RECOGNIZED - Jock Mackenzie, a local retired teacher, is finding plenty of inspiration as he explores his talent for writing. He recently landed first place in a ARTA’s 2017 writing competition. Mark Weber/Red Deer Express

Local retired teacher honing his writing skills

Central Alberta’s Jock Mackenzie landed the top prize in a recent writing competition

Honing his flourishing skills as a writer, a local retired teacher has landed the Alberta Retired Teacher’s Association writing competition.

Jock Mackenzie has been writing for some time now – although of course a busy teaching career didn’t allow too much time for exploring that area. But then retirement came along, and new, exciting opportunities to let his imagination soar surfaced.

He’s loved every minute of it, and the recent award was really a joy to receive.

Mackenzie received the award for a story called Grandma’s Welcome – the story will be published in an upcoming issue of news&views as part of the first place honours.

“When you retire from teaching, you go from the ATA – the Alberta Teachers’ Association – to the ARTA, the Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association,” he explained. They also put out a magazine through the year, which features a number of stories from contributors.

“I was flipping through it one day and saw something about a writing contest.”

Mackenzie had a story in mind about his grandmother, who had gone to a United church in Calgary for decades. Then she moved and went to another church. “The first time, nobody welcomed her.” The second visit it was the same scenario. “The third time, she was saying to herself, if I don’t get welcomed to this church today I’m either going elsewhere, or I’ll become a Baptist or something – I don’t know,” he added with a smile.

At the end of the service, a woman approached her with a friendly greeting.

“Grandma told her she was so happy to be welcomed to the church, and asked the lady how long she had been a member of the congregation.”

It was her first time there.

The moral of the story? His grandmother began to think about whose responsibility it is when you go some place new. Do you wait to be invited or greeted, or do you maybe make that first step yourself?

Mackenzie sat down and wrote the story, and sent it off. “Out of the blue came this letter – and I received this beautiful cross pen, too. You also get published in the magazine.

“But probably more important than anything is that you get connected with the associate editor.” More opportunities will indeed be coming his way as a result of this, and it’s provided the long-time educator with the chance to stretch his creative muscles further. Other projects are already on the go.

He’s even completed a crime novel which has yet to be published. “It was fun to write,” he said, adding that hopefully if things fall into place the project will ultimately be released. “It started as a short story – I was a member of Writer’s Ink here in Red Deer,” he explained.

Being an early morning fellow, he would get up and spend time fleshing out the story further.

“Pretty soon I had 90,000 words.”

Meanwhile, it wasn’t long after Mackenzie retired from teaching predominately language arts back in 2005 that writing opportunities for an array of publications began to pop up.

He had also taught social studies and some computer classes, and there was even a journalism class in the mix that he taught at Eastview Middle School back in the early 80s.

Overall, his teaching career covered 31 years with Red Deer Public Schools.

He even graduated from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School himself, then headed to Red Deer College and the University of Alberta before returning to Red Deer to launch his career.

As to his skills in writing, Mackenzie said he believes that in a sense, talking and writing kind of go together.

“When I was in Grade one, I remember my mom pointing out on my report card, ‘Jock enjoys telling of his many and varied experiences’,” he recalled with a laugh. That natural interest in others and curiosity in general served him well as a teacher, and of course are great skills for anyone with a knack for writing.

“I’ve always liked to be involved, and to see what was happening and make things happen if I could.”

There was a fascination with language and words during his growing up years as well. “My family was always ‘punny’. My mother had a copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary on the table. They were big time readers, too. Everyone was.”

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