University Shopping

I flew to Ottawa and drove down to Kingston with Shannon on the weekend.  It wasn’t a planned trip, but WestJet had a really great sale on Friday flights. We stayed with our good friends, Rob and Carole Morrison, (who graciously gave us a super-comfortable bed, despite being busy ripping out half their kitchen ceiling on Saturday) on Friday night. Saturday, we visited the Queen’s campus, with son Liam as tour guide.  It is a beautiful campus, Kingston is a lovely town – lots of good restaurants and shopping, and, to my mind, a perfect size. Rob teaches in the English Department and is a great advocate for his university. Liam has been happy there; we met some of his roommates and Shannon spent the night with them in their house in the student “ghetto”.  There was some talk of beer pong…

Sunday, we drove back to Ottawa, toured the Byward Market, then had a campus tour of Carleton on Monday morning before flying back to Halifax.  I’m sure Carleton is a great school, our tour guide was excellent, the meal we had in the cafeteria was very good, the underground tunnel system sounds like it would be wonderful, especially in winter, but overall, it’s tough for a newer university to measure up to an older one like Queen’s.  The type of character and charm found in schools like Queen’s and Acadia can’t be built overnight, and I’m sure it’s a major factor when students are choosing their university.

It was a busy weekend, but Shannon had a good chance to form an impression of both schools, which was our goal for the weekend. I’m sure I don’t know what I would choose to study, or where I’d go, if I had to do it all over again.  A city has a certain appeal for young adults, but Carleton has 25,000 students, which seemed too big to me. Queen’s and Dal have about 15,000 which somehow seems a lot smaller. Hopefully, Shannon will be able make her decision after attending some open houses at Maritime universities in the next few weeks. Ahhh…to be young again…

Don Aker and the Writer’s Notebook

I attended a two-day summer institute for English Language Arts teachers during the last week of August (since I might be subbing in ELA classrooms this year).  Wow! I almost wish I’d stuck with pursuing an ELA teaching career, rather than staying home with my kids. The presentations were all great, but YA author, and AVRSB consultant, Don Aker, talked about using a writer’s notebook on the second day, and it was truly inspiring.  I often see or hear things while going about my life that I’m sure I’ll file away in my brain for future reference – guess what?  It never happens.  So, after seeing Don’s very funny power point, and hearing about some of the amazing things he’s recorded in his 17 writers’ notebooks over the years, I’ve actually started writing down some of the stuff I see/hear. CBC Radio is a great source and I heard several pretty interesting things on a series called The Hidden City by Nick Purdon (sp?) last week; food for thought.  My dad always carried a little notebook in his shirt pocket, although it was more to remember things he had to do each day, etc.  But I just may start carrying such a notebook in my purse since things have a way of disappearing from my head before I get to my writer’s notebook, which I’m keeping beside my bed. One of the pages on Don’s powerpoint showed a t-shirt a good friend had given him, with “Be careful – you might be in my next novel!” written on it.  So true…

Hazy (Not so) Lazy Days of Summer – at Last!

The humidex is apparently 40 degrees in the Annapolis Valley today. The heat we get here, the kind that makes you feel like you’re moving in slow motion, is so different than in tropical climates.

I’ve been spending almost my entire summer revising a number of manuscripts, utilizing my newly-honed skills, thanks to having been mentored by Gary Blackwood last winter. I’m amazed at how much I learned from him – now if only it will make my work more desirable to publishers/agents, etc. I have to admit I’m really starting to enjoy the editing process. I’d like it even more if I was doing it under the instruction of a seasoned professional, I suppose. Hopefully, I’m accomplishing something on my own.

School will soon start again; Liam will return to Queen’s, Don and Shannon to Horton. I’m going to try substituting, a first for me. Some days, I just can’t see myself at the front of a classroom full of strangers, but other days, I think it might not be so bad. Time will tell…Hopefully, I’ll also be tutoring ESL students again, a job that really suits me. If I had to do it again, I don’t think I’d have spent quite so many years staying home and making children’s clothing. I think I would have enjoyed teaching at the elementary level. I suppose 15 or so years ago, I really felt I had to be home with my kids. Hindsight and all that…

“Killing off your darlings”, as Kathy Stinson says…

I’m not sure if I’ve got that expression quite right, but it’s something along those lines – ie. editing out the unnecessary words that once seemed so perfect. At the suggestion of a children’s editor, I’ve been hard at work shortening “A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk” for the past 10 days or so. It’s amazing how much can be shaved off without changing the story’s essence. I’ve reduced the manuscript by over 10,000 words (from 67,000 to 57,000), but I’m not finished yet…The 240 pages have been reduced to about 200, and it feels right when I read through it (even though there were a couple of good scenes I chopped). I’ve been told the general rule of writing is, “if it doesn’t advance the story, in some way, it doesn’t need to be there.” I suppose that would be especially true of a novel for middle grade readers, who like lots of action and rapid plot advancement. Truthfully, I’ve been surprised at the number of words I’ve been able to get rid of, and I hope I’m right in believing the pruning is improving the manuscript overall.

I applied, unsuccessfully, for a NS Dept of Culture grant for this project – just found out yesterday it was a no. I’m wondering if it’s because I mentioned I wouldn’t be teaching during the summer. Do they only give Creation Grants to full-time writers – ie. those who earn their living completely through their writing? When you read through the list of grant recipients, there seem to be many of the same people receiving grants each year. Interesting…

Sir Paul Rocks Halifax!

Spent yesterday in Halifax with friends from Amherst. Spent 2 hours mid-day on the patio at the Lord Nelson Hotel waiting for Paul and his entourage to leave for their soundcheck. The wait paid off, and I was able to get a couple of close-up photos of him videotaping the crowd out of his SUV window (I’ll try to post one of them). The concert was unbelievable; two and a half hours of non-stop Beatles and McCartney hits. How a man of 67 has that much energy remains a mystery to me. The truly amazing thing is that he always looked like he was having the time of his life – and thanks to the giant side screens, you could see his face for almost the entire show. The weather was perfect, although it got a little chilly toward the end; nothing a little singing couldn’t take care of! I can’t imagine the impact that one man has had on the world; musically, politically and socially. And he seems like such a genuine, nice guy – as I said to Eileen, “I want him to be my friend.” In my limited concert experience, this was the peak. Who knows, maybe he’ll be back in Nova Scotia someday! We Love You Paul!

Leaving Home

The full manuscript of “Hare” is in the hands of two publishers today, and they both expect to get to it in the next week or two. I’m feeling slightly the same as I did when Liam went off to university in Ontario last fall; I’ve done the best I could, and now, I can only hope for the best as “my baby” leaves the nest. I’m still playing with the opening pages; from agent responses, I know it doesn’t pull the reader in as quickly as it should. I’m toying with the idea of starting the novel a couple of years into the story, and then skipping back to the true beginning (idyllic life in Southern Sudan pre-war). We’re off to Horseshoe Lake tomorrow for Father’s Day; think it will do me good to get away from my laptop for a while.

For the first time today, I pulled up an old chapter-book manuscript – had an idea for it in the middle of the night, and I’m already two chapters into major revisions. I have to admit it feels good to be moving on – guess it was time…

WFNS Mentorship Reading

Yesterday I was in Halifax for the AGM of the Writers’ Fed…quick and painless.  Everyone shared a potluck lunch, then the dreaded reading…quick and not so painless.  I enjoyed listening to Gary’s introduction – odd to hear someone speaking about you while you’re actually in the room!  Didn’t realize how nervous I was until I got behind the podium shuffling my papers.  I had decided that morning to read a different excerpt, one that would only take a few minutes but contains an entire scene.  I had printed it just before leaving, and had read through it once.  Just before I got up to read, I noticed the header said “Jacob’s Long Walk” which made me panic, thinking I’d brought the wrong version; it was the right version, but I’d simply neglected to change all the headers when I’d changed the title several weeks ago.  Anyway, I think it went okay – my voice didn’t break at least, but my legs were literally shaking.  I guess I’m used to reading in front of a younger audience, and this was definitely outside my comfort zone!  Three other people being mentored read as well.  The man sitting beside me, Rob North of the CBC, recognized Jacob Deng in my story and told me of meeting him when he first arrived in Canada. Overall, a good event – sorry Jane Buss couldn’t be there, but she’s taking  some much-deserved time off.  Driving home I was feeling a bit melancholic – the mentoring experience was so positive for me, and I’ll miss Gary’s insight.  Still can’t imagine tackling another novel-length project right away, but it will be nice to try a few picture book ideas I’ve had squirreled away for quite a while.  I didn’t really get a chance to chat with Gary at the event, but I’ll be in touch when, or if, there’s any news to report on A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk.  The Writers’ Fed does such important work for writers, and I’m still thrilled to have been chosen – apparently they had 56 applicants last year!  Thanks again to everyone involved.

Ada Mingo Teen Writing Competition

I was in Truro for the third annual teen writing competition, named after my late Mum, and sponsored by the Colchester East Hants Regional Library.  Thanks to the women who put so much effort into this event each year, and to the students/writers who participate.  We’re hoping to get more entries next year by contacting English teachers personally, rather than school principals, who have so many other papers cross their desks daily.  Mum would be so humbled and touched to see these eager young writers, and honoured to have her name associated with an opportunity for young people to shine in the world of words; so often, it’s the athletes, actors and musicians who are more frequently recognized for their accomplishments. 

Sadly, Peter Carver and Kathy Stinson won’t be having their Port Joli Children’s Writers’ Retreat this year – I attended last year, and the fall before, so I’ll miss my time in their fish house this year. 

Gary had a few more small suggestions re A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk last week, but I think I’m actually finished the manuscript.  The Writers’ Fed is hosting a mentorship reading on June 6th, so I’ll have to select a section to read for that.  I’ll be nervous as it’ll be an adult audience; give me 50 young readers any day for an audience!  As Gary said, they’ll all be hoping for us to do well, as evidence of the value of the mentorship program, and just because it’ll be a writer-friendly crowd.  Hope he’s right…


School Visits

I’m involved in the Writers’ Federation Writers in the Schools (WITS) program, and it’s been a huge part of my writing life over the past two years.  I visited Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay on April 24th and Dr. John C. Wickwire School in Liverpool yesterday.

Usually during school visits, I read Rainbws in the Dark to the younger students, but recently I’ve been reading excerpts from A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk, and I’m happy to say it’s been well received by the Grade 5 and 6 students I’ve visited.  Yesterday, one class was particularly enthusiastic, and I had several questions re when the book would be published, where they could buy it, etc.  When you spend so much time writing and researching in isolation, it’s a wonderful feeling to get some positive feedback from readers (or potential readers). Thanks so much to those students and teachers for their support! 

I’ll meet my mentor, Gary Blackwood, on Thursday when I’m in Truro for the awards ceremony for the Ada Mingo Teen Writing Competition.  I feel like there isn’t a lot more I can do with the manuscript, but as I told the students, I haven’t yet read through it without making several changes – until I can do that, I won’t really feel like I’ve given it all I have…But I do feel as if I’m getting close to that point.

I can’t imagine writing for young readers and not participating in school visits.  Even though I work in an elementary school four days a week, it’s not the same as being in a school as an author.  WITS is such an incredibly valuable program – thanks to Jane et al at the Fed for  all the hours they put into making it happen every year!


Maxine Trottier & Susan Tooke visit KCA

Thanks to Box of Delights’ owner, and KCA Librarian, Mitzi DeWolfe, we enjoyed a visit from children’s author, Maxine Trottier, and illustrator, Susan Tooke today.  They both have books nominated for the Atlantic Book Awards tonight. We had a few technical difficulties, but the kids did get to hear (via CD) Shauntay Grant read Up Home, her beautiful picture book illustrated by Susan.  They started writing down some of their own “I remembers”, but time didn’t allow them to finish. I was amazed to hear that Susan can illustrate (acrylic paints) an entire picture book in only 6 months!  I’m envious and told her my art hadn’t advanced past the grade 3 level.  Both women were very engaging and the kids were impressed to have two “famous” people visit their school.  Maxine was first published in 1991 and has over 50 books, to date!!  She was a grade 2 teacher for 31 years, and many of those books were written while she was still doing report cards, prep, etc.  She’s happily retired (from teaching) and living in Newfoundland.  Susan lives in Halifax – she would be one of my dream illustrators – if I ever get another picture book published!  The detail she includes in her pictures is incredible.  She invited me to stop by her studio sometime I’m in Halifax.  TTYL