220 Names to Learn!

Well, I’ve completed the first two weeks of  a maternity leave position teaching Core French to Grade 6 and 7 students at Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning. The first week I had a head cold and was overwhelmed by the 220 new names. The second week went much better as I had some discipline policies in place and I know all but a few names now, which makes life a whole lot easier!  I had forgotten how much energy young people 11-13 have! They’re lots of fun, but a little too chatty by times…We’re working on that!  We started doing presentations on “Qui Suis Je?” (Who Am I?) last week; for many of them it’s the first time they’ve presented something in French, but  I was pretty proud of those who have already presented. Hopefully we’ll get those wrapped up tomorrow, and then it’s on to Les Jeux Olympiques! 

I haven’t yet heard from Peter with notes on the revision I sent him in early January, and it’s just as well as I’m still finding my way in my new job.  Jacob just left a message asking if he could do anything to help during his study week, so I forwarded him the latest edition of the manuscript and hopefully he’ll get time to read through it.  I watched his documentary (by Noah Pink) a few weeks ago, and it’s very moving. I must mail if off to Peter so he can see it…All for now…

A New Job?!

I’m about to start a new job! I haven’t worked full-time, outside the house, for over 20 years, so it will be interesting!  I’ll be filling in on a maternity leave for at least the next five months – Grade 6 & 7 Core French and Focused Literacy at Northeast Kings in Canning. Krista, the teacher having the baby, expected to be there until the end of February, but her doctor has said she’s finished and has to stay off her feet more. I’ll do a day of subbing tomorrow, then finish up my ESL at KCA, and start at NKEC on Monday, February 1st.  I’m pretty excited about it, but slightly overwhelmed by the fact I’ll have over 220 students! They rotate in and out of the French room every 30 minutes – I hope I’m up to the challenge of learning that many names.  I have lots of ideas, and I’m taking the approach that it will be similar to an elementary classroom in that they are beginning French learners – but, hopefully, somewhat more capable (and bigger!) than early elementary students. I’m planning to start with a unit on les Jeux Olympiques, since they’ll be happening in February. I know I’ll have a lot less writing time, but I also know I’ll waste much less time. Bonne Chance a Moi!

Editing my first novel…

I had an hour-long chat with MY editor, Peter Carver on the 22nd.  He had sent me 9 pages of editorial notes a few days earlier. Wisely, I didn’t read them until Don and I returned from a one-night get away to the sandy, but blustery, beaches of Lockeport. I was a little freaked out, mainly because the novel is more fiction than fact, and I was worried Peter and I weren’t on the same wavelength on that point.  He was very reassuring and it’s all good now.  Many of the points are simple things that I can fix in a few minutes.  His main areas of concern were logistical – ie. relating to time, distance and setting. I had to confess that I was more concerned with creating the story itself; believable characters and situations, when I was revising last winter with Gary Blackwood. I’ve sent a few questions off to Jacob, and I’m hoping he’ll get back to me soon as I have to finish this first round of revisions before the end of January. Depending on his response as to when and where he was (if he remembers from 20 years ago!) at a given time, there may be a lot of rewriting of certain parts of the novel. Peter seems pretty happy with a lot of aspects of the current manuscript – it’s so amazing to get positive feedback, especially from someone for whom I have enormous respect. It is kind of an odd circumstance wherein I’ve created a work of fiction, the bones of which are Jacob Deng’s story. In reading the manuscript now, I sometimes find it hard to distinguish between the parts that are fiction and those that are non-fiction.

I just finished Caroline Pignat’s GG-winning novel, Greener Grass, also edited by Peter, and it’s excellent! I’m envious of the opportunity she had to spend time in Ireland, researching the history of the Potato Famine, and just breathing in the air of the setting for her novel. Kit’s voice is very true, and it’s so lovely that Caroline was able to pick her own grandmother’s brain as part of researching the story. Stories are such a wonderful way for people, young and old, to learn about the past – I had no idea of the intimate details of the potato famine prior to reading this novel. 

As 2009 is on the brink of becoming history, I’m pretty happy about my writing life.  If all goes according to plan, I should have 5 illustrated chapter books published by the Korean language school next year, one novel, and one non-fiction ESL book about Quebec. I’ve been writing for close to 10 years now – hopefully my publishing drought is over…I’ll keep my fingers crossed…

A Signed Contract!

I mailed off my signed contract to Red Deer Press last week. I can see it would be valuable to have an agent when signing a contract, because I did find a few small discrepancies when reading over the contract, which the publisher was quick to correct for me. Editor Peter Carver and I had some email discussion yesterday regarding the original 67,000 word version and a subsequent 55,000 word version – we easily agreed that the original would be the working copy for editing. He hopes to get the first round of edits to me before Christmas. 

I have another chapter book story to write for JLS, the Korean language school.  The editor asked for a female protagonist this time, so I’m mulling over some ideas.  He’s away on vacation until January so there’s no immediate deadline there.

Seems winter has finally arrived. We’ve had a persistent cold wind for the past 48 hours or so, and I’ll be happy when it blows away. Think I’m just about finished my Christmas shopping; hopefully tonight we’ll be able to do some decorating around the house. Shannon has been the initiator of those activities these past few years; don’t know what will happen when she’s off at school next year until just before Christmas…A group of kids from Horton put on a comedy night last night and raised $1350 for cancer research, about 3 times the amount they raised last year so I guess Christmas is a pretty good time for fundraising efforts.

Speed Writing

In the past several weeks, I’ve written and revised four manuscripts for illustrated chapter books to be used in English Second Language schools for JLS, an English language school based in South Korea. The titles include: The Queen and Mr. Cunningham, The Impossible Dive, The Witch’s Fingers, and The Cheesy Man Giant. They’re all currently with illustrators; I’ve already been paid for three of them, and I can’t wait to see the books, sometime in 2010. They’ll be in use in the JLS schools by next summer. The editor I’ve worked with is based in British Columbia, and he has been very gracious and efficient throughout the process. It’s been a totally different approach to writing for me; the gratification is certainly much more immediate than in standard trade publishing! It’s been fun blending my ESL knowledge with my writing life.

The course I was taking at Acadia, “Strategies for Teaching a Second Language”, is now over. I learned so much about teaching French, and also got to improve my own French as most of the course was delivered in French.  It was also a bit of a trip down Memory Lane, spending time with young adults in a classroom setting – it had been a couple of decades since I’d last had that experience!

Spent a day earlier this week with 20 Primary/One students – it was lots of fun, but I was exhausted by 2:30! They’ve got a ton of energy, and a million questions/comments, it seems. We started the day with a “snowball” fight in the gym – the teacher had made snowballs out of pantyhose and polyester batting, followed by a session of “follow the leader” that left all of us a bit breathless. I spend 20 minutes or so in that class every day which made it easier as I already knew all of their names.

Caroline Pignat’s Greener Grass wins GG!

I’m so thrilled for Caroline Pignat – her young adult novel, Greener Grass, just won the Governor General’s Medal for Children’s Literature! The book was published earlier this year and edited by Peter Carver (who will be editing my Lost Boys novel as well!) I met Caroline at Peter and Kathy Stinson’s writing retreat in Port Joli two summers ago; I haven’t read her novel yet, but the excerpts of her writing which she did read at PJ were remarkable,  her talent obvious, and I’m sure this recognition is very well-deserved. I must stop by The Box of Delights to see if they have a copy… I can’t begin to imagine how excited Caroline must be!

A Contract with Red Deer Press!

I’ve accepted an offer from Red Deer Press to publish A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk. If all goes according to plan, it should be between covers in the Fall of 2010, which is really quick!  As it turned out, I had a second offer, as well as serious consideration from two other publishers, but I know Red Deer’s Children’s Editor, Peter Carver, will help me make this book the best it can possibly be.  Their terms seem very fair, and I met with Jacob Deng last Friday to confirm his approval of the book going forward.  Although it is a work of fiction, it is certainly inspired by Jacob’s story, and I hope the book will help support his foundation, Wadeng Wings of Hope, through which he is raising money to support education in Southern Sudan.  Stop by www.Wadeng.org if you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift!

I first got the idea for the novel 2.5 years ago when the Acadia Alumni Bulletin contacted me to interview Jacob and write an article for the Bulletin. I listened to Jacob that March day, in awe, for 2 hours, and I just knew it was a story to be told for young readers. In Jacob’s words, his interest in having his story told is to empower young readers living in difficult situations to believe in their own ability to dig themselves out of just about any horrible circumstance. Exactly!

I’m excited to begin the editing process; I’m confident I’ll learn lots from Peter over the winter!

I’ve also signed three contracts over the past month for three English as a Second Language chapter books with a Korean language school, JLS Academy, which has a British Columbia office. It’s a completely different type of writing in that I submit the manuscript, sign the contract, do some on-line editing and get paid! A very different scenario than trade publishing. I’ve also just had a manuscript accepted for StorySomething – a web-based venture offering personalized picture books for busy parents to read to their children on-line.  Interesting…Guess I’d better get back to writing!

Philip Pullman on the value of stories

I don’t usually read fantasy, but a couple of years ago, I read Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy (which I borrowed from my son and daughter, who were 11 and 13ish at the time). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the books, but then he is a master writer.  I came upon this wise excerpt from his Carnegie Medal acceptance speech (2004) recently:

“All stories teach, whether the storyteller intends them to or not. They teach the world we create. They teach the morality we live by. They teach it much more effectively than moral precepts and instructions. We don’t need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do’s and don’ts.  We need books, time and silence. ‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.”

Such profound words deserve to be remembered and considered over and over again.

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…