Beginner writers are often encouraged to write about what they know. It was advice that Clinton-area author Dorothy Jepp — who had an invitation to go to Hollywood from none other than actor Gary Cooper — took to heart, using her experiences growing up on the isolated High Bar First Nation as inspiration for her books. On Nov. 30 she and several other local authors will be in Ashcroft for a book signing.
Jepp came to writing late in life, and says that when she was a child she remembers other kids getting children’s books, and wishing that she could have some too.
“Dad would go to Vancouver twice a year for supplies, but not books. I used to think ‘I wish I could get books too,’ and finally decided to write them myself.”
Her first book, the autobiographical Once Upon a Lifetime in the Cariboo, was written about 15 years ago, and drew on the people, places, wildlife, and stories she had encountered. It did not, however, start off as a book.
“I had piles of paper about things I remembered from growing up, people I knew. Once they pass away they’re forgotten, and I thought that if I wrote it down people might find ‘I knew him or her.’
“Someone said ‘That should be a book,’ and I thought about it for three months [before writing it]. I’d like to do a revised version. Almost everyone I wrote about is dead now.”
Jepp then decided to write a children’s book; the type of book she would have wanted to read when she was younger. “When I was in school we had the Dick, Jane, and Spot books. My stories are about Shuswap village life, and the lessons learned by kids, or interaction with wildlife, or the Village life around High Bar, what I learned from Elders.
“And I write about ranch workers and farmers I knew so they won’t be forgotten.”
Jepp — who won awards for drawing when she was in school — illustrates her books with pencil crayon and marker illustrations. “I’ve painted with oil and watercolours, but I like to use something finer for the book illustrations. Kids really like them.”
However, her illustrations came close to being lost after Jepp decided to burn her early handwritten manuscripts; a decision she now regrets.
“I had stacks of paper that I would have had to put in order, and that seemed too hard. I was going to burn all the original illustrations as well, but a friend said that they were too precious.”
The kids also provide Jepp with story ideas. One of her books featured a character called the Little Multi-Coloured Rooster, who struck a chord with children.
“I’ve done readings in Kamloops, Chase, Williams Lake, Clinton, Cache Creek, and Ashcroft, and he’s the most popular character. The kids never quit asking questions, and one kid asked ‘Will the Little Multi-Coloured Rooster get a mate?’ When I told him ‘Yes,’ his eyes bugged out and he clapped.”
The result was The Little Multi-Coloured Rooster Finds a Mate, which also features their chicks. Jepp says she drew on experience when writing about the chicks’ reaction when First Nations drumming starts up and frightens them. “I’d be out there helping to find the chicks, who were hiding because they were scared.”
Jepp has an amazing story about an experience she had when she was 13. “I was out riding, trying to rope a coyote. Dimples was a good roping mare, so when the coyote turned, Dimples turned, but I didn’t, and fell off.”
She had noticed a man in a parked car watching her, and when she fell she heard him honk the horn. “He was gesturing, and thought I was hurt, but I was embarrassed that someone had seen me fall off.”
The man turned out to be Hollywood star Gary Cooper, who used to go to the Gang Ranch in the summer. “He said that he could use me in the movies, but I was too scared.”
Jepp says that children are asking for a third Multi-Coloured Rooster book, so that series might go for a long time. She now uses a computer to write her books, but says she can’t just sit down at a set time and write.
“In the evening my brain kicks in, so I’ll sit and write. It’s hard to stop. I might not write for several days, but then it comes easily.
“Sometimes I can’t fall asleep at night because something has been bothering me and then it clicks, so I have to get out of bed and run to the computer. It can be hard, but then you get rolling along when your mind gets into it.”
Jepp’s daughter Ramona Holota says that if they had more time and money they would put the books together with a stuffie of one of the characters. “Mom has also been asked about audiobook versions, or an animated version.
“We sell almost as many books to seniors as to kids, and they have so much fun laughing.”
Jepp agrees. “There were there people in the doctor’s office in Clinton reading one of my books and laughing about one of the characters, a big-breasted Cornish hen. I don’t think they realized that was the actual name of the bird. I said ‘I’m glad you ladies like my book.’”
She says that she sells most of her books at Christmas, and area residents will have an opportunity to get autographed copies of Jepp’s books at a signing being held in the old Sam’s Diner location on Railway Avenue in Ashcroft. Until Nov. 30, Jepp’s books — along with those of local authors Annie Bourret, J.M. Landels, Anne-Michele Levesque, Sara L. Sen, and Barbara Roden — are on display (along with local artwork) at the Sidewalk Gallery in Ashcroft, and owner Angela Bandelli has arranged a book signing on Saturday, Nov. 30 starting at 2 p.m. Most of the authors — including Jepp — will be there to sell and sign copies of their books, just in time for Christmas gift-giving, so feel free to drop by and meet the authors.