Saturday, 18 February 2017

Whale Watching: For Jenny

"I am quite convinced that, with very few exceptions, the sea-air always does good."  From Austen, Persuasion Vol. 1 Ch. XII

Sometimes I get a bit squeamish about writing a blog.  Even though I enjoyed a lot of what this Ted Talk had to say, it made me feel like a blog is the lowest form of communication .

I am inspired to keep writing by a few faithful readers, especially my sister.  I shouldn't be surprised as she was the inspiration behind my first published book Expectations.  So, to say thanks, here's a little video I thought she would enjoy from Monday, Feb. 13.  (If you look hard enough, you can see the whales.)  Happy weekend!




Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Woman in White: Book Review

I knew nothing about this classic when I picked it up on my friend Angela's recommendation.
 Neither did I realize the great length as the initial copy I had from the library was a small edition with miniature print.  I could not finish it in three weeks, so borrowed my mother's copy.  She bought it because she read it was one of Nora Ephron's favourite books.  This copy revealed I was in for a 772 read!

This book is categorized as a Gothic novel.  Most of my knowledge of the Gothic novel is based on Jane Austen's satirization of the genre in Northanger Abbey.  This book tells a great mystery and is filled with memorable characters.

Wilke Collins was a good friend of Charles Dickens and I could see similarities in his characterizations and dialogue.  I was also intrigued by the narration of the story.  It is told in letter form from several character's points of view.  Collins does an excellent job of writing in different voices.  Experimentation with narrative voice seems popular in classic novels.  While most of our modern
Banff Springs Abbey
novels are told by a nebulous third person, Collins, the Brontes and Austen (in Lady Susan) enjoy telling their stories as letters.  There is something personal about this format if one imagines they are the intended recipient of the letters.

Collins epistolary style serves a distinct purpose in The Woman in White.  The initial narrator, Walter Hartright, intends to tell the of the mysterious Woman in White in order to set it straight.  In many ways, Hartright acts as a detective in this story.  I enjoyed the development of his character throughout the novel.  He at first seems to be a Mama's boy with little worldly experience, but the mystery itself reveals the strength and determination of his character.

The novel features two unforgettable Italian characters.  Professor Pesca at first seems earnest and ridiculous and his quaint turns of phrase are expertly recorded, but he later becomes and integral piece of the puzzle.  Count Fosca is another larger than life character and I would love to see him well played on screen or stage.
Marian Halcolmbe is a worthy assistant to Hartright's detective work.  She is strong and courageous, but a bit inhuman in her selflessness.  Her Uncle Frederick Fairlie is another memorable character, not unlike Mrs. Bennet in his nervous confinement, but one hundred times more harmful.

I enjoyed the mystery of the book and was continually surprised by the way Collins put the puzzle together.  The language was enjoyable, but it took some effort to get through 772 pages.  I couldn't help wondering how a modern editor would change this book! 

Friday, 3 February 2017

"Something that will amaze the whole room"

``Both,'' replied Elizabeth archly; ``for I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds. -- We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.''  Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Vol. 1 Chapter XVIII

This is one of my favourite quotes from Pride and Prejudice.  It's one of those precisely-worded descriptions that make me say "Yup, that's me."  So maybe that's why, 15 years later, the following still bothers me. 

In order to get into the College of Education, I had to pass an interview.  The three experienced teachers tasked with letting me into the college asked me the following perplexing question:  

"If you had a teacher friend tell you she didn't want to continue teaching because it is too difficult nowadays, what would you tell them?"

I wonder how Subgirl would have
answered the question?
My answer was something like this.  "Firstly, I would tell them they should probably talk to their principal because I'm not even a teacher yet, so I'm probably not the best person to give advice.  Secondly, I might tell them teaching has always been difficult.  While families today may struggle more with divorce and remarriage than in the past, I know my grandfather went to a one-room school house where one teacher taught 50 students in all grades.  Most of her students spoke only German while she only spoke English."

Their blank stares and puzzled expressions told me this was not the answer they were looking for.  I failed to "amaze the whole room."  

I still think I gave a fine answer.  I would love to know the answer they were actually looking for.  

I made it into the College of Education and have had many wonderful years of teaching, but it's just something that pops up once in a while and makes me wonder. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

Sunshine in January

I once had a poet friend ask me if the poems in my book Defacing Poetry were meant to be well-written.  Hahaha.  I can only assume this means they aren't great.  Even though I'm no poet, I can't help but indulge myself in a poem once in a while.  This sunny, warm day in January demanded verse.  This one is illustrated with photos to help those who dare to read on.

Sword ferns spreading tentacles

Rainwater streams glucking a refreshing refrain

Hemlocks holding steady
Hello the jolly holly

Arbutus spreading arms to heavenly views

Warm winds boxing with cold

A little video as well:

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part Three

It was February, 2010.  The doorbell rang.  Hurray!  My new book club arrived with their books and winter coats.  A couple of brave souls tried the Negus.  "It's wicked!" said Christine, although she turned down a second cup.

We gathered in the living room on mismatched couches with the propane fire glowing.  It wasn't exactly Regency, but it was the best I could do.  We found the rose water in the Little Iced Cakes a surprising (and not necessarily nice) taste on our modern Canadian palates.

Usually our gatherings begin with sharing personal stories and troubles, although I don't recall what we discussed that night.  I remember that we turned the talk toward the book sooner than we usually did.  Perhaps we all wanted to get it over with.

I asked the questions I'd prepared about my book Expectations (See Once Upon a Book Club: Part Two).  Here's what I remember of the answers:

"The language was easy to follow."
"I hated Lydia.  She was horrible."  (This made me laugh.  I loved writing Lydia, but I may have gone too far.)
"Some parts were so well written while others weren't.  I'm not sure why."  (I was grateful for the honesty, but I wish I had asked which scenes I should fix.)
"I liked the part with the pig." (See chapter XII).

All in all, my friends were extremely kind in their reviews, but the night was all a bit awkward.  I'm grateful they were willing to try the book club experiment, but I haven't repeated it since.  I'd love to hear if any other writers have tried this!  

For a great story about the good, the bad and the ugly in book clubs, I highly recommend a Morley's Book Club by Stuart McLean

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part Two

Once I baked my Little Ice Cakes and placed my Negus in the crockpot (See Once Upon a Book

Club: Part One
 for details), I settled the kids into bed and began to worry that having my own book as the book club that month was a mistake.  What if no one came?  What if they all hated the book?

Like the book nerd I am, I prepared some questions for our book discussion.


1. What was your experience with Pride and Prejudice before reading Expectations? (ie movie, book, heresay etc.)

2. Did you find the language difficult and if so, did it become easier at some point?

3. Did you find the Austen characters I used stayed true to Pride and Prejudice?

4. Which character could you best relate to? Least relate to?

5. Was there a particular scene you found especially humorous?

6. Were you disappointed with any of the occurrences in the novel?

7. Were you surprised by any of the customs? If so, which ones?

Did anyone show up?  Follow my blog and find out!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Once Upon a Book Club: Part One

I've been very lucky in book clubs.  Three times, I've found a group of women who share a love of books, but more importantly the desire to encourage and support one another.

When I was fairly new to our Alberta home, I published my first book, Expectations: A Continuation of Pride and Prejudice.  I had a long list of ways to promote and distribute my book.  I couldn't wait to share it.  I dreamed of book signings and readings and I wanted it to be part of my newfound book club.  The women were willing to try it out and buy their own copies of my creation.
I checked out The Jane Austen Cookbook from JASNA Calgary and imagined making each of the strange recipes.  In the end, I settled on Negus and Little Iced Cakes.  Here are the ingredients for Negus:

1 pint port wine
1 lemon
12 sugar lumps
5 cups boiling water
Grated nutmeg

I followed the directions which included rubbing the lemon with the sugar lumps, and kept the concoction warm in my modern crock pot.

The Little Iced Cakes required rose flavouring which I'd never heard of and couldn't find in our little rural town.  After searching the internet, I found a small convenience store in Calgary which sold the ingredient.  I stepped into the culinary wonderland with my then two-year-old son in tow.  We found the pretty clear bottle along the shelves and waited in line to pay.  Ahead of us was a man with a long white beard.  My little guy said "Look mummy.  It's Moses!"  A memorable experience, indeed.

Follow my blog to read the rest of the story!