Hockley Teacher, author Curtis Symons writes for his students

May 12, 2016   ·   0 Comments

Want a challenge? Decide to write something Grade 9 and 10 boys will want to read and see how far you can go. High school teacher and Hockley-born Curtis Symons (son of a famous football dad), took this on and the result is impressively good.

The alien villains were inspired by the aggressive hogweeds in Mr. Symons’ own backyard. It is not necessarily easy to dream up original and never-before-seen aliens but the weeds provided the author with just the right fodder for his book.

Plants though they may appear to be, the aliens in Freerunners are carnivorous, sneaky, vicious, intelligent, adaptive and looking to overrun earth and eat everything. They begin their invasion by causing gigantic solar flares, “wiping out every earth’s technology”– back to the stone age in one easy alien swipe.

The Northern Lights take over the sky and humans look to their own defences, formerly run by technology but now searching for effective alternatives. In part, as it turns out, these are the freerunners, the young, fleet-of-foot, extremely savvy youthful people. They are trained and tried before they set out to reconnoitre as an loose organization, quite separate from the military, yet bringing messages and information to the military.

Nice plotting, but how to write it so that the teenagers will want to read it?

“Five years ago, I had a grade 10 class, almost all boys,” Mr. Symons began. “Four or five were having a discussion about the Hunger Games before the movie – this was a book. They were talking about characters and didn’t like the plot.”

The eavesdropping was instructive: “I realized that they were in a window of reading. It got me excited. I looked at books I read quickly that were actions books – how does  the author write action? John Sanford was a good example.”

He dug into learning from the examples of others writing for his targeted readers: “I looked at other books and modelled this on length. One of the biggest challenges which could prevent me from publishing is Hunger Games never drop the f-bomb but my kids told me they use it all the time. I was want-ing the dialogue to hit true.”

He said, “I  had the idea about Freerunners for about a year and this got the fire under me to write it.”

Mr. Symons decided at first to place the book right in his own back yard, naming the local names with the intention of someday changing them to fictional names. However, his students insisted he leave the  geography as it was  – they loved the idea of their own locality hosting the story.

It needs to be read, for a simple explanation of the aliens in Freerunners is not so simple.

“Hogweed is an invasive species,” Mr. Symons said. The aliens are “quite poisonous – tall – look like Queen Anne lace, but huge.”

Naturally, being an English teacher, it was sometimes hard not to drop into that mode “and then I’d have to remember whom I was writing for,” he admitted. “We don’t talk in complete sentences.”

In addition to getting the dialogue close to true, there was the action, the fighting – the chase: “I tried to capture the joy of the chase as much as the fear when the characters are being chased by aliens. There’s a lot of running – I used to run in high school.” Reflectively, he commented, “I think the chase is hard-wired into us.”

Mr. Symons’ background post secondary is university in Thunder Bay and teachers’ college in Australia. “There was no culture shock,” he said, “but it was still an experience  overseas. There was a beach near Sydney that was amazing.”

Back in Canada, “I’d been teaching for about five years and my wife, Margaret, was going to go to teachers’ college and we decided to go back to Australia.”

They travelled around, teaching in different places: an aboriginal reserve and in Perth, an artist community. Although they talked about staying, family ties brought them home but they had found Australia “exotic without having to learn a new language.”

From creation to publication is every writer’s goal and dilemma. Solving it took Mr. Symons to the self publishing route at Amazon.

As he said, “I found the formatting, paper size, pixels, etc, hard. It was no longer the creative process. I was so excited – you create something that you think is worthy of being read and you have to deal with the details.

“As a student in creative writing at university, my teachers told me that my stories were well written but not engaging. I thought, I’ll have to change my approach to reach grade 10 boys.”

His decision to self-publish results in a system of publishing on demand which is very efficient. A person simply orders one through Amazon and it arrives on your doorstep a few days later.

A 16-year-old boy, Will, son of a farming family is the main character of Freerunners. Without altogether understanding the ambition to run with the heroes in the fight and the acceptance of the dangers, young Will finds himself grasping the opportunity to join them, quite suddenly. Then, his life is completely changed as he finds himself on more dire adventures that he could ever have imaged “back on the farm.”

The ending of Freerunners “came to a conclusion but there is an open-end – there’ll be more adventures,” Mr. Symons said, having been thoroughly bitten by the urge to write.

“I’m planning a trilogy,” he promised.

To order Freerunners, go to Amazon and the key words are curtis+symons+freerunners or contact Mr. Symons at for the link.

Written by Constance Scrafield

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