Bobby Hutchison long ago took Charles Dickens’ storytelling advice to heart: make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.
“If you boil things down, that’s the essence of a story. That’s the way to keep readers really involved,” said the 74-year-old Sparwood author, who won this year’s One Book, One Kootenay (OBOK) award earlier this week for Blue Collar B&B: Adventures in Hospitality.
The uproariously funny memoir, which recounts her experiences running a bed and breakfast in Vancouver, was not originally intended to be a comic piece.
“The reaction I get is that it makes people laugh. I didn’t realize it would affect people that way. I suppose I find humour in situations, and the situations in that book amused me, but I didn’t realize until afterwards how funny it was,” she said.
For instance, she recounts her experiences dating a man named Donny who happened to have a penchant for rescuing random dogs.
“The first time he took me out he brought along this damn dog, a very nervous pit bull. He wanted to lock it in the bathroom, and I had guests upstairs. He said ‘don’t worry, she won’t bark’,” she said.
When they returned from the date, they discovered the bathroom destroyed.
“The dog had gone completely insane. It had shit all over the bathroom and grabbed the toilet paper and unrolled it all. She had chewed the wood on the walls down to the slats. When I opened the door this huge smell hit me,” she said.
“My guests were absolutely horrified. They had locked themselves in their rooms.”
Hutchison kept Donny around for some time after that, and he helped her fix up her bed and breakfast. But eventually it was too much.
“He was coming in every day to fix something, with different dogs every time. It didn’t work out very well so finally I cut my losses,” she said.
Hutchison originally started working on the memoir after the romance novel industry started to struggle. She had been making her living with Harlequin for most of her life, writing and selling over 55 romance titles, as well as some time travel narratives.
But with the arrival of ebooks, everything changed.
“Once e-publishing came into the picture, the traditional romance companies didn’t know what to do. The market started to go down and my proposals were getting rejected. I decided I’m going to stop doing this and start something entirely different,” she said.
During this process she realized the lucrative potential of self-publishing, and she now writes and distributes all her own books on Amazon.
“I realized this is the Wild West. There is so much opportunity in self-publishing. It’s a huge learning curve, I’m 74 after all, but I mastered it and now I try to get out one book a month at least,” she said.
She’s currently working on a time travel novel called Yesterday’s Gold, which is set in Barkerville. Each week she releases a new excerpt from the book.
“There’s a trend towards shorter novels. People are busy. That’s why I’ve been serializing,” she said.
She also retrieved the rights to all her former titles, and is selling them as well. And though she’s making a comfortable living, the One Book, One Kootenay award is especially meaningful to her.
Hutchison said when she first realized she was shortlisted, she read the other two books (South of Elfrida by Holley Rubinsky and Africa’s Unfinished Symphony by Lucia Mann) and was impressed by them.
“They’re both extremely well-written, literary. I felt like a poor cousin,” she said. Apparently the judges disagreed with her.
“When they told me it won I was absolutely flummoxed.”
For more information visit bobbyhutchison.ca.