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15 for 2015: Canadian novels coming your way in the new year


Got a new reading list for the year…And Helen Humphreys has a new one coming out – SUCH JOY!!!!

Originally posted on Ottawa Citizen:

By Sean Wilson


As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley (Doubleday Canada)

Alan Bradley was 69 when he entered the U.K.’s Debut Dagger fiction competition and immediately won a world of fans with the introduction of intrepid 11-year-old chemist/detective Flavia de Luce. These wonderful books set in small town England in the 1950s are great for mystery lovers of all ages. This is the sixth of 10 planned books.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper (Penguin Canada)

Eighty-two-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from Saskatchewan to Halifax. There’s lots of buzz about the debut novel from Canadian-born, U.K.-based Emma Hooper. In addition to writing, Emma plays viola, violin and vocals as Waitress for the Bees and has her own iPhone app, SingSmash.


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Some people say these are the worst of times…

Ah, Styx…..How I loved them, still do. Was mellowing out to music today while stabbing a felted mushroom (yes, my life is odd) and this came up on iTunes Shuffle.

I loved Styx in the day, though sometimes their heavy musicality, like that of the Alan Parson’s Project, overwhelmed my ears like too much Beethoven’s 9th. All wonderful things, all moving, all sometimes too demanding on a bubble pop day.

But the message of the song seems oddly apt these days of such violence and despair and sorrow. It seems every news item is about people behaving badly or stupidly, about our government in Canada acting like tinpot dictators, about the crazies just below us carrying weaponry when shopping with their toddlers or killing police or innocents in the street.

It is easy to give in to it all and give up. Like the song says, “The best of times, is when I’m alone with you…” – it’s easy to hide inside and mutter in your small groups about the outside, about the dangers. To shut it out with noise, or good books, or activities or each other. I’d love to have someone to spend the best of times with having some sweet cuddles or something to distract me from Mr. Harper for a moment or two. But I digress…;-)

It isn’t enough, is it? The hairy beasts are still outside the increasingly porous gates. Perhaps it’s time to try and recreate the paradise we once had…with each other, within ourselves, in our world.

“as long as we keep alive…The memories of paradise….”

I’m thinking that maybe we can get there again…we are smart enough, rich enough, connected enough that these COULD be the best of times…

Or if nothing else, we can sing madly along with songs of our youth and stab tiny animals out of wool…

New Year, new days, no mistakes yet…

Well, not strictly true. It’s difficult for a gal like me to get through a day without a mistake or two. I almost set fire to my hot bag today, for example. I’ve given mixed signals to a friend. Promised myself I wouldn’t do that. But I did.

Fortunately, I have other things to write about besides self-blame. I was given a “Forgotten English” calendar for Christmas (Jeff Kacirk’s, see Amazon…)

6033113062_1ab2b8da21_z The first word for the year was so appropriate I have to talk about it. It is baubosking, which apparently makes reference to the straying of cattle or sheep from the pasture assigned to them.

I love that there is a word for such straying. I think this may be a good year for us all to stray a bit, step outside our comfort zone, be seen where we normally wouldn’t be expected, step out and be heard, create discomfort, ask questions. It’s an election year here in Canada. Time to wander into the pastures of unfamiliar organizations, find what is important, munch down on policies we haven’t yet explored.

We spent much of 2014 hearing bad news. Maybe it’s time to leave that pasture, too, look at the good things, FIND the good things, in ourselves and others. Maybe the grass is really greener outside the fence of bad news and media reports.

It’s also been all about sexual harassment in 2014, too. Let’s jump that fence, shall we? Let’s expect men to behave like human beings, let’s hold those that don’t meet that expectation accountable. Let’s pull together, men and women, to ensure respectful treatment for everyone, of all ages. It takes so little to be polite, so little to hold open a door to contact, so little to be well-behaved. Let’s not hide behind bureaucracy and work and puttering and buying and eating to numb the feelings that would make us stand up and offer support and help to others.

I’m eying the pasture gate, myself. Not sure which way I’ll head, but I’ll be stepping out. Want to join me?

Peak_District_Animals_-_Sheep_2We can do it.

Olive Kitteridge, or, honestly, how many horrible people can you fit into a book….

n244191Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, tells the life of a difficult woman and her life in a small town in Maine. Olive is unlikeable, changeable, with a horrid temper, but who is given to flashes of wisdom. Her husband is weak, happy, bland. Her son hates her.

All other mothers in the book are a. alcoholics, b. mentally ill, c. homicidal, or d. all of the above. All men are grey, uninspiring, whiny, kind, have lovely hands. All children are desperate, given to dying in horrible ways like anorexia, or car accidents, or are homicidal and stab a woman 29 times.

Huzzah, I say. Bring it on. Life is often dark and cheerless in small Maine towns. I know, having been raised in a small Massachusetts town. It can be claustrophobic, everyone knowing your every slip-up, knowing your parents for years, guessing at your sex life or job history or minor problems.

But not EVERYONE in town needs to be gassed. I understand this book has been made into an HBO miniseries, something that makes me wonder if, like the characters in the book, we all enjoy watching other people’s hardships in an overwhelming surge of schadenfreude. I can’t imagine watching the series. Dickens did hard lives, and did them better – because in his stories he remembered what is, for me, the necessity of these hard luck stories – the possibility or sniff of redemption. Or growth. Or light.

True, Olive does get to feel lust returning at the very very end of the book (spoiler alert), but even that is so muted as to have all the joy sucked right out of it.

The book is well-written, though given to occasional flights of phrase that my editor self wants to pluck out with tweezers, and it’s been nominated for many prizes, including the Pulitzer!!!, reinforcing my hypothesis that you can only win a prize if you write about totally dysfunctional families in towns filled with them and IF you throw in a storm or two.

To add to my irritation, my copy was printed in tiny light grey type that made me strain to read it, so I got a tiny eye headache to add to my feelings of frustration.

Do read this book – it’s worth a read – just don’t read it if you are depressed or recovering from a Christmas holiday season crowded with dysfunctional drunken relatives.

As for me, I think I’ll pass it on anonymously. Perhaps it will find a home with someone who is overly cheerful.

No Christmas tree, no Christmas tree…

iu-3I’m doing without this year. Before I went into the hospital, I bought one of those little rosemary trees that every gardener worth their salt tells you never to buy. Never mind, I think to myself, in an overloading of pre-Hanukkah chutzpah – I can care for it properly. So I bring it home, stroke its already dead branches (still green) and toddle off to the hospital knowing that it was supposed to live dry and would be fine in my absence.

Came back a week later and it was solid black. Very uncheering. Dead as Marley.

All other plants were thriving. Obviously the rosemary tree was terminal upon purchase. It looked too dead to even harvest the rosemary. So I tossed it and remain treeless, secreted as I am with two broke knees and inability to drive.

It’s okay. I’m okay without the mess. I can be festive without a tree. I can be festive without baubles. I have the warmth of my friends to brighten my place. I am content.

But it makes me remember Christmas trees of my youth.

My dad was an engineer. Always looking for a better way to do something or make the world easier, shorten the work, etc. Not always successful, but we all survived his efforts, which says something. Sometimes it was a near thing for him, though.

That Christmas my dad found a “fantastically easy” way to decorate the tree. He came home with a kit that had a ring on the top and long wires hanging from holes in the ring. The idea was that you would attach your ornaments to the wires at various lengths, drape the whole bundle of wires over the tree and let the ornaments dangle where they would, and then when the holiday was over, you could “simply” pull the ring off the top of the tree and all the ornaments would come with it. (There were helpful and encouraging photos on the package).  The whole mess, erm, collection, could be carefully placed into a box and then re-draped on next year’s tree, “saving hours of effort.”.

There was some grumbling about attaching the ornaments. Hanging things on the tree is a lot more fun than wrapping them in wire. The wires got tangled; arguments started; people stepped on everything; my mother fled. My father vanished, leaving us to wrestle the mess into something approximating a festive decoration.

We hung it over the tree. All of the wires immediately got entangled with the branches and there was much pulling and under-15-level swearing to try and detangle them. Some of us gave up and left lumps of ornaments in wiry birds’ nests. My older brother, Chris, the most patient of all of us, struggled manfully on. I rather suspect my dad was off adding alcohol to the Cherries Jubilee. Or tasting the alcohol for the Cherries Jubilee.

He returned, a bit flushed and cheering us on with songs played on the piano and such. Eventually we were able to drag the ornaments down to cover the whole tree. Mostly.

Great gaps in ornaments were side by side with crowded together gangs. The wooden Santas and Elves looked furious. Glass balls banged together whenever we walked across the floor. We all avoided looking at the tree except when it was illuminated only by lights…

Several days after Christmas, we had to disentangle. Wires, lighting strings, ornaments and all tied themselves in gordian knots. As always, my mum was left with the putting away…we helped, but she was stuck with the lion’s share one day after we went back to school.

Strangely, the next year, we found all the ornaments (quite a lot fewer of them) untangled, and no wires left to be seen.

Not the same thing, but probably equally annoying:


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November 30


Please donate. This is one of the charities out there very worth supporting.

Originally posted on johnageddes:

At age 92, my Dad announced that he would like to go to Africa. He had never been there but he had developed a connection, in part, through the work that I do with the CanAssist African Relief Trust. Over the past few years he donated support to two small schools in Kenya and was honoured that one of the communities named their school after him – The S.P. Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre. This proved to be a long title that was challenging to fit onto the school gate. Something like naming a Kingston street The Tragically Hip Way.

The logistics of taking a 92 year old on a 30 hour plane trip and then negotiating rough roads and drop toilets meant that Dad never made it to Africa. He passed away quietly this autumn almost 95 years old, having lived a satisfying long life but he never made…

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“Award winning”

So, read a book by an “award-winning” author. The award wasn’t mentioned. The book was lousy with poor writing and full of all the mistakes I make when I am writing, the things that are hacked out by other advisors and editors and readers of my stuff.

Things like boring dialogue, stuff at adds nothing to the story, yadda yadda.

I never know what to do with this. On the one hand, it gives me feelings of hope for my writing.

On the other, it is apparent it is who you know that affects publication. It frustrates me as I look for homes for my writing.

Sounds like sour grapes, but it isn’t really, it’s more about how once you break into the ranks of “real writers”, people give you more rope for other projects. Maybe.

So I’ve won a couple of awards. Think I will start mentioning them. And send my book out on the rounds ASAP. With “award winning” stuck on them.