The day began fairly typically for author Ben Nuttall-Smith.
Living close to the Washington State border, he and his wife would often drive south for some shopping. This day, they decided to catch a movie, The Prince of Tides.
Nuttall-Smith was suddenly brought to paralyzing sobs during a graphic scene of sexual abuse. He couldn’t control himself until well past the movie’s end. For some time after, he would break down constantly, prone to panic attacks.
The scene brought back memories of his own childhood sexual abuse and he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“With the PTSD, everything fell apart at the seams,” he said.
The author will be at Richmond Public Library, Brighouse branch, this Friday afternoon to read from his memoir, Secrets Kept/Secrets Told, as well as from his first, historical novel Blood, Feathers & Holy Men.
Almost 80 years old, Nuttall-Smith said Secrets Kept/Secrets Told was an 18-year writing and healing process, published when he turned 77; a year after his first novel.
The process began after several therapy sessions and a broken marriage when he moved into his cottage on the Sunshine Coast, where he stayed for almost 10 years.
In that time, the soon-to-be writer didn’t watch any television, and minimized his exposure to newspapers and radio. Instead, he volunteered within the community and took up gardening and writing.
“There’s a lot of nature in the writing because with nature I healed,” he said, with slight traces of an English accent. “The writer’s cave has no room for TV.”
First, he had to get past the anger he felt about his divorce and his childhood before he could begin his healing process. Editing sessions often included wonderful bonfires with pages thrown into the flames.
The final product was not an unhappy novel, and was even written with humour.
Through short stories and changed names, Nuttall-Smith talks about the abuse he experienced by his uncle when he was sent to live with him between the ages of seven and nine.
At the same time, he weaves in fun and endearing tales typical of any boy growing up in 1940s London.
“You need to take responsibility for your own actions and your own healing,” he said, adding the purpose of the book wasn’t to point blame.
“It was a very painful process, but along the way, I learned how to forgive and get back on the right track.
“While things may happen to us, we still have control over our own lives. You have to decide what you’re going to do about it.”
Nuttall-Smith now reads excerpts from Secrets Kept/Secrets Told to abuse survivor groups as a way of helping listeners with their own experiences.
However, as Friday’s reading will attest, the book has common undertones, relatable to a variety of readers and the reading will focus more on these themes.
Nuttall-Smith will also talk about his writing process.
“It’s about overcoming diversity, which is important to so many people in so many different ways.”
Friday’s 2 p.m. reading also includes excerpts from his first novel, Blood Feathers & Holy Men about Quétzalcoatl, a major Toltec, Mayan and Aztec deity.
To Nuttall-Smith, the book was more a labour of love, written during a trip to Mexico City with his second wife.
He will also co-run a publishing workshop with George Opacic at the Brighouse branch Saturday afternoon and will return to Richmond for more readings and workshops in April and May.
Being published three times in four years, Nuttall-Smith said this is his pay back year to give back to the writing community.
For more information, visit www.yourlibrary.ca or www.bennuttall-smith.ca.