Saturday, 29 August 2015

Moving to the Coast: Day Six

We actually arrived at our new home on Tuesday, so technically, we are not still moving.  In reality; however, our lives are moving, shifting and rearranging at a breakneck pace so I'm reserving the right to title this post "moving".

We've moved before.  Several times, in fact, but somehow this move is more difficult.  Or have I just forgotten the details of our previous moves?  This would be welcome news, actually.  That all of this anxiety, emotional highs and lows, doubts and fears could be forgotten would be a blessing.

There's a lot that's good, though.  A million reasons to be grateful, so instead of listing the things that make me freak out, I'm choosing to remember the awesomeness.

1.  Our new community has blessed us with fresh food, flowers and friendliness.  Fresh food on an island is even more of a gift than it may sound.  Buying food often requires a ferry trip, packing a cooler and making it back to the ferry in time.  On island purchases are also more dear as they are more costly.  Not to mention, some of our new friends cooked for us.  What an amazing way to help a family during a stressful time.

2.  Breathtaking scenery.  We frequently gaze out the windows, amazed at this new world.  Moving from the Prairies to the Coast is like entering an alternate universe.  I can't wait to explore the trails around us.

3.  The Beach!  The kids are full of questions when we head out to the beach.  What types of shells are we seeing?  How do tides work?  Can a pearl grow in a clam shell?  I have my work cut out for me figuring out the answers to these questions.  Fortunately, we already have our library cards and a stack of books and videos await our discover.

4.  A Parade!  Today, our island celebrated it's annual music festival with a parade for the kids.  We missed the town parade when we left Strathmore, so the kids were thrilled to get the candy they missed.  It was also a wonderful chance to chat with our new community.

5.  A Massage - My husband took the liberty of booking me a massage after the parade today.  He knew I would need it after all of the packing, stress and headaches this week.  It was a wonderful massage.  I fell asleep.  I've never done that before.  If you are moving, do this.  It is the best. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

A Soundtrack for Moving to the Coast: Day One

In many ways it seems like we've been moving to the coast since June 19, the day our house sold, but today, we actually started to move ourselves and our stuff down Highway 1.  With our young kids and my short attention span for driving, we decided to break up the trip from Strathmore to Vancouver into two days.  I only had to drive the kids from Banff, while Phil took the UHaul from our hometown for the past 6 years.

The kids and I got onto the highway by 8:15 a.m. this morning and the first thing we all wanted was a little music.  "Hey kids, this is what I used to have to listen to," I said excitedly as the radio picked up Neil Diamond's classic Song Sung Blue.  "Should we turn it off?" my daughter asked.  Hehe.  "It's just one song," I replied.  "We don't have to listen to a whole CD." As I tried to sing along, I realized the words actually were, Song sung blue, weeping like a willow and not Song sung blue, weepy woppy willow.

Shortly afterward, the radio turned to fuzz as we went further into the mountains.  I had tried, unsuccessfully, the day before to find some children's books on CD at the Chapters and Coles stores in Calgary.  So, we dug out the old CD case and I let the kids be the DJ's.

My son made the first selection based on the "Cool running guy" on the CD.  It turned out to be a recording done by several of the youth while my husband was a youth pastor in Saskatoon.  It made me smile to hear their sweet voices and awesome piano and guitar riffs.  Next, he selected a blue and white CD with a cloud and and mountain on it.  I wasn't familiar with the album, and couldn't check until we had stopped driving later to find out it was Matthew Good.  It was kind of fun listening to a mystery album.
My driving highlight was stopping at the Information Centre in Golden B.C.  We had just passed through Kicking Horse and I was craving a coffee with the same name.  Bless their hearts, the Information provided Kicking Horse coffee with real cream for only $2.  Their plentiful bathrooms were pristine as well.

But the best part of all was being done driving and checking into The Best Western in Kamloops, taking the kids for a well-deserved swim and then discovering The Noble Pig Brewhouse and Restaurant - a local restaurant dedicated to fresh foods and craft beer.  The lamb burger with roasted apple and brie was divine!

Tomorrow night I get to sleep in my own house for the first time in over two months.  Can't wait!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

In A Mouse House: Sleeping Tips for Insomniac Writers

I have slept in a lot of places this summer.  We've had an interesting transition from one community to the next.  Our house sold quickly, which was awesome, but it left us with over two months without our own home.

There was house-sitting, staying with family, going on holiday, going visiting, staying in hotels and going to a wedding.  All it all, it has added up to me sleeping in seven different beds so far with two more to go until we get to our own beds.  Maybe for most people, this is no big deal, but I'm sure there are others out there who struggle to sleep in a new place.  Especially during an exceptionally hot summer.

And then there was the mouse.  I will not mention in which bed we encountered a mouse, but it started at two in the morning.  There was a persistent squeaking sound.  Was it the freezer?  Was it some form of alarm?  At two in the morning it is difficult to make sense of the rest of the world.  Eventually, my husband and I figured out some kind of animal was stuck in the house.  But we couldn't find it and we had no idea what to do about it, so I went upstairs to sleep on the couch and then a cot (+2 on my bed count), if you can call tossing and turning and imagining animals behind your wall sleeping.
The following day, we set traps and hoped for the best, but when we tried to lay down for a nap, the little critter went at it again and I was up on a bench, afraid it would traipse over my toes.  I was exactly like a cartoon woman, faced with a small rodent.  I slept in my daughter's room that night.

Now the poor creature has died, but we can't find it anywhere and so we are left with it's decaying stench.  Excellent.  I thought I was a poor sleeper before.

In conclusion, I thought I would offer a few of my tips for sleeping to my fellow insomniacs.

1.  Try to imagine each scene from a favourite movie.  Remember each detail, every line.  I've been using Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  So far, I've only made it to the ball.


2.  Get up and have a little snack while you read something light.  Dark and ghostly books are no good at night.  Might I suggest one of mine?  Suspiciously Reserved: A Twist on Jane Austen's Emma is as good as any to help you sleep.

3.  Get up and write down what you are worrying about.  This one is thanks to my doctor and some books I've read.  I don't recommend writing a short story or working on your current project, as this tends to reawaken the mind, but when I write down just what is bothering me or even what I am thinking about, it helps me to literally put it on the shelf until the next day when it usually seems very paltry indeed.  I usually say a little prayer about these worries as well.

4.  The old relaxation exercise.  Start with your toes, clench them for ten seconds and then relax them.  Then move on to calves, thighs, stomach, chest, fingers, arms, shoulders, neck and face.  Usually this is so boring that I only get to about my stomach.

5.  When nothing works, just let your thoughts scatter.  If you remain calm and tell yourself the great thing about not sleeping tonight is that tomorrow night you will be so exhausted you are sure to sleep better.  Eventually my thoughts get dull enough that they put me to sleep.  I usually promise myself a caffeinated treat in the morning to make up for my gruelling night.

I need to go now.  I hear something at my window.  What is it this time???

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

On Working

"Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.  Especially work.  People love to read about work."  Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Sometimes, when I can't sleep I go through a list of all the jobs I've had in my life.  It's a lengthy list.  Sometimes I share it with my kids and I feel like they are impressed.  There is a segment on my favourite CBC Radio talk show called The Next Chapter about the jobs writer's have held.  I think it's important to have worked widely as well as to have read widely.  Details about work are interesting to read.  Here is a list of my jobs, in case anyone else is interested.

1.  Chambermaid - At the age of 12, I insisted that I wanted to work as a chambermaid.  I thought it would be a great way to meet new people, especially boys.  One of my dad's best friends owned a hotel, so after trying to dissuade me, he agreed to get me a job at the bustling business.  I believe it was September or October when I started.  Four weeks later, I quit.  I hated missing the weekend and I discovered the act of going to work made me incredibly anxious.  Plus, I was too small to lift to vacuum cleaner.

2.  Baby-sitter - I baby-sat for several families in my community.  One summer, a friend and I shared full time care of a one-year-old while her parents worked at their busy store.  I remember that if she got hurt she would scream without breathing for way too long.  I would blow in her mouth to try to get her to breath.  It freaked me out, but I loved eating her parents' food.  Can you guess my favourite book series at the time?

3.  Bakery Girl/ Bus person - Another friend's father owned a cool 50's style restaurant in town.  She helped me get a job at the restaurant and we started off working at the front to prepare desserts and ice cream.  After a while, they took out the bakery to leave more room for seating and we were reduced to clearing up tables.  Not nearly as fun, but we did enjoy meeting the waiters.  If they spoke to us or even tossed a smile our way, we were smitten.

4.  Legal Office Assistant - My dad is a lawyer and one summer I insisted I would be a great addition to his office staff.  My very patient and supportive dad agreed to let me "help" at the office.  There were no extra desks, so he had to set up a spot for me, quite close to his office.  I think the biggest challenge for him was finding me things to do.  Sometimes, he would let me type a letter, but he always had to go back and correct my mistakes.  The office secretaries let me get the mail and sent me on any errand they could come up with.  One of the bests was going to the Callebaut Chocolate store to buy dark chocolate chips.  They let me have some of theirs in exchange.
5.  This is already a much longer post than I had planned, so I will summarize the rest.  Grocery Clerk - I ran off crying at least twice due to outraged customers

6.  Sandwich maker at local southwestern restaurant.

7.  Bathroom cleaner at a Parks Canada campground.

8.  Banquet Server at arts school.

9.  Piano Teacher

10.  Figure Skating Coach

11.  Salesperson/ warehouse manager at a nonprofit retail store

12.  Cashier/ coffee maker at Robin's Donuts

13.  Outdoor educator at conservation area

14.  Substitute teacher for three school divisions

15.  Elementary school teacher

I want to add writer, but I hesitate.  Is this a job, a passion or a hobby?  It doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the list, so I'll leave it off for now.  I see I have used a few of these jobs in my writing.  Substitute teaching was especially useful in writing Subgirl and Subgirl Returns.  It's reassuring to know I still have quite a deep reservoir to choose from.  How many jobs have you had so far and have any of them made it into your writing?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

A Jane Austen Holiday

My family recently took a holiday through the Okanagan.  I had to ask myself, as a Jane Austen-themed writer, if there was anything about my holiday that would be similar to a holiday in Austen's time.  Surely everything is entirely different, but when I squinted through my imagination, I came up with a few ideas.

1.  "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." Northanger Abbey

Before going on holiday, I checked out two library books in preparation.  I knew we'd have plenty of beach time in Kelowna and so I found The Brutal Telling, by Louise Penny and Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield.  I know Austen was incredibly fond of reading and made use of private libraries in her father and brother's house.  I believe she also made use of a subscription library where she paid to borrow books.

2.  “A little sea-bathing would set me up forever.”  Mrs. Bennet  Pride and Prejudice, volume 2, chapter 18
While Kelowna is situated on the Okanagan Lake rather than the ocean, I believe sitting along the shores and wading into the warm waters can safely be compared to sea-bathing in Austen's time.  We tried out two of the beaches in Kelowna - Gyro Beach and Hot Sands Beach.  Gyro Beach offered a larger shallow area which was excellent for letting the kids go out to swim.  It also has a larger sandy area, two zip lines, a park and large leafy trees.  My kids and husband enjoyed the Wibit feature offered at Hot Sands Beach and there were certainly interesting people to watch near the downtown core.

3.  "To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment." Jane Austen

My hubby is big on finding the shade.  We enjoyed several picnics along the beach and at the park while on holiday.  I imagine the sandwiches, fruit and water we enjoyed could be compared to a Regency picnic, although we were missing the servants and cooks to prepare and serve our humble meals.

4.  Fruit Picking

"When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house."  Emma

Strawberry season in Kelowna had passed, but we did have the pleasure of picking peaches and Golden Plums at Paynter's Fruit Market.  It was a lovely way to spend a morning and, unlike picking strawberries, we had plenty of fruit in no time at all.  I imagine a peach would taste the same served in Jane Austen's time as it would in ours.

5.  Coming home

As nice as it is to be on holiday and try new things, for me it is always a relief to come home.  This holiday has been a little different in that we are somewhat "homeless" right now.  Like Jane Austen, we are living with family while we wait for a new home situation.  I love staying with my parents in Banff and having access to all that the mountains have to offer, but I am looking forward to settling into our new home at the end of the month and finding 'real comfort' once again.

Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith Review

This was a very enjoyable read, but I was expecting more from Smith, one of my favourite authors. I greatly enjoyed the modern Mr. Woodhouse, but Emma was less developed and likeable. I know how difficult it is to please everyone with a retelling of Austen's work; however and this book really was good fun. I greatly enjoyed the outcomes of Elton's proposal and the little twist with Harriet at the end. I wanted more scenes with George Knightley and Jane Fairfax too.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Cassandra and Jane: A Jane Austen Novel by Jill Pitkeathley Review

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book imagining the relationship between Jane and Cassandra Austen. It was well-researched and creatively written. I especially liked the fictional relationship between Jane Austen and Rev. Atkins at Lyme.

I find it so difficult to make sense of the unconnected details that are provided about Austen's life. It was nice to have someone make a story of them. Of course, I'm not really clear on what is true and what isn't, but then one can't always be sure that nonfiction provides the whole truth either. 

I occasionally found endearments between the sisters a bit much, but perhaps this is how they actually wrote and spoke to one another. Maybe I'm just too much of a hardened 21st century reader for such sisterly affection. Altogether, I found the book agreeably thought-provoking.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Retelling Stories

Several of my books are retellings of other famous stories.  I've always enjoyed reading books and watching movies like this. Some of my favourites are as follows:

1.  10 Things I hate about You based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew
2.  Bride and Prejudice - The Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice

3.  Bridget Jones Diary - Perhaps the most famous recreation of Pride and Prejudice
4.  The Hours by Michael Cunningham - with connections to Virginia Woolf and her characters
5.  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski which retells the story of Hamlet

6.  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - Although this isn't a straight retelling, there are a lot of references to Shakespeare and many characters are named after Shakespearean characters.
7.  The Red Tent by Anita Diamant - a vivid retelling of the Biblical story of Jacob through the eyes of his daughter, Dinah

The great thing about retelling stories is that you get to live inside of them.  You get to know the characters better and imagine what they are thinking and feeling.  It also provides a clear outline for your book.  I don't have to wonder where the book will go next or how it will end.  However, I also give myself the freedom to change things up if that is where the story and characters take me.

In Suspiciously Reserved, I told the story of Emma from Jane Fairfax's point of view and set it in contemporary Canada.  Using a secondary character was great because there aren't as many details about her in the original.  There was a lot of room for creativity and character development.

In Banff Springs Abbey, I recreated the story of Northanger Abbey in modern Canada, but kept Catherine Morland as the main character.  I was interested in what the story would look like two hundred years later.  I had thought it would be more frightening, but the story itself if more of a satire of the gothic genre than an actual gothic story itself.  It was a real joy imagining the story in my hometown and Catherine was an endearing character to explore.
My work in progress is a modern retelling of a well-known Biblical character.  Again, I wondered what the story would look like today, hundreds of years later.  There is so much that needs to be translated - an entirely different culture with completely different rules and mores.  I sometimes feel like it is cheating to retell these stories, but the challenge is in the translation and in bringing these stories back to life.  

I do plan to create my own story for my next book, but I think, due to my love of reading, that it will be difficult to step completely out of other favourite tales.  Even if there is no obvious correlation to a known story, I know these stories will sneak into my own, begging to be retold and given new life.