Category Archives: Writing

Getting To Know Emma Donoghue in Person

Emma was interviewed at McNally Robinson Booksellers by Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival Director Charlene Diehl

Emma Donoghue’s latest book is set in a Toronto mansion with thirty- two rooms. The house is inhabited by two sets of gay parents, seven children named after trees, a frightened cat, inquisitive rat, crippled parrot and three-legged dog.

You might know Emma as the author of Room. She also wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay for the movie based on the novel. I had the pleasure of hearing her interviewed at Winnipeg’s McNally Robinson Book Sellers last week.

Emma, the author of several successful adult novels is currently promoting a new project, a book for children called The Lotterys Plus One. Emma wants to show readers just how diverse families can be and The Lotterys Plus One certainly does that. The four parents in the novel come from India, Jamaica, Scotland and the Mohawk Nation. Many of the seven children are adopted. One has attention deficit disorder, another a physical disability, and a third gender identity issues.

Striking illustrations like this one by Caroline Hadilaksono help readers sort out all the characters in The Lotterys Plus One. 

The children are all home schooled and the parents don’t work because long ago they found a winning lottery ticket that left them financially set for life. Things are ticking along as normally as can be expected in this unusual household until a grandfather moves in because he is suffering from dementia. How will the family cope with this cantankerous newcomer?

We learned quite a bit about Emma’s personal and family life from her talk with Charlene Diehl

Author Emma Donoghue grew up in a large Catholic family in Dublin Ireland but now lives in London, Ontario where she parents two children with her partner Chris. Emma told us she used some of her own parenting experiences in The Lotterys Plus One. For example the children in the novel get head lice, something that has happened several times to Emma’s children. Emma says when her children do something funny or interesting she will ask them, “Can I use that for one of my book characters?”

I was curious how Emma had found the switch from writing for adults to writing for children. She says writing for children is much harder. It took her six years to write The Lotterys Plus One. She is a busy woman with as many as ten writing projects on the go at once, short stories, poetry, novels, screenplays and children’s books. She collects ideas for all ten projects in separate files on her phone. She finds inspiration everywhere and making notes in her phone is the handiest way to keep a record of things as soon as she sees or experiences them. Later she transfers these files to her computer.

Emma answers questions from the audience

After Emma’s interview the audience had a chance to ask her questions. One young girl said she wanted her mother to write books too and asked Emma if she could teach her Mom how to write a book. Emma said, “Everyone has a book in them. Your Mom does too. She just needs the time and space to write it.”

Another audience member said she had never seen the movie Room because there was no way it could compare to the book. Emma said she loves the movie version of Room. She thinks the director did a marvelous job with her story.

I asked her what books she had read as a child and she said pretty much anything but did mention Jane Austen, Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis. She said she had loved fairy tales.

My friend Wendy getting her copy The Lotterys Plus One signed by Emma Donoghue

Her new book is a bit of a modern fairy tale and I think Emma knows that, but she also hopes the diverse family in The Lotterys Plus One will help her readers realize it can be enriching and positive to have an open mind about what  we consider to be “ideal” when it comes to family life.

Other posts………

Writing For Children- Not As Easy As I Thought

Writer or Palaeontologist?

Chocogasm Course at McNally Robinson Booksellers

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Filed under Books, Canada, Childhood, Writing

Readers Have Lots to Say!

Here’s some comments my recent blog posts have garnered on various social media.

Erwin one of my most faithful readers commented that my grandson’s portrait of me is an excellent likeness. 

Lynn thought my brother had died when she read the title of my post about going hiking with him. She was relieved to discover that wasn’t the case. 

After Rob read Rubbing Mr. Eaton’s Foot he told me he had recently walked by the statue at the MTS Centre and rubbed Mr. Eaton’s foot.   Esther said during her childhood her family met at the clock at Eatons when they were shopping because there were always too many people at Mr. Eaton’s statue. 

Bonny read the post about my mother’s sayings and recalled what a kind, gentle and patient woman my mother had been.

Heather cried after reading my post about the little boy from Iraq.  She says he represents the best of the human experience.

Lorraine said the photo of my grandmother doing laundry on the back porch brought back memories of her mother doing the same thing.

Mitch always tells his granddaughter that most people in the world are good, they just make bad choices. After reading my post about acid attacks in India he thinks he may have to revise his statement. 

Fran told me that Anish Kapoor the artist whose work I saw in Phoenix had created one of the warming huts on Winnipeg’s Assiniboine River skating trail.

After reading my post about Agatha Christie writing Murder on the Orient Express in Aleppo my brother-in-law John recalled his own visit to Aleppo. “I stopped in Aleppo on my train ride from Ankara to Damascus. The men I met on the train took me to a spa for a little bean soup and a hot bath. I remember taking advantage of the occasion and washed some clothes in the marble vats.”

Arlene said she is often the recipient of grammar corrections from her husband just like the ones I wrote about in a post. 

After reading about my icy walk to work Elsie commented she had fallen on the ice that same day but thankfully only her pride had been hurt. 

Patty appreciates my blog even more because I was vulnerable enough to share a poem that helped me during a sad experience in my life. 

As a trained architectural technologist Ruth was very interested in the post about the blueprints for my grandparents’ house in Drake Saskatchewan. She scrolled through the post many times looking for details in the drawings.  

Nicole one of my art gallery colleagues informed me the reason a Lawren Harris painting I wrote about was missing from the Winnipeg Art Gallery is because it is on loan to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg, Ontario. 

“Amen” MaryAnn commented after reading my post about Member of Parliament Ted Falk. 

Some of my posts about the American election prompted one American reader to write “I’ve been very troubled by the justifications I’ve heard from people for a Trump vote. To me, it was simply unconscionable to promote a person of such low moral, personal, and professional character for what is arguably the most powerful and influential role in the world. How could I look my child in the eye and say “Yes, I helped elect him, but don’t ever talk or treat people the way he does”? 

Alison thinks artist Wanda Koop would love to know that a young viewer called her paintings on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery portscapes.

My cousin Al added some additional information to my post about the conscientious objector wall in Winkler, Manitoba. “The Conscientious Objectors Memorial Wall has one brick for each of the COs. There are intentionally no names on the bricks. However, the bricklayer’s father was a conscientious objector so when he laid the wall, he inscribed his father’s name on one brick and laid it with the name to the inside, invisible to all visitors but meaningful to him.”

Suzanne was so inspired by the Artists In Action post she said she’d like to organize something similar. 

One reader wondered if the most meaningful days might be ones when you are at rest, at peace with yourself and you meditate to clear your mind. This was suggested as a contrast to the busy list I included in my post about meaningful days.  I think they could be right!

There have been so many more comments and I am grateful for each and everyone.  Responses from my readers are a big reason I keep on writing.  Thanks so much to all of you. 

 

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Filed under Reflections, Writing

Gone With the Wind, Goals and A Manitoba Blizzard

I led the last meeting of our children’s writers’ group The Anita Factor .  I decided we’d spend some time writing answers to a series of questions that would help us reflect on our own reading and writing experiences. As we shared our responses we learned more about each other.   Here’s how I answered three of the questions.

What is a book that made you cry?

I cried buckets when I read Gone With the Wind.  I was about thirteen at the time and happened to be at a particularly sad part of the book during a private concert my mother was hosting.  One of her good friends, a composer and musician was debuting a new piano work and Mom had invited a livingroom full of women to serve as her audience for the premiere. Mom had prepared all these lovely tea sandwiches and dainties to serve after the performance and I was to help her serve them. I was up in my room reading Gone With the Wind and crying during the concert so when Mom came to get me to help her serve the food my face was red and splotchy and my eyes swollen from crying.  I had become just a puddle reading about all that Civil War devastation. Mom took one look at me and told me to just keep on reading.  She would serve the guests herself. 

What would literary success look like to you? 

After I retired from teaching I set myself a goal of having a fiction piece published because up to that point I had only had things like newspaper columns, magazine articles, curriculums, meditations, travel pieces and essays published.  I achieved my first goal when a short story I had written was published in Rhubarb magazine. Now I have set myself a goal of having two children’s books published. I’d like to publish a picture book and a middle grade novel.  If I achieve that goal I will feel like I’ve been successful.  I have ideas for other writing projects I’d like to try but for now the children’s books are my goal.

What is the first piece of writing you ever had published?

The first piece of writing I ever had published was a story I wrote in grade five after we’d had a major blizzard in Manitoba.  I wrote about how the storm had effected our town. My fifth grade teacher Mr. Klassen thought my piece was so good he submitted it to the local paper and they printed it.  My Mom cut out the article, created a background out of wrapping paper and framed it for me.  I still have it in that same frame. 

Other posts…….

I’ve Been A Newspaper Columnist For Decades

In Chicken Soup Again

Writing For Children- Not as Easy As I Thought

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A Chance To Write

Here are two writing opportunities I’d like to take part in. The first comes up in just a week or so.  It’s a course being offered by Rebelight a Winnipeg publishing company. The course targets teen writers.  I know some authors who have published with Rebelight and they would be great mentors for those just entering the field.  If I was a teen I’d love to take this course.  As a high school English teacher I discovered first hand how developing writing skills and gaining confidence as a writer can inspire and empower teens.  Writing gives kids a voice. If I had a teenager I would certainly be encouraging them to try this course. You can get more information about the workshop here

I recently entered a contest to win free tution for a writing course at Book House on Pelee Island.  I’d love to be able to attend one of these session, first of all because my husband’s family has many connections with Pelee Island.  Two generations have spent a considerable number of years living on the island. But attending the workshop would also provide an amazing opportunity to work on a variety of writing projects while receiving professional advice.  I’ve known for a long time that writer Margaret Atwood had property on Pelee Island. It’s great to see she is being so generous about using it to encourage other writers.  You can learn more about the workshop here

Other posts………

A Quick Five

Why Pigs Bark 

I’m So Excited

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Learning How To Write Historical Fiction

I just finished reading three novels written for young people. Each one is historical. Since I am writing a novel set in 1907 I was eager to get  insight into how to best craft a story set in the past.

the_gentle_falcon_coverThe Gentle Falcon by Hilda Lewis takes place in the 1300s and tells the story of Isabella Clinton a girl chosen to be a special companion to the French child bride of England’s King Richard II. The book starts off in an interesting way as we meet Isabella and learn about her life and the adventure she is about to begin. However the middle section of the book seems too bent on getting in all the historical details of Richard II’s life. It took the focus off the main character too much. Reading The Gentle Falcon reminded me that story and character development is more important than covering all the historical facts.

when_you_reach_meThe second novel I read was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stein. It is a Newberry Medal winner set in 1979. The book is about a New York girl named Miranda and her life at school, home and in her neighbourhood. She is trying to figure out who is sending mysterious letters to her. From reading this book I learned it is much harder to write a novel set just decades ago than a novel set more than a hundred years ago. Because many things in 1979 were  similar to the present it is harder to establish the unique historical context of the story. I think the author might have included more references to things unique to the 70’s.  It reminded me to check every detail of my manuscript to be sure I don’t have references that are too generic or modern and plenty that are unique to 1907.

tucson-jo-national-book-award-finalistThe third novel I read was Tuscon Jo by Carol Matas. It is set in the 1880s in Arizona and is a fictional account of the family life of one of Tuscon’s first mayors. We really get to know our main character Jo, the mayor’s daughter very well. The real mayor whose life inspired the story was Jewish and Jewish faith and culture is given lots of emphasis in the story. I found out later that the book’s publisher specializes in Judaic literature. I learned you sometimes have to write your story in a way that will bring it to the attention of a certain publisher. In an afterword Carol Matas said she moved some of the events around in time to make the story better. It is important to remember when you write historical fiction that you can do that. 

Other posts……

Lesson Not Required

Winnie the Pooh is from Winnipeg

Book Pilfering

 

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Filed under Books, Writing

Should I Be More Real and Messy and Honest?

“Your post was FANTASTIC!  I loved it.”  One of my readers responded to my blog Real and Messy and Honest with those words. He told me people get far more enjoyment from reading stories about how things went wrong than they do from reading stories that include lots of details about how great and interesting and enjoyable everything turned out to be. The post Real and Messy and Honest was certainly the most popular thing I have written in a long time, garnering many views and comments.

snow-stormMy cousin Carol said this was my funniest post yet. My cousin Fred took time to write a humorous personal reflection on Facebook about each thing that had gone wrong for us. His funny responses ended with a link to the Monty Python video of the song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from the movie Life of Brian.

Reader Lori says my post was recognizable and real and she is well aware no one has a perfect life, but she still appreciates writers who highlight the positive.  Anita, who started following my blog when we holidayed in Costa Rica says while my blogs always have lots of great facts and pictures this post provided a change she loved. She suggested it is good to try and see the humour in the messy side of life.

Other readers said they appreciated me exposing the underbelly of my life. It proved I was real.  Fellow writer Dora said she had loved my honest messy blog post but she also likes the usual cheer in my posts. My highschool friend Sandee reminded me that good things can fit into the mess of life too and my friend Arlene said my positive energy lifts her spirits so I should put a smile back on my face and keep looking at the positive side of life. A former pastor of mine thanked me for sharing and said it can be a good at times to recognize the messiness in our own lives and those of others. Many readers said the post had resonated with them because they have had very similar days to mine. One of my former teaching colleagues said the post made her laugh out loud because it was so familiar.

marylou hiking quail trailFellow writer Suzanne told me not to pay heed to people who criticize me for being too positive.   According to Suzanne looking for a silver lining is a gift to be admired not a fault. She loves my positivity and is glad all my posts aren’t written like Real and Messy and Honest.  It would offer far too depressing an outlook on life.

One of my faithful readers Ruth said she was glad I wrote about the downside of my day. It made her laugh and realize that she and her husband aren’t alone in having heated discussions sometimes when they travel. She said she truly enjoys all my positive and enlightening posts but this realistic post was a great way to begin the year of 2017.

Heather Plett the life coach who inspired the post by asking her followers to write a real, messy and honest report about a day in their lives told me I had done a good job of completing the assigned task.

The response to this post made me think I do need to try and write my posts in a more humourous fashion and not be afraid to write about conflict or negative things at times.  It also made me realize I shouldn’t change the way I write too much because most people who follow my blog do so because they like it’s positive tone and direction.

Writing Real and Messy and Honest certainly got a lot of response from my readers, response that has given me lots to think about.

Other posts………

What Are People Saying?

An Attitude of Gratitude

Higher Ground

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Filed under Reflections, Writing

Why Do Pigs Bark and Other Questions

One thing I am enjoying about our time away from home here in Arizona is that it gives me space to work on the middle grade novel I am writing.  Since the novel in set in 1907 I often have to look up facts and answers to questions .  Here’s some neat stuff I’ve learned.

When pigs are in danger they bark.  They squeal when they are happy and bark when they are scared.

The most common names for girls in 1907  were Mary, Margaret, Helen and Anna followed closely by Ruth and Dorothy, my mother’s name.

barn at farm b and bMost barns were red in the early 1900s and the reason why is because farmers often added ferrous oxide, or rust, to the linseed oil they used to paint their barns. Rust was plentiful on farms and acted as a poison to many fungi, including mold and moss, which were known to grow on barns. These fungi could trap moisture in the wood, increasing decay so getting rid of it was important.397px-theodore_roosevelt_-_nara_-_298098 Teddy Roosevelt was the American President and in 1907 he was signing what came to be known as the Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan. Large numbers of Japanese people were immigrating to the United States as laborers and in San Francisco the school board had begun to create segregated schools for Japanese children. This angered the Japanese. So they signed an agreement saying they would limit the number of people they gave passports to for American immigration purposes and in return President Roosevelt promised to end racial segregation in San Francisco schools.

windmillA ‘sack and back’ boy was someone who worked in a flour mill carrying sacks of flour on his back and the biggest problem in mills in the early 1900s was rodents like mice and rats. Many millers in small communities also served as the town blacksmith.

A couple of women in my writing group are posting the number of words they write each day on their novels.  I have set my own little goal of 500 words.  I am not achieving that everyday but in my first week in Arizona I have written a whole chapter.  Doing all the research takes extra time and sometimes I get so engrossed in it I don’t do much writing but it sure is interesting.  

Other posts……

Writer or Palaeontologist ?

Look It Up and Learn

Why Do I Keep Doing This? 

 

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