That is so long ago, I can barely remember those days. So why did Nancy Drew spring immediately to mind? Something in that girl really resonated for me. I guess, mostly, I identified with her great affection for her father. Being an only child, I was very close to my parents, especially my Dad, and remembering her now, that is the one detail I remember most clearly about Nancy Drew. Being very shy, I also envied her boldness and daring, and wished I could live a life as exciting as hers.
Can you recall your earliest work? What was it about?
Although I did write a lot as a child, the earliest work of mine that I can clearly remember would date back to grade 11, when a friend and I got together to write about a beautiful cat. This was a descriptive piece that we were supposed to do alone, of course, but one of us was running late with her assignment. So just for the heck of it, we decided to collaborate—just to get it done quickly. And together, we turned out a remarkably well-crafted piece of writing. I can’t remember which of us turned it in as her own, but the teacher was really impressed. We each got excellent marks with all of our English projects anyway, so at the time, we just thought of it as one great joke that we had played on the teacher. And it was probably the best bit of writing I ever did.
Did you receive a piece of advice early in your career, that made a huge difference to how you saw yourself as a writer?
Believe it or not, that kind of knowledge doesn’t always come from receiving great advice. Being a ‘late bloomer’, my writing career didn’t start until the year I was turning 50, and decided to take a night school course in Creative Writing at George Brown College. The teacher, an old retired lawyer who at one time had worked at the Globe and Mail, was terrible—so bad, in fact, that I quickly grew weary of hearing this ‘old fuff ‘ do nothing but brag about the fact that he once got published in the New Yorker—because he knew, and had interviewed, Glenn Gould. This ”teacher” gave me nothing to go with – absolutely nothing. But through his ‘terrible-ness’, he did inspire in me the urge—to ‘do it anyway—in spite of him’. And so, I hit the books, and In my search to find other ways to learn this craft, I discovered Writers’ Digest—and some of the best advice ever written on the subject of writing. I came out of that class convinced that I too could be a successful writer because, thanks to those insightful Writers’ Digest articles, I understood what I had to do if I really wanted to succeed. I also knew, for certain, that I was a much better writer than that bragging old man at the front of the room. Even before finishing that course, I had sold my first article, my writing was solid, and I knew I was on my way.
…abolutely essential for any writer. And I’ve seldom met a writer who wasn’t a compulsive reader, like me, absorbing everything, including every word on a bus transfer.
Right now, my biggest writing challenge is…
…procrastination, putting things off, because even in retirement, it’s too easy to find more exciting stuff to do.
A choice (or seven):
Morning or Night? Morning
Coffee or Tea? Coffee
Pen or Keyboard? It’s become a toss-up
Summer or Fall? Spring (Oh sorry – Summer comes next)
Mystery or SciFi? Mystery
Type A or Type Something Else? Definitely something else – a Slow Loris comes to mind.
Atwood or Davies? Davies, definitely not an Atwood fan—except for her poetry: everyone should read “February”.
Because I have to, of course. Journalism comes easiest. So, sadly, I now know I will never fulfil the desire that started me on this journey in the first place. I will never write great fiction.
Marjorie Ludlow Green was the founding member and first President of the WCDR.
She has since retired (her word) to Haliburton—where she continues to work.
Reviewed by Cheryl Andrews
In my age group, past my late 50’s, there are very few of my intimates, friends and associates, me included, that have not been through the confusion and pain of losing someone close to us, someone who, most likely unawares, served as an internal compass … whether we liked it or not.
Finding Lily by Richard Clewes is a must read. The author’s website is an intriguing insight into the style of the book.
The author spoke to me personally with this passage, “What is astonishing about grief is that it can be an uplifting experience. It is intended, I have learned, to restore self. That it comes after a great loss disguises grief’s meaning but not its power to make us attentive to our own depth and the profound connectedness of being human and here. It’s not about atonement, but gratitude.”
Shocked? Confused? Perhaps, even a little horrified that anyone could look at grief with gratitude? Well, you won’t be once you’ve finished the book. I recommend taking your time re-reading pages and paragraphs that speak to you about your own grief and loss. I found mine, many times over, sometimes embedded in humor, sometimes in Clewes’ deeply-felt narrative.
The book is artistic and accessible, small at a mere 189 pages but gigantic in proportion to the author’s honesty in the face of the grieving process, particularly in the aftermath of suicide. The style initially appears commercial and clever, even contrived, a unique twist with a marketing advantage, but not so.
After his wife takes her own life, the author stops working, abandons the safe confines of a familiar life and launches himself on a three-month trip around the world with not much more than his sorrow, bewilderment, diary, pen and sketchbook. Clewes records his sojourn in both words and illustrated postcards, which he mails to himself along the way … and ultimately, he finds Lily in Queenstown.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)
What literary character did you most identify with as a child, and why?
Ralph, the mouse from the Mouse and the Motorcycle, because he was small and longed for adventure.
Can you think of a case where one of your own characters surprised you?
I wrote a short story that features a misogynistic bastard, and the thing that surprised me was that I was able to write him in first-person POV without even breaking a sweat.
Did you ever receive a tiny gem of advice that changed your direction, your thoughts about writing? If not, do you have a tiny gem of advice?
The first time I heard a story summed up as put a man up a tree, throw rocks at him, then get him down (attributed to George Cohan, I think) stands out. It reminds the fiction writer of so many important things, such as that three-act structure just about always works; that conflict and stakes are essential to good story telling; that people love a happy ending. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of words, but without a good story, even the best writing fails. I don’t believe, as Fitzgerald said, that style is everything. A great story can overcome mediocre writing, but the reverse is not true (at least for all but an esoteric few).
Recite a favourite passage from a favourite book. Why is it special?
My earliest memory of being blown away by a writer was when I struggled through Ayn Rand’s We The Living when I was maybe 12 or 13. She wrote, “It’s a curse, you know, to be able to look higher than you’re allowed to reach.” It was the first time I was aware there were places in the world where people lived that way, having been lucky enough to grow up in Canada with parents who believed I could reach for absolutely anything, and the first time I was really aware that writers had the power to encapsulate enormous emotions, events and ideas in a very few words.
… the best way to live a thousand lives within the only life we can be sure we get.
A choice (or seven):
lined pad or spiral notebook? beautifully bound, lined journals – life is too short to write in cheap, ugly books
urban or rural? urbral
morning or night? summer nights, winter mornings
fall or spring? spring
pen or keyboard? yes
music or silence? music
comedy or horror? comedy
Because the voices in my head told me to.
Annette McLeod has spent more than 20 years on staff at the Toronto Sun, but don’t hold that against her. She is an award-winning automotive journalist, contest-winning short story writer, and money-making playwright currently trying to (at last) complete a novel while enjoying her maternity leave and running around after just-learned-to-crawl son Callum.
Reviewed by Cheryl Andrews
I finally gave up this morning on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by a famous and much-loved Canadian author. I got all the way to page 88 before anything exciting enough happened to remember I’d tried to read it once before. It’s down (with my apologies to the author) and Donna Morrissey’s book, What They Wanted is up.
So well written in first person I feel I’m back in Newfoundland in 1989 … asking directions from a long, thin old man in brown tweeds, wearing a plaid and brimmed worsted cap, astride his bike, pant legs tucked into hand-knitted woolen socks, leaning against a bridge, smoking a pipe, his patois so thick, if he hadn’t pointed the way with the stem of that pipe, I might still be roaming the Avalon Region trying to find my way back to St. John’s.
In the first five pages I’ve met the extended family, vividly seen where they live, watched in horror as Father used a chain saw to cut their house in half so’s it’ll float through the channel of the neck, then load the two halves onto separate rings of steel drums and float them 40 miles up the bay. I saw the split-apart house reach its new location in the small outport of Hampden and specifically a salt-bitten wharf, where “… within a relatively short time the two halves of the house were hoisted off the steel drums and sitting on top of the wharf looking like one again.”
In the first line I learned that the family is in their “… last days in Cooney Arm, the sea dying around us and taking Father’s spirit with it.”In the first paragraph I know that Father is despressed having stayed long after his brothers and the others left, “… netting cod, netting salmon, spearing flatfish, hauling crab-pots, trapping eels and rabbits, hunting seals and turrs and bull birds, and landing capelin and squid and all else the sea hove at him.”
And that’s just the Prologue!
What literary character did you most identify with as a child, and why?
I can relate to a few poets, Khalil Gibran is the closest I can identify with. I received a poem of his on Joy and Sorrow when I was a young child, later I was given two of his books as a gift. I can relate to his view of humanity and the world from a global perspective. Joy and Sorrow knows no boundary, no race, no religion. One seems to pass in a fleeting moment, while the other lingers for what feels like a lifetime. But we cannot fully understand either Joy or Sorrow, without experiencing each of them.
Can you recall your first piece of creative fiction/poem/song ?
When my kids were very little, I made up a song that we sang together that went:
“ I love Mommy, I love Daddy,
Daddy and Mommy love me,
I love you, you love me,
That is how it should be.”
Do you have a MS in a bottom drawer that will never see the light of day? If so, what’s it about?
Over 20 years ago I started to write “ A Mother’s Love, a Mother’s Lie”, it’s about a mother-daughter relationship, and takes you on a journey of the peaks and valleys as the daughter transitions from child, teen, adult to becoming a mother. The climactic ‘lie’ is revealed, causing a tragic break in their relationship. In the end, forgiveness finds a way to reach them and heal their relationship.
Recite a favorite passage from a favorite book; what makes it special for you?
Be Still and Know (that I am God); Psalm 46:10
Ever since I learned to meditate and be still a tremendous sense of peace and joy often fills my being. This phrase reminds me of how powerful and magical silence and inner reflection truly are. We all have an inner wisdom that speaks volumes to us when we are quiet, still and reflective.
Reveal a trait (of yours) that does not fit your own idea of ‘the writer”
I plan things in a linear fashion, the proverbial To Do list, get from A to B in a straight line. It’s a symptom of my former life as a business/finance manager. I see ‘the writer’ as more of a lateral thinker, creative and free flowing. When I tried to write my first book, Raise Your Vibration, Transform Your Life, chapter by chapter…it did not work. I learned to let go and allow content to flow in whatever section it was meant to be created.
A Choice (or seven):
mustard or ketchup? Neither, unless it’s organic, of course (smile)
summer or winter? Bring the HEAT!! I am an avid hot yoga fan, if its not 100 degrees or more, I get goosebumps.
walrus or geist? walrus
fiction or non? for writing, non fiction; but for reading – fiction, science fiction, fiction fantasy.
pen or keyboard?
Let’s see…former pianist with Royal Conservatory of Music, using computers over 28 years now. Keyboard has my vote 10:1. And let’s not forget the power of spell check!!
lessing or atwood? Atwood hands down.
What is the writer’s role in society?
To Inspire, and take one’s thoughts to new places.
Author of: Raise Your Vibration, Transform Your Life
Subtitle: A Practical Guide for Attaining Better Health, Vitality and Inner Peace
Publisher: Lotus Moon Press, March 2010
Adult, Non fiction; self empowerment, personal growth
What literary character most influenced you as a child, and why?
King Arthur. As a child, I devoured anything Arthurian: Howard Pyle’s The Tales of King Arthur and his Knights, The Once and Future King, The Crystal Cave. And I still love anything with an Arthurian connection, especially Jack Whyte’s Skystone series. I’ve even named my business (Merlin Writes) after Arthur’s wise old wizard, using Merlin’s hat as my logo.
As a kid, I envisioned myself as the hero in the books and fairy tales I read – the brave knights and charming princes with the swords, the steeds and the magical adventures. I remember the tremendous disappointment I felt that none of them were girls, like me. (And I certainly didn’t want to play the damsel in distress!)
That’s why the hero of my novel Twice A Ghost is a girl. I first imagined her as a prince in hiding, but once I realized I was falling into a literary trap, she got an early “sex change.”
Can you recall your earliest ‘work’?
I wrote my first book when I was in Grade 3. It was a construction-paper picture book; the title was hand-lettered in red crayon. I submitted the manuscript to the only publisher I knew: Macmillan, the same company that published my speller. I also received my first (polite) rejection letter. I sometimes wish I’d kept both the book and the letter.
Ironically, the three books I’ve written were published by Nelson Canada, the company that prints my children’s spellers.
Do you read in the genre you’re writing, while writing?
Historical fiction and fantasy own my heart. They are always my favourite genres to read; everything else is second-best.
Recite a favourite passage of a favourite book; why is it special?
“That leaves you just ten minutes. You will have to run,” said Gandalf.
“But –,” said Bilbo.
“No time for it,” said Gandalf.
“But –,” said Bilbo again.
“No time for that either! Off you go!”
To the end of his days, Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside, without a hat, a walking-stick or any money, or anything he usually took when he went out; leaving his second-breakfast half-finished and quite unwashed-up, pushing his keys into Gandalf’s hands, and running as fast as his furry feet could carry him, down the lane, past the great Mill, across the Water, and then on a mile or more.
Very puffed he was, when he got to Bywater just on the stroke of eleven, and found he had come without a pocket handkerchief!
This passage from The Hobbit launches Bilbo Baggins into action, transforming him from a middle-aged, safe-and-settled gentleman hobbit into thief, adventurer and hero. That archetypal metamorphosis lies at the heart of our favourite stories: from Cinderella to princess, Clark Kent to Superman, unacknowledged son to hero-king. And for me, it echoes my discovery of the writing life: one moment, a stay-at-home mother of five; the next, a writer without a pocket handkerchief. And what an adventure it has been.
Reading is best done….
When I’m home alone, feet up, fire roaring on the hearth, a pot of hot tea at my elbow and hours to go before the school bus pulls up. If the book is good, it’s a little piece of paradise.
A choice (or seven):
coffee or tea? Tea. Looseleaf, black, none of this herbal nonsense. China pot, china cup, and without appearing too picky, could it be a nice peaty Scottish Breakfast Tea?
spring or fall? Spring. It’s a benediction. In spring, the sunlight wakes me with a kiss – it pulls me right out of bed. I throw open the windows, breathe in the scent of the lilacs and hyacinths and good, honest dirt, listen to the birds singing. Time to lace up my shoes and just go. Perfect walking (and imagining) weather, great for biking, the start of soccer season – does it get any better than that? And bonus! A single autumn afternoon spent planting bulbs pays off in years of beautiful spring flowers – but no weeds. Fall – pfft!
walrus or geist? Sorry, neither.
fiction or non? Fiction. By the armload. And non-fiction about fiction.
pen or keyboard? Pen. A Zebra F-301 for everyday use, and a calligraphy pen for special occasions. I even have an old-fashioned-looking quill pen that I’m saving for signing my novel, when it gets published.
canoe or hiking shoes? Hiking shoes. I walk and hike all the time, but in the woods, on the trail and by the waterfront, never on the sidewalks – too pedestrian. The best writing gig I ever pitched was a series of stories on hiking with kids in Durham conservation areas. Imagine – getting paid to hike with my kids! Though I love canoeing and canoe-tripping, I never get the opportunity. The canoe I paddled at my cottage as a kid has been hanging, sad and abandoned, in my garage for a good 15 years.
Where does writing take you that nothing else does?
Away. I often call myself a “Calgon, take me away” reader – remember the old commercial with the woman in the bubble bath? (www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvE65VOcAL0) Real life just doesn’t hold the same appeal.
Freelance writer Heather M. O’Connor scribbles articles for national and regional publications from her home office, occasionally playing hooky to devour a good book by the fire. Heather thanks the writing gods for WCDR, where she has found inspiration, encouragement and a great many kindred spirits.
“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” (Grouch Marx)
(Is it just me or is anyone else in the mood for an omelette?)
Thoughts on eReaders.
And thoughts on eWriting.
Oh look—what a surprise—another list!
A reminder that everything’s relative…
(and no, DH, it has nothing do with queens—of any sort)
A reference guide.
Along with Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Giller Winner, Linden MacIntyre—our very own Book Club author, Ray Roberston, makes The Globe and Mail Top 100 Books of 2009, with his new novel, ”DAVID”.
And happy Thursday.