Who doesn’t love a good, spooky story around a campfire?
That was exactly what Barrie’s Ben Helmond thought when he set out writing his first book Ominous Campfire Adventures, while working as a machinist in the city during the week.
“I worked in Toronto for the past six years and rented a room during the week. Being away from my family I worked a lot of overtime and when things slowed down at work I spent my time writing,” he said.
Over the years, Helmond had made up numerous campfire stories that he’d told his own kids — who are now 27 and 30 — at the family cottage.
One night about four years ago, while sitting around the campfire at a cottage, Helmond said his wife suggested he write out his stories as a family keepsake.
“I did three stories which then turned into six and eventually the idea of publishing them was born,” he said.
The stories were inspired by his kids.
“My son's name is Jason and my daughter is Kathryn. They are both main characters in one story I wrote,” said Helmond, adding the setting for the stories are all based between Barrie and North Bay. “There's no blood and guts, just simple things like spiders, blood suckers, shad flies and bats, plus things that go 'bump' in the night.”
While COVID did throw a bit of a wrench in his plans to release his book, Helmond said he was fortunate that the original release was in July 2019.
“I ordered 1,200 paperback copies, which the publisher said nobody had done before. They warned me that I would eventually be giving them away because I would never sell that many,” he said. “Well, I sold over 600 books that summer and only 100 this past summer. So yes, COVID put a damper on retailers being able to sell books.
"I had several promising retailers that told me to approach them in the spring of 2020, but when COVID hit they all turned me down," Helmond added.
The local author has already written another story about a young girl who is given a dream-catcher from an Indigenous man.
“She hangs it in her cottage bedroom window and starts having dreams about the spirits of the earth coming to visit her in her sleep. She is visited by Fire, Water, Wind (sky) and Mother Earth herself. The fifth spirit is Aether, the spirit beyond the earth where all human spirits go," he said. "Aether tells her she has been chosen to be a voice to speak out and save the earth."
Helmond says he's unsure what to do with this story since he has yet to recover the cost from the first book.
“I have lots I can sell from my house, which I never intended to do, but in light of COVID, arrangements can be made,” he said.
They were also on sale locally at Sojourn, Bell Book and Candle, Simcoe County Museum, Barrie KOA, Heidi's RV Superstore, The Muskoka Store, several Minds Alive retail stores, Rosseau General Store and many marinas in the Muskoka area.
“I hope COVID restrictions will lift and retailers will restock books," he added.
Writing a book, Helmond acknowledges, is a major commitment that involves a lot of time and money. His advice to anyone looking at putting pen to paper is to be passionate and have a relentless desire to succeed.
“It also helps to have a wife who believes in you.”