New Year’s Eve, 1995, this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, by Bill Watterson, was published throughout North America. With it, Watterson marked the end of his beloved comic strip about Calvin, a six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, a tiger who was Calvin’s constant companion. Everything Watterson had known had disappeared. And he looked forward to the mysterious next chapter of his life with a sense of excitement and optimism.
As in most great writing, Watterson’s message was both personal and universal. I clipped the cartoon out and stuck it on our fridge, where it has remained ever since. Although twenty-seven years have passed, to the day, and my copy is now faded, food-splattered and wrinkled, Watterson’s two fictional BFFs still inspire me.
I look toward 2023 “like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on”.
I wish everyone a happy brand-new year, full of possibilities … and magic too.
Have you experienced a time in your life that has affected you in a profound way? Do you wish to share this with others? Then perhaps you have a memoir in you.
My writing career began in my fifties as a result of a life-altering experience from which I felt I had a story that needed telling. The result was my memoir, Ready to Come About, published by Dundurn Press in 2019.
The Wellington County Writers’ Festival had its birth yesterday. It was a fantastic day, with music, puppets, refreshments, and of course dozens of authors of all genres, doing readings and selling their wares.
I had the good fortune of having the book table of my memoir Ready to Come About, positioned between members of the Wellington County Library System, who helped organized the festival, and wonderful volunteers with the Wellington County Historical Society, all of whom were fun company throughout the day. Who knew Stompin’ Tom was from Ballinafad!
If you couldn’t make it out yesterday, don’t worry. The festival continues with events at various branch libraries in the county throughout May and June.
Keriann McGoogan, author of Chasing Lemurs – My Journey into the Heart of Madagascar, and I will be discussing the Crafting of Memoir at the Marden Library, May 12th, 6:30 to 8 p.m. If you are interested in coming out to this event you can register to reserve a seat through this link.
I will also be reading from Ready to Come About (time to be determined) on the festival’s closing day, June 25th at the Hillsburgh Library.
You can find the details and updates on the Wellington County Writers’ Festival website.
I am honoured to be participating in the first annual Wellington County Writers’ Festival. The kickoff is Saturday, April 23rd, at the Wellington County Museum following which, over the next two months, there will be writerly events at various branch libraries throughout the County, and the grand finale will be Saturday, June 25th, in Hillsburgh. Check this link for schedule details as they become available.
On a global scale, there’s been a deadly pandemic, unprecedented and unnatural social isolation, racial violence, political unrest, and now an unprovoked war.
On a personal level, last July, a brother of mine died unexpectedly. He and I were close. And I miss him so much it makes me ache.
To be honest, I have never known a time of such profound sadness. It has been paralyzing some days, and focussing on finishing my novel has felt next to impossible.
But, my husband, David, has insisted that I have an important story that needs telling. So, with his encouragement and support, I am slowly getting back into it. As the saying goes, I’m putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward even when it’s difficult. And, I am able to report, I am starting to make progress.
To my surprise, I discovered writing is a lot like crossing an ocean.
When writing my memoir, Ready to Come About, there were many moments of: ‘What the hell was I thinking’. ‘This is way more than I bargained for’. ‘I’m not equipped to do this; was I ever stupid to even think I was’. ‘Will I survive? If I do, I swear, never again!’
Then I stumbled onto Brian Henry’s creative writing courses, the very first of which was Writing Personal Stories. These courses were jam-packed with information that helped equip me with what I needed to get through to the other side.
However, writing a book differs from an ocean crossing in that it is a journey of years, and it is necessarily a solitary endeavor, most of the time. But you can’t do it entirely alone. It’s important to meet people who talk the same language, who consider writing a worthwhile endeavor, who too spend whole afternoons inserting and taking out commas, only to insert them again in the morning. Through these courses I was introduced to a wonderful writing community, the support of which was essential.
So it feels extra-special to be a guest speaker in Brian’s fabulous upcoming online course, “Writing Personal Stories” where, eleven years ago, my memoir-writing journey began. Check out the details here.
Okay. So… full disclosure: Yes, I was drawn to the field of occupational therapy because of my deep-seated beliefs in its noble goals of promoting uniqueness and meaning and diversity. But I also LOVE crafts. And I was told, mistakenly, that crafts were central to the profession.
Although they once had been, by the time I was studying OT, the profession was hell-bent on distancing itself from the basket-weaving image. But truth be told, I believed then, and still very much do, that there is huge therapeutic value in doing crafts. There, I said it!
My life-long love affair with crafts, particularly appliqué, started when I was seven years old. My aunt, Kathy, gave me this small wall hanging that she had made with scraps of material and bits of embroidery floss. I loved that aunt and I cherished that little cloth picture. Something about its colours, its simplicity, was just so beautiful. And it had emotion. This little work of art has hung on a wall in my various homes ever since.
Inspired by my aunt’s creative genius, over the years I learned embroidery, crewel, and quilting techniques, and eventually began designing my own appliqués, striving for the same effect.
After my improbable year-long sailing of the North Atlantic, I made the appliqué of our sailboat, Inia, being tossed about in monstrous seas, mid-ocean, mid-storm, in the middle of the night, to convey what I had experienced; more importantly, how I had felt.
Then I decided to write a book about the adventure. And I discovered that, to my surprise, the writing process and the appliqué process are similar. There is the starting with a general idea, a theme, the drawing of bold strokes, the adding of focal points here and there, the taking away extraneous clutter, and the finishing touches— always thinking; what’s missing, what’s enough, what’s too much, until it feels ‘emotionally accurate’, until it feels ‘just right’.
I am over the moon to say, my debut book, Ready to Come About, will be released next month. What’s more, Laura Boyle, artistic director at Dundurn Press, used my sailing appliqué to design the book’s cover. It’s an emotional match made in heaven. It’s perfect on every level. I couldn’t be happier.
If you are an aspiring writer, I’d like to introduce you to my remarkable friend, Barbara Kyle. Following a long acting career in film, television and stage productions, Barbara became an internationally acclaimed author, known for her historical fiction series, the Thornleigh Saga, and several suspense novels, the latest being Entrapped, winner of the IndieBrag Gold Medallion, currently being developed into a four part television series. More recently, she has become a sought-after lecturer on the creative writing process and mentor to writers around the world.
After I had completed the first draft of the manuscript for my memoir, Ready to Come About, and was beginning to tackle the daunting task of editing it, I had the good fortune of landing in one of Barbara’s lectures on ‘the novel’ at the University of Guelph. It was immediately obvious to me that she is an expert on all things writing, and a passionate teacher of it. Through a subsequent seminar by her I gained the practical tools I needed to approach this editing stage, objectively, systematically, even enjoyably. The rewriting process that had felt like pure torture at the start, became a labour of love. Over the course of the next fifteen months, I sat at my kitchen table, cutting words here and slashing whole scenes there, and my story gradually became tighter, brighter, and ultimately almost 40,000 words lighter!
I am thrilled to say I now have a publishing contract for Ready to Come About with Dundurn Press. What’s more, developmental editor, Allison Hirst, commented that the story flows at a good pace without leaving anything out, and it was one of the cleanest manuscripts she has seen in a while.