I’ve been thinking about the idea of “home” lately, possibly because my short story, “You Get a Line” is included in the recently-published anthology, My Nova Scotia Home. Many of the pieces are non-fiction, but mine is pure fiction. It’s an interesting collection, and each Nova Scotia writer has a unique take on what home means to them.
As always, Pooh is right, and I’m the kind of person who, in a few days or even hours, can be comfy in a lot of different places. Here are some of the places I’ve felt at home in recent years:
Home means different things to different people, I suppose. For me, it’s not the house, it’s not the surroundings or landscape, beautiful as they may be. It’s not the stuff I’ve collected over the years, as nice as all those things are, and finding second-hand treasure is so much fun! Of course, I’m grateful for all of this, and try not to take any of it for granted.
But, for me, home is the people, these people. Wherever they are, that’s home for me.
In August of 2015, thanks to Doris McCarthy and Ontario Heritage Trust, I got to be the first writer-in-residence for the entire month at Fool’s Paradise, former home of iconic Canadian artist, Doris McCarthy. During that month, living in the space she’d so lovingly crafted over her lifetime, I became fascinated with all things Doris, and set about writing her story for young readers. She was a woman ahead of her time in so many ways, determined to succeed in what was largely a man’s world in the 1930s and 1940s. For Doris, nothing was impossible, and anything was possible. Alongside a 40-year teaching career, she spent her life creating 6,000 works of art, telling Canada’s story, sharing her joy and love for life and the wild.
This past November, I was asked to present at a McCarthy Symposium hosted by the McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto, Scarborough. I worked for weeks putting together a PowerPoint presentation to go along with my lyrical version of Doris’s life story. Along with the other eleven presenters, I was happy to meet some of the significant people in Doris’s life, including her long-time agent, Lynn Wynick, and two daughters of Doris’s dearest friend, Marjorie Beer Woods. At the end of the symposium, the five of us who had been artists-in-residence at Fool’s Paradise had a panel discussion about living in that magical space, which was super interesting; all of us felt Doris’s spirit which is still strongly present in her home.
There are painfully few books for young readers on the subject of Canadian artists, especially female Canadian artists. So far, I haven’t found a publisher willing to take on the project, but, like Doris, I’m determined, and will continue reworking the manuscript, and revisiting her life, until somebody says yes. Wish me luck!
As I’ve been sitting around eating chocolates, drinking coffee and enjoying having both kids home for the holidays, I’ve also been reflecting on 2015, a busy year for me, especially in terms of writing. I did lots of wandering (14 trips by air, thousands of kilometers – a few too many, I think – Cuba, Georgia, Vancouver, Surrey, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Toronto, Maine, Ottawa, etc.) and plenty of wondering, marveling at sights I saw, things I heard. I met hundreds of readers, and lots of writers, too, including Alice Priestley, the illustrator of my first book, Rainbows in the Dark (2005).
In May, one of my favorite moments was seeing the mountains in British Columbia, a glorious sight I hadn’t seen since 1981. Stunningly beautiful! Another favorite, as part of TD Book Week, was arriving at a Sikh private school, donning a bright orange headscarf (which clashed with my pink shirt), before being greeted enthusiastically by a hundred smiling five and six-year-olds, several asking if I really had written If Dogs Could Talk, one of my books with Caramel Tree Readers. So sweet.
In December, I had dinner at the Governor General’s house, Rideau Hall, in Ottawa, and got to enjoy the company of many of Canada’s literary luminaries, briefly. In the lead-up to that Literary Awards ceremony, as part of the jury (with David Poulsen and Rachna Gilmore), I had the privilege of reading 148 Canadian novels published for young readers in 2014/15. There’s a lot of talent in our midst!
My newest book, The King of Keji, came out from Nimbus in June, I wrote (and read) pretty much every day all year, and saw my first (and possibly last) coy-wolf while loving being artist in residence at Fool’s Paradise, former home of Canadian artist, Doris McCarthy, overlooking the Scarborough Bluffs.
2016 looks like it will be a less busy year, but before 2017 arrives, I’m hopeful of finding homes for the two novels I think I’ve finally finished polishing (possibly, maybe, hopefully…). And, of course, lots of new ideas to start getting down on paper. Also, Sky Pig (with intricate plasticine illustrations by Suzanne Del Rizzo) will fly out from Pajama Press in April, 2016.
Sincere thanks to YOU for being part of my year; I hope your 2016 will be pleasantly busy, full of good health and cozy time spent with those who matter most to you. Take good care of yourself, and I hope to see you again next year!
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. (thanks also to the Canada Council for the Arts who awarded me a travel grant for this venture.) This is the first year of the DMAIR 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?