Growing up in a broken home during the turbulent 1970s wasn’t easy, particularly if you were a city kid marooned in Northern British Columbia. One castaway survived his childhood shipwreck and is sharing his story in a new book.
I Heard the Turkki Call My Name is the second non-fiction work by Burns Lake author and museum curator Michael Riis-Christianson. Written under the pseudonym “Mike Turkki” – the name he used during his formative years – it’s a coming-of-age memoir about fishing trips, first drinks, family outings, and other near mishaps in the Lakes District.
The book also has references to the Cariboo-Chilcotin area salted into its pages, because Riis-Christianson lived as a child in Nazko when he still lived by his original Mike Turkki name before it became his author’s pradoxical nom de plume.
Riis-Christianson began writing the book during his first bout with clinical depression almost four decades ago. Half of the book’s 25 short stories were written over eight months in 1988; the remainder were completed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The experience, he said, was cathartic.
“I started writing the book because I wanted to understand who I was and why I felt the way I did,” he says. “I also wanted to make myself laugh during a dark time. I succeeded in both respects, and committing these stories to paper gave me a new perspective on my childhood.”
Although most stories in I Heard the Turkki Call My Name are humorous, some are poignant and explore issues all adolescents face. They range from “Real Dad,” a story about an unscheduled visit by the author’s biological father in the early 1970s, to “Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” which chronicles a young adult’s misadventures behind the wheel of a car that started life as a police cruiser.
I Heard the Turkki Call My Name is filled with references to ‘70s pop culture that Canadians who grew up in that era will instantly recognize. Its quirky title is a tongue-in-cheek allusion to Canadian author Margaret Craven’s best-selling 1967 novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name, which was required reading for many BC students in the 1970s.
“Although these are stories from my childhood, I think they will resonate with anyone who grew up in rural BC during the latter half of the twentieth century,” Riis-Christianson says. “Adolescence is difficult and at times painful, but most of us survive it and go on to become reasonably well-adjusted, productive adults. Yet I know from experience that what we go through as teenagers can profoundly impact us later in life.”
If early reader response is an indication, Riis-Christianson achieved his goals. An editor who read the manuscript last fall described it as “simply beautiful” and “uproariously funny,” adding that “I know I’ve read something good when it stays with me.”
Riis-Christianson is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, Lakes District News, Gulf Islands Driftwood, and several other publications. His first book, History Matters, was published in 2022 and is currently in its second printing.
I Heard the Turkki Call My Name is available online, in local bookstores, and at the Lakes District Museum in Burns Lake.