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April 25, 2009

Prince Rupert Readings and Farewells

I’d wanted to post this nearly a week ago, but was stymied first by waiting for information and then by computer difficulties.  Tonight (April 25), I’m looking forward to meeting many other people in the BC literary community and seeing my tour-mates again.

On Saturday, April 18, the northern tour traveled to Prince Rupert from Terrace, narrow waterfalls plunging down the sheer rock-face to our right and mountains looming over the water to our left.  Bryan started us rolling to Glenn Gould and moved on once again to such gems as “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” (just one good line: “spilled some dressing/on Doris Lessing”).  Fortunately, we spilled no dressing – everything was too delicious – at lunch at the Cow Bay Café on the Prince Rupert waterfront.  It was a privilege to give our readings at the Museum of the North there, in a room full of First Nations artifacts, with floor-to-ceiling windows through which we could glimpse eagles circling.  One of the highlights of this whole trip, for me, was watching Katarina read her story, The King Has Goat Ears, to an eager audience of both children and adults.  One young girl was so excited she stood up nearly the whole time, trying to peer at the pages while Katarina imitated the voices of King Boyan and his apprentice barber, Igor. 

Afterwards, we had a chance to chat with audience members and the museum director and designer, then tour the exhibits.  This museum, the director told me, has been identified as one of the best in BC, along with UBC’s Museum of Anthropology and the Royal British Columbian Museum in Victoria.  If anyone is anywhere near Prince Rupert, I hope they’ll visit.

At our final convivial dinner in Terrace that night we were joined by a local author, Brenda Silsbe.  I thought how lucky I had been to tour with a group of writers I liked so much and whose work I admired too – at various times on the road, we were all studying each other’s books in the van, discussing characters in Robin’s, the theme and humor in Katarina’s, learning more about the cast and setting in Margaret’s.  We were so lucky as well to have such a collected yet mellow chaperone in Bryan, who attended to every responsibility so cheerfully.  Thank you again to my fellow authors; to our valiant guide; to the teachers and librarians I met at the secondary schools where Margaret and I read (including Geoff Parr, Al Lehmann, Robin MacLeod, Andrew Williams, Dave Durrant, Jack Law, Teresa Monkman, and Valerie Kilbey); to several writers who introduced themselves to me along the way (Howard Smith, a Haisla poet from Kitimaat, and Gillian Wigmore, Barbara Coupé, and Darcy Ingraham, poets from Prince George); to the students (among them, Adrien Hills in Smithers); to bookstore owners and staff (we all enjoyed meeting Linda and Ken Pitzel at Book Masters in Kitimat); and to all the readers who welcomed us so generously.   


Posted by Elise Partridge | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 19, 2009

Tricks of time and a pickled seal

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.

Posted by Margaret Horsfield | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 19, 2009

My last early morning tour blog

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.

Posted by Katarina Jovanovic | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 18, 2009

Prince George/Terrace

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.

Posted by Elise Partridge | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 2 Comments | Permalink

April 17, 2009

Did you write this story with a pencil?

....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?

Posted by Katarina Jovanovic | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 16, 2009

Kids Who Love Books

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. 

Posted by Robin Stevenson | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 16, 2009

The Beauty of Standing Alone

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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Posted by Katarina Jovanovic | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 0 Comments | Permalink

April 14, 2009

Reading in Terrace and Kitimat

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.     

Posted by Elise Partridge | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 2 Comments | Permalink

April 14, 2009

And you came from Vancouver only to read us a story !

Our first talk starts at 9:15. Uplands Elementary in Terrace. Only Robin and myself. Margaret and Elise are going later, to Caledonia Secondary. I am reading to the grade 3 students. Two classes together. Every single student engaged and listening with their eyes wide open. They carry me with that childhood enthusiasm for the story and such generous appreciation for having a book author visiting the class. I never talked with more energy and inspiration. After the reading, the teacher comes up with an extension: all the children will draw a picture of their favourite part of the story. Curious, I walk between the tables leaning over little shoulders: what are they going to draw? Some children draw the king looking at himself in the mirror. Most of them choose the scene with Igor digging the hole and shouting his secret into it. They all fill out the hole with the words:” king….goat…ears”. Some of them approach me saying that they want to become the writers.

Our second visit is in the afternoon. We are full of energy driving down to Kitimat. Yes, we all agree, we are the finalists and it would be nice to get a prize but this trip with all the children we get to talk to - that’s more exciting than anything else.
In Kitimat,we separate again. Margaret and Elise are heading to the high school students. For Robin and myself the next stop is Nechako Elementary School. I am reading to 40 children: grades 1-3. This group is even more involved. We can’t possibly end the talk: they have so many questions: when did you start writing? .. why did you write this story? ..now that you are famous, do you get to meet other famous people? .. what is the prize: do you get a car.?... do you know what happened to the king after?...where does he live?
They all want an autograph. While I am signing,we talk. They find out that I came on the plane from Vancouver.

” And you came from Vancouver only to read us a story?!” - yells a little boy in the corner, his dark eyes growing really big and bright.

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Posted by Katarina Jovanovic | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 2 Comments | Permalink

April 14, 2009

First Day

This is our first day on the Northern leg of the tour… and this is actually going to be a week of firsts for me. First book tour, first time in the north, first time away from my not-quite-five year old. And believe it or not, first ever blog post. Despite considerable peer pressure, I am a committed non-blogger. .

Until now I guess. And it is funny: Knowing that I should post my first blog entry tonight has been making me notice things differently all day. If a student asked a particularly interesting question, I’d think hmmm. Can I work that into the blog? If we drove past some spectacular scenery—which we did—I’d think I wonder if I could describe that well enough to write about it. Or would that be boring? I wish something really funny would happen. When Bryan, who is our fabulous driver and fearless leader, said “If we hit a moose, duck,” I thought, Wow, that’d be an exciting blog post. Assuming I ducked fast enough.”.

Of course, to some extent I do this all the time anyway—scavenge my daily life for potential material for my writing. I imagine most writers’ lives become fodder for their writing in one way or another. But I write novels, so the truthful details that work their way into my writing are usually well disguised. Sure, my name is on the cover of the book but the readers don’t know the exact relationship between the story and my life. They can’t tell which the true bits are. And I kind of like it that way. I like the freedom that fiction provides. I can make my stories exciting because they don’t have to be true.

Hmmm. Maybe if I could write fictional blog posts. Think of the potential for drama, intrigue, suspense…

But as it turns out the day really was filled with excitement. I spent the morning in Terrace and the afternoon in Kitimat, and in both towns I met with wonderfully enthusiastic groups of students in grades four to seven. Their energy level, love of reading and passion for creating stories was incredibly inspiring, and listening to them talk about their favorite books and why they love them reminded me of my own passion for reading at that age. Collectvely, the kids came up with their own fictional characters: in Terrace, a 10 year old boy who desperately wanted two things—a dog, and and to be taller than his younger sister; and in Kitimat, a fabulous home-schooled skateboarding 12 year old called Katie, with blue streaked hair, two good friends, and divorced parents who were tearing her in two different directions with their constant fighting. We talked about the myriad of stories that could be written about those characters, and about the fact that each student would have their own story and their own way of telling it. 

I hope some of them will write their stories down. 

Posted by Robin Stevenson | Filed under: Northern Leg 2009 | 3 Comments | Permalink

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