How Anne of Green Gables inspired this newcomer's award-winning short story

·3 min read
Norman Ho recently won the Immigrant and Refugee Services Association (IRSA) P.E.I. Newcomers to Canada Award as part of the 2022 Island Literary Awards with his short story, I Beg Your Pardon. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)
Norman Ho recently won the Immigrant and Refugee Services Association (IRSA) P.E.I. Newcomers to Canada Award as part of the 2022 Island Literary Awards with his short story, I Beg Your Pardon. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)

When Norman Ho came to P.E.I. last year from Hong Kong, many people introduced him to the classic coming-of-age tale, Anne of Green Gables.

He said he was immediately captivated by Lucy Maud Montgomery's poetic and descriptive language, and he took lots of notes of the language on his phone.

"When I read the book, there are so many vocabularies that I don't know. So I start putting down a list of vocabularies that I don't understand."

Ho put those new words and expressions to good use when he wrote his short story titled, I Beg Your Pardon, which recently won an Island Literary Award for newcomers to Canada.

"When I write the story, I use as many vocabularies as I can," he said.

"For example, in my story, there's a line saying, 'The early winter Atlantic fresh air meets the scent of sweet woods and red soil, accompanied is an orchestra of birds, insects and leaves,'" Ho said.

"I tried to be descriptive."

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

The award was introduced for the first time last year by the P.E.I. Writers' Guild and the Immigrant and Refugee Services Association (IRSA) P.E.I.

'I put my personal experience in it'

The Island Literary Awards jury described the short story as an "immigrant tale about a relationship with a place and a person, rich in wit, wisdom and reflection," according to the P.E.I. Writers' Guild.

The short story revolves around a newcomer coming to Charlottetown as he wants to start a new life.

"The whole story is based on my real-life experience and the people I met on the Island and from other places."

For example, since arriving in P.E.I., Ho said he has heard many people say 'I beg your pardon' in their conversations with him.

"They say 'I beg your pardon' a lot, maybe because I don't speak very good English, and people need to listen to me repeating the sentence again. But I also find that 'I beg your pardon,' or 'Pardon?' or 'Excuse me,' they always have some ambiguity."

"When I put [it] in different contexts, it could mean different things," he said. "Sometimes it is sarcastic."

The phrase 'I beg your pardon' therefore comes up a lot in the dialogues between the main character and other people in the story, he said.

Also inspired by Montgomery's poetic language, Ho wanted to add elements of poetry into his story.

He put one poem in the middle of the story, and a second one at the end when the protagonist realizes he needs to move on from a relationship that has turned sour.

" East wind is fiercely blown. Robins left their prints on the snow. As I go, life unfolds."

"So at the end of the story, the character, he closes the window behind but opens the door in front of him, and move on," he said.

Ho said he was figuring out some things in his personal life while working on the story, and the writing process helped him a lot.

"I don't think about the message of the story when I write because when I write it's more of a personal meditating process," he said.

"But I believe subconsciously ... I think that making changes and have the courage to move on is the key to happiness."

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