A book of poems titled The Ballad of Mrs. Smith, written by Sechelt's Jancis Andrews and published by Hedgerow Press in Sidney, BC, has been selected as one of five finalists for the 2013 City of Vancouver Book Award.
“It's an honour to be nominated,” said Andrews. “I'd thought Mrs. S. had sunk without a trace.”
The poems in this collection are honest and impassioned, borne of Andrews' own violent childhood in England.
The reader follows Mrs. Smith's journey from her wealthy West Vancouver home and abrasive husband, on her descent to a cardboard shelter in an underground parking lot in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. Along the way she meets many unusual characters on the streets and in the rooming houses — such as falling down drunk Charlie who she helps home and Peaches whose daughter is in foster care and Mrs. Malinowski, the washerwoman. Mrs. Smith is now one of them and she learns how the undernourished and marginalized struggle to survive.
“Part of Mrs. S. is me,” said Andrews.
As the author got to know the men and women of the area, she knew she had to write down their stories.
“The only way I could express my feelings was through poetry,” she recalled.
At the end of the book Andrews thanks them "for their courage and indomitable community spirit."
The poems were written when Andrews attended and volunteered at First United Church in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood — it was a church that offered a safe place for prostitutes, many of whom worked constantly to support a drug habit. When she found this church she knew immediately she was in the right place, among the working-class people of her childhood home.
Andrews has always been involved as an activist in issues regarding violence against women, and she has challenged government to stop abuse. Her 12-year campaign on behalf of women and children of the fundamentalist church in Bountiful, B.C. has been well documented.
“Social justice is more important to me than writing," she said, yet her writing has opened the eyes of the public to many issues.
Prior to Ballad, Andrews' most recent book was Walking on Water, a collection of short stories, published by Cormorant Books in 2009.
“I'm not being overly modest when I say I don't expect to win,” she said. “The book is small — only 82 pages — and the other four finalists are extremely good writers."
The other finalists are Brad Cran, author of Ink on Paper, Amber Dawn, author of How Poetry Saved My Life, Exploring Vancouver-The Architectural Guide by Harold Kalman and Robin Ward; and Sean Kheraj, for Inventing Stanley Park.
The award will be presented at the Mayor's Arts Awards Gala at Science World on Nov. 22. Andrews will attend along with her publisher.