Editor’s note: following is the second in a two-part series on former Vernon residents Janet Walmsley and her daughter, Jenny Story, both of whom have just had their first books published.
When Janet Walmsley was growing up in Manitoba, she loved taking part in school plays and musicals. But she never imagined that her interest in acting as a teenager would one day lead to her walking the red carpet in Hollywood.
The former Vernon resident has just returned from southern California, where she attended the annual Indie Series Awards, along with her daughter, Jenny Story, 22.
In a phone interview from her home in Vancouver, Janet talks about the journey that has led from raising her children, to performing at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre, to her latest adventure, as author of her first book, The Autistic Author and Animator: A Mother’s View of a Daughter’s Triumph.
The book tells the story of a mother’s love for her daughter. Jenny was diagnosed with autism as a youngster and faced many challenges on the way to reaching her dream of becoming a professional animator and published author: she recently graduated from the animation program at Vancouver Film School and has just published her first book, Dysnomia: Outcasts on a Distant Moon.
Both mother and daughter signed their contracts with Vancouver-based Influence Publishing at the same time.
“My whole reason for writing this book was to let other autistic families and individuals know there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel, that there is a coloured rainbow with many colours waiting for them so they can fulfil their dream.
“Jenny was an inspiration to me, and I wanted to show not only autistic and people with special needs, but all of us, that no matter what barrier is there in front of you, you can break it down.”
When Janet was told by doctors that Jenny had autism spectrum disorder, she made it her mission to ensure that her daughter would live a full, healthy life and that she would never be held back by her diagnosis.
Janet gives full credit to family and friends for their love and support, as well as to what she calls her dream team of professionals in Vernon who worked with her and Jenny, all of whom she considers part of her family: from speech therapists and play therapists at NONA to day care teachers and doctors.
She never once wavered in her determination to see her daughter succeed. At the same time, she was raising her son, Chris, who is now married and living in Australia.
“I was a single mom, and I have to give credit to Chris; he knew I had to spend a lot of time with Jenny, but I never wanted him to feel like he was on the back burner, and he was always so supportive.”
When Jenny decided she wanted to attend film school in Vancouver, Janet didn’t hesitate to quit her job in marketing and sell the house they had called home for 17 years.
“I had no hesitation, this girl had gone through so much; she deserves the world and I wanted to give it to her. We waved goodbye to Okanagan Lake, and we’ve never looked back, although we miss Vernon and it will always be home.”
Janet’s husband, Travis, doesn’t like the big city. His work takes him to Saskatchewan and Alberta and he commutes to Vancouver to see his girls.
“Travis is Jenny’s step-dad but he is really her dad. When I met him she was turning four and was very untrusting. I brought him home and all of a sudden, Jenny just went walking over to him and talked to him and they’ve been bonded ever since.”
Janet made the decision to share her family’s story as a way of helping other families struggling with autism.
“I didn’t keep journals but have tidbits of information, and kept a lot of stuff from people I worked with. I was up until 3 a.m. one morning, going over hundreds of photos to pick out which ones to go with my book. It is a very enjoyable experience and hard work, however we are both enjoying the journey.
“I love life, and I like to grab everything in life I possibly can; I would like to be a cowgirl, and an astronaut.”
Janet hasn’t added those two job descriptions to her resume but she has one of which she is particularly proud: professional actor.
Since moving to Vancouver and being signed by an agent, she has appeared in numerous TV shows, films and commercials and has been nominated for several awards, including a Leo Award and the recent Indie nomination in the best supporting actress for a comedy category, for her role as German sex therapist Dr. Hilda VonHildenburgh in the web series, Single & Dating in Vancouver.
Janet has her son to thank for getting her back into the performing she had loved as a teen.
“I remember Chris saying, ‘Your life has been for us, you have to do something for yourself.’”
So when Janet saw an ad announcing auditions for the play Harvey at Powerhouse, she gave it a go and was stunned when she got the part of Myrtle Mae Simmons. At 41 years old, she fell in love with acting again and has never looked back.
Living in the moment and soaking up every adventure has become a way of life for Janet, particularly since her diagnosis of breast cancer last summer. After a double-mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, Janet has been cancer-free for eight months and urges all women to have regular mammograms.
“We all had our cry and then I said, ‘guys, I’m not looking back, I’m going to go forward and beat this whole thing.’ It’s been really hard on everyone and Chris wanted to come home, but I was lucky as I didn’t have chemo or radiation. I’m on medication and I really take care of myself. I’m planning to be here for the next 20 or 30 years.”
When she found out about her Indie nomination, Janet wasted no time in making plans for her and Jenny to attend the awards as well as the many parties surrounding the event.
Gowns were purchased for the red carpet and awards gala, appointments for hair and makeup made and flights and hotel rooms booked.
While Janet lost in her category, where she was the only Canadian nominee, she calls the whole experience a win-win.
“This is just a blessed feeling, it’s an honour to be recognized, to be in the same category with seasoned professionals, it’s very humbling.”
Janet said she hopes she can inspire other women to never give up on their dreams, that hard work can pay off and that she feels incredibly blessed by the life she is living.
“It has been hard work, however I have loved every minute of it. I love to entertain people. So if I have made a person laugh, cry, get mad or any emotion, I have done my job because part of the joy to me in acting is to bring people into my heart and soul and feel everything I am feeling in the character I am doing, the scene I am doing and the story itself. I want them to engage in that right along with me.”
Janet has no plans to slow down and has recently auditioned for a film starring Nicolas Cage.
“It’s nice to say I am a professional, paid actor, but my best profession is being a mom.”
For more information or to order Janet and Jenny’s books, see www.influencepublishing.com