Finding the Right Door

Ethiopia

It’s taken me years to finish my collection of short stories. Now I’m in that lovely but frustrating floaty ‘what-next?’ phase.

EthiopiaIt’s not that I don’t have plenty of projects to work on (two other story collections are in the pipeline) but I’d really like to sink my teeth into something totally new.

EthiopiaAnd I feel there’s some idea lurking out there, not so far away, waiting for me… Something important.

Ethiopia

It’s just a matter of finding the right door….

Ethiopia

Doors to hermit caves in Ethiopia

Inspired by Norm’s Thursday Doors

Free Modifiers, Dependent Clauses and a Good Night’s Sleep

bedroom in apartment in Gaudi's La Pedrera (Casa Milà), Barcelona

Towards the end of my appointment with the sleep doctor, after he’d told me exactly what time I should go to bed every night and what time – exactly – I should wake, he suggested I put my iPod under my pillow, ready for the hours when I lie awake.

On the iPod, he said, should be something like ‘The History of the World.’

Goodness, I said. That’ll send me to sleep.

That’s the whole idea, he pointed out gently.

I hadn’t got around to doing that but I remembered it as a long-time writer buddy and I were exchanging emails about grammatical Continue reading

“Ghost Coat” in the New Quarterly

I’m delighted to announce that my story “Ghost Coat” appears in The New Quarterly‘s spring issue “The Trickery of Spring.”

I started this story in Nancy Zafris‘ workshop at the Kenyon Review Writers’ Summer Workshop. And finished it three years later while working with mentor Caroline Adderson during the Wired Writers Workshop at the Banff Arts Centre.

I feel so lucky to have worked with two phenomenal mentors.

How many drafts? Oh, the variations this story has been through!

 

Investigating Agatha Christie: An Exhibition

The highlight of a recent trip to “Investigating Agatha Christie,” a temporary exhibition at the Point-à-Callière Museum in Montréal, was Agatha Christie’s notebooks.

Point-à-Callière is a museum of archaeology and history – so what was Agatha Christie doing there?

Turns out her husband, Sir Max Mallowan, was an eminent archaeologist who worked on sites in Iraq and Syria.

When her husband was on a dig, Agatha Christie wasn’t holed up in a local hotel, busily writing her novels, she was Continue reading

The Special Delight of Old Letters

IMG_4401

Thin, almost transparent airmail paper, aerogrammes, thick pale blue Basildon Bond paper, birthday cards, Christmas cards, cards of sympathy, of congratulations.

Old blotched typeface (my father’s big typewriter), elegant penmanship (my grandfather and my godmother), easy-to-read rounded script (teacher aunt). Upright but fast-flowing writing (my mother). Indecipherable squiggles (my father). Letters of the alphabet slanting forward, slanting back, flattened, rounded…IMG_4633

A bundle of letters written in code by Continue reading

New Year’s Resolution? Blurt Writing!

Quebec City

Towards the end of 2015 I went for three days to Quebec City.

When I go away I like to write a story a day but I knew I wouldn’t have time to write much in Quebec City. There were simply too many interesting things to do there in too short a time.

So I decided to write ‘blurts’ – five or so minute writing sprints whenever I had the opportunity. While waiting in a line or for a coffee, or for my husband to finish the crossword…

I had such a great time with these blurts – so many surprises and rewards – that I decided I wanted to keep them part of my regular writing life.Quebec City

A huge plus is that they provide me with much needed zaps of creative energy as I continue to work on a longer manuscript, re-writing and editing work that I’ve re-written and edited over a fairly long period of time.

The problem? Even though I know there are plenty of five/ten minute periods when I could easily sit down and write, back home in my regular routine they seem to slide past without me picking up a pen.

How to keep myself writing blurts? Continue reading

Towards a Little Seasonal Understanding: The Nutcracker

On my way to a Christmas market in Montreal, I passed a band of musicians, all made up as Nutcrackers. Some festive Nutcracker musiciansevent for Bentley Montreal.

When I arrived at the market, I was surrounded by Nutcrackers, both ornaments and real-people-as-nutcrackers.

I’ve never understood the attraction of the Nutcracker image for Christmas. (Yes, I do know about the Nutcracker Ballet!)

A soldier with teeth bared in a grimace – what’s so seasonal and joyous about that?

nutcracker ornamentI actually find it (sorry) quite ugly. Very ugly.

What on earth do others find so irresistible about the image?

I Googled ‘Nutcracker’ to try and find out.

And discovered, first of all, that the original Nutcrackers were… actual nutcrackers! The nut goes between the teeth of these real nutcrackers, a lever in the back is pressed down et voilà!

The first nutcrackers, from Germany, were whittled from wood.

When I read that, I immediately remembered being surprised by my father’s delight in Austrian folk art carvings of odd little faces suggested by strange knots and knuckles and grain in the wood. Such weird, ugly faces, I’d thought as a kid. I didn’t like the way the eyes in those faces looked at me. I refused to look back at them or touch them.

But the joke is on me. Now, when I’m walking in the woods, I’m always seeing other-world faces in tree trunks and branches.

The decorative Nutcrackers, which started in late 1400s and early 1500s, were considered good luck:

The legend says that a nutcracker represents power and strength and serves like a trusty watch dog guarding your family from evil spirits and danger. A fierce protector, the nutcracker bares its teeth to the evil spirits and serves as the traditional messenger of good luck and goodwill. History of Nutcrackers

Ah! A protector, baring teeth to scare away evil spirits.

Now the teeth make sense! Even if they no longer actually crack nuts.

I particularly like the idea of the Nutcrackers being a way to laugh at figures of authority, a form of social satire:

People enjoyed using the German nutcrackers that were shaped like the ruling and authoritative classes because it reduced them to the position of mere crackers of nuts rather than possessing any power over their individual Christkindl Markt

Why don’t we create some contemporary Nutcrackers with this idea in mind?

I now quite enjoy seeing the Nutcrackers around town!

Amazing how a little understanding has helped me find pleasure in something I actively disliked!

nutcracker ornament

To watch how a Nutcracker is made

For the history of Nutcrackers