Yasuko Thanh (left) and Margriet Ruurs (right) were awarded by the Victoria Book Prize Society at a ceremony honouring authors in the CRD. Contributed photos

Victoria Book Prize Awards celebrate local writers

A children’s story of a refugee family, and the tale of a journey to Vietnam among top honours

Stories of war and peace and history and identity were honoured at the Victoria Book Prize Society Awards ceremony this week.

Salt Spring Island writer Margriet Ruurs received the Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize for Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Story and Victoria writer Yasuko Thanh took home the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for her debut novel, Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Story

As a writer of almost 40 children’s stories, Ruurs said she’s always thrilled to be included for book prizes or festivals and being recognized publicly is cause for celebration.

“It’s difficult to use few words, that’s the challenge when writing poetry or picture books,” she said. “It’s exciting for me to see that a book [like that] can have such an impact.”

The writing process for Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Story, was an unusual one, Ruurs explained. Normally her publisher pairs her with an illustrator for an idea already brewing, but this time it was Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr’s images that Ruurs stumbled upon online that inspired her words.

“I thought kids would love to see pictures made from stones like that,” Ruurs said, though it took her three months to track Badr down in war-torn Syria. “He gave me permission to use the photos and so I arranged some of those into what I felt was a story about war and peace and people having to flee their homes to find peace.”

The proceeds of the book are providing Badr with an income and Ruurs is donating her royalties to refugee causes.

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains

Yasuko Thanh is no stranger to awards, Floating Like The Dead, her collection of short stories won the Journey Prize in 2009 and Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains was also shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award.

Thanh calls her recent win “a message from the muses to put your butt in the seat and get to work” and work these days, is final edits on a memoir tentatively titled Mistakes To Run With.

“It’s always been the thing that’s walked next to me,” Thanh said of her writing, “That’s been the one constant throughout my life.” And she’s always dreamed of bringing to life the story of a family saga set in Vietnam, inspired by her paternal lineage (Thanh’s mother is German).

Even though her debut novel has impressed upon the literary elite, it’s not unheard of to find Thanh editing her words, red pen in hand, while onstage at readings, despite the book being long since published. “It’s so painful to read those sentences sometimes,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t think it’s ever finished.”

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com