Diana J. Drake always wanted to write fiction.
In 1998, she co-authored a book titled Between Forest & Sea: Memories of Belcarra, which got an honourable mention from the BC Historical Federation.
Two years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the Belcarra resident had lots of time on her hands, Drake decided to return to writing.
Only she did it in a very untraditional way.
Instead of toiling over a computer for hours, Drake used her iPhone's Notes app to pen her manuscript while she was out and about in the village.
It took her six months to get the story down then another 18 months to guide it through the production process under a self-publishing contract with FriesenPress.
This fall, Drake finally got her hands on her début book, titled Ren’s Treasure, which is now available via the FriesenPress, Kindle and Kobo online bookstores, as well as through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The 310-page work is geared to kids ages nine to 13 and is printed in larger type, with shorter chapters for easier readability. It is modelled after the books Drake read as a child like from the English author Enid Blyton.
Following two 12-year-old characters named Ren and Bean, her story highlights their treasure hunt around the village and up Indian Arm.
To keep the interest of young readers, Drake also included illustrations of Ren and Bean’s adventures throughout the novel: her daughter, Anna Valdez Drake, did some drawings while Aletha Heyman offered the watercolour image on the front cover.
Still, for older readers, Drake weaved in another storyline that touches on the themes of death, and the loss of certainty and identity.
Loss of certainty
In the book, Ren's mother has recently died from cancer while Bean's parents have split; both are struggling with their new realities.
Drake ties their emotional hardships to the First Nations, and especially to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation that was nearly wiped out along Indian Arm.
Their loss of land, language, culture and lives — for the Tsleil-Waututh, through small pox in the 1800s — and the impact of residential schools are intertwined in Drake's tale.
"It's a story on two levels," Drake said during an interview at təmtəmíxʷtən/Belcarra Regional Park.
"There’s a treasure hunt, but there’s also a story about upheaval and a reflection about what’s left behind."
Drake, a Belcarra resident for 47 years, points to Indian Arm and cites the Tsleil-Waututh pictographs that are still visible today in caves, but are fading.
She sources a publication called "Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s History, Culture and Aboriginal Interests in Eastern Burrard Inlet," by Jessie Morin, a PhD in anthropology, whose theory is that the pictographs started when the Nation was “falling apart” and wanted to make a mark along Indian Arm for future generations.
Drake also references the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s mission statement, which reads: “We have made a conscious decision to acknowledge our anger toward the damaging changes we experienced from colonial contacts, preferring instead to find creative ways to move forward into our future.”
Their spirit, resiliency and hope are captured in Ren, who also happens to be of Indigenous descent.
"I wanted to write about how people can react in a time of trauma," Drake said.
Now, she’s not only promoting Ren's Treasure (Drake signed copies at Chapters Coquitlam in October), but she’s also finishing a follow-up novel titled Ren's Gift.
To purchase a copy of Ren's Treasure, you're encouraged to visit books.friesenpress.com/store.