Well, those 40 years sure flew by! And Tom Chapin!

40th high school reunion (Truro, Nova Scotia) – over 200 people!

Two new books and three launches in August – too busy! (Tom Chapin (who provided the soundtrack to my kids’ growing-up years and is the late Harry’s brother) is going to sing his song, “Family Tree” (which appears in Talking to the Moon) at one of them!)

Hope you’re  all surviving the humidity and enjoying summer!

hometown music teacher surrounded by some of her “OLD” students – thank you, Mrs. Dill!

BFFs since 1965 (Brenda)

Friends from Willow Street Elementary School – looking good!

Shannon’s friend, Finn, looking surprised to find himself in my new book!

Retreating from the world – The North Pond Hermit

I don’t often blog about what I’m reading, but I was really affected by THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS, the true story of Christopher Knight, the Maine man who walked into the woods in 1986, remaining there in isolation until 2013, when he was caught breaking into a cottage to steal food (as he had done 1000 times previously). A bright student, Knight had a fairly stable upbringing in rural Maine before moving to the Boston area to train as an electrician. His self-analysis in the book is fascinating; “I did examine myself. Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there… There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.”

Knight was unable to articulate why, at the age of 20, he made the decision to drive his Subaru deep into the woods until it ran out of gas, continuing on foot, finally making his new home on a piece of land surrounded by boulders, with an almost invisible entrance between them. His only regret, it seems, was that he had to resort to stealing (over 1000 times) from neighboring cottages and a camp in order to survive. Amazingly, through those long, cold Maine winters, he never once started a wood fire, fearful the smoke would give him away.

I suppose we all feel the need to escape from the world sometimes, but to do so in such a drastic manner?  In the book, Knight describes his family as being obsessed with privacy. Author Michael Finkel writes: “One’s desire to be alone, biologists have found, is partially genetic and to some degree measurable. If you have low levels of the pituitary peptide oxytocin – sometimes called the master chemical of sociability – and high quantities of the hormone vasopressin, which may suppress your need for affection, you tend to require fewer interpersonal relationships.”  And: “Each of us inherits from our parents a certain level of need for social inclusion…” (John Cacioppo, LONELINESS)

Interesting. I’d never heard that before, and I’ve spent some time reflecting on my own parents and myself as social beings.

Did Michael Finkel share his royalties with Knight? I hope so since Penguin Random House describes it as a National Bestseller, and at best, Knight seemed to be a reluctant participant. I tried to get an update on Christopher Knight, hoping to find he’d managed to retreat into the solitude and stillness of the woods once again, but the internet has little current information. I’m sure that’s just as he would want it.

The End (and the beginning …)

Here in sunny Georgia, I’ve been putting the final polish on my middle grade novel, Talking to the Moon, due out in May from Red Deer Press, and thinking about how much work is involved in creating a book, for so many people. The list of contributors in movie credits is extremely long – everybody gets a mention; not sure why that doesn’t happen with books.

I began doing the research for this one back in 2013 – so almost five years from initial idea to publication. Because structure is not my friend, I figure I’ve written the entire novel 6 or 8 times by now, with constructive and key bits of advice from more than a few people along the way. I’ve read the manuscript approximately 1,000 times, and probably there will still be at least one typo, despite the sharp eyes of my editor, Peter Carver, and the keen attention to detail of the copy editor, Penny Hosey.

We don’t have a final cover, yet. Hopefully soon …

So ultimately, I ask myself – why do I do it? For me, I had to tell this story, in part, because it includes a bit of my family history, but mainly because once a character becomes real to me, I need to stick with them, and help them tell their story, right to the end. They need to be heard!

I don’t think any writer has ever said to themselves, ‘This book is perfect,’ but I’m satisfied that I’ve done my best with Katie’s story; I’ll miss her …

Now, on to the next project …

Sketches of Cuba 2018

I got to visit Cuba for the fourth time last week; it is a beautiful country, its people so warm, friendly and hardworking, and it’s so very different from our life here in North America. I took some mental notes on the bus ride back to the airport:

 

 

 

 

Sketches of Cuba 2018

University-educated bus guide,

fluent in four languages,

entertaining with his dry sense of humour;

is he happy?

horse and buggy carrying uniformed girls to school;

boy pumping water using an ancient hand pump;

powdery sand stretching to infinity,

outlining the turquoise ocean;

bright splotches of yellow popping out of the green;

signs of Irma,

uprooted trees, missing roof tiles;

cinderblock homes,

windows shuttered up, blocking the heat – no glass?

men, the same vintage as their bicycles,

pedalling down dirt lanes – s-l-o-w-l-y,

sniffing dogs trailing along behind;

bamboo fields

and neat rows of green

meandering up hillsides toward distant mountains;

people chatting in corner cafés – not Tim Horton’s,

waiting, for what?

Time stands still.

Jan L. Coates

Doodling the winter away …

I’ve been doodling the winter away (with water color pencils), and having so much fun! I started selling some cards at my local book shop, The Box of Delights, and amazingly, some people are actually buying them! The whole thing reminds me of the FIFTEEN years I spent making toddlers’ clothing and selling my cuddle duds at craft fairs – too many hats, bibs, jumpers and pajamas! But, hey – I got to spend a lot of quality time with my kids when it mattered most. It’s fun having a new creative outlet, trying to combine my love for picture books with words. Sorry the reproduction quality isn’t the best, but technology remains a challenge … Stay warm out there!

 

Wishing You Good Health, Peace of Mind and Joy!

We weren’t along on on this camping trip, but Liam and Rachel got engaged shortly afterwards – another daughter! It’s fun to scroll back through the year’s pictures and memories. Here are some highlights from the 2017 chapter of my life story…

I’ll remember 2017 as the year I started exploring art – water color pencils are so much fun!

Signed two new book contracts this year, plus this one coming from Nimbus in 2018!

Having both kids in Georgia at the same time – such a treat! Super proud of Liam who passed his CPA exam, and Shannon who’s about to become a teacher. And they’re both stellar people!

We didn’t break any distance or speed records, but what fun biking the trails of Nova Scotia (and Ireland). We’re at Kejimkujik Park here.

Had the huge pleasure of visiting with hundreds of young readers this year, including this group in Toronto (part of the DeMar DeRozan All-Star Reading Challenge). Nothing like seeing so many copies of your book in young hands!

30th Anniversary – same clothes as in 1987!

Toured bitterly cold Ottawa with my sister, Nance. Love the library at the Parliament Buildings.

In May, I got to accept the Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Excellence in Illustration on behalf of SKY PIG illustrator, Suzanne Del Rizzo. And I got to enjoy the evening with my good friend, Laura Best:)

Beautiful Horseshoe Lake – our second home. Lovely except for the blackflies and mosquitoes…

Proud patriotic day in gorgeous Port Joli, NS on our annual writing retreat with friends Jill MacLean and Jackie Halsey (and Marcia Barss) as we awaited the drive-by of PM Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

And the Trudeaus did not disappoint – she’s lovely, warm and beautiful. Keji Seaside for a backdrop isn’t too shabby, either.

Ten days stepping back in time exploring Ireland, Scotland and Liverpool – this is Howth, just outside Dublin.

 

 

Thank you SO MUCH for being part of my life story this year – every good wish for good health, peace of mind and joy in the coming year!

 

 

The Storied British Isles – in pictures

We were lucky enough to spend 10 days this month exploring Dublin, Howth, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Belfast and Carrickfergus  (Northern Ireland) and Carlingford, Ireland. Here are some pictures of things that struck my fancy along the way. I was fascinated with the sheep for some reason, and the miles of stone fences dividing the fields. So much history, so many stories, such beautiful, lush green countryside … We found Dublin to be very expensive compared to the other places, and Edinburgh was our favourite city – the Portobello district is very like the Beaches in Toronto (but with much older houses/buildings). We encountered a few transplanted Canadians, including one woman who grew up in Montreal and had just opened Edinburgh’s first Montreal-style bagel cafe. I love to travel, but home is good, too:)

very cool piece of art at Guinness – the bottom is carved wood and the foam is embroidered fabric.

a job we thought Liam might enjoy – taste tester for Guinness – every day at 10:00 am

Dublin music shop

Molly Malone selling cockles and mussels on the streets of Dublin

Dublin was pretty much shut down upon our arrival due to Hurricane Ophelia – more of a windy day than a hurricane, but schools, banks, etc. were closed for 2 days.

I got to enjoy the balmy weather with some swans and unzip my pant legs:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My best imitation of a book thief – behind me is a book cage in Marsh’s Library, the oldest public library in Ireland. They would lock people inside to prevent book thievery. Apparently Bram Stoker wrote part of Dracula in this ancient library.

I went for the blond…

Christ Church, Dublin

Church ruins in Howth, Ireland – we did not contact Mrs. O’Rourke about getting the key…

Found this guy at The Beatles’ Story museum in Liverpool

and these guys strolling along the Liverpool waterfront in the rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strawberry Fields Forever – the gate is in front of what used to be a Salvation Army children’s home. They’re now fundraising 10M pounds to recreate it as a training hub for young people with learning disabilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scottish music in the 21st century

Saw some truly amazing buskers – Mary Had a Little Lamb, I think

 

This castle dominates the Edinburgh skyline, plunging up out of the rock face

 

 

 

 

 

Old Town part of Edinburgh – very much like Quebec City, and lots of French restaurants, etc.

Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh) – we climbed up the treacherous rocky side and went down the easy, grassy slopes.

Proof that we made it to the top of Arthur’s Seat (and just about blew off once we’d arrived)

And at the bottom, we chatted with this guy and his two imported Nova Scotia duck tollers – he told us his Canadian-born mother had four interviews before being allowed to purchase the first one as the breeders want to ensure the breed’s purity.

The Scott Monument, Edinburgh, Scotland – you could climb up a narrow staircase, but we opted out.

Warm and welcoming children’s section of the Waterstones Book Shop in Edinburgh.

Saw various political statements on our travels…

Scottish Storytelling Festival, where we heard some tall tales and someone playing the harmonium.

Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland – gorgeous campus

and lots of uniformed students everywhere.

Gorgeous staircase in The Linen Library, Belfast.

And this interesting sign on the front door of the Linen Library (and elsewhere).

Belfast version of Dollarama

Vintage train station in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland (surely you know the song?)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PjZXZ1huZA (Performed here by Charlotte Church) The train/bus system is truly amazing.

 

Downtown Carlingford

Channelling my inner Heidi in Carlingford, Ireland, a charming medieval village, my favourite place on the trip.

“The Irish Lads” didn’t start playing until after the soccer match ended at 10:00 pm on a Tuesday night. Everyone sang along!

Warming myself by a coal fire at Taaffe’s Pub, Carlingford (circa 1600)