A Nanaimo-born writer has based his latest work on the mysterious deaths surrounding two teenagers in the ’60s.
Author Kim Blank said the idea to write the Watchers’ Club was tucked away until he recently discovered a newspaper clipping in a box of childhood memories and trivia.
“I can vaguely remember some closeted talk around our house when the [Nanaimo] murder of Diane Phipps and her boyfriend Leslie Dixon took place,” he said in an e-mail to the News Bulletin. “My older sister was very close in age to Diane, whom she also knew a bit. It was, then, more than just a distant news event.”
Blank said reading the news article dated more than 60 years ago brought the incident back to him, as did the elementary school photos in the same box.
“A bunch of other associations fell into place – connections of time and place and persons – all leading to the emerging story,” the author said.
At the time, Blank recalled Nanaimo as a small but rapidly growing town where everyone seemed to know each other, especially in the outlying neighbourhoods.
“Parents didn’t helicopter their kids – they roamed freely and widely, often in back roads,” he said. “At the same time, urban sprawl made its rapid way along the Island Highway … literally paving the way with strip malls.”
The parallels between the true crime and what happens in the Watchers’ Club are both close and distant, and the location of the murders – Piper’s Lagoon – was where Blank and his family would often go swimming. However, the perpetrator and resolution in his story differ from the actual crime.
The group of children around whom the Watchers’ Club revolves, as well as several “odd adult characters,” are based on an amalgamation of neighbours he encountered as a child.
“There is much of Nanaimo in the story … without ever saying so. It is barely disguised in the novel … The atmosphere of a neighbourhood close to a growing town, the working-class backdrop – settings that, at the time, defined that area of Nanaimo,” he said.
While Blank notes that his book doesn’t offer any specific insights into the deaths of Phipps and Dixon, he said he wrote the book as a portrayal of how small, rural communities deal with such violent and mysterious acts. He was also interested in how a 12-year-old child and his family and friends might construe the event.
“I hope there might be some marginal insights how kids and adults interact, about the group psychology of small communities, and also about the treatment and perception of marginal families — all against the backdrop of the early 1960s,” he said.
Blank has also written a prequel to the story, called the Fisherman’s Secret, which is planned to come out early next year.
The Watchers’ Club was published by Sunstone Press in early June and can be purchased online through several retailers, including www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, or ordered locally through Windowseat Books on Wesley Street.