Robert D. Oke looked us up in the Yellow Pages. It was the summer of 2010. He had recently finished writing a manuscript and was wondering if we at The Editing Company might provide a typing service. He had written the manuscript in longhand and needed a typed copy. My immediate response was that we didn’t really offer typing services, but since we were in a slow period, maybe we could accommodate his request … just this once!
He came to our office a few days later. He was tall and lanky and in his late sixties. He was friendly and charming and extremely pleased that we would be doing this for him. We introduced ourselves and then he pulled out his handwritten manuscript. Much to our awe and wonder, he had written the novella (close to 23,220 words) in two 3 x 5 mini-notebooks, whose pages were covered in Robert’s tiny, somewhat hard-to-read handwriting. Okay, we thought. We can do this. Robert signed an agreement with us and we agreed on a date to have the manuscript ready for him.
Nadine volunteered to tackle the task of transferring the story into a typed Word document. It was slow going, and for the more indecipherable words, Nadine left blank spaces in the text that Robert would fill in later on. When it was completed, we printed out a clean copy of the 78-page manuscript and provided Robert with a CD-ROM on which were a variety of electronic formats for him to work with.
Robert was so pleased with this process that in the end he brought us three other novellas for typing. Each of the manuscripts was written in a variety of notebooks: the mini variety, the 8 x 11 variety, and a combination of the two. Interspersed in the storylines were sketches and lines of poetry, some his, some from other favourite poets (Poe was among them).
We were curious to know how the novellas were woven together and what bigger story they might tell.
The novellas brought into play fantasy, literary references, stories about artists and poets, unedited streams of consciousness … we were never sure just how much of each novella might have been drawing on his own life experiences.
Robert wanted his novellas published, and he had engaged an agent to help him find a publisher. He found it frustrating that he met with more rejection than interest over the course of the year and a half we worked with him.
We came to find out that Robert was also an artist and had several successful exhibitions of his paintings. A number of these were held at Gallery 1313, an artistic community he spoke of highly and where it was clear he felt at home.
It was, in fact, through a notice posted on the Gallery 1313 website that we learned of Robert’s death. We hadn’t heard from him for several months and had been wondering how the writing projects were coming along. When we learned of his death in June of this year, it helped to explain his silence. He had died in May.
We were saddened to learn of his passing. But we had also found out that Robert had self-published his novellas as eBooks and had posted them on Amazon.ca. This made us realize he had been able to publish his work as he had wanted to do.
As a tribute to Robert, we at TEC have sponsored an online mini-exhibition of his artwork at Gallery 1313. It’s a way for us to remember him and to acknowledge our working relationship with him. We enjoyed his sense of humour and we respected his dedication to his writing.
The selection shown here are paintings that Robert had exhibited at the Gallery. Click on the icons for a fuller view. Each one tells a story and gives us a glimpse into Robert’s unique take and perspective on life.