Month: January 2020

Not a Regency Romp

book cover The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor

My book club selection in January was The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor, by Sally Armstrong. This was a fictionalized account of a real historical character, set in the late eighteenth/ early nineteenth century in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The book touched on historical events like the American Revolution, the Expulsion of the Acadians and the displacement of the native Micmac peoples.

Ms Armstrong is a well-respected writer and historian. Charlotte Taylor is one of her ancestors. The book is meticulous in its detail and documents all that could be documented, but part of the tale is fiction as there were no records ever made. Still, we get a good sense of the character of Charlotte and the time and place she lived.

Charlotte came from the gentry class in England. Her father was wealthy. She had an inheritance of her own. She should have made her debut as a young lady, attending balls and seeking a husband. But Charlotte rebelled against the life she was handed. She wanted to make a life of her own. Romance heroines are expected to be feisty and rebellious. Charlotte, not a romance heroine, consorted with the black butler then ran away from home to the West Indies, expecting to become his wife there. This was no flit to Gretna Green. This was a dangerous sea voyage to an unknown destination, beyond the censure or assistance of home and family.

Her life in Jamaica did not work out and she ended up in what was then Nova Scotia. When a well-meaning sea captain, who recognized her name and knew her father, planned to return her to England, she eluded the rowboat that would have taken her to the ship and ran to a Micmac settlement. She spent her first winter there, learning the means of survival. When next she encountered the sea captain, her pregnancy was obvious and he finally understood the impossibility of a return to English society.

Charlotte’s life was hard. She had to expend every ounce of strength and ingenuity on staying alive. She had three husbands, all of whom died early, and ten children, who all survived. She learned to clear land, build a cabin, cook game over an open fire. She learned which berries were edible and which were poisonous. She studied the native lore and learned the medicinal properties of local plants. She fought hard to get a deed to her land. She continued to struggle with the male concept of a “woman’s place.” She lived to old age.

My question when I finished the book was, “was it worth it?” At a time when Jane Austen was penning Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Taylor, wearing moccasins, was trekking through the wilds of Eastern Canada to Frederick Town to demand a deed to her property. The contrast between the old life and the new couldn’t be greater.

Many years after her flight, she wondered about her family and wished for contact with her father, yet it seemed she had no desire to ever return to the land of her birth. Was there joy in her life? Toward the end, when all her husbands were dead and her children grown, maybe.

I highly recommend this book.

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More Writerly Kindness

2020 celebrationI’ve been really busy with non-writer stuff this past little while. We had a big event at my church to mark the beginning of 2020. I got to decorate, plan and produce the program, and sell tickets. Lucky me. ☺

I found myself torn between frustration that so much writing time was being taken up with something else and enjoyment at expanding my creativity in another direction. Not to mention, I’m a social being, so putting on a big party was a natural.

Learning to Charleston — on carpet!

The event went well. More tickets sold than expected. The entertainment was a hit — we had a 1920’s theme so had a lesson on the Charleston– and I got to mount my favourite hobby horse with a history quiz. I once taught history to high-schoolers and apparently I never got over it. I had a great time asking people about Canadian politics in the 1920’s, famous Canadians of the era, and who broadcast the hockey games.

I was gravely disappointed at the lack of historical knowledge in the room. Apparently not everyone believes we must know our history in order to appreciate the life we have now and to avoid some of the really big mistakes of the past. Ahem, as I said, I have a hobby horse.

But what really put the icing on my day was a comment about reading the church blog. (I maintain that too.) One of the questions on the quiz had been answered in the blog the week before. Several people at my table said “I know that. I read it on the blog.”  I felt a little glow form around my heart. Nothing is more heartening to a writer than to know that someone read her words and remembered them.

So, that’s my story of receiving writerly kindness. On the giving side, I voted in a cover contest for one of my fellow VIRA members. I interacted with writers seeking help in facebook posts. Simple acts, that don’t take a lot of time. That’s the great thing about kindness, little things make a big difference.

I wish I could stop war, fix the climate crisis and provide a roof for every person living on the streets, but those things are beyond my ability. They are beyond any one person’s ability. But kindness, of the writerly kind or just in general, is within reach of us all. Who knows? Maybe our combined kindnesses will make a more peaceful world where the Earth is nurtured and all human beings are valued.

Want to share stories of writerly kindness? Leave a comment below. I’ll enter your name into a draw for a free book at the end of 2020.

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Christmas Book Bonanza

pile of books As mentioned on other posts on this blog, I love getting books for Christmas. This year my wishes were answered with a nice pile of literature under the tree. The haul included history, romance, mystery and biography. Since we are having a series of snow days, the additions to my TBR pile are most welcome. snow dayBefore Christmas I discovered a Louise Penny mystery that I hadn’t read before. What an unexpected pleasure. Apparently she modelled her detective hero, Armand Gamache on her late husband. No wonder Armand is drawn with such love and sensitivity and compassion. Ms Penny is an expert at drawing the reader into the world and characters of her books. Her works are excellent examples of the kind of deep POV we all strive to attain.

Last week I started a collection of “writerly kindness” anecdotes. Laura Langston wrote a beautiful story or how a neighbour encouraged her. See it here.

This week I attended a meeting of my local writers group. Here writerly kindness was much in evidence from shared information, freely offered advice and a gentle reminder to set some goals for 2020. Thank you to Cora Seton and all the members of VIRA.

The snow continues to fall, the fire is lit and my TBR pile beckons. What are you reading?

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Kindness Journal

sharing the light

In December of 2018 I ran a series of good will stories on this blog. The response was encouraging and spending the Christmas season watching for instances of good will lifted my spirits. I’ve missed the Christmas season this year, but for the New Year, I’m looking for deeds of kindness.

I got the idea from a fellow VIRA member, Judy Hudson. Life has been rather unkind to her for the past several months so she is hoping to show kindness to herself for 2020. In a stressed out, maxed out, tapped out world, a little self-kindness is a much needed antidote.

I confess, I’m rather self-indulgent with chocolate, coffee dates and a good book always ready to offer me comfort. I need a different kind of resolution. I’m going with writerly kindness–both giving and receiving. What does that mean? It means posting a review when I’ve enjoyed a book. Sending a fan letter if I’ve really enjoyed the book. Voting in those cover contests. Contributing to my local writers organization.  I’m sure you can think of more.

Regular readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of “Writer Unboxed.” Here is a group of gifted writers willing to share their wisdom, experience and advice just to make the writing world a better place. Donald Maas wrote a post in that forum that struck me as a most generous act of writerly kindness. From someone who is a giant in the world of fiction writing, came words of encouragement and sympathy for a writer who had fallen into the abyss,  I bookmarked that post and keep it handy for days when I wonder “why bother?”

Social media can be vicious, destructive and nasty. Or it can make a forum for people like the contributors of “Writer Unboxed.”  At one end of the spectrum lies hate and selfishness, at the other love and generosity. I’m not much on new year’s resolutions, but I do promise to make 2020 the year I say thank you to those kind souls among us. As the song says, “what the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

I invite you to share stories of writerly kindness in the comments section below. At the end of the year I’ll compile my favourite stories. Contributors will be entered in a draw for a free book for Christmas 2020. Spread the word, . . . and the love.

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