ANNE MURRAY AND ME!

Anne signing

Like a lot of girls growing up in 1960s Nova Scotia, I idolized Anne Murray and admired her effortless, pure singing voice. The idea that a young woman who grew up just down the highway from me could become an international singing sensation boggled my mind. I’ve always liked to sing and I could sing along to a lot of Anne’s songs, but I was crazy-shy and had no aspirations about following in her footsteps. But when I set out to write The Power of Harmony, about a girl who does want to be a famous singer, I had to include Anne. And I did, including setting the story in her coal-mining hometown of Springhill, NS.

After the book came out in 2013, I mailed Anne a copy, and she responded by email, thanking me. She also tweeted about the book during Canadian Children’s Book Week in 2015, reaffirming my belief in her being a down-home, thoughtful, genuine person, despite her fame.Anne July 30, 2016

Finally this weekend, I got to meet Anne, at her annual meet-and-greet at the Anne Murray Centre in Springhill. By the time Shannon and I arrived, she’d been smiling for over five straight hours, but she seemed genuinely happy that I’d stopped by, and she remembered the book (she didn’t, however, say she’d read it (yet), but that’s okay:) She’s 71 now, and she looks fantastic, as you can see! I got her to sign a copy of my novel for me – possibly it’s the only one-of-a-kind autographed item I’ll ever own.8ee011c0-6e82-4308-bbf7-ef4ee3e106af

How about you? Ever met anybody famous? Were they as nice and personable as Anne?

Revisiting a Children’s Lit class – 35 years later…

I had a chance to visit a Canadian Children’s Literature class yesterday at Acadia University. I took a Kids’ Lit class at Acadia back in 1980; a specifically Canadian course didn’t exist then. As I told the students yesterday, we couldn’t have had an author in to visit the class because the people who wrote the books we studied were all long-dead:) I totally loved seeing so many copies of The Power of Harmony in one room, and I’m honoured that the professor thought my book worthy of inclusion in her course. Thank you, Andrea!

I had fun putting together a PPT I thought uni-age students would be interested in. Here are a few clips:
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The title page of a picture book I did for Children’s Lit in 1980 – I think my drawing skills were at their peak on this project. The story is pretty bad, but I remember labouring over the project for hours on end. I had no aspirations of writing for kids at that time, so it’s funny I held onto the book for all these years.

 

 

Image used to demonstrate one advantage of being a writer – you can wear whatever you like. Usually for me, it’s PJs, but the fur coat and hat are always an option, I suppose. Especially with the snowy winter we’ve been enjoying in Nova Scotia this year:(

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A pic from 1963, used to illustrate “killing off your darlings” (in the writerly sense) – my sister, Nance, didn’t make it into the final version of The Power of Harmony, but Cheeky (who I wish I’d kept so I could take him with me on school visits) has a cameo.

Picture1

And a picture I keep on my bulletin board, given to me during a school visit a few years ago. I love it for so many reasons – because I’m a pig fan, because she wrote that I was her “favrit other,” and because she also mentions that everybody says she’s a great artist. My favorite part of yesterday’s class was when a quiet young woman at the back came up to me at the end and almost whispered to me, “I really liked the book.”

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When I was a student, I was absolutely petrified when called upon to speak in class and avoided it when possible. Writing is such a solitary activity most of the time, but because of my writing, I’ve had to learn to speak in public. I still find it hard to articulate thoughtful answers to questions a lot of the time, but I’m better than I used to be at thinking on my feet, as they say. Happy last four weeks of winter!

 

Bye-Bye, Breath Grabber!

Jenn, the ten-year-old protagonist in my novel, THE POWER OF HARMONY, is terrified of water, not-so-affectionately known as “The Breath Grabber.” That was me for my entire life. (Note I said “was,” as in past-tense)

While I was in Lunenburg this fall, I finally overcame my lifelong fear of water, with the help of an 85-year-old Wise Wonder Woman named Jean and dozens of YouTube videos. When I took swimming lessons as a seven-year-old (see pic), we were told to jump in the 12-foot end the very first day, an obviously misguided approach to teaching kids to swim. When I finally fought my way back to the surface, it was game over for me and water for the next 47+ years.img003

This fall, I spent many, many hours in the warm salt-water Lunenburg pool, gradually learning to trust in my ability to float and convincing myself I wouldn’t inhale water so long as I kept my mouth closed and didn’t try to breathe underwater. I had to talk myself out of panicking over and over again.

But I did it!

And now I can comfortably swim the breast stroke, frog kick and all, keeping my head above water for the most part. I haven’t ventured into the deep end yet, but I will someday. And I want to take some lessons to learn a speedier stroke, like the front crawl.

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Okay, I don’t look quite like the woman in this picture, but I’m so proud of my brave self. Overcoming my fear of water was something I never thought I’d become strong enough to do.  How about you? Any lifelong fears you’ve conquered?

Feeling grateful.

Mum

May has been a busy month for me. I was a judge in the Truro Library’s 8th annual teen writing competition, named after my late mum, Ada Mingo – pictured here in her bookstore, The Book Nook. It’s hard to believe she’s been gone for 8 years already, but it’s a lovely occasion to remember and honour her. I was so impressed by some of the writing submitted by teens this year!

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During Canadian Children’s Book Week, Anne Murray tweeted and “facebooked” about THE POWER OF HARMONY, so I sent her some Mayflowers by way of thanks:)

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Then, my copies of ROCKET MAN arrived – early! I don’t think it’s widely available yet, but I did find it on the shelves of Bookmark in Charlottetown while I was there for the Atlantic Book Awards last week.IMG_0044I got to spend the Victoria Day weekend at one of my favourite places, Port Joli, with some of my favourite people as we celebrated Shannon’s graduation from Dalhousie on May 20th. There’s nothing like family time!

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While I was in Charlottetown, I got to spend time in the sunshine with two of my best writer friends, Jackie Halsey and Jill MacLean.

All in all, it’s been a great month, although Don and I are true empty nesters, now. Birthdays are funny in that you’re always left shaking your head, wondering how you got to be so old when you still feel like an eleven-year-old (at least inside your head:) I’m feeling grateful for having people who like me and love me in my life, and for the great privilege of getting up most mornings anticipating working at something I adore! Thanks for being part of my journey …

 

Airing out your feet on the street, generosity and famous people

We were visiting Liam and Rachel in Toronto last week. If you haven’t tried out Air B&B yet, it’s the way to go when you’re visiting a city. We’ve used their service now three times, and all three short-term apartment rentals have worked out perfectly. Here’s the view from our penthouse on St. George St.

 

Looking South on St. George Street

Looking South on St. George Street

So, I was sitting at the corner of Queen and Bay, out front of Old City Hall one afternoon during the five o’clock rush, resting my aching feet, when a man plopped himself down on the sidewalk at the bottom of the steps. He proceeded to take off his brightly-colored sneakers and socks, roll down the rim of a Tim Horton’s coffee cup, shove it into one of the sneakers, then rest one elbow on a pillow he’d brought along.  From behind, it looked like he was drawing something on the sidewalk. After a few minutes of speculating, I had to stroll over to see what he was up to (I explained I was a nosy writer). He was SO friendly, and seemed happy to have somebody ask. “I’m just airing out my feet,” he said. “I’m 45, but have the feet of a 20-year-old because I keep them aired out.” He extolled the virtues of the particular vent he was lying on, insisting it was just as warm as being inside a house, grinning all the while. As I dropped some money into his cup and said goodbye, I read what he’d written in chalk on the sidewalk, a message for all the Bay Street people rushing home. “I love you!” in fluorescent green:)  I love encounters like that that remind me that people are people, no matter what.

And right across the street, The Bay has this most wonderful old-fashioned animated Christmas window display.

The Bay, Christmas display

The Bay, Christmas display

In other news, while I was away, I got an email from ANNE MURRAY. I’d sent her a copy of The Power of Harmony, in which “Annie Murray” has a cameo, since it’s set in her hometown of Springhill, NS in 1968, the year she was on the brink of becoming famous. In the email, she thanked me, apologized for not getting around to reading the book yet, assured me she would soon, and gave me her best wishes for the book. I’m constantly amazed at the generosity of some people, especially those who are crazy busy, famous, rich, etc. Part of her success, no doubt, has stemmed from the fact that she’s a nice person!  Now if she’d just Tweet about the book after she reads it:)  Have you had any interesting encounters lately, meetings that made you pause and reflect?

In rural Nova Scotia, sometimes you have to stop for free-range turkeys crossing the road:)

In rural Nova Scotia, sometimes you have to stop for free-range turkeys crossing the road:)

Woozles, SLJ, WOTS, ALL and PJ (in a world full of acronyms)

BOOK GIVE-AWAY (ENTER TODAY!)

http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/66630-the-power-of-harmony

Woozles Pink Day

Woozles Pink Day

 

 

 

The nicest people seem to hang out at book stores! Woozles had this wonderful window display for anti-bullying/pink day a couple of weeks ago – I was happy to see Harmony as part of that display. The Woozles women were also working hard at Word on the Street on Sunday, and they’re always so happy to see you!

 

http://www.slj.com/2013/09/books-media/collection-development/focus-on-collection-development/children-of-war-tales-of-child-refugees-and-safe-havens-focus-on/ Nice to see HARE included on this comprehensive list compiled in School Library Journal (SLJ) today.

WOTS

I was part of a middle grade authors’ panel at WOTS, along with writer friends JoAnn Yhard and Jill MacLean – we had a great chat on the topic of “Food For Thought – the role of novels in encouraging empathy,” and we actually had a decent crowd there to listen to us. Thanks to all the volunteers, including our friend, Jackie Halsey, who agreed to moderate the panel at the last minute.

Irving CentreWednesday night, I went down to the Irving Centre and met the people in the intro to writing for kids workshop I’ll be facilitating through Acadia’s Lifelong Learning  (ALL) program for the next six weeks. They’re a dynamic group, with lots of writing/editing experience, and it’ll be interesting to hear what they bring to share each evening. I typed out the text of Kathy Stinson’s new picture book, THE MAN WITH THE VIOLIN (Annick), based on the Joshua Bell/subway story that went viral on the internet a year or two ago, and read it to the group. The 440-word text is a brilliant example of a picture book text standing perfectly on its own without the enhancement of illustrations – but they’re brilliant too (Dusan Petricic – I think he’s an editorial cartoonist as well as an illustrator).

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for our writing retreat to Port Joli last week. This was my fifth year retreating to PJ for a writing week, and we got lots of writing done, but managed to fit in some beach time every day, too, plus long chats about writing and a million other topics. Thanks Marcia and Jackie:)

Port Joli, 2013

Port Joli, 2013

Booksellers + Volunteers = Happy Writers

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love-bookI had a chance to talk about The Power of Harmony at the Atlantic Booksellers Conference on the weekend. Rather than read from the book, I talked a bit about how I’ve spent most of my life writing the book (to steal a thought from Kathy Stinson), since it had its origins in the 1960s on my elementary school playground in Truro, NS. Besides three other authors, the group attending the breakfast meeting were all dedicated and friendly booksellers, either retail or wholesale, and it was great to meet Sonya Gillis, Fitzhenry & Whiteside’s Atlantic sales rep. I SO appreciate all the things these booksellers do which enable me (and everybody else) to continue being a writer!

This weekend, I’ll be one of three WordPlay authors reading and giving workshops at Read by the Sea in beautiful, charming River John, NS.

RBTS kids poster 2013

I’ll be doing a workshop on “Character Craft” for middle-grade readers; Jackie Halsey and Vicki Grant will lead workshops for younger and older readers. There’s also an adult component, and the adult authors this year include Vincent Lam, Martina Endicott, Phil Hall and Rebecca Silver Slayter.  This annual festival is completely run by volunteers (with financial help from sponsors including Canada Council), and it’s a nice opportunity to get out and be part of the literary community – events include readings and picnics, and I’m looking forward to meeting some new people, staying at the lovely Tatamagouche Centre and maybe doing some beach strolling. The volunteers I’ve communicated with via email have been incredibly attentive and accommodating, and it’s so great when committed, dedicated people work together to make these festivals happen year after year. Cheers to them! Stop by if you’re in the area this weekend!