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.