Old Christmas day has come and gone, the tree is down, packed in its box for another year, the one ornament I missed in the great undoing, sitting on the piano waiting to go in the box next year because you know I’ll never get around to taking it down into the deep recesses of the basement.
I admit that it feels good to break out the old Google Docs again to write, but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as talking to Kayla Hounsell about her new book, First Degree, a Nimbus Press publication.
I caught up with Kayla during her NL book tour in Pound Cove in New Wes Valley, where her father’s family is from and where she lived until she was four, before moving to Gander. Now she lives in Halifax, working as the CBC National reporter for the Maritime provinces.
Her book is a true crime story based on a murder case she covered as a journalist. Early on, it was considered a very simple missing persons case. It wasn’t until police discovered the victim, Taylor Sampson, was selling drugs and had left his apartment on his last night with a significant amount of marijuana in a black bag, that police started looking deeper into his disappearance.
“He went out and never came back,” Hounsell said.
Another unusual aspect of the case was that Samson, and the person eventually convicted of his murder, were accomplished, intelligent students who did not fit the mold of what we consider to be the typical drug dealer or killer.
Halfway through the trial, Nimbus Publishing approached Hounsell. She admits turning a story she covered as a journalist into a full-length book was no easy task.
“It was overwhelming,” she said, especially since she didn’t know she was writing a book until midway through the court case.
“Writing a story for television, which would be about two minutes, you’re keeping very different notes than you would be for the level of detail included in a project like First Degree,” Hounsell said.
Poring over hours and hours of audio from the court took a great deal of time. One hundred exhibits were included and required reviewing, and Hounsell conducted 20 interviews for the book after the trial.
The first battle, after research is complete, is starting.
“I sat there looking at that flashing cursor going, ‘OK, now I have to start writing this thing.’ It’s a daunting task. You just have to start, take it chapter by chapter, and before you know it you have a book,” she said.
The family of the victim was crucial to the story. Hounsell told me that his mother played a tremendous role in the book and says she wouldn’t have done it without her. Her input gave Sampson an identity as opposed to him being portrayed as just another drug dealer.
“I don’t think there is anything more humbling for a journalist than to be given this level of trust to write about a son’s murder from a mother’s perspective,” Hounsell noted.
The convicted killer, William Sandeson, is an integral part of the story too, although his family didn’t participate in the book. Hounsell had a brief conversation with his mother who says this story isn’t over yet, referencing the fact that her son is appealing this conviction.
The author built her book by taking all the information she had already and adding to it, until it was a completed work.
I think that’s how I’ll build my 2019. Last year had a lot of good bits and I plan to take those with me, build on them, create something bigger this year.
Vincent Van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
A similar approach can be made to life as well. Take small steps, and you’ll eventually be at the goal. Don’t leave anything behind, instead, stomp it into the ground under your feet so that you’re walking on the firmest possible pathway.
A full interview with Kayla Hounsell will air on the Bridges Radio program available on podcast on all major platforms and at https://www.spreaker.com/show/bridges-radios-show
Carolyn R. Parsons is an author who lives in central Newfoundland and Labrador. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org