Doherty-fullBy Jake Doherty

If you think that's strange, given how much I talk, you're right. I've been thinking about my voice in the past few days as I prepare for the launch of my new novel, Bearwalker Alibi, Thursday evening at the Ginger Press in Owen Sound.

But if you have stuttered as long and often as I did when I was much younger, then your voice can never be taken for granted. Not knowing what would come out of your mouth was both embarrassing and draining. My working and easily accessible vocabulary had became narrower and narrower.

Even as a journalist, I was frustrated by almost never being able to write what was running through my head; it was awkward at worst and flat at best. Frequently, writing the simplest of news stories felt like I was chipping away on a block of granite.

Finally as I turned 30, in the late 60s or so, my late wife Monique convinced me it was time to try speech therapy again. A clinic at the University of Toronto told me there was no simple cure, no magic pill and no inner ear surgery.

So we practiced stuttering in the most embarrassing of places that I would have normally avoided. Like crowed elevators and busy restaurants. I even enjoyed the rich irony of embarrassing the non-stuttering folks around me. Why? Faked stutters that I could turn off or on gave me control - and control produced confidence.

Enter Henry Ford III. That Henry, auto tycoon and economic adviser to then U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Ford was speaking to a hall full of industry leaders and a small group of journalists like me, who covered the auto industry. I had convinced myself that if I could fake a wild stutter while being introduced to Mr. Ford, then I could fake it anyplace. But when it was my turn to shake his hand, nothing came out all - just a long, speechless stutter.

I stayed for dinner but slunk away quietly, quite defeated. About a month later, however, I was invited to Henry's annual year-end press conference in Dearborn Michigan, and rose to his invitation to ask a question to a crowded room. Very quickly I attracted television cameras, tape recorders etc. and, as planned, hit him with a wild barrage of faked stuttering.

It worked splendidly. No more cameras, no mikes, just me and Henry. And I went forward with a wonderfully and deliciously modulated question. That was Jake's Speech and I haven't stopped talking since. Or writing.

And yes, I have seen the King's Speech several times.

Had it not been for that important redemptive moment with the late Mr. Ford, I would never have had the courage to write fiction or to pass along the lyrical moments that I now hear when I welcome the voices of my characters, romping through my head.

Jake Doherty is a veteran newspaper publisher, editor and reporter, now a mystery novelist, who lives near Owen Sound. Bearwalker Alibi is his second novel.


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