When retired Memorial University of Newfoundland associate professor Jo Shawyer was a child growing up in southern Ontario, she used to collect milkweed with monarch caterpillars on them and watch them transform into butterflies.
Now, an essay she wrote about that experience, “Monarchs,” has won her third place in the 35th Atlantic Writing Competition, hosted by the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia.
Recounting the childhood experience captured in “Monarchs” Shawyer said the experience was something she later shared with her own children.
“We kept these in the kitchen because that’s where the family was and when one of these popped a shout would go up and everyone would come and watch. So it was really magic,” said Shawyer.
Her tale caught the attention of judges, making her the only Newfoundland resident to place in the competition, which included seven categories and had 114 entries.
“I’m delighted. I’m not in the habit of winning prizes for my writing,” she said, laughing.
In her former career as an academic, Shawyer had done quite a bit of writing and research, but it had always been non-fiction, and wasn’t the sort of work that would be submitted to writing competitions.
“Since I retired I’ve turned my efforts much more to writing,” she said.
So far, she has published two children’s books and is working on two more.
Her writing is focussed on history and landscape, which she uses as a jumping point for her tales of fiction.
After a career spent writing for an academic audience, Shawyer is enjoying the switch to writing for children, and has maintained some of her educator past in her current work.
“I want children to realize when they look out the window of their house, whether it’s a suburb in St. John’s or wherever it is, that somebody was there before,” she said.
An awards ceremony for the winners will be held in Halifax in September at the Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival.
For a full list of winners go to www.writers.ns.ca.