Saturday, 18 June 2022

Barney Bentall & Lawrence Hill: An Evening of Reading and Song

Canadian musician, Barney Bentall sang and played with acclaimed author, Lawrence Hill on a cool, quiet Bowen Island evening in June. The event was hosted in The Hearth Gallery and Bowen Island Library Annex, an airy, chapel-like structure nestled amongst the Cedars and Alders of Snug Cove. 

Local writer and community leader, Pauline Le Bel, opened the event with a land acknowledgement for Bowen Island, Nexwlélexwm, where she taught us the Squamish word for "We Lift Each Other Up". 

Photo by Samantha Adkins

Then, Barney Bentall and Lawrence Hill took turns playing and reading from their life works. Cosmic Dreamer was a big hit with the audience and Hill says is as one of his favourites. A beautiful video of the song is available on YouTube:

Hill read from Beatrice and Croc Harry, The Illegal, The Book of Negroes and his work in progress about black soldiers building a highway in the Yukon during World War II. Hill is currently staying on Bowen Island to work on this book. As well as being an excellent writer, Hill is a skilled reader and storyteller.

But how are Bentall and Hill connected? Back in 1975, Lawrence Hill held a 45-pound typewriter on his lap during a flight from Toronto to Vancouver to study writing at UBC, much to his family's consternation. (They hoped he would become a doctor or a lawyer.) He rented a place near the university for $60 a month (!). Hill felt at home in a place with a trampoline, an Italian plum tree, and Sunday dinners where he was invited to dine each week, accompanied by a bottle of Baby Duck.

Hill remembers Bentall at 18, coming from Calgary to visit his girlfriend, now his wife, Kath whose family owned the house where Hill lived. Bentall built a fence during his visit, which greatly impressed Hill who doesn't consider himself very handy. Bentall says he's still building fences on his ranch in Northern British Columbia.

Hill and Bentall have great chemistry and I think we were all charmed by the stories and camaraderie. Bentall attributed inspiration for most of the songs he played to his wife Kath, who cheered him in the crowd. 

Being a pastor's wife, I was haunted by his song The Preacher. The song references Bentall's experience leaving his Baptist upbringing to "play the devil's music in bars." I was relieved Bentall told us his once rocky relationship with his Dad was repaired before he passed. The theme reminded me of my current work in progress currently titled Enough about two pastors families struggling to live up to the expectations of their congregations. Follow this blog to hear when Enough will be available.

"We life each other up" was certainly the right word for this uplifting and inspiring night. I was once again amazed by the talent and gifts housed on Nexwlélexwm.

Friday, 13 August 2021

An interview with Author Sandra Kay Vosburgh

I've been a mystery book fan for years. I think it started with Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and then moved on to M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series, and most recently Louise Penny's Gamache mysteries. I've tried writing mysteries, including a short-lived children's mystery series, but I struggle to write about murder. It is just too awful. However, I've noticed that murder is not really the point of the mystery books I really love - instead they are about human nature and relationships.

Photo courtesy of Sandra Kay Vosburgh

I met mystery writer, Sandra Kay Vosburgh online at the Greater Philly Christian Writer's Conference this June. I was impressed with her "elevator pitch" for a murder mystery series she calls The Deadly Sins Mysteries. When she said she'd published the first book in the series, I knew I had to read it! When she said she is also a pastor's wife, I knew I needed to talk to her. I hope you enjoy the following interview as much as I did.

Image courtesy Sandra Kay Vosburgh

Sam: How long have you been writing?


Sandra: I was well into my forties when I began to write seriously. I began attending writers conferences, and I even took a few college courses. After my first novel, The Stonecroft Incident, was published, I had to place my writing on hold until I retired two years ago. I have written two novels since, and have become a devotional writer for “The Quiet Hour” published by David C. Cook.


Sam: Who are some authors you enjoy that have inspired your writing?  

Sandra: Agatha Christie will always be my favorite author. Mignon Ballard is also a favorite mystery writer, as well as Sister Carol Anne O’Marie.

Sam: Tell me about your “A Deadly Sin Mystery” series. 

Sandra: I’m writing a series of seven books, each based on one of the seven deadly sins, set in the tourist town of Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario. My main character is Ada Whittaker, a Christian senior citizen who writes the advice-to-the-lovelorn column and solves murders with the help of her bickering housekeeper and secretary.  


Sam: Why do you write mystery? 

Sandra: I love the mental challenge of mystery, picking up clues, putting the pieces together, solving the puzzle.


Sam: What else do you write? 

Sandra: My novel Anchorless Summer is a women’s contemporary, a story of a young woman who struggles to love herself because, like many women today, she grew up with her father’s neglect, never feeling his love. This leaves her struggling in other relationships. There is some mystery and some romance, but the theme is redemption.


Sam: Does being a pastor's wife affect your writing in any way? 

Sandra: Perhaps. I am aware of the struggles people face. I have seen the deadliness of sin. The death of a marriage, the death of a teenager, the death of relationships. All caused by sin. We suffer because of our own sin, but we can also suffer because of the sin of others. Our society laughs at sin, but the reality is there is nothing humorous about ruined lives.

Mystery writer, Dorothy Sayers, wrote, “If we fail to bring our readers to the bar of eternity, we have merely constructed an entertaining puzzle.” I want my stories to entertain my readers, but also to have a lingering positive effect on their lives.

Sam: Thank you for sharing, Sandra! I can't wait to read the rest of your books. 

Find out more about Sandra on her website Here's my review of The Stonecroft Incident on Goodreads.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

A TV Dream come true!

 When we moved to the Vancouver area, one of the things we looked forward to was being near to the location were they filmed Once Upon a Time. Our family took a couple of trips on filming days to be close to the action. Here's a link to read about one trip in 2017.

While watching the filming, I daydreamed about what it would be like to be part of a show. How fun to have your hair and make-up done, to wear a costume and to be part of a story-telling team. As much as I love writing novels alone, I sometimes wish I were part of a creative team. Now, whenever I drive by a filming sign, I have a little wisp of curiosity to be part of the show. This spring, I decided to try to be an extra.

I did a Google search on how to become an extra in Vancouver. I have since learned, the proper term is "Background". I submitted some photos and an application and found an agent. Thankfully, my husband agreed to be my photographer. Then, I awaited the day I'd get a call.

Photo by Phil Adkins

I was very excited to land my first call on August 10 to be on an episode of a new TV series called Family Law. I left my island on the 7:20 ferry carting a suitcase full of the required wardrobe and headed off to find the Background "Circus" in downtown Vancouver. (I would definitely use a backpack instead of a suitcase next time!) 

Family Law Teaser on YouTube

I arrived in good time and was impressed with all the safety precautions, including a rapid Covid test, masking at all times, unless on camera, and hydrations stations. I was provided with a very cool costume and we had a quick trip through hair and makeup, which for me was a ponytail! I'll reveal my "character" when the episode airs on Twitter @austengurl, if you want to follow along.

After arriving at set, I was pleased to get put to work quite a bit, but there is a lot of waiting as Background. We could visit "crafty" at any time for snacks and drinks, but I think the best thing to do at this point is to get to know your fellow background workers. There are so many interesting people! 

Megan, Sam and Laurie. Big trouble.

Laurie is a personal fitness trainer and make-up artist, who was also doing background for the first time, as part of her bucket list. Megan is a travel agent who hasn't been able to work in her field due to Covid with had a friend who told her to give this a try. These two became my friends and allies for the day. It was great to have someone to talk to, watch your stuff, and make sure you got a chair and a snack. I also met a gospel singer, a woman who got into acting to overcome shyness, a fellow teacher and writer, and some people who have been working in film since the 80's!

While on set, I developed a deep respect for how hard everyone works on a show, how many people are involved, and how much equipment is necessary. It seems like 12 hour days are common and most people were sweating, even though we were indoors and it was only 26 degrees. I can only imagine what it is like working outdoors when the weather is really hot.

"My" episode will probably air in the fall of 2022! In the meantime, you can be sure I'll be tuning into Family Law to find out more about this new series. 

Sunday, 8 August 2021

Write on Bowen Festival

Raindrops sparkled on fruit trees and mist aspirated from the surrounding forest while writers gathered at the van Berckel orchard. Saturday, August 7, 2021 was the first day of the Write on Bowen Festival, a group started by Carol M. Cram and Jacqueline Massey in 2008. 

Attendees were invited to register for one of three writing workshops offered by poet Susan Alexander, novelist Carol M. Cram, and writer and UBC teacher, Deb Blenkhorn. I selected fellow fiction-writer, Carol M. Cram's incredible session on Finding Inspiration. In our cozy group of eight writers, we learned a bit about Carol's writing journey and practices, and dove into some fun and inspiring writing exercises. Here's one of the pieces these exercises inspired for me:

Whenever Deena saw the blue bicycle in the corner of her one bedroom loft, a little bit of her soul collapsed. She'd mean to ride it everyday through the crowded streets of  Vancouver, but she hadn't counted on the chronic rain. Or the seven flights of stairs and the "No Bicycles" sign in the elevator. Or the dogs that barked at cyclists in the street.

It was to be her ticket to health and freedom - making her a local in her new community. Three years later, she tried to repurpose the wide-handled behemoth. She hung bags from the handle bars, placed a plant on the seat and arranged books in the wire basket like Martha Stewart on the cover of her magazine. But it was all like wiping concealer on a protruding zit - there was no way to disguise her lack of courage.

Our group was fun, encouraging, curious, and creative. I look forward to reconnecting via email through Carol's offer to have us submit our "homework" short story assignment.

After our session, we were welcomed to explore the gardens and enjoy refreshments, including fresh figs straight from the garden dotted with soft cheese. 

We gathered again to enjoy readings from talented six Bowen writers: poets, Susan Alexander and Daniel Cowper, novelists Carol M. Cram and Edye Hanen, Travel Writer Kami Kanetsuka, and filmmaker and podcaster Daniela Sorrentino.
Susan Alexander

Daniel Cowper

Carol M. Cram

Edye Hanen

Kami Kanetsuka with M.C. David Cameron

Daniela Sorrentino
I was grateful for the opportunity to attend such a well-organized, encouraging, and welcoming Writers Festival within walking distance of my home. Consummate art-enthusiasts and gardeners, David and Aubin van Berkel were gracious and supportive hosts and their property was the perfect setting for this wonderful writing event. Thank you Carol M. Cram and Jacqueline Massey for putting together this lovely weekend. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Friday, 30 July 2021

Emotion in Writing

 "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." George Knightley in Emma by Jane Austen

I've been thinking about this quotation lately because I've been told a few times that my writing lacks emotion. Many voices screamed for attention when I heard this critique. "What do you mean?" "We're supposed to show, not tell!" "I'm always thinking about how I feel, obviously my writing does the same." Perhaps, like Knightley, it is the things I care about the most that I can write about the least.

I took a quick peek at my most recently published novel to see if I could find emotion. Emmy in Harding is an historical fiction set during the Depression. Emmy Bennett seeks independence and adventure teaching in a country schoolhouse. While she strives for excellence in her classroom, she scrambles for resources and fights chronic absenteeism. 

"Living at home at eighteen was like wearing clothes that were too tight. Emmy Bennett loved her siblings and mother, but she was constantly suppressing frustration. In August of 1939, there were few options for a woman to escape her family home that didn't involve marriage. She couldn't wait for her camp counsellor position to begin." (Opening, Emmy in Harding)

There it is! Right in the first paragraph - frustration, suppression, anticipation. Oh dear. I've told, rather than shown. Perhaps I could explore this a bit?

The slogan of the 2020 Olympics is "United By Emotion." This made me choke up when I first saw it - here we all are, separated and isolated due to Covid while these incredible athletes have pushed themselves to train and practice in whatever way possible. Now, they are gathered to perform without a physical audience, sleep-deprived, Covid-tested, and homesick while we watch them miles away through little screens. So, if I choke up just reading this slogan, emotion must be a powerful writing tool worth using. 

In exploring the idea of writing with more emotion, I have to wonder if it has something to do with my personality. I've been learning about the Enneagram for the past year and was surprised to find myself most closely relating to a Five - often described as an Investigator or Observer. Fives tend to aim for self-sufficiency and prefer gathering knowledge to building relationships. They tend to be introverted and want to conserve their limited energy for what really matters. I think this may make me impatient with emotions. I want them to pass by quickly so I can get on with the action.

Is there any hope for a writer like this? I sure hope so! One of the key recommendations for Fives is to get to know their emotions. I've added a daily reminder to my phone to "Be curious about my emotions." Put those investigative powers to good use! I've been trying to pause when I have emotions and think about how this feels in my body. I also try to wonder why I feel this way. I hope this eventually translates to my writing, but in the meantime, it is personally helpful.

Here is some writing advice I received from author and editor, Janyre Tromp during a pitch session at the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference:
  • use setting to show and heighten emotion
  • weather can mirror emotions
  • keep word lists for each characters
I'm planning to use all this in my writing. I'd love to hear your emotional writing suggestions!

Many thanks,


Monday, 16 March 2020

Watching Emma in a Time of Anxiety

On March 14, 2020, I braved the airport and the movie theatre. I'll confess I reconsidered my interprovincial trip more than once, but it's still considered safe and acceptable, so I boarded the half-full airplane, relieved I didn't have any symptoms of illness, and took the one hour flight to see my parents and sister in Alberta.
From Wikipedia

Temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius greeted me upon arrival, but my sister soon whisked me away in her toasty warm car and we headed to our most anticipated afternoon entertaionment - the newest version of Emma in film. It was well-worth braving the elements and a public place. Our fellow Theatre-goers were few, but mighty (I had to ask a gaggle of older women to please put away their phones when the movie started, and I will frequently quote the couple who sat RIGHT BESIDE us in the near-empty theatre as Captain and Mrs. Obvious. I think Jane Austen would enjoy their  commentary.)

The latest Emma film was a celebration of gorgeous costuming, talented acting, unexpected humour, musicality and even some choreography. I was especially excited about seeing Miranda Hart in this film. "You see, this actress is a comedian." Captain Obvious. I discovered her through Call the Midwife, stumbled upon her TV Show Miranda and have been a huge fan ever since. She did not disappoint in her hilarious and sensitive rendition of Miss Bates. I realize I am now closer in age to this character than to Emma. I greatly appreciated this performance.

I was a bit surprised by the introduction of Mr. Knightley, riding home and stripping down for a quick wardrobe change. "I hope he washed himself." The Captain. "Yes, he did. That's why he got naked!" Mrs. Obvious. I believe this was a sort of homage to the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice where Colin Firth jumps in the pond. Mr. Knightley in this film is far less rigid and much more emotional. I distrusted this at first, but was won over by the end.

Emma gets a similar dressing scene where she chooses to warm herself before the fire. "She isn't wearing any underwear!" Captain. "They didn't back then, you know." Mrs. Obvious. I was impressed with this actress's ability to change so believably from disagreeable, spoiled rich-girl to sensitive and thoughtful. She plays Emma very well.

I noticed the scene at Box Hill was not filmed on a hot day as is written in the book. Wind seemed to be a constant problem for outdoor scenes, but they carried on without a hitch. It is the scene on Box Hill which both changes Emma and gives the audience a deeper insight into Miss Bates' difficult life. Or, as Captain Obvious stated "Emma's so spoiled she just said something rude without realizing."

The Ball scene is touching and romantic. "They are falling in love because he touched her." Captain. This leads to an incredible series of hilarious events leading to a lovely proposal scene with an excellent twist.

Finally, Bill Nighy shines in sealing the romance with his chronic fear of drafts and the happy couple is given a moment alone. "Now they have to get married. If you kiss a girl like that, you have to get married." Captain.

It's a wonderful film and one I hope to enjoy several more times, maybe without the commentary. Perhaps it will hurry on to online viewing while we are all social distancing. What a challenging time we are facing. I hope my article has given you a few moments of diversion and the ability to Stay Calm and Wash Your Hands.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Poetry with Lorna Crozier

I had the absolute pleasure of attending a poetry workshop on my own little island last weekend
with Lorna Crozier. She's a wonderful teaching and enthralled us with the history of poetry, including several readings of poetry from different writers.
Lorna Crozier on
Our writing assignment was to write a poem of 7 lines beginning with the final line from another writer's poem. We were to come to a stop at the end of each line. Here are my attempts:

(First line from Linda Gregg's "The Woman who looks for her lost sister she says" from Too Bright to See)
"No," she said, "It's too late for flowers Dear."
Yet, there they were.
Waiting, helpless, in my hand,
Clutched round thick stems.
Dripping milk poison down my elbow.
I pry my fingers from the thorns,
No one to help me.
Mouth drying, fingers oozing.
I lie down, panting, at her grave.

Rodeo Queen
(First line from Linda Gregg's "No More Marriages" from Too Bright to See)
They're never going to do that to me.
A sequined woman, shivering in mud.
Grasping a hockey stick,
That was never going to save me,
From a life of obscurity.
She rose, gasping,
With laughter, full of life.
A pig squealing out from under her.
The crowd cheers.