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Disconnected

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, by Jennifer Ryan has entertained, challenged and heartened me in the past few weeks. WWII has disrupted village life in many ways. The men are gone. Women have taken jobs. Servants have deserted the large houses to enlist or to work in factories. The final straw is the decision by the vicar to cancel choir because “you can’t have a choir without men.”

From that point on the story unfolds as the women of the village discover their own voices. They assert their own power. They stop waiting for the war to end so that they can live again. They determine to live, even while war rages in the skies above them. They prepare for a possible Nazi invasion while caring for each other, falling in love, grieving their dead, and yes, singing in their own choir.

The book is well written, the story well told, but I think it resonated so strongly with me  because I, too, have been waiting for life to start again. When COVID-19 closed down our economy and our culture in the middle of March, I had a mindset that said I only had to wait it out for a few months and everything would go back to normal. So, I waited for the stores and cafes to reopen. They did in May, but it wasn’t like it used to be. So, I waited some more. Our church resumed in-person worship in June, but it is not like it used to be. No hymn singing, no choir and we all sit six feet apart in our own little bubble. I feel disconnected.

I have realized that the “waiting” is getting me down. Living a half-life while waiting for a miracle is soul-destroying. Like the ladies of Chilbury, it is time to start living a full life now. The-way-it-used-to-be may never return. I’ve already missed Easter and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Canada Day. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming and I want to enjoy them in 2020, not in some never-never future.

This new resolve doesn’t change my day-to-day tasks much, but it does change the way I regard my days. I’m looking at them for possibilities rather than hindrances.  I’ve put aside the “waiting” attitude and realized that this is my life, now. It is up to me to make the most of it.

I’ve heard from many people who are in the same state of suspended animation, waiting for life to start again. They are all as tired of it as I am. I’ve shared my perspective, gained from The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir and received a resounding “Yes!” I hope this post may bring some joy into the life of my readers. Even if my words don’t lighten you attitude, I’d recommend the book.  Ms Ryan presents the tale in a fresh and upbeat mode –maybe it will lift your spirits as it did mine.

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Oh, My Aching Back

I’ve had a miserable week. Every muscle in my back went into spasm and refused to let go. There was no comfortable position, not standing, not sitting and not lying down. Sleep? Forget it. Fifteen minutes maximum before I had to change positions. Even muscle relaxants had no effect. 

Now, there isn’t a writer alive who hasn’t experienced back pain at one time or another. Many, like Jane Friedman have written about it. The web is full of recommendations for exercises, ergonomics, stretches, treadmill desks, physiotherapy, massage and snake oil. I’ve had that kind of back pain. The kind where some stretches, or a gentle walk will ease it. Movement is definitely a go-to response for muscle tension.

This time, though, the pain was different. There was no stretch that touched it. It didn’t come from my hamstrings or my quads or my sacroiliac. And it didn’t start while I was at the computer. It came on gradually as I spent a few days in the kitchen. I processed a ton of zucchini and buckets of blackberries. We have enough soup to last the whole winter, not to mention baking and quiche. My shelves of preserves are sagging with summer’s goodness.

And my aching back is killing me!

 

I hope you’re feeling sorry for me now. 🙂 However, the point of this blog is not to generate sympathy, although that is nice. No, I thought I’d share some of my coping mechanisms for anyone else who has gone into total back spasm.

  • The first thing to know is that movement is your friend. Any movement. Walk up the stairs, walk out to the garden, deadhead a few flowers, go to the mailbox. Nothing too strenuous but anything that puts the body in motion.
  • intervals. No more than fifteen minutes in any one position. So, fifteen minutes at the computer, fifteen minutes at the stove, fifteen minutes lying on the floor with your legs elevated. Even if the position feels good to begin with, you can’t stay there. Those back muscles are really good at knotting up again.
  • Heat. A heating pad may help, but it can also aggravate. If you lie on a hot lump, your back muscles are apt to protest even more strenuously. Try to get a very thin heating pad if you want to use one.
  • Massage. I have a massaging chair. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it, but even there, too much does more harm than good. I only used the gentle, rolling cycle. No thumping or tapping. And not for very long.
  • Complain, loudly. Everyone will avoid you and you can wallow in your misery.

  But, you say, I’m on deadline.  First off, be thankful there is an editor/reader/publisher/ agent who cares enough about your work to give you a deadline. Then figure out how to put the words on the page in short bursts.

Notice I said words on the page.

  • A lot of writing consists of thinking. You can do that in any position.
  • You can read or listen to audio books. Other people’s words can jolt loose your own.
  • You can jot notes to yourself while standing at the counter.
  • You can compose scenes in your head, so when you have that fifteen minute splurge at the computer the words will fly off the ends of your fingers.
  • Remember the “starving artist” meme, and revel in your aching back. Maybe all that discomfort will bring a new level of truth to your words.
  • Describe in every agonizing detail what your pain feels like. Who knows, you might use that description in your thriller where the hero is tied up for long hours. 

I’m starting to feel better — thank you for asking. I’m grateful for the bounty of my garden and the preserves in my pantry. I’m grateful for my steamer and my canner and those stupid lids that won’t seal. A positive mind-set can reduce pain and stress.

Now, I’m off to practice gratitude by walking to the mailbox and back. 

Wishing you all a healthy back and the fruits of the garden.

 

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The Mighty Pen

Browsing through one of my favourite blog sites, Writer Unboxed, I came across a title, “Pens, Ranked.”  

As someone who prefers to write my first draft in longhand, I was very excited to see what the experts had to say about pens. Turns out, the post was a humour piece and not a serious study of writing instruments. Although, in this day and age, a little humour is never misplaced.

But, now I was on a mission. I have my own favourite pens. My penmanship is awful, so a fine point is my preference. For some reason it makes my scrawl look better. The grip is also important. Many of the commentators on the WU site liked a fat pen, but I prefer a slim one with a non-slip grip.  I’ll take a ballpoint over a fountain pen, even though I like the elegant look of the latter.  This elegant number was a gift from dh when I sold my first manuscript. I imagined myself using it for autographs at book signings. NOT! This expensive beauty leaked just as badly as the cheapies that blotted my grade three exercise books.

On further searching the internet I found a site that had actually rated the top 100 pens, including ballpoints, gel pens, fountain pens, and felt-tips. Their choices sometimes surprised–and to judge by the comments a lot of people disagreed with the editors decisions–but I did like their judging criteria.

Smoothness: How easily does the pen glide across the page? 

Smudging:  Especially important for left-handers.

Bleed-through:  A major failing for lots of felt-tips and fountain pens.

Feel: The shape of the pen must fit the shape of the user’s hand.

Looks:  A totally subjective call.

For myself, smoothness and feel are primary details. I hate a pen that catches and scratches on the page, or one where the ink skips. I like those little rubber grips the manufacturers have added to the straight, stick pen. I can write for hours with that nifty little detail and no cramping in my fingers. This little give-away pen used as a promotional tool is one of my all-time favourites. It is also purple and sparkly. 🙂

Having discovered that there are people who spend their days ranking writing instruments I kept scrolling and came upon some amazing facts, like a fountain pen that retails for over $2000.00. Really, that’s a 2 with a dollar sign in front and four zeros afterwards.  Could you imagine carrying that in your purse?

I also discovered that there are whole shops devoted to pens — and ink and luxury stationary. How many dollar apiece stick pens does a retailer have to sell to pay the rent on that storefront?

Pens are so common we take them for granted, toss a handful into a desk drawer, add a few to a bag and maybe leave one or two in the car for emergencies. But a pen is a magnificent tool, underappreciated because it is commonplace. 

Since the days of antiquity humans have devised various writing instruments to record our stories. Apparently our desire to leave our mark on the cave wall, is as old as mankind. 

The pen is one of the primary tools of civilization. It allowed communication over long distances. It preserved the works of Shakespeare. It transferred the ideas of Galileo and Newton to paper, and thus making them available to the world.  The innocuous, unappreciated little writing stick littering your desk is indeed mighty.

The Egyptians used a reed pen for thousands of years but the invention of the quill pen in the seventh century revolutionised the art of writing. Using a bird feather, like goose or swan, one could use the hollowed stem to draw ink out of a well and transfer it to paper in a smooth line — writing.  At first people wrote in large, block letters to accommodate the shortcomings of the pen, but over time improvements to the writing tool led to changes in style with cursive becoming common. Those beautiful copperplate letters one sees on old documents were only possible because of the quill pen.

By 1822 the steel pen was invented. It was an improvement on the quill pen because it had a more durable tip, but it still required the writer to sit at a desk with an inkwell and dip his pen frequently to maintain a supply of ink. Then, in 1827 the fountain pen was developed by a Romanian, Petrache Poenaru. This pen was never totally satisfactory, but Lewis Waterman refined the design to create a three channel feed fountain pen that maintained a steady flow of ink and was portable. The act of writing was set free from the constraints of the desk and the inkwell. A portable pen, with its own supply of ink, changed everything– commerce, law, the arts and everyday lives.

By 1888 the first ballpoint was introduced and later refined by Lazio Biro in the 1930’s. The name Biro became synonymous with a simple, ballpoint pen. It was especially important to the RAF during WW2 because, unlike a fountain pen,  it could write at high altitudes.

Felt-tips, gel-pens and other variations have followed, but they are refinements on the original principles developed by Waterman and Biro.

So, next time you scribble your name on a receipt, or jot notes for your next masterpiece, or doodle a cover design, say thank you to the humble pen. You hold in your hand one of the greatest inventions of the world.

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Beach Reads with Kathleen Lawless

Today, I’m very happy to dedicate this space to Kathleen Lawless and her most recent release. Kathleen and I have been part of the same writing group since way back when. In fact, when traditional publishing was the only way to go, she and I made our first sale in the same year. Since then she has built a career in the author business.  Over to you, Kathleen, and good luck with this latest project.

 

LAST CHANCE BEACH, Summer’s End

 

I have always found surfing a fascinating sport, where the surfer’s main opponent is the force of nature, so was thrilled to see surfing scheduled to make its Olympic debut this year in Tokyo.  Alas, with no Olympics this year, we’ll wait for next year to see the sport recognized by the world.  Which took a while, considering surfing originated in Hawaii in the 4th century a.d.

 

When I got a chance to contribute a romance story to the boxed set LAST CHANCE BEACH, Summer’s End, it seemed natural to have my hero and heroine be retired pro surfers.  And since I love a second chance romance, I decided they had been together years earlier in their professional surfing lives.  Fast forward to when they meet again, where for different reasons, neither has been on a surfboard in years.

They’re older, they’re wiser, they’re wary; of each other, and of getting back into a sport that once was their entire lives.  Like all good romances, BLUE SKY SUMMER ends happily, on the water and off.  Read on for a short excerpt.

The entire LAST CHANCE BEACH box set is on pre-order for only 99 cents.  That’s 14 brand new beach romances by 14 bestselling authors.  A new story every day for two weeks this summer.

 

From BLUE SKY SUMMER by Kathleen Lawless

 

Alisha spread out her beach towel and lowered herself onto it, straightening a floppy sun hat to shade her face.  It was the first time this week she’d ventured to this particular cove, home to the island’s surfers.  The break was small this morning, and the few surfers in the water looked like beginners.

She leaned back, resting her weight on her hands, and tried to remember what it had felt like the first time she’d caught a wave.  One initial rush of freedom, and she had been hooked. 

She’d barely settled in to watch the action and live vicariously  through others, when she saw a newcomer walk to the shoreline with a board under his arm.  Something about his long-legged, self- assured gait took her back fifteen years, and the first time she’d  seen Mark.

She gave her head a shake.  She hadn’t thought about him in years.  Much.  Just because this surfer was the same height and coloring . . .

As he positioned himself on his board and headed for the break, she pulled out her binoculars, more to reassure herself it wasn’t him.

She zoomed in, and the bottom fell out of her stomach.

It was Mark!

 

I hope you’ll join us at LAST CHANCE BEACH, where there’s always one more chance to fall in love.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08CV3GN3R

 

Kathleen Lawless blames a misspent youth watching Rawhide, Maverick and Bonanza for her fascination with cowboys, which doesn’t stop her from creating a wide variety of interests and occupations for her alpha male heroes.

Her hero, Steele, in UNDERCOVER, is a modern-day cowboy, so when she was wooed by a man called Steel— while he’s not a cowboy, he is an Alpha male and her forever hero.  Which is why all of her stories end Happily Ever After.

Not that she can ever stick to just one genre.  So many stories to tell—never enough time.

With close to 30 published novels to her credit, she enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional romance into historical romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction and stories for young adults.

Sign up for Kathleen’s VIP Reader Group to receive a free book, updates, special giveaways and fan-priced offers.    http://eepurl.com/bV0sb1

 

AMAZON | WEBSITE | NEWSLETTER | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | BOOKBUB

 

Thanks for being my guest, Kathleen. Love that Blue Sky cover.

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Who do you think you are?

Remember that old schoolyard taunt? It was usually aimed at the unfortunate pupil who did not conform to the standards of the “in” crowd on that day.  i.e boys don’t wear pink, girls don’t wear pants, and “blue and green should never be seen unless they’re in the washing machine.”

I remember, during high school,  raising and lowering my hems every September, because the fashion dictates for the day decreed that an inch more or less of knee dictated whether my school year was fun or miserable.

By some coincidence, I’ve been watching a number of TV shows on women’s rights. Needless to say, they make my blood boil, but they have also disturbed my sense of security. When not conforming to the dictates of society resulted in jail time for a woman in the twentieth century, I’m reminded that freedom is a fragile treasure.

 

In 1938, Los Angeles kindergarten teacher Helen Hulick witnessed a burglary, and was called into court to testify against the suspects. But, when she arrived, the conversation quickly turned from the crime at hand to what she was wearing: a pair of slacks. The judge ordered her to return at a later date wearing a dress. When she returned in pants, he cited her for contempt of court and sent her to jail.

A brief history.  

Follow the link above for a brief history of women in pants. We might think the controversy over what women wear is absurd, but it points to the larger issue of conformity. Who decides what a woman should wear? Who decides on a school dress code?  Who decides when the “traditional” should  change? Who decides social mores? Who decides that women must wear hats indoors and men must remove them? Who wields power over others?

Ignaz Semmelwies

–a Hungarian doctor discovered that women in maternity wards overseen by men died more often than in maternity wards overseen by female midwives. His observations led him to the theory of germs carried on the men’s hands from the autopsy room. The midwives did not perform autopsies. He ordered the doctors on the maternity ward to wash their hands after leaving the autopsy room. The deaths on the maternity ward dropped. For his trouble Semmelwies was vilified by his fellow physicians and eventually committed to an insane asylum, where he died of sepsis from a beating. The physicians stopped washing their hands and the death rate on the maternity ward they staffed, soared.

Every discovery in history has come about because someone has refused to accept the conventional explanation and thought outside the box. The Wright brothers and others imagined that flight was possible. Galileo postulated that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. He was condemned for heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Emmeline Pankhurst thought women should vote, and went to jail and suffered force-feeding for her beliefs.

There are countless examples of those who defied convention, suffered for their beliefs, and were eventually vindicated by later discoveries.

Lest you think the suppression of freedom is a relic from history, consider our present practice of “online shaming.”

That schoolyard cry of “who do you think you are?” amplified by social media, has tremendous power to repress freedom of thought and action. In some cases the “shamer” has misidentified a person or action. In others, they are bent on imposing their own beliefs on dissenters.  George Orwell wrote 1984, in 1949.  When I studied it in school, along with The Chrysalids, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, I thought such absurd worlds could never really exist. We’d “won the war” freedom was guaranteed. Now I’m not so sure.

When I wrote The Man for Her, I thought having the heroine wear men’s clothing showed her practicality and strength. Having considered the history of women in pants, I’m even more proud of my unconventional heroine. 

Most romance heroines are feisty, plucky, free-thinking women who defy the conventions of their day. They marry for love rather than position. They work in traditional male jobs. They are entrepreneurs and astronauts. They chose their own path despite the odds. We admire these heroines. We love to read their stories. But consider the woman who went to jail for wearing trousers, and understand that our fictional heroines are risking their reputations, their livelihoods and maybe even their lives when they go against the traditions of their world.

As I said, freedom is precious. We must never take our rights for granted. They were won for us by brave and committed women.  Don’t let the bullies frighten us into submission.

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The Goldminer’s Sister

Today I’m cheering for my friend Alison Stuart and the official release day of The Goldminer’s Sister. The book is part of Alison’s Maiden Creek series, set in Australia and published by Harper Collins under their Mira-Escape imprint.

A glance at some early reviews only whets the appetite for this historical romance from “Down Under.”

Alison Stuart’s research is meticulous and her historical novels an absolute delight to read. This one was exceptional, with heart rushing suspense, light, well written romance, and strong women characters. Highly recommended. Brenda on Goodreads.

 

 An absolutely fantastic story about family, love, loss, greed and mystery.  from Jessica’s reviews.

The suspense and mystery had me hooked and I didn’t want to put the book down. Chapter Ichi   

Alison also writes as A.M. Stuart and is achieving success under both names. A.M. Stuart is the author of the Harriet Gordon series set in Singapore. You may have read Singapore Sapphire. There is a new book, Revenge in Rubies, coming in September.

Since we’re all staying close to home and having our vacations in the back yard, why not enjoy a good read and learn something about a different part of the world at the same time?

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On-line Learning

My writing group, VIRA, held our first ever on-line workshop this month. The lovely C.J.Hunt presented a talk on writing short. While guidelines for traditional publishers still call for works of 60,00 or more words, in the world of Kindle, short reads are a “thing” and can lead to a successful career for an author who can put a fully developed story into a limited length. CJ recommended Romancing the Beat, a resource for writers I’ve talked about on this blog.

Although you don’t see the category on Kindle Direct when you self-publish a book, you can get your work into that category with a little ingenuity in your key words. As this is a very popular area, it’s worth the trouble to be sure Amazon lists it in their short reads category. It is one of the searchable topics at Amazon. Typical of Amazon, there are parameters. A fifteen minute read is one category of 1 – 11 pages. The range goes up on fifteen minute increments all the way to two hours or 65-100 pages.  As a writer or a reader, you can target your searches very specifically.

Within the short read category you can search for specific genres like romance or mystery.

Even if you tend to write, or read, longer, C.J. pointed out that writing a short piece is a great way to keep your name out there between longer works. It’s a great way to sell a holiday story, especially Christmas. It’s also a great way to try out something new. As a writer you can dabble in a genre you’ve never tried before without dedicating a huge amount of time. Play around with your shape-shifter idea, put it up as a short read and see what happens. Even if no one is interested, you’re no worse off than when the idea just sat in your to-be-written drawer, plus you’ve gained an insight into your own strengths and weaknesses.

C.J. is a master at marketing and has sold her short works individually, collected into an anthology, and bundled as a box set. 

She is an engaging presenter and left her listeners with an up-beat message about possibilities. In a world that is full of “don’t” I found it encouraging to hear about possibilities.

There was a second takeaway from the workshop, and that had to do with the whole technology thing. Since C.J. didn’t have to travel, her expenses were less. Long distance members who seldom make physical meetings, tuned in from wherever they were in the world. I saw smiling faces I haven’t seen for a year or more. There was a general excitement about re-connecting in the on-line world.

However, once the initial burst of “yay!” “how are you?” “wow, you look great” was over, many participants turned off their video feed and the screen contained a black box with a name in it instead of a face.  Of course, those in attendance could turn their feed back on and ask questions or make comments. Most did not.  So, the camaraderie of a live meeting, was not there.

I have great admiration for C.J. for filling the allotted time mostly by herself. In a live workshop there is banter between presenter and audience. There are questions and comments that may spark a whole other conversation. In this experience of an on-line meeting, that interaction was largely missing, putting the onus on the presenter to have a lot of material to fill the time. I have teacher friends who have been putting their courses on-line since classrooms were closed and they all say how hard it is. So much material to cover. So many unasked questions to anticipate. So much prep work!

All in all, our Saturday gathering with writers over the internet was a positive experience. I learned a lot. I got my audio and video to work properly. (Yes!) The session was recorded, so I can go back and watch what I missed.

It’s a brave new world we’re all experiencing. Thanks to C.J. Hunt for stepping boldly into it.

C.J. is a founding member of The Creative Academy and has put her presentation on-line there. 

What about you? Do you write/read short? Has your preferred reading length changed with the advent of e-books?

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Tips for the Long Run

Ironically, as we come out of lockdown and into a semblance of normal life, people seem to be experiencing more stress than ever. The formerly cheerful checker at the grocery store scowls and tells you to wait while she santitizes her station. The server who was glad to get his job back, is grumpy about wearing a mask. And all those self-appointed behaviour police who rant and rail and ramp up the fear quotient about perceived health code violations don’t help. The attitude of “we’re all in this together” seems to be crumbling at the edges. 

Perhaps people are just tired. Tired of uncertainty, tired of zoom, tired of trying. But I think there is more at work here. I think we have a case of thwarted expectations. Even while health officials warned us that we were in for months and maybe years of doing things differently, we subconsciously thought when the lockdown ended we’d go back to “normal.” Now the reality of “not-normal” is setting in and we’re finding it hard to take.  Kind of like we were promised a puppy and we got a goldfish. Nothing wrong with the goldfish, but it’s not what we wanted. Some would just like to flush the fish.

So, how do we go about coping for the long run? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Read

 Especially read fiction. Fiction is story and story is filled with characters and characters  take us out of ourselves. For a little while we can be someone else, live in a different  world and experience family and friends and (maybe) happy endings. We could all use   happy endings these days, so pick up a romance — or a mystery, where justice prevails.  That’s a kind of happy ending too. While we are keeping distant from our real  life   friends, we can get up close and personal with these fictional characters. We can    laugh and sing and hold hands.

  • Look for the Upside

Amid all the civil unrest, the tragedy of racism, the pain of death, there is still good news in the world. There are people performing good deeds, making music, telling jokes, volunteering, making the world better. When you’ve seen enough of the bad news, go for some good news. Our local television station, CHEK, has made lemonade out of lemons by turning the sports segment — there are no sports at the moment — into The Upside. Here the sports caster and the weatherman collect quirky stories from around our Island and broadcast them on the nightly news. It’s silly and kooky and a lot of fun. It brings people together and it generates lots of smiles. When you’re feeling down, go for the Upside.   

 

  • Walk 

Or run or bicycle or turn handstands. The point is to move, thereby releasing    endorphins, our own little happy hormone. If possible exercise outdoors. Don’t wear   earplugs. Shut down the artificial world and tune in to the natural one. Birdsong,  crickets, rustling grass, soughing boughs, barking dogs — all these things help to restore   our mental balance. In Canada, our national broadcaster, has created “Hello Spring” to lift people’s spirits. If you can’t hike into the back country yourself, they’ve brought the back country to you with clips of bear cubs emerging from their den, a hummingbird  feeding her young, fox kits discovering the world, and many more moments to remind   us  that the natural world is bountiful and open to all.        

  • Work 

In her post in Writer Unboxed,Sandra Callender  about the importance of writers in a time of social turmoil. Violence, she posits, comes from a lack of human connection. When our physical human connections are severed, our fictional connections become even more important. Writers create an antidote to violence. 

If you are a writer, write.   If you are a musician, make music. If you are an artist, paint. If you are a knitter, knit, if you’re a doodler, create the most elaborate doodle of your  life.  In the comments section of that same post Vaughn Roycroft shares a bit of folksy  wisdom about work. Nothing good comes of worry, he says. At least if you’re working, you are getting something done.                                                                                                                         

I subscribe to that belief myself and even used it in my first book of the Prospect Series, The Man for Her.  Whenever Lottie felt overcome by her problems, she worked. She got  something done. She got through it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           

So, I was “working” in the garden the other day, removing diseased leaves, down on my knees with my face mere inches from the thorns when I spied this beauty hiding behind a branch. Working not only got something done and released my endorphins, it surprised me with unexpected beauty–the upside to a tedious chore.

Hang in everyone. We are all in this together and we’re in it for the long haul. 

Please share your upside stories in the comments below.

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Praise the Press

May 2020

Hard to believe it has been a whole year since we picked up these two mischief-makers. They have certainly brightened our lives for the past twelve months and I’m so glad we got them in 2019. In 2020 it would have been impossible to jump in the car and drive across four provinces just to collect “free” kittens.  Another change in our “normal.”

May 2019

As we head into “after lockdown,” I’m reflecting on what has encouraged me during these past weeks. The calico cats are high on the list, as is my dh, my neighbours and my church — even though services have been virtual instead of in-person.

I’m also grateful to my local newspaper. When everything else stopped, my Victoria Times-Colonist arrived at the end of the driveway six days a week. I read it over breakfast before confronting a day that was weird and uncomfortable. The T-C, as we like to call it, kept me in touch with my neighbourhood. It told me what was open and what was closed. It published the daily epidemic figures. It published letters to the editor, just like before. It carried the funnies and syndicated columns to remind us of how life used to be.

Finally, the newspaper spearheaded a “Rapid Relief Fund,” raising over a million dollars in two days for distribution to those in need in our community. Over  time they raised six million dollars for food banks, housing, kids charities, seniors needs, and anyone struggling just to get by. It was a wonderful effort, strongly supported by large and small donors throughout the area. In an age when printed newspapers are considered a relic of the past, our local paper glued us together in a way no on-line service could. When I read the paper, I was reading about my neighbourhood.

I confess, I do like a newspaper. Heck, I even subscribe to the weekly from my old home town. The news there consists largely of who had the highest score at bridge or euchre and where all the church suppers are located. I just renewed for three years. This paper speaks to me of daily life in a small town. Births, deaths, marriages, anniversaries — they are all recorded and they connect us, one neighbour to another, kind of like extended family.

I may have a bias toward the printed paper. My great-grandfather was a newspaper man. I never met him but I have an old trunk that comes from him. It’s little more than a box, really and was how he ordered paper. It is big enough to contain  10 reams, or one bale of printers paper. It is a wooden box with a hinged lid, a lockable clasp, leather handles on both ends and is covered in very thin leather. It always makes me smile.

When I was a child it was used as a dress-up box, and it lived in my closet. After I left home, it became a treasure chest for my nieces.  Then they too grew up and the old chest came to live in my new home. Since I’ve no need for a dress up box, I now use it to store paper. I have a sense of rightness that the old battered box has come full circle.

Now, as we come out of lockdown and the world is opening up, I tip my hat to the local newspapers who kept folks connected with their home town, who lifted our spirits and still keep working to make sense of the world we live in.

What about you, dear reader? Do you read your hometown paper? Do you prefer your news on-line?

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After the Virus

homemade masks

In my part of the world we’re moving into phase 2 of the reopening of the economy. Restaurants, bars and cafes will have some indoor seating. Some streets may close to traffic in order to allow more patio seating. Hairdressers and dentists can open their offices. Gyms are back in business. 

Some stores require a mask, some provide hand sanitizers. Some will not allow customers inside at all but offer pick up at the door.  Social distancing is still required everywhere.  We’ll all have to learn new rules and more than one set.

Looking at life after the shutdown, I wonder if there will be COVID inspired stories. Authors still write about the defining moments in history, like the two world wars, the American civil war, the Napoleonic wars, and Roman conquests and a host of other seminal events. Will this be the story of our time?

As inspiration for fiction, wars are “easy.” Lots of scope for derring do, for self-sacrifice, for love against the odds, for heartbreak and sorrow and starting over.

Illness, especially one that keeps us all at a distance, doesn’t provide as much scope. The “enemy” is invisible. We don’t know if we have defeated him or never encountered him. Mostly we are asked to sacrifice for the sake of others, but we can’t see the results. We don’t know if our neighbours are healthy because of what we did, or if it is just luck. 

When I look at the bookshelves, I don’t see a lot of plague literature, even though the Black Death wiped out 50 million people, 60% of Europe’s population.  Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a selection of my book club, is the only novel I’ve read with the plague as a major feature. I found the story unsettling. the scale of death incomprehensible. Maybe I’ll read it again in light of our own experience.

Five centuries later, the Spanish ‘flu took the lives of millions of people. Again, it has not been a major theme in American literature. The Smithsonian offers up an explanation with this report.

Will our generation of writers tell about this defining moment in our history? Will we have stories of heroism by front-line workers in hospitals?

Will we have love stories about how couples kept the faith with each other while one was on a ventilator and no visitors were allowed?

Or what about those couples with long-term marriages who could not visit each other after fifty or sixty years of marriage. Will they be the inspiration for fiction writers?

Will we have psychological thrillers about families forced to spend eight weeks together inside their homes?

Will we have stories about the lost moments — no graduation ceremonies, no big weddings, no milestone birthday parties, not even a proper funeral for loved ones who died. I think that latter is one of the saddest consequences of this silent killer.

With so many deaths, will we see a surge of “starting over” stories?

Or will writers shy away from a real-life event that is just too overwhelming? How can a fictional story stand up amid the reality of COVID 19? Similar questions were asked after 9/11. See this article in the Economist. 

What do you think? Writers, do you see an opportunity for story-telling in our current experience? 

For readers, do you want to read about “Covid lockdown?” Or would you rather put the whole thing out of mind? Are you too busy figuring out how to live with our new normal to have an interest in the worst moments of the epidemic?

Share your thoughts in the comments section. We could have a great conversation.

 

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