South Charlotte

Former teacher fulfills lifelong dream

A natural story teller, retired teacher and Wilora Lake Lodge resident, Gil Ballance, 92 can spin a yarn. He's seen and heard plenty in his long life.

Now, he's taken what he's lived, heard and seen and turned it into fiction.

In his novel, "Leah's Journey Home," Ballance has realized a lifelong dream of writing a novel.

Ballance, a widower, has always been passionate about literature and writing. He had early success as a third-grade farm boy, when he and others won a writing contest and were published in Progressive Farmer. He cashed his check at the local hardware store, never mentioning his accomplishment to his teacher.

Prior to World War II, he attended classes at UNC Chapel Hill where he took creative writing classes and worked in radio. He finished his degree after the war and took more creative writing classes and had a couple of stories published in the university's literary journal.

When he graduated, he got on with the business of life, married 65 years to wife May Belle and raising three children. He taught public speaking and radio broadcasting at Central High (1948-59) and then at Garinger High , where he retired in 1979. For 15 years, he also taught for the American Institute of Banking, teaching business writing and speech.

"I had the job I loved," he said.

His former students, some of whom are in their 70s, still call him "Mr. B."

In 2003, he saw an ad in the paper for writing instruction and met south Charlotte writer Pat MacEnulty, who encouraged him to pursue his novel, telling him it would take about three to five years to finish, said Ballance.

He began writing the novel by hand until MacEnulty persuaded him to get a computer.

MacEnulty also taught him new ways to think about the novel, said Ballance.

"I'd read about 15 to 20 books on how to write," he said. "I learned from her what she called the structure of the novel, and I had never really delved into that before."

When approaching the subject matter of the book, he considered his options.

"My father was a teenager when the Civil War began, and I grew up listening to first-hand stories of his relationships with soldiers in south eastern Virginia where he lived," Ballance said. "...but I didn't want the story to be a Civil War story."

The result is a historical novel that explores the educational system and women's issues through the eyes of a first-person narrator, 20-year-old Leah Ballard.

"I wanted it to read like an autobiography, but I didn't want it to be deceptive. I wanted it to be honest."

Set in North Carolina's Outer Banks, Ballance tells the story of a pregnant, unmarried young woman finding a way to survive in 1899 when tolerance for women in her condition is nonexistent.

He's received comments and letters from readers, surprised by the first-person narration of the novel and the authenticity of the voice, said Ballance.

Ballance drew on his empathy for his former students that he had seen in the same situation as his narrator.

"I knew a number of girls in high school that got pregnant," and knew that their situations were difficult, he said.

Lately, he's been busy giving readings in Elizabeth City and at a recent Central High School reunion luncheon.

"I'm enjoying it," he said. It seems his readers are too. The reviews on have been favorable. Some readers have even asked when they can expect the next one, said Ballance.