Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

ImageLife is like an unfinished knitting project (mine, pictured here).  It’s one of two wristwarmers made from a lovely merino and possum (yes!) wool blend from New Zealand.  The wool is gorgeous, and softens more the more you work with it.  I started the project over one year ago, perhaps two.  And here I am, asking myself the knitter’s eternal question:  why didn’t I finish this?  I loved working on it, loved the colour and feel of the wool and, to boot, it really was an easy project yet had enough of a pattern to make it interesting.  So here I am, taking it out today and noting, firstly, its beauty.  Feeling its softness, exclaiming over its depth of colour and that almost magical hint of black shadow hovering over the brilliant blue wool.  And being astonished yet again that I have wool made from possum fur.  With all of that, I shake my head over why I might have put down this unfinished project in the first place.  Especially considering that, as I type, my hands are cold…I could be wearing those wristwarmers right now!

2nd wristwarmer

[January 4, 2014:  Partial second wristwarmer, on the way!]

Luckily, life is like an unfinished knitting project – we are able to pick up and complete something we’d been working on and, more often than not, when we return to that project or part of our life we’d set aside, being grateful that it has been there all along, just as it was, patiently waiting for us.  Life is forgiving, as is most knitting.  Stitches too tight?  You can loosen them in the next row and they’ll even out in the end.  Stitches too loose?  Tighten them up evenly across the next row and all is well. Dropped a few?  They’re pick-up-able, and if you are not skilled sufficiently to do that, there is always someone more skilled who would love to help.

So it is with life.  Did you muck up a friendship?  You might be surprised at how little it takes to mend it.  Said something you regret?  Regret not saying something?  It’s never too late to go back and do it.  And if you don’t feel sufficiently skilled to go it alone, there is always someone who’s been there, done that, and would love to help.

Blogging, apparently, also waits.  It’s almost two years since I last wrote here.  Yet, returning to it I am able to pick up where I left off.  WordPress changed my blog theme, but everything else was just as I’d left it.  Now I have a new theme, which I quite like – it’s a small, but refreshing change.  I don’t, though, have new wool or new knitting needles, but I am going to finish the second wristwarmer.  Sometimes you don’t need change or something new – you just need to pick up your project, or that part of your life, and carry on.


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Writing.  I am a writer.  I’m even a novelist.  …”published novelist” is yet to be, but I’m working on it.  The whole NaNoWriMo experience has changed me, I must say.  It dissolved the belief that I might not be able to complete a novel, for one thing.  So that concern is gone.  It also gave me something to call “finished”.  There is something in a finished product that changes its creator, whether it’s a finished novel or a finished knitted project – in my case, that would be the felted knitted bag I completed just after Christmas 2011.  I’d knit the darn thing in about a month, here and there, sitting and watching TV…it wasn’t difficult, and with felting projects you don’t have to be perfectionistic (did I actually write that?) with your knitting as it’s all going to meld together into a smooth new fabric once you wash the hell out of it in hot water, so who cares if you twist a stitch?  But I put that bag away for about a year after I’d finished the actual knitting of it, thinking it would take too long to seam together, and then I was nervous about the felting process…  As usual, when I took the project out it took all of a half hour to seam together!  An entire year with that bag sitting in my stash of unfinished projects, and it took a bloody half hour to finish.  And another half hour in the washing machine.  Talk about agitation! LOL  (come on, you know…agitation…washing machine…?)  And now whenever I look at the finished bag, it makes me smile!  I love it.  I keep it in sight, on top of a bookcase where no purse should be…but it covers up another unfinished knitting project very nicely :-).

With NaNoWriMo you get one month to finish your novel.  30 days.  1666 words a day.  Or in my case, 2000 words three times through the week, and 5600 words on Saturday.  But technically, the only thing that happens if you don’t make the 50K word requirement is that you are not a “winner”.   This could play havoc with one’s ego.  Good!  Egos need to be played havoc with from time to time.  And I let mine run amok…it was so much fun to do!  I got into the challenge of the word count, so that was the initial motivation, but the true motivation was my story.  Which is why I was writing at all.  But I needed something to get me out of my head and into my creative side.  It doesn’t take much…just writing “The…” gets you writing.  Or I would actually have….FUN with it, and “allow” myself to write badly.  And “badly” more often than not turned out to be “well”.  You just never know how it’s going to go.  And those moments where you’re lost in the story, fingers flying across the keyboard as you try to type as fast as your creative mind is telling the story…those are moments to be cherished.  Those are the ones where I suddenly stop, look around, and go “what time is it??” and see that absolute hours have passed.

So joining NaNo this year served more than one purpose, but the main one is that it got me out of a writing rut, or a non-writing rut.  I know now that I can write a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  And that ending is very rewarding.  I used to look at “endings” as a loss of something, as they often are, but even “good” endings can feel sad, like when I ended my education for my degree – although I now do not feel a compunction to go back to school for anything other than sheer pleasure in taking a language class, I felt sad at the ending of the role of “student”.  I had identified with it and liked it.  It took awhile to let it go from my psyche, but it wasn’t as painful as I thought it might be.  And now I’ve added the role of “writer”.

And what a community I’ve joined!  Holy cow…I’ve met so many people this past year who write, some of whom are published.  It’s wonderful.  I’ve joined an online writers group of knitting friends on Ravelry, the knitting website.  So now I write in the company of writers who knit.  At work I’ve just met another writer who works in my building and who will shortly be published – Aretha C. Smith.  And I’ve decided to start a writers’ group at the university where we all work.  Aretha’s publishing journey began a year ago when she made a new year’s resolution to finish (there’s that word again) a novel she had been writing for a few years.  Once she met that goal she didn’t hesitate to submit the story for publication, and the rest is writing history.

This is the writing life.  It’s a community of people whose passion is to tell the story their creative spirit wants told.  It could be romance (Aretha), sci fi, how-to, Young Adult (Nicole), or murder mystery (me).  E-books or paper.  Published or not.  But most of all, writing is a process, like running – a night of bad writing is better than no writing at all, just as a bad run is better than no run.  Tonight is Ravelry writing night.  I have no idea what I’m going to write…I will let my protagonist, Alex, decide how he wants to behave and I will just be the conduit for his story.  Happy writing!

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A room without books…is unimaginable.  A life without books would be unbearable.  I have books in every room, even in a storage room – that’s where the books go that I no longer want but can’t bear to throw away.  🙂   I hate clutter, but books cannot be lumped into that category…ever!   There is something calming about seeing a pile of books, haphazardly sitting one on top of the other, perhaps on the floor…I have just such a pile in front of a speaker next to the TV.  I have at least two books on the coffee table, one for visual reading pleasure:  Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Needlework, the other for both visual pleasure and inspiration:  Antonio Carluccio’s Italia – the recipes and customs of the regions. And I fully intend to make his Strascinate di Cascia (pasta with pancetta and sausage) and Frittata alla Menta (omelette with mint and pecorino).

Then there is my small shelving unit in the dining room – that one contains books I love, plus my school books:  contemporary Brit lit such as William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault, W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, Michael Frayn’s Headlong…classic Brit lit like Shakespeare (the Norton tome!), Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest and The Italian, deQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and other Christmas books…to name a few!  Interspersed among them are books on gardening, my collection of dictionaries – English (Oxford, of course), French, Italian, Spanish – a thesaurus, books on writing, delicious murder mysteries – P.D. James, Agatha Christie.  There’s a nod to Italy:  The Cambridge History of Italian Literature.  A few whimisical touches – a small Halifax Regional Police “bear”, rocks gathered from Lawrencetown beach one day, copies of my own short stories and novel in-progress…there’s even a skipping rope, waiting for me to begin the cross-training I promised myself I would start!

On my dining room table is an Italian dictionary – used recently to refresh my memory about a verb tense.  Cookbooks in the kitchen, of course!  The ones I actually use on the countertop nestled against my folder of homegrown and familial recipes; cookbooks I “might use someday” in a drawer.  And two novels on the go:  Hardy’s The Return of the Native and a dual-language short story collection of Italian masters Machiavelli, Pirandello, Moravia, and others.  Bookscases in Liam’s (the cat) room, stuffed to the rafters (can bookcases have rafters?), boxes full to the brim with books I have no room for putting on display, books in drawers, books on the floor.  Then there is that storage room…  The side tables in the bedroom are full of books – piled enticingly, acting as holds for water glasses, or just sitting alone.  There are books in the bathroom – on the tub, in the vanity.   I could even have books on the walls, if I wanted to:  I found a beautiful painting of…books on a shelf…that was it!  I almost bought it. 🙂

I wouldn’t have this any other way.

Growing up, we were permitted unlimited access to books – we could read any book in the house (and there were plenty!), and going to the library every third week was something I could hardly wait for!  It was one thing I got to do with my father – often it was just the two of us, and he never hurried me, never limited the number of books I could borrow…that’s a wonderful memory; it was rare to get alone time with our father.  I remember when the bookmobile came to school – grade 6; we had to line up outside, waiting our turn because they could only let in so many students at a time.  That was sheer torture!  I remember the feeling of awe as I scanned those shelves, touching the spines of the hardcovered books…I still love to touch books, to feel the pages beneath my fingers.  I cannot conceive of e-reading – the very thought makes me shudder.

I had only a vague idea who Cicero was…I just liked the quotation, but then figured I should check my sources (good English student that I am!)  He was a Roman philosopher, lawyer, politician, and writer of public speeches and letters who apparently influenced Petrarch (Italian scholar) enough to credit Cicero’s writing with his (Petrarch’s) formation of the Renaissance movement.  So it seems I can e-read, for a minute…but I’d much rather reverently turn the pages of a real encyclopedia.

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My entire family reads.  We had unlimited access to books, growing up.  I’ve been fortunate to have had wonderful academic professors share their passion for literature with me…in English, French, and Italian.  To quote an American president, Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without books”…nor would I want to.  One of my greatest concerns is the state of illiteracy of Canadian youth these days; it’s appalling.  And so sad that children and young adults are missing out on some absolutely beautiful writings.  I cannot imagine my childhood without the Bobbsey Twins, Sara Crewe, Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Trixie Belden, or Pippi Longstocking.  Or Hilda, The Wednesday Witch – I still have this one!  And Sara Crewe, too.  When I had devoured all those, I was allowed to read anything laying about the house and so was introduced early on to Ngaio Marsh, Erle Stanley Gardner, my friend Agatha, and Daphne duMaurier.  Any of those, a few crunchy Gravensteins at my side, and I was content to sit for hours…still am.

My sister and I began a bookclub 9 years ago that continues to this day – it was actually September 2000.  She had read a book and enjoyed it so much she wanted me to read it so we could talk about it; ironically, the name of it escapes me, and it’s not written down in my list of bookclub reads!   We decided to have lunch at a pub, specifically to discuss the book, and the next month I chose a book (The Electrical Field by Keri Sakamoto).  After that we decided to expand and a friend joined us for While I Was Gone by Sue Miller.  In 2001, we moved from the pub to the dinner table, with each of us creating part of the meal – with Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival, we had a fairly simple meal of some dining standards:  escargot in garlic butter, French onion soup, Caesar salad, and crème brulée, all washed down with (probably) white wine.  This was fabulous!

We began to have full-course dinners that reflected the theme of the novel and/or the country of origin of the author:   Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton takes place in South Africa; we researched and made authentic African cuisine: boboties, African salad with tuna (confession: this one was storebought from the Highlite Cafe, an African restaurant in Halifax…unfortunately no longer in business), and pumpkin fritters.  We eventually added a fourth and then a fifth member, and moved to books that had films made of them…by this time the dinners were more gourmet, and even our wines had to be from the country where the story took place.  One of my favourite books is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – that was a marvellous meal of canapés, salade avec les oranges, boeuf bourguignon, courgettes, and a lovely mousse au chocolat, and we watched the film to boot.  Unfortunately, much wine was consumed by all, but with rich food on top of it, watching the film often resulted in a few sleepyheads no longer participating in the discussion!  So, we had a choice:  get rid of the gourmet meals, or the wine.  We’re not stupid:  we got rid of the meals!  🙂  But change is good, and we moved on happily.

Now, we are a group of five and we meet about every 8 weeks – about 5 times per year plus a Christmas non-book-related get-together with significant others and a summertime get-together for margaritas and munchies, and we each host the club at our homes.  The hostess serves appetizers and munchies, and we each bring a beverage.  This works out beautifully, as we are all busy, busy women with full lives, but we do not want to give up this fun thing we have going.  We’ve been able to read books we never would have considered, we’ve explored genres we never thought we’d like, and even if one or some of us absolutely did not like a particular book (it happens!), we are all the better for having expanded our reading repertoires.   We’ve all been guilty, as well, of…ahem…not finishing the odd book, or two!   Usually it’s because we’ve let life get in the way, but sometimes it was simply a matter of a book’s theme being completely unappetizing…rare, but it happens.

Our bookclub has certainly evolved, and it’s been an interesting and fun ride all the way through.  Wow, heading into a decade!  So what makes a bookclub a bookclub?  Two friends, two sisters…anyone wanting to discuss a good read.   Doesn’t have to include a full-course gourmet meal or a film; it can be as simple as sharing a pot of tea on someone’s patio.  Workplaces often have lunchtime bookclubs.  I do miss those gourmet meals, but that’s because they satisfied the cook in me…hmmm…maybe my next pick will be Nigella Lawson’s Feast – then we’d have to cook, too, right??

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What is it about writing, especially creative fiction writing, that makes us so hesitant (afraid?) to say we do it?  I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember…grade 4, Findlay School in Dartmouth…Mrs. Payzant’s class – I had an orange Hilroy scribbler carefully labelled in pencil “Composition”.  I loved that scribbler, and I saved it; took it with me when we moved to CFB Borden.  Sadly (and this still irks), it disappeared in the move after CFB Lahr back to Dartmouth…somewhere along the line an entire box of my personal treasures, mostly from childhood, is now just a memory.   But I digress…

I specifically remember a story called The Witch Candle…yes, about a witch candle, but not just any witch candle; this candle came to life!  And another about some members of a family who lived in Australia – my sister was living in Oz at that time and my parents visited her for a month…quite an event in the life of a ten-year old!  Worth writing about, apparently.  I loved anything at school that involved writing – book reports?  Bring them on!  In grade 9 we had to submit 10 book reports per term…I was in heaven.  I believe the one that received the most comment from Miss Poirier was on a children’s story called The Blue Cat…Miss Poirier was quite amused at my spunk (or was that “cheek”?).  High school – grade 10, editor of the DHS newspaper; I even “reported” on (interviewed!) a band that played at one of our weekly dances.  And of course there were the ubiquitous teenage poems…but I remember showing them to my English teacher (Miss Poirier again…she moved to my high school – best teacher ever!) who said they were good and reminded her of songs.

Real life came into play, and the writing was put aside.  Later, I took some creative writing classes through the old Dartmouth continuing-ed night classes (too bad those were discontinued  – that was a very popular program!), at which point I wrote a few short stories and began a murder mystery called The Game.  That story is still unfinished, but sits on my computer’s desktop as a reminder that it is still percolating in my writer’s mind.  Yes, I’ve finally claimed the label! 🙂   And I’m working on The Game.  I’m pretty sure an editor would suggest a title change, but that is to be seen if the novel reaches the publishing stage.  Fingers crossed.

I love my main character, Alex.  The story is interesting from a technical writing perspective in that it is written in first-person and the main character is a male, with the author female.  A former creative writing instructor said this is very difficult to do, or to do well, and she enjoyed what I had done.  I’m also enjoying it.  Alex is fun.  He’s a cad, but there is a reason for it; the reader sympathises with him, and he’s very likeable, and really, really funny.  (I can see why authors hate to send off their work…stories are like children – all your emotions are invested in them and it’s impossible to send them out in the real world without feeling a knot in the pit of your stomach!)   Alex is named for a famous author and has some of the same heroic characteristics as a character in one of the author’s most famous books.   Alex’s motivation is to set right an injustice done to the love of his life; he is loyal and believes in justice…even if he has to break some rules to achieve it!  I think he is a hero for our time…I think we could use one right now.

The fun part of this for me as a writer is that I get to go beyond my boundaries…it’s a murder mystery!  People will die, gruesomely.  My writing heroine is Agatha Christie – if she can cosh bad guys over the head and have all be right with the world at the end, then I can certainly try.  Unfortunately, and even with AC’s books, sometimes even good guys get coshed…but that’s where heros like Alex come in.

…now, I need a handsome detective to enter the picture…oooh, that means murder must be afoot!  Better get coshing…I mean, writing.

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