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Argyle writer pens award-winning story

November 27, 2017

Lynn Canyon inspired tragic tale

By Jeremy Shepherd  / North Shore News


Grade 11 Argyle Secondary student Erika Brauner recently won first prize at the Vancouver Writer’s fest youth contest for a story that explores alienation, tragedy and love. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

They didn’t know her name.

Erika Brauner, a Grade 11 student at Argyle Secondary, would officially be crowned the winner of the Vancouver Writer’s Fest Annual Youth Writing Contest – but not yet. Not for five days. That first day, the day the official announcement was supposed to be made, Brauner found herself staring at an email her spam filter had snagged.

“Erin” had won the fiction contest, the email informed her.

It was one of those messages that populate the border town between spam and kosher, making you wonder when you last updated your anti-virus software. Was someone trying to pull a scam? Brauner wondered. “I was kind of in denial for the whole week,” she says.

Brauner’s winning entry is titled: The Cliff.

Influenced by hearing about the tragedies and near-tragedies of Lynn Canyon, Brauner begins her story with a description of jagged rocks, crashing water, and a fence that wraps around the canyon.

“No one noticed the small hole. No one noticed the boy who crawled through the hole,” she writes. The theme of being cut off from everything, of being ignored, is an important one, Brauner explains.

“I have a lot of friends who, their parents don’t notice them, no one in real life really notices them,” she says. “I just feel for them so hard. ... I needed to get that out there somehow.”

There’s an element of the story that feels a bit like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, when Linda Loman pleads on behalf of her husband. “He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog,” she says. “Attention, attention must be finally paid.”

After the opening, we’re introduced to two unnamed characters: the boy’s father and the boy’s boyfriend. We watch them as they try to cope, each alone, with the loss. We also learn see a father-son relationship ruined by homophobia.

“It’s 2017,” Brauner says. “That kind of stuff just shouldn’t happen anymore but I know that it does.”

Brauner’s story is available online and is set to be published in the Claremont Review.

“I’ve heard of a lot of parents reading and it really impacting them,” Brauner says. “But not kids my age.”

Brauner has been a voracious reader for much of her life. Her eyes light up when discussing a 1950s psychology textbook she found at a used bookstore and when talking about Warriors, a fantasy series about cat clans.

“That was probably a solid three or four years that I just read those,” she says. However, the most impactful book she’s come across is The Perks of Being a Wallflower. “It changed my life somehow,” she reflects.

But she didn’t really put pen to paper until she kept a journal during family travels. Her father is a UBC professor who: “gets to study fish all over the world and I get to follow,” she says.

The family has lived in Australia and stayed in Brazil and Vietnam. It made the family a little closer and made her a bit more independent, she suspects.

“The journal kind of continued back home. I’d just write for a kind of therapy.” She’d had the basic idea for The Cliff for about a year before writing it over one evening. “(I) just sat down and spent a couple hours writing it, submitted it right away because I didn’t want to go over it and read it again,” she says, explaining she didn’t want the story to lose its emotion.

Winning the contest was a bit of a shocker, she reports.

“I’ve never won anything before so I was very surprised.” However, she mentioned the contest to a former teacher who told “everyone,” Brauner says.

With graduation about a year and a half away, Brauner says she’s focusing on science, hoping to study biology or herpetology at UBC.

“I feel like a writer is not a career that’s easy, but I really, really want to own a bookshop.”

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