Monday, October 26, 2009


It was a challenge this weekend to spend so long in the company of so many writers knowing that my book MEETING MISS 405 had been nominated for OLA's 2010 Forest of Reading Silver Birch Express Award - and not be able to say a word.

Until today.
But now it's official.
I'm right chuffed, thrilled, and excited at the prospect of participating in the Forest of Reading festivities at Harbourside in Toronto next May.

And even more thrilled to know that this nomination means this book will find its way into the hands of hundreds of Ontario school children - in the same way that the book's nomination for the BC Young Reader's Chocolate Lily Book Award means children in BC schools are reading it, too.

The Silver Birch Express category is just one of several within the Forest of Reading Award, and I'm privileged to see my book in the company of those of so many other fine writers, a number of whom I've 'met' through the online Kidlit critique group (one of a number of the groups in Compuserve's Books and Writers Community Forum) - moderated by Ontario author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch whose book Call Me Aram is nominated in two categories!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

SiWConference round-up

Surrey International Writers' Conference
Oct. 23 - 25, 2009

  1. Brilliant organization, scads of energetic volunteers, a wonderful array of presenters and collegial participants.
  2. Bumping into participants and presenters who I may only see once a year, but am always glad to spend time with, learning what's new in the business, who's doing what, and what they've been up to in the intervening months.
  3. Attending another workshop by Hallie Ephron - stellar content and workshop delivery every time, even if on the surface the topic is not a direct fit with what I'm doing, I always gain new insights that will help me in my work, and perhaps students in my classes. This year - suspense. Great timing as I will need to use it in my WIP children's novel Escape From the Marshes - a Tale of Iraq.
  4. The fine organization that takes care of all the big (and little details) that contribute to seamless delivery of a great time for everyone. Kudos to The Committee.
  5. TV in bed in my hotel room (I don't have one at home) - esp. the bellydancing class first thing this morning. Too bad I left my tassels and veils at home or I'd have leapt from the covers and and joined in.

  6. All the learning that goes on between workshops and classes.
  7. Being privileged to help writers refine their first pages, queries, develop their concepts, etc. in the Blue Pencil Cafe sessions.
  8. MC Carol Monaghan's offbeat humour and personable style behind the mic.
  9. Awesome contest winners' work.
  10. Gary Geddes' moving poem about the Kent State massacre.
  11. The 'Writing in the Kidzone Panel' with Meg Tilly, Kathy Shoemaker and Richard Scrimgar - I enjoyed playing in the sandbox with you.
  12. Surrey author Carol Mason's ebullient laugh.
  13. Desert at two meals a day.
  14. Seeing a trade show exhibitor display a copy of The Bonner Party Cookbook' - sick humour, maybe, but the title gave me the biggest laugh of the weekend.
  15. Enjoying talking about short stories with Annabel Lyon over breakfast on Saturday, morning, and in the evening learning her book The Golden Mean has earned her
    nomination for The Governor General's Award, on top of her nominations for Writers' Trust Award and the Giller. GO Annabel!


  1. Styrofoam cups in the hotel rooms - which necessitated secreting a cup from the banquet hall in my purse so I could make tea first thing in my room - then hiding it in my suitcase so the room attendant didn't take it away necessitating me to borrow another one.
    (Can't their guests be trusted with real crockery?)
  2. All the people I met for the first time and would loved to have spent more time with - but couldn't.
  3. The fact that I could not share my BIG NEWS with anyone during the entire weekend.
  4. The Surrey councillor who in front of a crowd of 200? people stated that no one has written about Surrey. I'm now compiling a collection/booklist that I will deliver to Surrey Council to help educate them about their own literate community, and how their city is represented in print. Email me your suggestions for the list -
  5. That conference favourite - and one of the best presenters for both delivery and content, Elizabeth Lyon - could not be there - she's recovering from spine surgery, and doing well, according to recent reports.
  6. That I was unable to buy a copy of more participants' books.

  7. That each evening by the time the entertainment part of the day's program came around, I was just too tired to partake.

  8. 365 days until the next conference seems a very long time to wait.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where do ideas come from?

Ideas can be hard to keep up with.

I collect 'germs' (things I see, hear, wonder, read about, etc.) that I throw onto a 'compost heap' (put in a notebook or a new file in my computer), then later 'work over' using Natalie Goldberg's Writing Practise process when I get the time or am in the mood, to see what shoots emerge.

Yesterday and today

Our local paper featured a couple celebrating their 65 wedding anniversary. The one line that jumped out at me was the fact that the man had once been a cook in a prison camp. I made a note of all the questions that immediately came to mind (9 of them), tracked down the man's contact info through Canada 411 and made a note of it in a new file, and filed the clipping and the link to the article on the newspaper's website.

Who knows what will come of that, but something is likely to, one day.

Today's CBC photo gallery features Egypt's Zabbaleen, who I'd never heard of. But I love writing about other cultures, and the ways different children live and survive. Another 'germ' to be fed and watered until something grows.

Newer writers often worry about sharing their ideas. What if someone steals them?

I figure that if these ideas trigger something in you that makes you want to explore and write about them, by the time you're done, you'll come up with something so different than what I might do, that there's probably room for both our interpretations somewhere out in the world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Knuckles McGraw cover well taken care of

Doing the final edits on the Ballad of Knuckles McGraw (Orca spring 2010), I read in the front matter that Peter Ferguson is illustrating the cover, as he did for Meeting Miss 405.
Last time, after opening the box with the proofs, and being surprised to find a copy of the cover enclosed, my first thought was, 'But that's not what I had in mind."
And almost immediately, my second thought was, "But I love it." And I still do - and get many comments on MM405.
I had asked my publisher if they'd consider using PF again for my second book, and I'm thrilled they said 'Yes'.

So I can't wait to see what Peter comes up with this time.

Meanwhile, you can check out more his work here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ready to Write Prompt #2

1. Select one person you know well - a friend, colleague, child, mother...Don't take too long deciding who and what.

2. Now, for three minutes, without taking you hand from the page, write whatever comes to mind when you think of that feature.

3. When you've done that, imagine the hands of an imaginary man - someone you've never seen, met, or planned in your writing.

4. And now, going wherever the writing takes you, write for three minutes about his hands.

You can now either choose to set these writing practise pieces aside and head off to do your shopping, clean the toilet, pay your bills... resume your 'other life', or

5. Write for seven minutes about what might/could happen when these two people shake hands. Follow the idea wherever it takes you, and you might end up with the basis of a story or character sketch......

Ready to Write Prompt #1

As a follow-up to yesterday's Writing From Life workshop, several students decided that getting regular writing prompts might keep them going.

I doubt I'd be able to provide them daily, but I'm offering them 3 or 4 times a week (with the offer of occasionally 'critiquing' one of the pieces that result).

Guidelines for using these the prompts:
1. Don't read the prompt until you're ready to write.
2. Don't take time thinking about the prompt, just pick up a pen (or open a new file on the computer) and start writing.
3. Follow Natalie Goldberg's (Writing Down the Bones) 'rules':
Keep the hand moving / Don't correct or edit as you go / Forget about punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc. / Go where the writing leads / Keep the hand moving...
4. Write for the set time, then stop.
5. Re-read the piece that results, and highlight the strongest line, most compelling idea, interesting phrase or word... This allows you to see just how well you write, and prevents you from dwelling on whatever weakness you might identify. This helps you become a more analytical critic rather than a harsh judge.

So, for writers who wants something to keep them going: Ready to Write Prompt #1

1. Wherever you're sitting now (don't pick a 'better spot'), look around and list seven things that you see.

2. Quickly, again without thinking, pick one of the items and begin writing about it, any occasions, its description... just go where the writing leads... for seven minutes.
3. When you're done, re-read the piece and highlight specific phrases/ideas/words/images that you feel are particularly strong.
4. If another of the individual items have a strong pull on you, write about that for seven minutes, then repeat #3.
5. File these pieces until you feel driven to either build them up into something bigger, incorporate them into a work in progress, or revisit them and have a fresh look at the wonderful ideas/images and phrases that you came up with.