I started by reading his “Last Chapter” blog post, which is about his own death. When I found myself bursting into laughter, I knew I was in. I could see that Layton Park is a natural storyteller who knows good storytelling is about the writer’s relationship with the reader, oneself, and the roads of life. Layton — a lover of motorcycles, hotrods, and horses — has certainly travelled many literal and figurative roads at full throttle. And he has the playful, quirky, insightful wit of a man who knows how to live and how to get plenty of guffaws while delivering important messages.
Layton started in architecture, running his own firm for 25 years until he sold it to a competitor, after which he began pursuing another love — behavioural psychology. Jumping into this field, he received certifications in professional behaviour analysis, professional values analysis, and hypnosis, later founding the Canadian Hypnosis Institute. He has helped dozens of companies improve their career training, communicate successfully, and overcome limiting beliefs in their sales teams to make better connections.
Layton’s own story is a wild one, involving the murder an ancestor in the United States, a body full of titanium from a motorcycle accident, and anything else that moves him to write. A blogger and the author of fun books that aim to teach, inspire, create positive change, Layton can find the story in both the odd and the ordinary. For him no place or person is too small to inspire a great tale. And that’s saying something, as Layton, a physically large man, once quipped that everyone under six feet tall seems really short to him.
Today he encourages and helps others to share their stories. Layton is currently writing a book on how to write your memoirs. No doubt it will involve some humour. He once wrote, “What excuses are you using not to influence or make someone else smile?” Having seen him hold and delight a crowd at BalAnce’s Storytelling Tuesday, I was thrilled at the chance to learn more about him and his craft, and to smile some more.
We share a love, and that love is sharing stories. I can’t imagine life without them. When did you first feel the power of storytelling to connect people?
For as long as I can remember I have loved to tell stories, especially if I could make people laugh. Most my stories are about true events as seen through my twisted eyes. That is to say, I tend to see humour in everything and for years I wrote my experiences down and then used them later to write humour columns. Today there are numerous sales courses that focus on the power of stories when making a presentation. Most of them go back to the theories of Joseph Campbell.
I was intrigued by one review of your work that describes your ability to connect what is on the inside to the external world. What does it mean to you, and why is it important to share our stories?
There is an old saying: “So within, so without.” To me that relates to our ability to tell interesting stories as we bring out our thoughts and how they create, or relate to, our external reality. More simply put, what we think about comes about.
Sharing stories is important to me because they matter. In the end our lives are often summed up in three lines on our headstones — name, dates of birth and death, and some nice statement about being a great parent or spouse. Our stories can get buried with us.
I feel we all owe it to our community and future family members to let them know about our time in this world. I’m planning to hold courses on the subject this winter. And there is no better gift to those you love than to leave a record of the important things that happened in your life in an interesting story.
Your latest book, Kola, is a historical novel that takes on strong and difficult subject matter — race, war, economic disparity, and two countries. What moved you to tell this story now?
I began researching this story fourteen years ago and in fact it was my first published story, in the RCMP quarterly. They requested it after I approached them looking for a misplaced autopsy of a Chinese head tax collector who was murdered here in the Okanagan Valley. After writing it over the years I felt it had very similar ties to what is happening today, and the story should be told. There were some missing pieces, so I used fictional characters to flesh it out and give it layered context involving both sides of the border.
In Canada we take great pride in the fact we are not a prejudiced country, yet in searching stories, I was shocked at how brutally we treated the Chinese immigrants. The part of the story where two drunks tied two Chinese men back to back by their queue’s (pigtails) then threw them in the harbour and bet on how long they could swim before drowning. The law of the day made them pay the shipping company for the cost of bringing them here to sell as workers, but there was no penalty for their lives as they were ONLY Chinese.
Also, the Civil War was brutal and bloody, pitting teenagers against each other. Their armies taught them to kill, rob banks and trains, and demoralize the other side by burning down their towns, and worse. One particular army was especially efficient at this, so when the war ended its members were to be hunted down and hanged. Not tried, but hanged. This left these young men with no option but to continue moving, robbing, killing, and in large part creating the Wild West. Today America has been at war for generations, teaching many of the same skills and wondering why there is so much more violence in their country than in other countries. Not only does the country have more guns, but they have trained most young men how to use them without any feelings of guilt.
You inspire others to tell their stories. Can you recall a particularly difficult barrier to writing that you encountered in yourself or someone else? And how did you break through it?
I believe if I have a problem, most people probably have the same problem. Therefore, I think most of us lack confidence in our ability to write something others will find interesting.
I keep reminding myself and others that the best authors are not the best English graduates, just as the best-known and successful singers are not the best singers. The country is full of singers who can sing better than Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan, but it is Nelson’s and Dylan’s uniqueness and creativity in coming up with a good story, not their perfect pitch, that people are drawn to. The same thing applies to writing. If you have a great story and good voice you can hire great editor to fix the English.
You’ve written about the open road and home life. Many would see these as two very different spaces. In your experience, is there a common narrative thread that connects them?
I have always thought that home is wherever you are. I am comfortable travelling and love meeting and being with other people. Some people are afraid to venture into strange places, but I love it.
Your stories are filled with fun, quirky, and unexpected twists. Is there something else about you many would not expect?
Although I like to speak in public and tell stories, I am in fact very shy and not a good self-promoter. But once I get started and get a few laughs there is no stopping me.
I also love to learn and know a ton of useless trivia.
Tom Kernaghan, owner of Oak Writer
I write stories about people, businesses, and communities so that people will remember what makes them uniquely powerful.
Tell me your story!