach for the stars.’ She’s working on her second book. Jenny always said, ‘thank you for being there for me, Mom, and thinking I can do this.’
“I just believed in her. It’s been a wonderful journey, it’s had its ups and downs, but what a wonderful mother and daughter journey.”
Jenny’s writing career took off when Vancouver-based Influence Publishing held an open house and she and Janet met CEO Julie Salisbury.
That meeting has led to the publication of Jenny’s book, now on Amazon’s best seller list and the Canadian best seller list, with pre-orders in for more than 300 books.
Available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Dysnomia tells the story of a young woman named Layla who sets out to prove herself. Strong-willed and courageous, she is determined to show that she can do anything a boy can do. Along her journey she finds herself face to face with danger, adventure and mysterious forces. A devious character named Nilerm traps Layla and her friends and they are driven off the edge of a cliff into a mysterious new world underground. They realize that they must do all they can in finding the courage to confront danger, if they are going to find their way back home.
When Influence signed Jenny to its roster of writers, it also signed Janet to write a book about her experience of raising a child with autism. The result is The Autistic Author and Animator: A mother’s view of a daughter’s triumph.
“We signed our contracts together,” said Janet. “It is a very enjoyable experience and hard work, however we are both enjoying the journey.
“I think this shows that you can do anything you want.”
It’s been a wonderful adventure, but one tinged with sadness recently, when Jenny’s beloved dog, Mr. Sparkles, died. The long-haired Jack Russell has been by her side since she was very young and when he died March 7, he left a gaping hole in her heart.
“Mr. Sparkles was always there for me and he was my rock and best buddy and always by my side and making me feel better when I was down or upset,” said Jenny.
But she has kept his memory alive by including him as a character in her book, and featuring him in an illustration. And in the end-credits of her films, she thanks Sparkles along with her mom, her dad and her brother.
Jenny’s next step is to find work in her field, perhaps working at a small animation studio.
“I would like to start small, making little video games and whatever I can get into and once I get experience I can move up — there is plenty of work here and you just have to find it,” she said.
Jenny hopes her story can inspire others, and that having a disability does not have to be an obstacle to living their dreams.
“I hope this helps and inspires them to not let people tell them what they can and can’t do, and getting focused on getting their dreams achieved,” she said. “There is going to have to be a point where I have to learn to be on my own, but right now I’m fine where I am.”
To see Jenny’s films, go to her web site at jennystory.ca