Picture #4/66

Picture # 4/66

“Sometimes there’s no picture… no picture.” Thus spake Henri Cartier Bresson. And having spent quite a bit of time recently reviewing hundred of pictures posted on blogs and Facebook pages by street photographers, I see his point. Some pictures are just… well… pictures. If that. With little resonance, metaphorical heft.

No story.

I took this picture on a bus traveling through Rajasthan. A women engaged in what looked like a hopeless task. Sweeping an empty lane on a multi-lane highway as trucks and buses slowed down to pay the toll.

There would be no end to her sweeping, and the little she did would make no difference.

To me, it is a compelling instance of the infuriatingly complex nature of India. And I wished then, as I wish now, that I were a poet. I think then I might find words to describe the feeling I got when I saw her, and when I clicked the shutter.

But without the viewer knowing where she was, and what exactly she was doing, this picture is a ‘no picture’.

Just as on so many occasions I have a germ of a story, that is not a story. Until the second shoe drops. Until another element couples with the first germ to create something compelling and resonant.

Sometimes there’s no story.

Sometimes there’s no picture.

But we write it any. We take it anyway.

Because it was there. And so were we.

The Decisive Moment

A picture is like a Chekov story. A Maupassant story. There’s a whole world in it.
Henri Cartier-Bresson

HCB / Photo. Lens Magazine

I was a young teenager when I first came across Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos. And not long after learned a little about the concept of  ‘The Decisive Moment’, the element that makes his photographs – and those of others working in the genre – so arresting.

I have watched this wonderful movie of Cartier-Bresson’s work many times. One in which his own narration conveys so much about his unique personality and provides insights into his philosophy and how he works.

Years later I discovered Vancouver’s own Fred Hertzog, and since then have often been arrested by spontaneous sightings of street photography in magazines, books and galleries.

Much as I enjoy taking pictures on my travels, they are more likely to be shots of familiar places and images that convey something of the spirit of each destination, rather than candid shots of people and places who live their lives on the streets of Guanajuato, San Francisco, Avignon, Jaipur, Fez, Winchester, Rome…

Version 2

Chinatown Lonely (LP)

Just once in a while, such as on a photo outing to Chinatown with a friend a few years ago when I went out looking for such images, I am gratified to find a few that fits the criteria of street photography.

For the past few months I have been preoccupied by the genre, reading biographies and manuals, and scrutinizing images by contemporary street photographers. I recently signed up for a weekend workshop in August with Vancouver photographer Ian Macdonald, and every day pore over new postings at the Street Photography in the World Facebook Page, trying to figure which images I find most compelling, and how the photographer has achieved the effect.

None of that has much to do with my previous preoccupation with writing. But with this new perspective, I have now unearthed a teen novel I began a few years ago called Shoot (as in cameras rather than firearms). And I have started a photo/essay project called 66. This will be 66 images – some of my own, others I run across, with some sort of accompanying text. Not for the purposes of publication. But for my own interest as I undertake this new journey of discovery.

(’66’? I am 66. And if I want to keep going – both with photography and the life itself – I can easily rebrand the project as ’99’.)

Back to work


In just over a month I turn 65. I am moving into Elderhood as graciously as I can. And perhaps not in the normal way of doing things, I am going back to work.

Not at the library, this time.

Last summer when I was planning my move to Nanaimo, I started looking around for a community of like-minded people. Having been a member of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, which nicely mirrored and supported my values in both my everyday and spiritual life, I was hoping to find the same in my new neighbourhood.

shelter1I did. I was thrilled to discover the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo (FUFON), where I was welcomed in so warmly to its inclusive, open congregation.

And where, very early on, I discovered important work being done.

The Unitarian Shelter has been providing a non-judgemental welcome, a warm bed, hot meals, and companionship to Nanaimo’s homeless for eight seasons. This ‘low-barrier’ shelter, supported by the Fellowship’s congregation, the community, and with federal and provincial funding and a grant from the City of Nanaimo, will open its doors again in October offering a safe, warm and dry overnight environment for men and women from Nanaimo’s streets.

someoneAnd I’m thrilled to begin serving as the shelter’s Executive Director on August 1.

I won’t be making beds, preparing meals, overseeing the laundry, or cleaning the washrooms – other than on an occasional volunteer basis. That is best left to the Shelter Coordinator and his dedicated team of staff and volunteers. I’ll be ‘in the back’, helping build and maintain relationships with the FUFON congregation, funders, donors and volunteers and looking for new ways to spread the word about the shelter, generate funds, and build awareness of homelessness in our communities.

I am so proud to be doing this work.

And so very sad that in these times, it still has to be done.

“Do not avert your eyes.
It is important that you see this. It is important that you feel this.” 
Kamand Kojouri

After the deadline

Dressed for the weather in the Quantock Hills of Somerset.

Like many, it snuck up on me when I was not looking. And as deadlines go, it was a small one, for a 1,200-word article for Inspired Senior Living, a monthly magazine which is one of the few still open to freelance travel articles.

And I was writing about something I love to do – walking in the UK.

But I got the assignment in November 2016. Which I promptly ‘sidelined’ in my mind as the deadline seemed seemed so far away.

I did other things… mainly traveled, got involved in quite a bit of volunteer work, spent lovely times with family and friends here, and on the Lower Mainland. And on my return from an 8-week trip to Europe, somehow thinking the deadline was for Aug 1, pulled out the assignment email.

Turns out it was JULY 1, just three weeks away.

It’s been a long time since I wrote an article… you know what Mark Twain said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” It took an indorndinately lot of hours to draft those 1,400 words (yes, longer than assigned, but I think I am good as some of them are As You Go notes, which I hope aren’t included in the word count). Then, with no in-house First Reader, I needed a pair of fresh eyes – which I found in fellow Nanaimo writer Judy Millar.

Then the issue of pictures. The ones I had in mind had disappeared from my laptop. Or maybe were never there. I trawled through every directory, my two iPads, my external hard drive. And then remembered a thumb drive to which I had uploaded pictures from my previous computer.

But where was it? After two days of turning everything upside down in my house, it literally fell into my hands when I was searching through a closet I had already checked.

I had pictures.

Then I had to figure out how DropBox works – the favoured way of forwarding images to editors these days, I’m told, but had never used before. But thanks to the expertise of another fellow writer Julie Ferguson, I soon had that figured out.

So today both article and pictures were sent off, duly acknowledged by the editor, and I’m done.

And now I’m basking in the post-deadline glow. It’s done. It’s gone. And in August I will see just how those words and pics look on the page. 

Meanwhile, I hope to have dug back into another project which is my priority for the summer and fall. A project with no deadline, which means it could take forever.




Pitching in 140 characters


Picture books are devilishly hard to write. I continue to toy with them from time to time because I love the form so much.

I agonize over every word and phrase, read them aloud, and more often than not put them away in a drawer to ‘season’.

Ocassionally I send them out and watch as boomerang-like they return to me. Sometimes with an encouraging note. More often with a form rejection that I know REALLY means, “Please never bother us – or any other publisher or agent again – with such drivel.”

But being an optimist, I persist.

Tomorrow is Picture Book Pitch Twitter Day. And today I have been trying to condense a couple of story summaries into 140 characters. 140! If I thought writing a 300-600 word book was hard, this was pure agony. But worth it. In that it really helped me drill down to – what to me seems to be – the heart of the matter.

Even if the two stories I pitch tomorrow meet with only resounding silence, the effort of refining, revising and editing the pitches will give me tools I can continue to use as I continue my quest to place just one picture book story in the hands of young children and their parents.



It’s been a while…


… but I will be back in the classroom in July to present a four-hour workshop to members of the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo.

You’re on hold…

I tried to get too clever with a few website updates today, and all my splash page menu tabs disappeared. Give it a few days and Kyle Reid of Conceptic Design will help set me straight.

(I did work one of those switchboards in my very first job in London many aeons ago!)



I had an idea for an adult story a couple of days ago, this after weeks…months…a couple of years of very little motivation to write anything.

Knowing that I write fast and dirty, and needing to break this logjam, I decided to write 1,000 words a day of the new work for 60 days. Without fail. And see what comes out of it.

Dec 27: Day One of Holiday Let – 1113 words – this included about 800 words of a scene, and a couple of hundred notes about what was going on in my head as I worked on it.

Dec 29: 1079 words of another scene.

Dec 30: Three (today) – 1206 words of a third scene.

I have my three main characters on scene, with reference to two others who may be significant. A few plot points have spontaneously developed as I’ve been punching words onto the page. And I’m immersed in the setting of the North Cornwall beach town of Perranporth, complete with the ‘lost church’ of St Pirrans – in both the present and late-60s when my family rented a holiday house (a ‘Holiday let’ as they are known in England) each summer for a number of years.

My voice is rusty. My typing not so hot. But I am determined to keep plugging on, writing full scenes, worrying about the narrative connective tissue later, doing nothing more than giving each day’s work a quick read through and adding a few thoughts for next day’s session as it occurs to me.

I’ll check in here from time to time to post an update on how I’m doing. And if you have any thoughts that will help me keep going, do share them here.


LP posing on Perranporth Beach, about 1966… Photo courtesy my boarding school friend Barbara (Babs) Tipson.


A Room of One’s Own

Virgina Woolf’s writing room at Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex.

When I first downsized from a two-bedroom condo to a one-bedroomed one, I was quite happy with my new workspace – the kitchen table.

But it turned out not to be the best space for me – as I also used it for eating, checking email, playing dominoes with my grandson, mixing scones, reading the news, online research…

Like Virginia Woolf and her Room of One’s Own, I needed a designated space that triggered my writing muscle as soon as I sat down in it.

So then I had to go in search of a small table, figure out a space to put it in my living room, and pick up a couple of chairs to go with it. Thanks to Craigslist, that most valuable of online shopping venues, I was able to find what I needed at a great price, and these things are now in place.


Since I moved my writing into the living room, I not only find I am more productive, less-easily distracted, and quite comfortable, I also now have a space to store the clutter of paperwork that somehow still seems an inevitable bi-product of this ‘paperless work world’.

I’d certainly prefer a little house at the end of an English garden, although I do note that Woolf’s room of her own is disconcertingly close to the Ouse River where she took her own life.

Getting back to work

This quote by the American Poet Mary Oliver has always rung true to me.

“If Romeo and Juliet had made their appointments to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet — one or the other lagging, or afraid, or busy elsewhere — there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them. Writing a poem is not so different—it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.”

My life has been rather disrupted by life’s upheavals and a recent move, so I’ve done little writing for the past few months. But it’s time to get back to it.


I no longer have a study, having moved from a two- to a one-bedroomed apartment. But I’ve become quite comfortable running much of my new life from the kitchen table, where I have good light, space to spread out, and the teapot close at hand.

Now is the time to assert a little discipline, to strengthen my resolve to get back to it, and to apply my seat to the chair and not get up until I’ve sweated a little blood.

A few other writers I’ve talked to about my recent hiatus and the challenge of getting back to work have suggested that I will start to write again when I’m ready. I tend to think I will only be ready once I do get back to work.

I can think about the projects languishing in my drawers all I like. I can talk about writing from dawn to dusk. But until I make an appointment to work, and keep it – nothing will happen.

Doing it for free


They come from all over – requests from libraries, schools, community groups – asking for free presentations, workshops and readings from writers.

A number of years ago, when I was trying to explain that this was not something I could accommodate, I did suggest that if the teacher was willing to forgo her wage for teaching that day, I might be willing to donate my time, too.

Dead silence. Then a kind of choking noise… Laughter? Outrage? I never did find out as she hung up pretty quick.

But perhaps you get my point.

I work at my craft. I take time from other necessary activities in my life to put into my writing. I make an investment in space, equipment and supplies. I make part of my living from my writing, and all the activities relating to it.

And I no longer do it for free.

Libraries have budgets and can apply for grants. If schools value literacy, they should also value the writers who contribute to helping develop it in their students. We live in a society that – rightly or wrongly – shows the value of something by attaching a dollar value to it.

I have worked for free in the past for the right person, project or organization. I mentor other writers. I donate copies of my  books. But I do maintain the right to say No.

Today I received the latest request. Sadly, this came via a writer who was also once the ED of a provincial writers’ organization. Who should know better.

I wonder if she understood when I said no. That this was something I could not do, ‘like many other children’s writers who cannot work for free.’

I wonder if next time the library needs its plumbing fixed, it will ask the tradesperson to do it for free.

Although I bet they DO have a budget for that!


Moving On

Enough changes in three years… the end of my marriage, loss of both my parents … now I am adding retirement and moving to the litany. Which puts me at the top of the list for a heart-attack or some such stress-related fallout, I’m told.

But luckily I am one of those people who is energized by the idea of change… although perhaps not always by the work involved in bringing it about.

In mid-summer I move to Vancouver Island, closer to my daughter (and only child) and her family, to a small somewhat shabby rented one-bedroom apartment while I decide where I really want to be. What I want to do. Who I want to be in this, my next ‘new’ life.

Which means sorting, culling, clearing out and reducing.

Which means going through all my books and sorting out which ones I REALLY need to keep. My criteria is 1) Those I KNOW I will read again, 2) Those that are least likely to be perennially available at libraries, 3) Those that have sentimental or significant meaning to me.

moving-boxesThe writing-related books are different. I can admit that many on my shelves I have not actually read. Picked through, perhaps. Lent out to others.

I have managed to reduce their numbers from four shelves to two by giving away handfuls to my writing group members and students in recent classes.

I know that somewhere down the line I will be looking for one of them, only to find I have given it away. But hopefully, there will be other writers in my life, ones I leave behind here on the Lower Mainland or new ones I meet on Vancouver Island, who will help me find what I’m looking for, and help me find my way as I make new connections, find a place in my new community, and take on new projects and challenges.

Write on the road


There was a time when I could write while I was traveling. On a visit to my parents a few years before they died, I was able to write the first draft of Disconnect after the ‘old folks’ had gone to bed, about 8pm.

But I can’t fool myself into thinking I will get much done this trip – other than some research for an article about UK hiking options.

I’m leaving my laptop behind, and taking only my iPad. Which will leave me a few spare square inches in my carry-on bag. Traveling light is a whole new challenge these days, often necessitating so much in the way of electronics, chargers, adapters, and batteries, etc.

But I will have one of those old fashioned analogue notebooks with me (remember them?) – just in case.


And as for recording anything significant that happens while I am away, I am reminded of a tip given to me by a fellow traveller years ago. As my cantankerous mount galomphed across the Sinai with me balanced precariously on top, Roz said that all I needed to do was to simply record five things at the end of the day – something I had 1) seen, 2) heard, 3) smelled, 4) tasted, 5) touched, and it would all come back to me.

She was right. It did. And much of it has stayed with me ever since.

Including my intense dislike of camels.

Camels in the Sinai

Writers – and others – on tour


One of the most exciting opportunities for Canadian children’s writers, illustrators and storytellers is to be selected for the annual Children’s Book Week Tour, managed by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre and partly funded by the TD Bank and the Canada Council for the Arts.

I was lucky enough to participate a few years ago, touring schools and libraries in Saskatchewan.

It was a wonderful week meeting kids, teachers, librarians and other readers and writers.


This is the time of year when touring Canadian Children’s Book Week artists are packing and prepping, figuring out their presentations, planning props and working out just how many books they can take with them.

If there was one disappointment to my trip it was the number of school kids who had no idea why I was there, did not know it was Canadian Chidlren’s Book Week and had not been exposed to any displays of info about Canadian books prior to my arrival.

So if I have any advice for writers, illustrators and storytellers on the road this year, it is this:

  • Check out who knows about Book Week – and if they don’t know much about them, pitch Canadian writers’, illustrators’ and storytellers’ works in your presentation and by discussing a few of the authors the kids do know… Robert Muncsh will be top of most lists!
  • Challenge every child to ask their teacher of librarian for a list of great Canadian books to read… other than yours!
  • Take snacks. Whether you are traveling by car or plane, alone or with a driver/host, you’ll find your schedule does not often allow for leisurely meal breaks… there were days when it felt as if I lived on wine gums and potato chips.
  • Send thank you letters to the schools and libraries. The kids will love to hear from you, and it’s reinforcement of everything you shared with them.
  • Have fun – and catch up on your sleep when you get home.
  • Take a card or small box of chocolates into your local TD branch manager to thank them for supporting Book Week. Many staff in the branches know little about their employer’s support of literacy.


And to everyone else – check the list of this year’s presenters and ask at your local library or your kids’ school to find out if one of them is visiting your neighbourhood. Public Library sessions are open to the public, and many schools are happy for parents to attend.

Travel writing notes – with pictures

(LP at the Amber Fort, Jaipur)

Thanks to a productive day at last weekend’s BC Association of Travel Writer’s 2016 Symposium, I am feeling primed to continue planning and researching an article about walking options in the UK for a senior’s publication.

It’s been a while since any of my travel writing was published, but there’s nothing like hanging out with about 70 pros to be bitten afresh by the bug.



There was lots to adsorb during the day – industry insider information, contacts and connections to be renewed, and craft tips to revisit and absorb.

While little of what Keynote Speaker Lucas Aykroyd shared in his presentation was news, it was a great reminder of what it takes to get anywhere in the challenging world of travel writing…. and he delivered the presentation in an entertaining style, wearing a hockey sweater – hockey being just one of this versatile internationally-published writer’s specialities.

Here are Lucas’s tips, with my own ten cents-worth of commentary added.

Write what you care about
This might mean deciding where your passions are, and seeking out topics that relate to them… whether it’s parrots or hiking or children or fountains or street markets or walking or motorcycles or … Or it could mean digging deep into the subject to find something about it that resonates with you most strongly.


Itchen Navigation (Eastleigh to Winchester) Pic. L. Peterson

Write what’s topical
Make connections with what else is happening in the world now, and any upcoming milestones and events connected in any way with what you’re writing about and your destination. This a) helps sell the piece and b) allows the reader to connect what you’re writing about with the wider world.

Be original
Lucas did not mention the word ‘voice’ in his presentation. But as a fiction-writer I know how important a fresh, original voice is to a piece of writing. Also, think about how you will approach a topic, and look for a new angle or perspective on the topic, place or event. After all, there are very few places in the world that have not already been written about. The travel writer’s job is to offer the reader something new and different.

Be opportunistic
I think of this as keeping your antenna attuned to what’s happening, what’s trending, and occasionally adjusting plans to reflect or connect with what else is going on. It might even mean switching gears at the last minute to take advantage of something new and exciting that crops up during your visit.

Put yourself out there
This means using all the channels of social media, networking and personal interaction that you are comfortable with to create a presence or platform for you and your work. You might however need to be  judicious about just how much info you put out there… You never know who’s looking.

Young workers at a brick factory, Rajasthan. Pic. L. Peterson

Inject a personal touch
If you can make some connection between what you are writing about and your own experience, your piece will resonate more strongly with the reader. Use humour, engaging storytelling techniques, and think of how you can connect the emotion in the piece to facts and hard information.

Be prepared to recycle
This does not necessarily mean finding new homes for old work. But much of the research, contacts and sometimes parts of the narrative that got jettisoned along the way can be used at other times in other ways for other projects. It’s all fodder.

Focus on craft
I would love every word, sentence, and paragraph of mine to sing. I’d like to be able to convey information in a way that engages, entertains and illuminates. I want every picture to amplify whatever I’m writing about. This takes work. Constant learning, relearning – and sometimes starting all over.

‘Chinatown Lonely’.                       Pic. L. Peterson


That didn’t work out so well… and a book recommendation

The road to hell may be paved with many things other than good intentions, but I do know that it does not take much to be lured into taking a detour…
Waaay back when my new website went live, I determined to post a new blog entry each week.

Didn’t happen.

I could share the usual excuses, but you’ve heard them all. Suffice it to say that I have been busy, and not all busyness can be attributed to writing-related activities. Not enough of it, truth be told.

I’m juggling two WIPs, working on a couple of community projects that take up a bit to of time, working my usual 4 shifts a week, spending time with friends and family reading, lounging, vegging..

But I will try to do better.


Each blog post I will pass on at least one tip or resource that you – or someone you know – might find useful in your work. Today, courtesy of Julie Ferguson of Beacon Literary Services comes a recommendation of a good book on travel writing: LONELY PLANET’S GUIDE TO TRAVEL WRITING by Dan George, whose own website is worth exploring.


A new year, a new website


A new year. A new website. And a new commitment to update it regularly and post something on the blog at least once a week.

There. I’ve said it aloud. Which might do the trick of keeping me on track.

Commitment and momentum are two of the greatest challenges to many writers. We want to have written, but the effort required to actually get to a place and space to write, is a major challenge.

It’s that time of year when resolutions abound. Mine is to Show Up and Work – every day. One 50-minute stretch at a minimum. More, with ten minute breathers between if at all possible. On works in progress or on ideas that are newly-hatched.

What comes out of it is beyond my control, to a great extent. I commit to do the work. The rest will take care of itself.

That will do for a start.

All the best to you in 2016. In your writing and your life.