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On Tour Blog

April 19, 2009

My last early morning tour blog
Posted by Katarina Jovanovic

Katarina Jovanovic

We had our last presentation at the Museum of Northern BC in Prince Rupert last night. What a magnificent finale! First, we travelled completely absorbed by the nature scenery between Terrace and Prince Rupert; we had a really sophisticated lunch in a small restaurant by the water; finally, the reading took place in one of the exhibition rooms with the view to the marina. We had a full house (including the local newspapers) and the audience responded brilliantly. We left Prince Rupert bursting with energy and inspiration. However, this is the end of the tour.

This morning we’ll be home again and Bryan will be driving South. Bryan has been our guide, driver (“Is he your agent?”- one of the elementary school students asked when Bryan came to pick us after the reading) and friend in the past six days and I think that he is just perfect in what he does! Thank you, Bryan.
Getting to know Bryan and my other three pal-authors and having the opportunity to travel North BC and talk to people - was the most precious experience and I will treasure it in the years to come!

We had done so many readings and talks together and heard each others so many times that we almost “knew it all by heart” (we joked one evening in the car while driving to another reading that we could easily switch around and do each other’s presentations). Writers have a reputation of being egocentric and antisocial. In some ways, we really are.We usually have an internal focus: it is what happens in our mind that matters the most. The book tour changed that.We spent days and evenings together and our little tour became a team work. Being so different and having different approaches to writing we all wanted to make those presentations successful and to reach to the people.

For me, this trip was also about nurturing an author within myself. ” I have to write”, that’s what my internal voice yells to me all the time.  I perceive myself as a writer first but, like many authors, I don’t live on writing. I have a full time job and a family and my writer’s role “performs” mostly early in the morning or late at night. Being on a book tour, I have been only an author. All my other roles had been temporarily diminished.

Finally (but most importantly) the tour gave me an opportunity to meet hundreds of primary school students and to talk about my book. I can’t imagine a more powerful experience for the children’s author.

Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 18, 2009

Prince George/Terrace
Posted by Elise Partridge

Elise Partridge

Friday April 17

This morning Margaret and I went off to Prince George Secondary, to meet several English classes and a writing class all gathered in the school library.  Margaret was able to show a Power Point presentation full of photographs of Clayoquot figures, boats, and sites – the portly storekeeper; steamers; First Nations girls snacking on herring roe; Tofino’s inaugural hotel (modest); and a sequence she calls “Nuns Having Fun,” including a quartet in habits looking somewhat at a loss while paddling a canoe. Several students approached us after our presentations to describe projects they were working on.
We’ve all agreed that one of the high points of the tour is talking to students who are interested in writing.

Bryan also photographed a cheque ceremony with representatives from one of the sponsors, Integris Credit Union.  I’m very glad to know that many of the sponsors for the tour are donating money to the libraries of the schools we are visiting.  We’re also grateful to the librarians at every place on our route (such as Valerie Kilbey at PGSS) who have shown us such hospitality, and who obviously play such an important role in encouraging students to keep reading. 

On the way back to Terrace, Bryan kept the van humming as always with his excellent sense of humor and with a playlist that ranged from Joni Mitchell to Jamie Cullum to the Magnetic Fields (the last full of inventive rhymes Bryan hoped we would enjoy.  We did!).  Once again Bryan knew where to let us out to forage or roam – first, at a café in Baker Lake with memorable organic fare, and second at Seeley Provincial Park, where photographs were taken, including of a science experiment underwritten by Bryan and courageously performed by Robin.  Apparently if you immerse fizzy mints in a bottle of pop and toss the bottle into the air, it will ascend like a rocket.  Robin inquired if any of the authors present would care to ingest a mint chased by pop – we wondered if we could shoot ourselves to Pluto, or at least be lofted to a better view of the nearest mountain – but, mindful of our evening engagement, we declined.

We docked back in our Terrace Coast Hotel to discover that Margaret had made the front page of the local paper, with a feature article about this Terrace-born-and-raised author inside.  The reading that night at the Terrace Public Library was attended by, among others, many of Margaret’s childhood friends.  Once again we were warmly welcomed by a librarian, Melanie Wilke, with fruit, juice, and homemade cookies.  Katarina gave a marvelously dramatic reading of her children’s book The King Has Goat Ears; I hope she’ll consider making a recording.  Robin read a different section of her novel A Thousand Shades of Blue, and afterward a parent and children’s author, Brenda Silsbe (whom Margaret has known since Grade Three), said that it seemed to “say it all” about parent-teenager conflict. 

Once again today, comparing notes, we concluded that just meeting eager readers of all stripes from this region—students, teachers, librarians and other writers—was very inspiring.

Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 2 Comments | Permalink

April 18, 2009

Time Flies…
Posted by Robin Stevenson

Robin Stevenson

...when you’re having fun. Apparently this is true: I can’t believe we are already on the last day of our tour. We are in Terrace this morning and will be heading up to Prince George in a couple of hours, to read at the museum (which I have heard wonderful things about and am very much looking forward to seeing). Yesterday we visited Prince George elementary and secondary schools, drove the seven hours to Terrace, and arrived just in time for our 7pm reading at the Terrace Public Library. We had a fabulous crowd show up to listen and chat with us afterwards. Melanie, the youth librarian, was a great host and I very much enjoyed talking with her about teen books, teens and libraries, and ways of keeping kids engaged in books and reading. The young people of Terrace are lucky to have someone so passionate about books and so committed to providing a space that is welcoming to kids and teens.

In fact, everywhere we have been we have met people who are passionate about reading and literacy and education in all their various forms. From the kids and teens, to the booksellers, librarians,teachers, and to the local writers and poets that have come to our readings, talking with people who love books has been one of the highlights of this tour.

I am too buzzy from all the excitement to actually feel tired, but I think I am. I have a million scattered thoughts this morning but don’t feel like I can put a coherent paragraph together. So instead I will just share half a dozen random thoughts about this tour:

1. I have been very envious of my fellow authors on this tour… because they can ALL read and write in the van. Me, I can just barely glance at my watch without getting carsick. However…. all that time to think has been a surprising bonus. A new character has started to come together in my mind and I am so looking forward to getting some of her story down on paper.

2.Bryan is an awesome road trip disc jockey (as well as driver, tour guide, restuarant critic and entertainer). Whether we need music to match the breathtaking scenery, music to lull us to sleep,or music to pep us up before a reading, Bryan nails it every time. I’m still laughing over Moxy Fruvous singing My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors.  And I have jotted down the names of several new-to-me artists. Thanks Bryan!

3.I am so lucky to have toured with such a great group of authors and to have had the opportunity for so many good conversations. The four of us write very different stuff—poetry, regional history, picture books, teen novels. And yet, as Margaret expressed far more eloquently at last night’s reading, we all share a love for telling stories. We are all fascinated by the written word and by the way that little marks on a piece of paper can create, open up and communicate whole other worlds. What a magical thing that is. 

4. I’ve said this before but maybe not (hopefully not) here. Librarians, teacher-librarians, all you book people—you save kids’ lives. Seriously.

5. Northern BC is gorgeous. I’ll be back.

6.  Everyone likes winning prizes… but I think all of us feel that no matter what the announcements at the BC Book Prizes Gala have to say, we’ve all won a pretty incredible prize already in having the opportunity to do this tour. I feel very lucky. Many many thanks to everyone who made this trip happen and to everyone who has made it such a pleasure to take part in it.

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April 17, 2009

Spring in Smithers, Poetry and Hope in Prince George
Posted by Margaret Horsfield

Margaret Horsfield

“Happy Spring” declared a chalkboard outside a restaurant in Smithers.  The sunshine was pale and clear behind the Hudsons Bay Mountain, and a small girl, beaming, walked past with a huge ice cream cone.  Smiling because of the ice cream? Because of spring?  Perhaps because she was wearing only a T shirt and jeans and sandals, and because the sun was shining. 

Skiing season has just ended in Smithers, marked by the annual Schnai day,  and the more intrepid mountain bikers are out and about on the trails around the town. A couple of blocks away from the main street an older man turned the earth of his vegetable patch, the rich dark soil almost glowed in the morning light.

At Smithers Secondary School, the Grade Eleven Social Studies class also glowed; a highly motivated and interested group, genuinely interested in the stories of people in my book, stories of real west coast people,  revealed in letters and diaries they left behind.  For the first time on this tour, I brought out the Powerpoint presentation, showing pictures from the book – unusually I had only one technical glitch, readily solved by a boy in the class. 

The students were surprised to learn that all of my research had been with real documents, that none of the letters or diaries on which my book is based are available on-line.  Did I manage to convince them, even in the slightest degree, that real documents can communicate so much more than digitized ones?  That holding, smelling, turning old pages – onionskin, or frail lined notepaper, or foxed newsprint – can be so real that you sense the fingerprints of the writers on the page.. hear the voices of the writers as if they are in the same room with you?  That the sharply jabbed penstrokes or the faintly pencilled words can speak volumes?  We spoke of old technologies and their infinite strangeness:  of letterwriting, of treadle sewing machines, of the days of sail and steam, of the darkness of homes and villages in the wilderness, without electricity, of pen and ink, of photographs on glass slides.

Then off to Prince George, past lakes still frozen solid, still imprinted with vehicle tracks from winter days on the ice, past many towns and settlements:  Burns Lake, Fraser Lake and Endako, which features an old taxidermy shop in an even older false fronted building alongside the highway.  Past hawks perched watchfully on telephone lines, and stands of pine trees, orangey-red and dying, past countless young birch trees still bowed over, bent in half, burdened with the memory of last winter’s snow load.  This is an exceptionally late spring, everyone says.  It has been a long, long winter.

At the Prince George bookstore later that day, three local poets gathered, with others, to hear us all talk of our books.  My friend, the slam poet Darcy Ingram, was amongst them.  For the poets,  the highlight of the evening was talking to Elise about poetry, hers and theirs. On this tour I have repeatedly been struck by the powerful bonds forged by poetry.  I knew nothing of the poetry community within the province, and I have seen how the slender strands of poems, meticulously worded,  reach out to form intense links between people.

Later, chatting to Darcy, I learned about her rhododendron.  She has not been long in Prince George, and coming from the greener gardening climes of Vancouver Island,  she knows perfectly well that Prince George is not rhodo country.  But she has one in her garden here - logic and horticultural advice be damned. Darcy is a fighter, a determined survivor.  Like Elise she has come through cancer and chemotherapy, and defied medical odds.  So her rhodo has received its instructions.  It must come through the winter.

Last autumn, she carefully wrapped it in layers of burlap, and bolstered it to withstand the snows and the cold of winter.  How is it doing now that April is here?  It is still hidden from sight, buried under three feet of snow. 

So Darcy is watching and waiting.  The snow will melt and the rhododendron will emerge.  I hope it has survived.  Meanwhile, as the long winter draws to a close, Darcy has finally put away her winter coats and boots, and – best of all—she has just submitted a manuscript of her poems to a publisher. 

I wonder if she has written anything about the rhododendron.

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April 17, 2009

Did you write this story with a pencil?
Posted by Katarina Jovanovic

Katarina Jovanovic

....asked one of the K students at Muheim Elementary Schoool in Smithers. All the other children got involved in that discussion. What do writers use to write their stories: pencils, pens, crayons, markers?  I laughed. However, when you do the school presentations with primary students you never know where the reading is going to land. What do I usually write with.? It is not always the computer. I write on the bus, in the park, at the coffee shop.
Talking to various groups of children in our touring readings is not only about us, authors, “giving” the word out to the audience. It is very much about making us think about our work through the reflections of the children and adults who listen to us: when did I really start writing? how long did it take me to finish this book? what is my “most favourite book in the whole world which I would take with me to a deserted island?” 
When we do school presentations, book launches, talks and readings at home, everything happens as a blink in our everyday life. We experience that brilliant moment of connection with readers and then we sink back to ordinary. On a tour like this it never stops. We have that intense experience for days. We think about it, we talk about it, we write about it.
I am in the van somewhere between Smithers and Prince George. At Prince George we are having another talk this night and who knows what questions will pop up there.
Ok, yes. I am on this tour because my book has been nominated for the BC Book prize… but really..what did I use to start writing it?

Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 16, 2009

Smithers Readings
Posted by Elise Partridge

Elise Partridge

Today we left Terrace early, afloat on Bach played by Glenn Gould, and barreled (comfortably, in our rental car) toward Smithers.  Many snowy mountain peaks later, we piled out at this charming town, where several tour members revived themselves immediately at a toasty cafe called Java (Bryan has discovered many good spots to stop on these tours—he particularly recommends the pie here).  Katarina and Robin did a sequence of presentations at the elementary school, all enthusiastically received, and Margaret Horsfield and I went off to Smithers Secondary, where we discovered we each had our own class to speak to.  Margaret was able to project pictures from her book to a grade-11 social-studies group, while I visited Jack Law’s English class.  Jack Law had shown me the terrific list of poems he’d recently discussed with his students, work ranging from John Donne to Robert Hayden and beyond.  I had a wonderful time talking to the class about what they were reading and what they liked to read, whether they’d tried writing verse themselves, whether they wrote songs; they asked me questions in return, all stimulating and thoughtful.  I only wish I had had even more time there, including a chance to see how they’d carried out a recent poetry assignment. Many thanks to Jack Law for letting me borrow his class for the day, and to librarian Teresa Monkman for helping arrange a very happy visit.

The indefatigable Bryan then drove us through tawny rolling hills all the way to Prince George.  Shortly after we debarked at the Coast Hotel here, we segued, through a pair of purple doors, to the large and well-stocked Books and Company bookstore.  There we all read briefly; afterward we had a lively discussion with several audience members, including Gillian Wigmore, who was on the BC Book Prizes tour last year; a performance poet; and a student of both poetry and forestry at UNBC. 

All in all, another exciting day with this sympathetic group, still turning to each other after each school visit to talk about how much we’re enjoying what we’re doing on this tour.   


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April 16, 2009

Kids Who Love Books
Posted by Robin Stevenson

Robin Stevenson

So many things about this trip are wonderful: the incredible friendliness of the people we meet in every town and village, the breathtaking scenery, the company of the other authors and Bryan as we drive from one stop to the next, the opportunity to explore a part of the world I’ve never been to before. Still, the absolute, hands-down best part for me so far has been talking to all the kids who love books. 

Every classroom of students has been terrific: welcoming, enthusiastic, and full of interesting questions When I ask the kids who likes to read, a forest of hands flies up. When I ask them about their favorite books, the answers come thick and fast. Mysteries. Harry Potter. Jane Austen. Fantasy novels. Vampire novels. Stories about animals. All kinds of books. Their excitement and obvious love for reading is inspiring, and spending time with kids who share my own passion for stories is a sheer joy.

And then—and I love this part—there are the writers. The highlight of yesterday, for me, was talking with the ten year old boy who ran home to his grandmother’s house to get the book he had made so that he could show it to me. And it was lovely. It takes places in a magical setting of a fairy school in the clouds, and tells the story of a young fairy called Ashley and her struggles to cope with the bullying there. Thanks for sharing it with me Max. And keep on writing your stories down. 

Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 16, 2009

The Beauty of Standing Alone
Posted by Katarina Jovanovic

Katarina Jovanovic

On the way from Terrace to Hazelton. I won’t even try to describe the setting. The natural beauty disappears in our cameras. It does not convey in words or pictures, can be only looked at: sturdy mountains covered with thick layers of snow; tall, skiny trees silently by the road; transparent, frozen river.

Finding John Field Elementary School brings back the reality. A small school by the road, surrounded by fields and mountains. Everybody gets fast and busy to host the BC Book Prize authors. The children enter the library: K1-Grade 3. One of the teachers mentions that some children have a challenge to concentrate for a longer period of time. The story goes interactively: we are all involved. Even though some children are restless, they are all participating one way or the other. Everybody is eager to ask questions and we even have to extend the reading to give everyone a chance. The grade 3 students want to stay when the others have already left. We look at the pictures again. Why so many eyes around the carriage when the kings shouts out that he has goat ears? I know, says one boy, because everybody is looking at him!!

I am presented with a small handmade creation: an art work of John Field school students. The native culture teacher shows enthusiastically the other items in the classroom: native language exercises on the board, old stories,children’s work…
In South Hazelton Elementary we have vivid discussions throughout the story: how does it feel when you have a secret? what is self-concept? what happened to the king to make him look so different and much happier at the end of the story?

Later that evening, at the BC Book Prize event at the Hazelton public library, one of the visitors is a student from South Hazelton Elementary. She came to our reading with her mom and two other children to hear the story one more time.
” She told me all about today” mom said, ” how thrilled she was to meet the ‘real author’ and she explained me about the idea of the story as well: how important it is to like yourself the way you are; she understood everything!”

The beauty of inspiring children and the beauty of the mountains on the bright day in Hazelton - even though I am a writer, I don’t find the right words to express it.
That evening I also learned that the name of that mountain translated to English is: Standing Alone. 

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April 15, 2009

at the river’s edge
Posted by Margaret Horsfield

Margaret Horsfield

Clambering down the rocks towards the Skeena River at Hazelton took a few moments, earlier this afternoon, but I wanted to be near the water—and I was determined to be near the ice.  Yes, the ice is still on the river!  Great slabs of it are sloughing off, shelving steeply into the green water, and bobbing away, surfing away, downstream, in chunks as big as cars, as small as shoeboxes, and in this amazingly sunny weather, they are probably melting rapidly, just beyond sight.  To watch the ice move is mesmerizing, calming, and to be so warm in this northern sunshine, watching the river melt, came as a complete surprise, an unexpected gift.  The sound of the water rushing by filled the air, and I almost dozed off, but a tone underneath kept me awake, kept me alert. It puzzled me; a sound like Christmas, a sound like water glasses in restaurants. A musical note underlay the sound of the water, sometimes faintly, sometimes clearly.  It was the ice. 

The whole of the mighty Skeena River was tinkling.  Filled with tiny ice cubes, as well as the big chunks, the river was making music.

It still is tinkling, I just went out and checked.  It is tinkling right in front of where I now am, at the Hazelton public library, a lovely building perched on the very edge of the river.

In about ten minutes we will be reading to people from this community, having already all done readings at various schools, in all the three Hazeltons today.  New, South and Old Hazelton—we have visited them with the greatest pleasure, and in the brightest sunshine, surrounded by the most astonishing mountains and scenery, we have met and talked to many students today.

I was at Hazelton Secondary School, with about forty high school students in the library, telling them stories of characters in my book, and encouraging them to think of the history in their own area, the stories in their own families. Since then I have visited the Hazelton museum, been to Kispiox village, and admired the restored village here in Hazelton.  If only more historic locations in Canada could do this kind of preservation, this kind of restoration.  I have added this to the list of places I must return to.  I could learn a lot here.

But now the first guest has arrived for the evening reading.  He looks about ten years old, and has come to meet Robin—they are deeply engaged in conversation about her books. Who will come in next? 

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April 14, 2009

Reading in Terrace and Kitimat
Posted by Elise Partridge

Elise Partridge

I felt very lucky to have been invited, along with my fellow author Margaret Horsfield, to read in high schools in Terrace and Kitimat today.  At Caledonia High, three teachers—Geoff Parr and several others (spellings I hope to be confirmed tomorrow) had set up our event in the library.  Margaret gave a terrific talk about some of the eccentrics she’d discovered in the Clayoquot community depicted in her social history, Voices From the Sound.  She imparted some idea of her exhaustive research—all the painstaking work she had done with original documents to help bring this community back to life in her book.  Among other things, she quoted from a moving letter by a First Nations boy suffering from tuberculosis in one of the Clayoquot schools.  She gave the students a sense of how fascinating local history can be and how important it is to try to preserve it. 

Bryan, our wonderfully patient and ever-genial guide, took all of us to Kitimat next.  Katarina Jovanovic reported she’d had a terrific time reading her children’s book to an elementary school crowd in Terrace that morning, while Robin Stevenson was pressed for autographs by the children at her event!  At Mount Elizabeth high school in Kitimat, Margaret and I were greeted by several marvelous classes assembled by a teacher named Dave Durrant.  The students asked both Margaret and me many questions and we wound up feeling not only warmly welcomed but also very stimulated by their curiosity.  As we departed, Margaret and I were asked to sign a brick on an office wall reserved for visitors to the school—we were honored to hear our names would be officially shellacked the next day!  Katarina and Robin also had a very good experience with their elementary-school readings in Kitimat. 

Then we piled into the van again for a lovely drive to a First Nations restaurant, Sea Masters, at a spectacular setting right on the water.  After enjoying delicious seafood and the sunset there, we trundled off for our final reading of the day, at BookMasters in the Kitimat mall, where we were hosted with such generosity by the store’s owners and staff.  The owners even offered trays full of homemade cupcakes, and a gift for each of us writers.  Several of the tour’s sponsors, from Rio Tinto Alcan and Bank of Montreal, were present; Bryan had a ceremony with the cheques and afterward we all got to express our appreciation to them and talk to each other and to the audience members, many of whom lingered to discuss books. 

Tomorrow we’re off to Hazelton.  I’m very grateful for this tour and for my fellow writers.     

Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 2 Comments | Permalink

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