I’ve only been on retreat here on the Scarborough Bluffs for five days, but already I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to tear myself away when September rolls around. I find myself occasionally chatting with Doris (McCarthy) because of this extremely life-like portrait of her that hangs beside the living room window overlooking the lake here at Fool’s Paradise. The neighbors are pretty quiet for the most part, but there’s so much wildlife activity outside the windows of “The Chapter House,” as Doris called her writing rotunda, that I have a hard time keeping my mind on the manuscript by times. And I keep having to rush outside to take pictures.
I am managing to get several writing hours in every day, although so far the story is growing, rather than being pared down… Thank you, Doris, for sharing your home with me (and providing a haven for all these creatures).
You can’t plant a beautiful garden or write a novel that sings without putting in long hours. (Holly Robinson, The Huffington Post)
So next week I’m heading to Fool’s Paradise on the Scarborough Bluffs (near Toronto) for a month-long gardening (aka weeding/revising) expedition. The property is the former home of Canadian artist Doris McCarthy who, upon her death in 2010 at the age of 100,generously bequeathed her home to the Ontario Heritage Trust to be used for artistic residencies. This is the first year of the program, and I’m pretty excited to be one of the first artists in residence at Fool’s Paradise. It looks like a beautiful, inspiring place, as you can see here:
Doris reminds me very much of my Nana Mingo (with Gramps in the header image), who was also born in 1910 and a great gardener herself. Here’s Doris at Fool’s Paradise a few years ago; I suppose it looks more like a snow shovel than a gardening one, but the grounds are lovely, and, from what I’ve read, she was a fascinating woman – independent, determined and feisty. She built a lot of her home herself. I can’t wait to be in her space, possibly soaking up some of her spirit, perhaps enjoying a virtual cup of tea:) Having read three autobiographies, I would love to have met Doris in person.
I’m eager to immerse myself in the great gift of having mental (and physical) peace and quiet for an entire four weeks, alone with a novel I’ve been thinking about and writing for close to three years. I’m connecting two girls at a distance of 260 years, without using any time travel, magic, etc., so it’s been an interesting process, putting together the pieces of the puzzle while incorporating as much of my research as possible.
I’ll be going to Fool’s Paradise with a complete manuscript in hand, and my objective will be to do some weeding – ripping out the invasive bits threatening to choke off the good bits, while hopefully preserving some of the more beautiful wildflowers disguised as weeds. Like weeding, the work of revising is never quite finished, but my plan is to return home in September feeling like I’ve done the best I can with the manuscript – and, with any luck, I’ll have trimmed away a few of the 70,000 words – if there are any I can bear to part with, that is…
So how’s your weeding going? Your revising? Have you ever gone on retreat with just your words and characters for company?
I have to say launches are super anxiety-producing for me. Asking people to come out and celebrate me isn’t my favorite thing to do, but it’s part of this writing gig, I guess. Here are a few pics – huge thanks to EVERYBODY (especially people who don’t have a particular interest in kids’ books:) who came out to show their support – big shout-out to my friend and neighbor, Karen Duncan (about to retire from teaching) for helping the enthusiastic kids have fun making their crowns – I owe you!
And thanks to everybody at Nimbus Publishing (publicist Emily MacKinnon pictured here with Patsy and me) for the book, The Box of Delights Bookshop (yeah Indies!) for hosting, and to illustrator Patsy MacKinnon for the beautiful paintings!
Angie (librarian, resource teacher, track coach) who coordinated my visit, was incredibly organized, including offering the coffee break snack in the pic.
When I was finished, I had to bolt and drive into downtown Vancouver to return the rental car. Vancouver isn’t nearly as intimidating for driving as I expected, but of course I was going downtown while everybody else was leaving. I did have to spiral down underground 7 floors to return the car…
I’m renting an apartment for the weekend, and my childhood best friend, Brenda, is coming over from Calgary! It’s going to be sunny and 25 degrees, so who knows what we’ll get up to…
Last night I had dinner with some Vancouver children’s writers: Maggie de Vries, Carrie Mac, Stacey Mattson and Kali George – and then we went to hear Jacqueline Woodson (BROWN GIRL DREAMING) read/speak as organized by the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable. She spoke about the necessity of kids’ books being both mirrors for kids, and also windows – they need to see themselves reflected, but also have an opportunity to see into worlds outside their experience. I chatted with her briefly after, and she signed my copy of BROWN GIRL DREAMING (which has three stickers on the cover – Newbery Honor Book, Coretta Scott King winner and National Book Award winner). She was super friendly, but tired from speaking to kids all day (uh-huh!), wanted to know my full name and graciously wrote: “So psyched for your words in the world!”
What a week! And so my first TD Book Week tour is officially over. I had no idea it would be so much fun! And I only got lost twice (ten minutes each time). But really it was all about the kids I met – some final words from one of them. Thanks for touring with me!
Despite my meticulous planning via Google Maps, I got lost driving from Surrey into Vancouver yesterday. All of a sudden the 91N became the 91W, so I exited and pulled into a 7-11 to see if they might have a map. Response: “We used to carry maps, but they didn’t sell.” So, I really should have gotten a GPS with the rental car, and I really should have a data plan on my phone. Anyway, the guy was so kind, and looked up the school on his phone, and it turned out I was only an easy 20-minute (non-highway) drive away:) He couldn’t possibly realize how much stress he saved me! It’s a weird feeling being someplace you’ve never been before without a map.
St. Andrews School is a neighborhood Catholic School, and I spent an hour with a grade 4/5 group, and also a 2/3 group. They had so many great questions, we ran out of time. The Librarian, Monica Lowe, and the Principal, Marian McDermott, were both super welcoming, making sure I had all that I needed, including bakery cookies at recess:) I signed about 50 autographs for the grade 2/3 students, which always makes me laugh.
Last night, I had a delicious 3-hour dinner at The Boathouse Restaurant on the water in Port Moody with Faizel Laher, my editor at Caramel Tree Readers. We’ve now done 15 books together, and it was wonderful to meet in person. He’s a lovely, gracious (and very tall, as I found out) man, and we could have talked a lot longer, but I was tired.
I spent all of today at Khalsa Primary School in Surrey, visiting with four groups of K/1 students – each group had about 100 kids! And they were so much fun! For many of them, Punjabi is the language spoken in the home, and I wore a head scarf all day (see pic) “to show respect.” It was surprisingly comfortable, and I didn’t have to keep pushing my hair out of my eyes all day:) The teachers and children were all lovely – respectful, engaged, funny and friendly. And they gave me two beautiful cards which most of the kids had signed, a sweet flower arrangement, and a box of chocolates! Thank you so much for inviting me!
Yesterday I spent the morning with the students of Southridge and H.T. Thrift Schools (at the Semiahmoo Branch of the Surrey Libraries; thank you to Ginny who hosted my visit). We packed about 60 kids and a dozen parents into a pretty small room, but it seemed like they all enjoyed themselves. Energy plus!
In the afternoon I met with grades 4 – 7 students at the tiny Port Kells Branch of the library. There were about 40 of them, and I honestly think it was the best school visit I’ve ever had. They had amazing energy, and after I read a few pages from A HARE IN THE ELEPHANT’S TRUNK, one boy blurted out, “That was so awesome!” Words to warm a writer’s heart:) Thank you, Kai, and thank you Carolyn who coordinated all my visits to the Surrey Libraries, and to Judi who hosted my Port Kells visit. I had a delicious dinner at Wendell’s Bookstore in Fort Langley yesterday – a sweet little town of about 3500 people – I felt right at home there!
Tonight I’m hoping I’m so exhausted that I’ll sleep for at least 6 hours in a row – bracing myself for the drives into Vancouver and Port Coquitlam tomorrow… Good night! And to all the teachers, librarians, parents and kids I’ve met – thank you from the bottom of my heart for making me feel so welcome 6,000 kilometers away from home!