Sunday, May 31, 2009

Celebrating Writers

It's refreshing to be in a country where writers are not only appreciated, but revered. Edinburgh, in particular, knows how to celebrate their rich history with wordsmiths. There's a Writer's Museum devoted to the lives and works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott and Robbie Burns. Literary pub tours leave from the museum every day to explore the literary connection with a variety of pubs in the area. The sidewalk is engraved with quotes from many authors who have entertained in the years since these great men. The Elephant House was not only the alleged birthplace of Harry Potter. It is also frequented by Ian Rankin and Alexander McColl-Smith.

It's hard not to be inspired by the attention that writers attract around here. This may be a holiday but Bracken has really come alive for me here. I didn't get to his home just outside Dunkeld but a walk along Loch Lee gave me a great sense of his character. Bracken fern is prevalent along there, growing abundantly and with tenacity in some instances where it clung to the rocks. The stags we saw to the right of the trail were magnificent; not to mention the damage their hooves do to the young ferns.

What really made that day a writing experience was the fleece I found at the bottom of the keep. Every few steps there was another clump. After awhile I had stuffed my pockets as full as possible. I doubt there's enough to make a hat. As I desperately wanted to safely bring it home, I emailed Stashaholic and asked her how to clean it. There I was, in my friend's flat with buckets and soap and towels cleaning and washing the fleece. There was some interesting vegetation in there - and some other stuff I didn't examine too closely. I did make notes for the Sweater Book.

Do you think Walter Scott hid in the hills or went raiding in order to give authenticity to Rob Roy?

Thursday, May 21, 2009


After some discussion with Kate my critique partner, Rootless Trees is moving locations. It actually increases the conflict to move from North Carolina to Niagara. The move was precipitated by my complete lack of knowledge regarding that state.

Brynja and Bracken started speaking to me once I made that decision. While his roots are in Scotland, Bracken's past is in Niagara. Brynja has no idea where her roots are. In the process of searching for her past, she's running away from all that is familiar.

While I can't trace my lineage back 800 years like some people, I have a good sense of who my people are. As you read this, I'm walking the land of my forefathers. I've taken a backpack and a suitcase in search of the start point for my Grandpa's trunk.

I plan to tromp all over Dunkeld, Dundee and Dunfirmline to explore Bracken's roots and my own. All these years after first hearing Grandpa Fenton's stories about his homeland, I'm experiencing it for myself.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


HotDocs was an experience. I went up there as an audience member rather than as a participant. Part of my intention was to get a feel for the documentary film festival as it's the setting for the climax of one of my w-i-ps.

One of the things I discovered was that the industry people had better parties than the audiences. The website said no tickets required so my friend and I crashed it. I also learned that pitching at a film conference is the same as at a writer's conference; nerve-wracking and thought consuming, but with much better props.

HotDocs expanded my awareness on many levels. I had drinks and great conversation about the process of film-making with friends at various levels of experience in that business. I had some serious quality time with my nephew wandering through the streets of Toronto while discussing the variety and effectiveness of communication in this day and age.

I walk around with my eyes raised to the sky and as such tend to be oblivious to what's going on around me. I know there is corruption and injustice in the world. I know there are people who don't care who or what they hurt in their quest for power, wealth or status. I also realize that exposing those stories makes for interesting documentaries.

One of my favourite parts of HotDocs was listening to the filmmakers talk about their experiences, or reasons for making their films. After The Cove, Simon Hutchins said he'd never set out to be an activist. It was a natural progression from observing the destruction of the world's oceans.

I was still thinking about his words a few days later as I walked to work in my red shirt. I'm dedicated to being non-political but still have many issues I care about. I strive to teach through example, to show rather than tell. If I don't wear placards, protest or shout my opinion to the world, does that make my commitment any less?

How does all of this relate to writing? To a certain extent, we can only write that which we know; subjects about which we are passionate. Not all documentary film makers are activists. They aren't all part of the stories they document. What they are is driven - to illuminate and educate.

In fiction, message stories tend to alienate their readers. Entertainment is the goal. That's not to say you can't write with an opinion. Just don't let it become the story.

I'm juggling two works of fiction with one non. It's been hard to document Casey's story because I'm part of it. try taking a picture of a seventy pound pup getting cast for a new brace when you're lying on the floor holding him still. I'm not that talented. Or flexible. Because of my involvement and personal experience, I can wave the flag for alternative healing and commitment to animals in the forum of non-fiction.

HotDocs made me take a long hard look at the world in which I live; at the people who inhabit it; and what I'm willing to do to change things. It also clarified certain aspects of the wip that sent me there in the first place.

I'm writing a book about a sweater. A gorgeous sweater. And how one woman's obsession with that sweater affects her relationships. I'm sure there's a message in there but it will be subtle.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Unconventional Mother's Day Tribute

For those of you who find this day a painful reminder of the mother you've lost, or never had, this blog is dedicated to you.

A mother is a female who gives birth to a living being. I am not a mother. But I am a Mama Lion. For lots of reasons I won't go into here, my nephew and I have a closer than usual relationship. Even in utero he always responded to my voice. When he was a day old I sat with him and pointed out all the shapes and colours on his receiving blanket. Everyone thought I was nuts for conversing with him as if he was an adult. Just because he couldn't answer didn't mean he didn't understand me. One of his first words was blue, correctly identified on a giant bear at Sears.

He's always been curious about the world and the way it worked. One time I took my nephew into the bird barn to watch ostriches in the incubator. Five years old and asking questions about gestation periods, incubator temperature, wiring, power failures, how long chicks can survive inside the incubator once they hatch, how they adjust to room temperature. His attention to detail was incredible.

He wrote stories about his stuffed dog Pup in which they cured cancer, saved little children, traveled the world and conquered hunger. He was going to grow up to be a paleontologist/SPCA agent/rock star.

Due to space issues, his playpen was in front of the piano. A little protege, he would pull himself up and instead of pounding on the keys, he would touch them in a way that made music. As he got older he switched to my guitar. At two years old, he was plucking the strings in a way that sent all the adults searching the house for the musician. No one ever believed it was the baby.

As he's grown, we've continued to spend time together. Our conversations are merely advanced versions of the ones we had when he was five. We go to auto races and film festivals together. We discuss the esoteric and the practical. He has a sharp mind, a dry wit and a well of compassion so deep it humbles me.

I'm so proud of this kid who has weathered trauma, heartache and life storms with his heart and soul intact. He's been no different than any other teenager at times but that's never altered who he is at his core.

My lion cub has grown out his mane. Moved to the edges of the pride before he strikes out on his own. He's independent now. Able to fend for himself. I still watch with one eye peeled for danger in case he needs my help. One signal from him and I'll be in there with teeth bared.

He is my boy but he is not my son. I love him. I adore him. I will never leave him. And I understand that can never be enough. I'm not his mother but I couldn't love him any more than if I was.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

How I spent my week

Hiking along the Niagara Gorge with my nephew...

*playing with puppies...

staring into these beautiful brown eyes...

and writing. Three more pages on one book and some really strong insight into character development on the other. It was a good week.

Today I'm off to HotDocs in Toronto. This documentary film festival is the setting for the climax of one of my projects. It's going to be a great week.

*To clarify - these are NOT my puppies. I am not keeping a puppy. I was merely visiting them. They were warm and soft and cuddley. They belong to other people. I already have my hands full with a puppy that does not belong to me. It is Casey's first birthday on the 14th, he gets his new splint on this Tuesday. Yes it really will be a great week.

All photos taken with my Blackberry Storm which I adore. Remember when phones were these big black clunky things with rotary dials and sat on a special table downstairs in the hallway? I do like convenience the Storm affords. And quality photographs.