Reading Local

I’ve always been a believer in supporting local authors. Luckily, we have a lot of wonderful authors here in the Maritimes and I like to give their books a shout-out from time to time. I’ve decided to post two local books at a time for the next little while instead of posting ten or so all at once.

Here are my first two picks. They were both books that my mother received as gifts over Christmas.The first book was written by a former student from the Halifax School for the Blind which, as many of you know, my mother also attended.

Mrs. Beaton’s Questions by Robert Mercer.

Robert Mercer’s life could have been very different. He was born with very low vision and, as a youngster, struggled in school. But through the intervention of a caring teacher and the support of his family, he found his way to the Halifax School for the Blind and into the classroom of Mrs. Beaton. It was there that he discovered his voice, a voice he uses to recount his remarkable journey from a shy little boy to a community leader.

About the author: Robert Mercer was born visually impaired and for nine years, he attended the School for the Blind in Halifax. Upon graduation and a Bachelor’s Degree from St. Mary’s University, he joined the staff of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB). At the age of thirty, he was appointed National President and CEO for the Institute, responsible for the work of three thousand staff and a hundred thousand volunteers, coast to coast. In a second career, Robert worked for 25 years in the Federal public service, retiring as Assistant Deputy Minister at Veterans Affairs Canada in Charlottetown, where he now enjoys writing books, mostly fiction for children and adults, and is still very much young at heart.

Silver Linings by Janice Landry is a book about gratitude, something I truly believe in. Gratitude in our lives helps us to see all the positive things we should focus. I believe our own thoughts play an important role in out own well-being.

Silver Linings: Stories of Gratitude, Resiliency and Growth Through Adversity

Author Janice Landry asks the very tough question, “What are you the most grateful for?” to fifteen inspiring Canadians from five provinces and two esteemed guests from the United States. One of seventeen is Dr. Bob Emmons, considered to be the world’s pre-eminent expert in the study of gratitude.

Gratitude and resiliency are key cornerstones in the field of mental health. Science-based evidence, discussed by Dr. Emmons and others, underlines the importance of developing and practising gratitude. Research proves being grateful is good for us, both mentally and physically. Gratitude can improve our resiliency before challenges occur in our lives, which they inevitably do.

Let’s face it: it’s easy to be grateful when things are running smoothly. The people in Silver Linings have discovered that gifts may actually emerge from life’s toughest challenges. Landry’s own gratitude practice was shaken to its core when both her mother and a close friend, assisted-death advocate Audrey Parker, died within weeks of one another while she was writing Silver Linings.

About the Author: Journalist Janice Landry received a 2017 national media award and, in 2018, the prestigious Canadian Resiliency Award for The Legacy Letters. Silver Linings is her fifth book. It is dedicated to her mother and Audrey Parker.

Perhaps you’ll consider adding these books to your TBR pile. No better time to catch up on your reading than winter!

Those Special Moments

When we’re going through difficult times, there are some times special moments, however small, that come along to lift our spirits and maybe even warm our hearts just a little. While it doesn’t make everything right in your world, it does bring some comfort and even a small measure of joy. The moments I’m talking about are often spoke of as coincidences , but I’m not so convinced that things in our world are just a bunch of random circumstances that haphazardly fall into place at just the right time, producing some amazing outcomes.

On the weekend I experienced one of those special moments that, really, just gladdened my heart and made me happy.

Last Saturday, I was at the Christmas Festival in New Ross with friend and author Jan Coates. We’ve had a table at the festival for the past five years or so and look forward to going each year. You just never know who you’ll meet and it’s always fun to chat with the people who drop by.

late morning, a woman stopped by my table and asked if all my books were in large print. (She’d seen the large print edition of Cammie Takes Flight on my table.) I explained to her that my publisher had the large print edition printed especially for that book as it was set at the Halifax School for the Blind. The older woman with her spoke up and said that she’d gone to that school. I was immediately intrigued, and told her that my mother had also gone to the school there! Since the school would have had approximately 150 students at the time my mum attended, I knew there was a good chance that they would have at least heard of one another other. And of course this woman did remember my mother. We chatted for a little and I told her a bit about Mum and what had been going on lately in her life. She asked for my mother’s phone number, and left with a large print copy of Cammie Takes Flight. As she was leaving, she said to the woman with her, “This just made my coming here worth while.” I can’t tell you how her words warmed my heart.

The real surprise came when, during our conversation, I asked this woman where she lived and discovered that she lived in the very same community as Mum, and had lived there for twenty-five years. I mean really? I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited.

When I got back to Mum’s I told her about the woman I’d met, and of course she remembered her. She said that she and my step dad often wondered about her and had no idea of how get in touch. While they’d kept in contact with many of the people at the school, they hadn’t a clue where this particular woman had been living all these years. But really? What are the chances she’d be living in the same town?

And in case you’re wondering, Mum received a much welcomed phone call two evenings later from her old school friend and I can tell you after 65 years they had plenty of catching up to do. In fact, it will likely take a lot of hours for them to truly catch up.

They’ve made tentative plans to get together once the holidays are over and I can’t tell you how much this chance meeting with a friend from my mother’s past has meant to her, especially at this time.

I’m a firm believe in the wonders of the Universe. At this stage in my life, I consider myself old and wise enough to accept the fact that there are things in life that cannot be explained, nor should they be. When I think of how so many things worked together to help reunite these two friends, right from the fact that I hadn’t been absolutely sure I’d be able to go to the festival this year, I can’t help thinking that it is one of those things that was meant to be.

As I said earlier, it did my heart good, and I’m so glad that a large print edition of Cammie Takes Flight played a small part in it all.

The Blind Mechanic

For anyone who has any preconceived ideas of what blind people are capable of accomplishing they should read  The Blind Mechanic.

Long before this book came out I heard about this remarkable man from my step-father. Like my mum and step-father, Eric went to the Halifax School for the Blind. Eric was blinded in the Halifax Explosion when he was two and went on to live a long fulfilling life. Eric dreamed of being a mechanic and despite the obstacles he encountered he did just that. He was a man admired by many for his accomplishments, especially those within the blind community.

I just finished reading this book and would highly recommend it. The book was written by Eric’s daughter, Marilyn Davison Elliott. Having grown up with a mother who was born visually impaired I felt an immediate connection to Marilyn and her book. Children who have a parent or parents who are blind or visually impaired recognized the strength and determination their parent possess. We also realize that being blind or visually impaired doesn’t have to stop anyone from achieving their goals. It was why I created the character of Cammie. Having grown up seeing  how blind and visually impaired people were often underestimated, it was important for me to write about a feisty, 10-year-old determined to make a better life for herself.

Even if you don’t know someone with vision problems The Blind Mechanic is a truly inspiring story. Lots of interesting information about the aftermath of the explosion as well.

The Book:

Eric Davidson lost both eyes in the Halifax Explosion when he was two years old. Against all odds, he taught himself to become an auto mechanic and had a successful decades long career as “one of the boys.”

Eric Davidson was a beautiful, fair-haired toddler when the Halifax Explosion struck, killing almost 2,000 people and seriously injuring thousands of others. Eric lost both eyes, a tragedy that his mother never fully recovered from. Eric, however, was positive and energetic. He also developed a fascination with cars and how they worked, and he later decided, against all likelihood, to become a mechanic. Assisted by his brothers who read to him from manuals, he worked hard, passed examinations, and carved out a decades-long career. Once the subject of a National Film Board documentary, Eric Davidson was, until his death, a much-admired figure in Halifax.

This book does not gloss over the challenges faced by Eric and by his parents. Written by his daughter Marilyn, it gives new insights into the story of the 1917 Halifax Explosion and contains never-before-seen documents and photographs. While Eric Davidson has been mentioned in previous Explosion accounts, his story has never been told in such fascinating detail. Davidson overcame such odds that his life story might not seem believable if it had not happened.

The Blind Mechanic is in bookstores and can also be purchased through amazon.ca HERE.

Writing Local

We hear a lot these days about supporting all things local and I have to say I’m a big supporter of that idea. And I even try to support local authors because, being an author, I know how difficult it can sometimes be to get any attention for our books.

Being a writer, “supporting local” has another meaning for me. When I set my first novel Bitter, Sweet here in my own little community it was important to me to set a book locally to let readers know that books don’t always have to have some exotic setting, that sometimes our own backyard can be the perfect backdrop for the right story. I’ve continued to use local name places in my books and some of the local “lingo.” My latest book, Cammie Takes Flight is set, for the most part, at the Halifax School for the Blind and uses other local name places. There also a connection to the Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester which was shrouded in controversy and it’s alleged that babies at the home were neglected and even starved to death. I found that to be quite disturbing  yet it’ also a piece of our history here in Nova Scotia. And, like all things that happened in the past, it isn’t going away.

Most people in Nova Scotia are familiar with the Ideal Maternity Home that was in operation more than half a century ago. While it might not ring a bell for everyone, the story of the Butterbox Babies usually does. I’ve read quite a few articles and books on the subject while writing Cammie Takes Flight and I’m not at all sure I’ve put the subject to rest. New articles keep cropping up. Here’s one from last December. What went on at the home was tragic and, as you can see from the article, is still very much an issue today for many of the survivors who are still looking to find their roots.

Some people will admit to not liking history but I’ve always been a big fan. The past has always seemed relevant to me, a piece of who were are. Perhaps there are things to be learned from looking at the past, trying to understand what life was once like and, hopefully, doing better in the future.

So, for now, I’ll continue my writing journey by doing what I’ve pretty much done right from the start—writing stories set in Nova Scotia with local characters that, hopefully, the rest of the world can relate to. Who knows, maybe years down the road, someone will pick up one of my books and they’ll get a small glimpse of the past and maybe, just maybe, that small glimpse will open up a whole new world for them. My backyard might very well be an exotic setting for them.

 

There’s an awesome review of HERE of Cammie Takes Flight on Reading With a Pencil. It’s always a thrill when someone you don’t know has wonderful things to say about your book,

Author Darlene Foster will be a guest on my blog next time. Darlene’s got a new book about to be launched in September. I hope you’ll drop in for a visit.

The Sealed Book

I’m not sure if any of you are old enough to remember the old radio program called, “The Sealed Book.” I discovered it during a conversation with my mother while writing Cammie Takes Flight. I could still hear the excitement in her voice when told me how when the gong sounded it meant the Keeper of the Book had unlocked the vault where the great sealed book was kept. It was in that very book that all the secrets and mysteries of mankind has been recorded through the ages. Just imagine how mysterious that must have sounded to my mum and her friends as they crowded around the radio on Saturday nights. At the end of each episode, listeners were told to tune in next week when “the sound of the great gong heralds another strange and exciting tale from… the sealed book.” According to my mum the show also had sound effects that made it all seem quite real.

While doing a little checking online the info I found said the program originally ran between March 18 and September 9, 1945, and was broadcast on Sundays from 10:30pm to 11:00pm. My guess is that the program aired on reruns for years after its original broadcasting which makes me think that it’s good to actually talk to someone who has knowledge of a time period rather than just relying on the information that’s available online. Obviously that’s not always possible and so a writer must do the best job she can to bring that authenticity to the story.

I worked in some bit and pieces about The Sealed Book to my novel during my first round of edits as it seemed to fit in nicely with a scene I was working on at the time. I found it quite exciting and hadn’t remembered my mother ever mentioning it over the years. And who knows perhaps there was something in our conversation that day that jarred the memory loose for her. It’s strange the way memories can suddenly come to us when we hadn’t thought about a particular thing in many years. (For anyone who doesn’t know, Cammie Takes Flight is , for the most part, set at the Halifax School for the Blind.)

Part of a writer’s job when writing historical fiction is to research the time period we’re writing about. All those details add authenticity to the story and help the reader to become a part of that time and place the author is writing about. What many people told me after they’d read my first novel Bitter, Sweet was that they remembered that time so well since they were kids themselves back then. Many of them found it easy to relate to the Burbidges plight because of it.

With both my mother and step-father having gone to the Halifax School for the Blind they were able to provide little bits of information I would not have otherwise discovered through research—The Sealed Book being one of those things. There were other little things as well, the note tossing between the boys and the girls during classes when the teacher they had was blind, and the way the boys would sneak out of the school and call the payphone in the lobby asking to speak to a particular girl they had a crush on. There were other stories as well that I was able to weave into the novel and hopefully when kids (and adults) read it they’ll come to understand that the children who went to the School for the Blind weren’t much different they are.

My ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) for Cammie Takes Flight arrived the other day in the mail. I finally got to see and read the story in book form for the first time. It’s such a wonderful sense of accomplishment to know that others will get to read my words and hopefully find something of value in the story. I’ll read through the ARC a few more times to pick out anything that needs changing before it goes for the final printing. Release day is three months away!

So, without giving you age away, do any of you remember The Sealed Book or are there any other old time radio programs you might have listened to back in the day? 

Edits and Relish and Leaves

I’m interrupting my edits to give you zucchini relish…

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This is one of two batches I made over the weekend as well as dill pickles. Sorry, no photo of the pickles. Hubby already took them to the basement.  He’s so efficient that way.  😉

And coloured leaves…

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We’ve been seeing leaves of various colours along the roadside. It’s only the middle of August. What’s up with that?

Okay, so I’m on a tight schedule here with the edits but sometimes you’ve got to live life. Do I need to be writing a blog post. Nope. But I am just the same. Why? Because I feel like it.

Yesterday, we went to a 50th Anniversary party for friends of ours. I snapped the leaf photo on the way home, ground up the veggies for relish to sit overnight, and took a dive into the edits. This morning I cooked the relish and sealed them in jars with the help of Hubby who’s pretty helpful in that department.  As I said, my schedule is tight, what with working five days a week and making pickles and relish, but a part of me likes having a date looming over me. It makes me determined to get things the way I want them. I love working on edits and my editor has asked some challenging questions about the the story. I’ll have to turn to my mum to clarify some things about the Halifax School For the Blind because she’s my expert in that department. It’s great having an inside source.

Okay, so time to get back into the edits. When things slow down, I’ll let you know a bit more about the book. Maybe even give you a peek at the cover. Gotta go. Wish me luck!

 

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  • Publication date April 30, 2020. Available for pre-order NOW.

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