Diana Stevan’s work resumé is full of a wide range of experiences, from teacher to model and broadcaster, but it’s her time as a clinical social worker that has influenced her newest novel.
Stevan, who lives in Campbell River, will be releasing her second novel, The Rubber Fence, on March 3, and the story is inspired by her experience as a family therapist on a psychiatric ward.
As a clinical social worker, Stevan spent more than 25 years in the field, working in a variety of settings - psychiatric, child guidance, cancer agency and private practice.
Stevan has also worked as a teacher, professional model, actress and a sports writer/broadcaster for CBC television. Through it all, writing has been her passion, even though it was relegated to the backseat while her children were young.
She has published fitness and travel articles for newspapers, poetry in the U.K. journal Dreamcatcher and a short story in Escape, an anthology published by Peregrin. Her first novel, A Cry From The Deep, was published in 2014, and she published a novelette called The Blue Nightgown in 2015.
The Rubber Fence is set in 1972 and is fictional but inspired by Stevan’s experience.
“In 1972, I had just graduated with my Master of Social Work and I found myself in the psychiatric ward and it was very challenging because I had been trained as a family therapist,” said Stevan.
Stevan was anxious to do family therapy work on the ward, but there was a lot of resistance at the time, and there were quick fixes like shock treatment. Stevan found this very difficult, and she didn’t stay at the ward for very long.
“I had a very difficult time and I think it sat in my gut after I left,” she said. “I moved on because it was a job I found hard to leave in the workplace and I had a young family and that wasn’t a good mix for me. But what happened on that ward stuck with me and because I have a passion for writing, it became a story that couldn’t let go of.”
Originally, Stevan wrote this story as a screenplay. She had an agent for it in both Toronto and Vancouver and had interest from Jodie Foster’s agent, but she eventually passed on it. Because it was so challenging to sell a screenplay, Stevan decided to turn this story into a novel.
“So it’s taken a long journey,” she said. “The story changed somewhat because it’s a different style. With a screenplay, you’re looking at writing cinematically, visually, and here I had to of course look at the thoughts of my characters and write out their behaviour, which you don’t have that luxury of doing in a screenplay - it’s mostly dialogue, with some scene description. I enjoyed the process; it was wonderful.”
Stevan is a member of a writers’ critique group here in Campbell River, and she says she has received a lot of support and help from that group, which she describes as “wonderful” and “fabulous.”
The other members are Kristin Butcher, Jocelyn Reekie, Janet Smith, Shari Green, Sheena Gnos and Liezl Sullivan, and many of them are published authors as well.
Stevan has been part of this group for more than 10 years, and she was part of a screenwriters’ group in Vancouver as well. She keeps in touch with that group and still sees them sometimes when she goes over to the city.
Stevan sees groups like this as a great way to keep learning.
“You never stop learning about the craft,” she said.
Stevan doesn’t know where her desire to be a writer came from. She married young and had children and supported her husband as he went back to school and then she went back to school herself for her Masters, but she joined the Manitoba Authors Association and was always writing short stories and published some articles. Stevan writes in many different genres, and she finds that in fiction, it is inspiring when you hit upon a phrase that just comes out of you organically and she likes the idea that you can move people with your words.
The Rubber Fence, which, like A Cry From The Deep, is self-published, will be available March 3 as both a paperback and an e-book. There will be a book launch locally April 10 at the Campbell River Library at 2 p.m. Trevor McMonagle, a retired English teacher, will interview Stevan, and she will do a book reading and book signing, and there will be copies of the book for sale.