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On Tour Blog

April 24, 2009

Wisdom in the strangest places
Posted by Rex Weyler

Rex Weyler

I have been on the road with three great writers: historian Stephen Bown, poet Karen Hofmann, and all around journalist/writer and wise-man Andreas Schroeder. Yesterday, Andreas and I arrived at Vernon Secondary School for what we thought would be a session with a senior writing class. When we arrived, we discovered that a glitch in the students’ schedule made this plan impossible, but that a group of grade-eight students were available.

Okay, we were up for anything, but we felt slightly disappointed, as if we had lost our star students. I imagined we would be imposing upon some 14-year-olds, who probably had better things to do and little interest in our tales of being writers. I prepared for the rolling eyeballs.

When we arrived at the classroom, a large sign on the door announced: “DETENTION ROOM”

Oh, dear. Now we felt certain we would be a flop. Andreas muttered about getting the “Group W bench.”

Teacher Michael Allen greeted us at the door with a welcome smile. I asked if this was the detention class, and was thrilled to discover, no, this was a grade-eight English class. The students reflected the bell curve of personalities, from hip to goth, jock to bookworm. We were used to delivering our stories, reading a bit from our books, and opening the session to questions, but we had discovered that pulling questions from the high school students posed a challenge. We had gradually shortened the questions period.

However, as soon as we began to speak, we realized we were in an inspired learning environment. We could hardly say a word without two or three hands shooting up, students challenging our statements or asking a probing question.

“Has writing changed your life?” a punkish girl wanted to know. “What is it like when people write mean reviews or say mean things about your book?” a dishevelled boy asked. We were in new territory.

Andreas and I abandoned our usual routine and spent the hour answering questions: “What’s the difference between novels and history? Aren’t novels also about real people?” Well, yes. “Don’t people make things up even in non-fiction books?” Uh, yeah, some do. “How do you create characters?” Steal from real life.

“Did you ever write a short story just because you didn’t have enough to say to write a novel or a whole book?”

“Do you keep a journal? Does this help you write?”

These inquiring young minds kept us engaged for an hour, and we felt genuinely sorry to have to depart. We carried on in the library with several students and teacher-librarian Mark Bendall.

We sat at the computers and discussed the reliability of the Internet versus print media. We all agreed that it’s a toss-up. Misinformation exists everywhere. Check your sources. Don’t trust “experts” until you can confirm what they claim. Mark Bendall pointed out that Wikipedia is a great source, but he encourages his students to use it as a starting point for deeper research.

I don’t know what they’re doing at Vernon Secondary School, but they appear to have created an environment in which students love to learn. That may be the greatest gift of education.

Rex with student from Vernon Secondary
At Vernon Secondary School

Rex Weyler at Mt. Baker Secondary
At Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook

Filed under: Southern Leg 2009 | 1 Comments | Permalink

April 24, 2009

Posted by Andreas Schroeder

Andreas Schroeder

The students—especially the writing students—are asking lots of them. How long does it take to write a book? Does anyone really care what you write? How can you make a living as a writer? What can you do if you’re attacked, belittled, dumped on? And how do you really know if you’ve got what it takes to be a writer? They’re not all serious, these questions, but the ones that are can be heart-breaking. They can take you right back to the same place, decades ago, when you asked those same questions yourself. How to put half a lifetime of that struggle into a two-minute answer? And even if you could, would it be a good idea?

It’s easy to forget how tenuous and unpredictable their position might be or feel, these eager and anxious kids, poised on the crossroads of so many possible directions, trying to make what might well be the most serious decision of their lives, usually based on less reliable information than what underpins most disaster-prone marriages.

So how much do we tell them?

Do we tell them that the competition to publish in today’s print media is many times more fierce than it was three decades ago? Do we mention that BC Bookworld’s author index currently lists over 8,000 authors in B.C. alone? Do we admit that the fees for magazine articles in Canada are lower today than they were as far back as 1970?

How much in the way of such hard facts should one dump on budding young writers at this stage in their development? Would truth of this kind have derailed me all those years ago when I asked those same questions (but didn’t have access to a touring author to vet the answers)?

I put this to my fellow touring authors on our drive from Nelson to Vernon yesterday. It led to an animated and wide-ranging discussion. Rex felt that it was important to urge these kids to follow their passions—regardless the cost. Though, being a practical freelancer, he also emphasized developing a back-up talent—something to fall back on during lean times, or as a part-time cash generator alongside an unpredictable writing career. Karen recalled that as a creative writing student she was overwhelmed by warnings of the impossibility of making a living as a fulltime writer, and would have appreciated a more encouraging perspective. After all, there are a lot of different ways to skin that cat. Stephen felt there was no reason to varnish the facts, but made a distinction between encouraging students to write and encouraging them to write for a living. He always urges kids who are contemplating the latter to find themselves a niche in the field, and to develop their talents in that area with relentless resolve—something, I note, he’s done with admirable success himself.

There’s probably no single all-purpose answer to this question, unless one wants to fall back on a totally Darwinian, laissez-faire approach. And that—on a brightly sunlit day, in a classroom full of enthusiastic, optimistic and brashly inquisitive young writer wannabes, seems just a bit too categorical for any of us.

Andreas in Cranbrook

Rex and Andreas with Mark Bendall at Vernon Secondary
With Mark Bendall at Vernon Secondary

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April 24, 2009

Leaving Nelson, Day 4
Posted by Karen Hofmann

Karen Hofmann

One of my favourite cities in BC, and very conducive to writing.

Nelson. Day 4

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April 24, 2009

Nelson, Day 3
Posted by Karen Hofmann

Karen Hofmann

The audience for the Nelson Public Library reading was a great pleasure to read to!  Obviously great support for the arts.  It’s so gratifying to read poetry or fiction to an audience that interacts, laughs, groans, etc. along with you.

Nelson - Day 3

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April 23, 2009

Busy, Tiring… but Fantastic
Posted by Stephen R. Bown

Stephen R. Bown

Another busy day of driving today and talking today. I’m amazed how tiring it can be. The school in Vernon was fantastic. The kids were really keen with endless numbers of great questions that kept both Karen and I talking and reading. One student asked several unusual and off-topic questions about zombies and I replied that the only zombie I knew was myself when I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet, but I don’t think he appreciated the joke. I would say that visiting the schools has been just a fantastic experience.

There is one hilarious event that has to be mentioned. It happened yesterday (I think, time seems very fluid on tour). We were discussing Readers Digest and how they like to edit everything in half - Andreas was telling a story of how he once wrote for them. They told him that he was getting the best editing in the world and that people love it that way, really condensed - or something like that. Bryan then quipped that he really enjoyed their novels, the Tale of One City and the Two Musketeers. Very witty, as they say. Tomorrow Kelowna and Vernon.

Stephen with Kids at Pinewood With students at Pinewood Elementary and their research projects on Captain George Vancouver

Filed under: Southern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 22, 2009

J. Lloyd Crowe Secondary in Trail, BC
Posted by Bryan Pike

Bryan Pike

We’ve been uploading lots of photos to our Flickr Photostream over the past week and a half. There are lots of Northern tour photos, and here are some great ones from the Southern tour:

Rex reading at J.L. Crowe in Trail
Rex reading to the students

Rex and Andreas in Trail
Rex and Andreas talking with students after the reading

Filed under: Southern Leg 2009 | 1 Comments | Permalink

April 22, 2009

Trail and Warfield, Day 2, Southern Tour
Posted by Karen Hofmann

Karen Hofmann

In Trail we spoke at JL Webster Elementary to a group of mostly grade 7 students, with some grade 5 and 6 students.  Grade sevens were knowledgeable about poetry terms (persona, alliteration), and didn’t ask to know the name of the cat.  The teachers attending were enthusiastic writers as well, and contributed greatly to the event. 

We had the afternoon between readings to explore Trail, and I spent some time on the river walk, enjoying the mallards and Barrows goldeneye on the Columbia River, and the swallows above it.  The temperature was 30 degrees.  (But one swallow - or even a small flock - does not a summer make; the forecast is for snow Thursday…)

At the really wonderful Cornerstone Cafe in Warfield for a reading in the evening; a local writing group came.  It sounds like the West Kootenays has a flourishing literary community. 

Trail, Day 2, Southern Leg

Filed under: Southern Leg 2009 | 1 Comments | Permalink

April 22, 2009

Cranbrook. Day 1, Southern Leg
Posted by Karen Hofmann

Karen Hofmann

Stephen and I talked to a group of grade 4-6 children at Pinewood Elementary, These kids had lots of good questions, and participated enthusiastically in poetry exercises.  All wanted to know the name of the cat in the poem “Skewed”  At the public library reading, a chic German woman told me that she enjoyed my reading, but couldn’t get her head around poems that don’t rhyme.  I gave her the usual explanations about English not being rich in rhyming words (as compared for eg to German) and about the rise of Modernism in the first part of the 20th century.  She agreed that the world had “come apart” during WW I, and said she could see how the social and political disintegration could change the form of poetry.  I hope that Ursula will find a century of new poetry opening up for her now!

Cranbrook, Day 1, Southern Leg

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April 21, 2009

A Few Days on Tour
Posted by Stephen R. Bown

Stephen R. Bown

We’ve been on tour for a few days, but we’ve been getting get back to the hotel so late that I’ve been too tired to write until now.

I’m so glad I was able to join the BC Book Prizes author tour. My fellow authors Karen, Rex and Andreas, and our intrepid guide Bryan, have been so interesting and entertaining that hours of driving have just melted away and I feel like I’m at an extended dinner party with intelligent and witty companions.The beautiful scenery doesn’t hurt either. I’m familiar with the Kootenays, I love being here, and yet giving our tour talks has added a new dimension to my appreciation for the region. We’ve enjoyed fantastic meals in Nelson and Trail and chatted with interesting and curious people at the events. Sure is hard work! Actually its tiring being on the road for so many hours each day.

I have to admit that talking at the schools for me has been eye-opening and very rewarding. I’ve never visited schools before to give talks because my books are written for adults. My own two kids, Andrew aged 6 and Clara aged 5 (in a few days) are too young to have any real interest in what I write about. But these students, some of whom I believe are studying explorers and George Vancouver in grade five or six, are very attentive and ask the greatest questions. A student at Pinewood Elementary in Cranbrook asked me how exactly we know what illness Vancouver suffered from since he’s dead. Great question! We don’t know anything in history absolutely, of course, but just asking the question is the first step to finding out as much of the truth as we can.

In Trail this afternoon, at J.L. Webster Elementary, a student wanted to know, when I mentioned that Vancouver sailed from London to Pacific America, what was the route by which he sailed around the world. After the talk the students clustered around Karen and I for autographs - I never knew I was so famous ! grin

Stephen Bown signs books

Filed under: Southern Leg 2009 | 1 Comments | Permalink

April 19, 2009

Tricks of time and a pickled seal
Posted by Margaret Horsfield

Margaret Horsfield

Time is such a trickster, I thought, rather forlornly, a couple of days ago.  It blurs memory, trashes landmarks, changes townscapes.

On Friday we were back in Terrace after visiting Prince George. Back in my former hometown, I again felt lost, adrift.  As I had done when we first arrived in Terrace a few days earlier, I wasted time looking for things long gone.

But that evening in the library, I was thrown a lifeline between past and present, and time came sharply back into focus.  Many of the people there had known me as a child, or in high school, and their warm welcome to all of us, their interest, their support and enthusiasm combined to create a wonderful evening.  I was so grateful to them all for coming.  The tricks of time suddenly didn’t matter, after all.

In the Terrace Library, as on numerous other occasions, the subject arose of family letters, diaries and photographs.  So many people have attics, shoeboxes, files full of old papers, and often we just don’t know how to handle them. What should we do with them?  Do they have any historic value? Are they even remotely important?

At one of the high schools we visited on this tour, after hearing about some of the people in my book, one of the girls in the class asked “What’s so important about those people anyhow?  Why should they be in a book if they’re not famous?”  My answer to her was “Are you important?  Am I?  Is anyone in this room?”

I believe we are all important. We matter. Our stories contribute to the mosaics of our families and communities and our province.  We need somehow to remember these stories, to record them – of ourselves, our parents and grandparents, of our surroundings.  We can tell tales at the kitchen table to our children, write poems or books or plays – but we need to pass on our stories. If we don’t, the stories will be completely obscured, perhaps entirely lost when we die. 

In Prince Rupert on Saturday day, we found ourselves doing readings at the museum, a beautiful structure set against mountains and harbour, filled with light.  This was my kind of place, a repository of community and regional artefacts and documents and photographs.  Talking to the curator Susan Marsden, I was struck all over again by what hard work it is to establish and maintain this kind of facility, and how immensely, incalculably valuable it is, in more ways than one could possibly imagine.

Time tricked me again, in Prince Rupert, though.  Strange and unbidden, a long-forgotten childhood image surfaced in my mind from visits here.  The original Prince Rupert museum was a dark, small, poky place.  A burning question arose in my mind about that original museum,  but I hesitated to ask. I wasn’t even sure if it was based on a real memory. 

“Whatever happened to the pickled seal?”  I blurted out. 

Susan burst out laughing.  Everyone asks about the pickled seal, apparently, even many years after it quietly sprung a leak and had to be cast aside.  It sat in a corner of the old museum, in a large jar, an unearthly whitish green creature, weirdly floating in opaque liquid.  My sister and I found it grotesque and fascinating.

I was relieved to know that the memory was reliable.  Pity about the seal, but there are far, far better items on view in the museum in Prince Rupert, after all!

Our tour has now ended, and we are awaiting our plane home.  Only six days ago we clambered into the van, four writers and Bryan, our tour leader, who did all the organisation, entertainment and driving, exuding good humour and patience all along.  Thank you, Bryan.

We had no idea what this tour would bring. We had no idea of the stories we would hear, or create or gather on this trip – we did not even know, really, what stories we would end up sharing with the people who we met.  I was continually surprised, continually impressed and I know I have learned a great deal, probably more than I realise. 

It may take a while before I can put it all into focus. 

Time will help.  Tricks aside, it usually does.

Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

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