Tuesday, January 28, 2020

“The Greatest Children’s Book of All Time You Never Heard Of” by Lisa Sutcliffe



Gwendolyn the Miracle Hen by Nancy Sherman, Illustrated by Edward Sorel, Golden Press (1961)

My favourite book is easy to spot in my collection: like many picture books, it’s wider than it is tall, so it sticks out from the shelf, spine ragged and the hardcover yellowed. You can also pick it out by the familiar old-book aroma – it is 55+, like its owner, but I’m not quite as musty.
Gwendolyn the Miracle Hen by Nancy Sherman is the one book I’ll never part with. To this day when it comes up in conversation, my parents recite in unison, “Out in the country, far from town, there lived a man named Farmer Brown. Between the fences he had built, his pastures made a patchwork quilt.…”
When Farmer Brown has trouble paying the rent to Mr. Meany (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Dudley Do-Right’s nemesis, top-hatted Snidely Whiplash), our heroine Gwendolyn figures out a way to raise some cash. She lays amazing eggs with “colored lines and floral designs” for Farmer Brown to sell. 
(My favourite featured a white background with yellow-orange and blue flowers within flowers with curlicued leaves on wavy baselines).
When Mr. Meany takes Gwendolyn instead of the rent money, she outwits him and returns to happy anonymity with Farmer Brown.  The clever hen goes back to laying white eggs, “but now and then, when rent time nears, a multicolored egg appears.”
This book had a triple impact on me. First, the good versus evil story with an inventive solution made me strive to be a creative problem solver. Second, the rhymes, so fluid and musical, sparked my interest in poetry. But best of all, the illustrations by Edward Sorel spoke to me. They were swirly and doodly in that 60’s graphic style and the characters so expressive. Yet amid the colour and movement, the backgrounds were evocative and moody.


Having grown up in suburban southern Ontario, it wasn’t until I met my Edmontonian future husband that I was introduced to what I assume was the inspiration for the eggs – pysanky, decorative Ukrainian Easter eggs. My mother-in-law showed me the beautiful symbols of rebirth and gave me a kit to make my own. Mine looked exactly like Gwendolyn’s – if she had laid them after a wild night eating fermented corn.
If I remove my rose-coloured glasses and consider the book more critically, perhaps it wasn’t so unreasonable for Mr. Meany to expect the rent. And would Gwendolyn really be able to go back to her peaceful farm life after being famous? Perhaps today’s children might find the story and illustrations dated: it seems like all the classic characters from Winnie the Pooh to Arthur have been updated. A 2010 review on Goodreads indicated that the children of at least one Gwendolyn afficionado were still enjoying the book, and several people mentioned it had also been their childhood favourite.
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow by Edward Sorel
for Rolling Stone, Oct 1992, based on
Pierre Auguste Cot's The Storm
Curious about what had happened to Nancy Sherman and Edward Sorel after this 1961 publication, I was delighted to discover the duo made another book together in 1963, Gwendolyn and the Weathercock. Nancy Sherman wrote a few more children’s books, but I could find no biographical information.
Edward Sorel, on the other hand, now 90, continues to enjoy a storied career as a writer known for social commentary as well as an illustrator and cartoonist. His contributions include the top American magazines, from Harpers, Forbes, Vanity Fair, Penthouse, the Atlantic, National Lampoon to the New Yorker (with over 44 covers). 
He wrote and illustrated his 2016 book (for adults), Mary Astor's Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936, based on old newspapers he had found as a young man under the linoleum during a renovation.
While Gwendolyn the Miracle Hen may be hiding in obscurity, perhaps there’s a chance Edward Sorel’s fame may one day result in a reprint. Then a new generation can discover how a plucky hen did something extraordinary to save the people and animals she cared about, and that what really matters is a simple happy life with family. 
***
Lisa Sutcliffe can be found in and around Oakville, Ontario enjoying her many retirement pursuits including writing, woodworking, guitar, drinking fermented beverages and perhaps a renewed attempt at making pysanky.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Happy Lunar New Year!



May the Year of the Rat bring you good luck and good fortune!

 恭禧發財

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Gong Hey Fat Choy!

(Mandarin and Cantonese, if you're wondering,
written with the same characters in both, I'm told.)

Friday, January 24, 2020

“Climbing” by Nancy Taber


Evelyn glared at the postcard of the Greek goddess Nike– she who had inspired the Nike swoosh. It mocked her from her cork board where she had originally posted it as motivation. She looked at the clock on her computer, watching as one minute turned to the next. She willed it to stop, to give her more time before she was canned from her job as efficiently as her recently deceased mother had canned apples every fall.

“Evelyn,” shouted her boss, Kleitos, from down the hall of the archeological museum. “The Nike people will be here in less than an hour. Where’s that statuette? I needed it here yesterday. The donation they’re going to give us will keep us funded for years.” She could hear his gleeful laugh and pictured his hands outstretched as if welcoming Ploutus, the god of wealth, to chase away the museum’s foreclosure. 

Evelyn ignored him and continued her frantic search of the database. Her fingers, their nails bitten to the quick, darted over the keyboard. “Where did you go?” she asked her empty office. Her voice rose with each question that ran through her head like Theseus turning endless corners in the Minotaur’s labyrinth. “Did you disappear to fight a war? To visit the Parthenon? To obliterate my already obliterated life? 

Thoughtless goddess, abandoning me after it took me decades to find you.” She’d chased stories of the statuette’s existence across Greece, finally discovering it tucked into a hillside on an island in the Aegean Sea that was so small it was unnamed. She should have earned the cover on Anthropologists Monthly for that, but it went to some man who’d dug up yet another Viking spear in Iceland. Damn Game of Thrones was on everyone’s minds.

Her iPhone 4 buzzed. Everyone said she should trade it in for a newer model, but it seemed cruel to abandon it, the way her husband had traded her in, or up, for a shiny iPhone 11 that probably hung on his every word, made him breakfast in bed, even sucked his…

“Evelyn,” her assistant, Simon, strode into the office and interrupted her thoughts. “Any luck?”

“No,” she spat. She envisioned the Muskoka Plunge water slide at Canada’s Wonderland. Just last year she’d been ensconced at the top, having conquered multiple flights of stairs to get there. An adoring husband, her career on the rise, a child in their future, an ever-present loving mother. 

Over the next 12 months, she’d careened down, losing first her mother, then the possibility of a baby, then her partner, and now, unless she re-discovered that cursed statuette, her job as an anthropologist. She was drenched in fatigue just thinking about how to find the energy to climb back up that hard-earned staircase. 
           
Her phone buzzed again. She looked at the display of her intern’s name, Cindy, and stabbed the speakerphone icon. “I swear to God this better be good news.”

“Don’t you mean swear to the Goddess?”

“I swear if I’m fired then you’ll be out of a job with me.”

“I’m unpaid, remember?”

“Cindy!”

“Sorry. So it must have been misfiled?”

“We know that, genius. It’s not as if it walked out on its own. Not with that ID tag attached. We could follow it to Hades and back. But no signal in this building. What idiot came up with that system?”

Silence from the phone. Evelyn took a breath, trying to follow her therapist’s instructions. Breathe in, two, three. Breathe out, two, three. When she thought she could speak without her voice cracking, she took the phone off speaker and picked it up, tucking her curly red hair behind her ear so she could hear.

“Thanks for your patience with me,” she said. That was another of her therapist’s recommendations. Acknowledge others. “I’m coming back down for another search. The computer’s no help.” She ended the call and stalked out of the office, with Simon hurrying behind her. “Get to the lobby and stall them,” she ordered. “Give them a tour of the goddess collection. Tell them that their commercial will be that more powerful if they understand the importance of Nike and how she fits into mythology. Show them the Artemis statue. Ask them to guess how many breasts she has and tell the winner they’ll get a prize.”

“What prize?”

“Let them feel her up.”

“Seriously?”

“Of course not. Jesus. How many degrees do you need before you have common sense?” She shoved him towards the elevator. “You’re resourceful – think of something.” Floor #1 flashed above the doors. Evelyn dashed towards the emergency exit and ran down three flights. She tore into the climate controlled storage room and bashed into Cindy. Even though her intern’s hands were empty she couldn’t help herself from asking. “Anything?”

“No.”

“Do I have to do everything myself?” Evelyn raced through the room, scanning shelves with hurried eyes as if she hadn’t made the same search 10 times before.  

“I told you,” murmured Cindy.

Evelyn turned on her heel and stepped towards Cindy until their noses were almost touching.

“Who. Do. You. Think. You. Are?” she spat.

“Um. I’m, an intern?”

“That was a rhetorical question. Is everyone around here incompetent?” Evelyn watched as Cindy’s face crumpled and she choked on her tears. Dammit, she’d gone too far again. If only she could get control of this fury that had seized her like one of Medusa’s snakes.

“I’m sorry,” Cindy blubbered. “It’s just that… it’s an honour to work with you. You’re a great role model. I don’t want to let you down.”

Evelyn felt something chipping through the stone that surrounded her heart. Her anger flattened. “Alright. Plan B,” she said. “We use a different statuette for the meeting, and then bring the real one in when it’s appraised for insurance and they borrow it for their commercial. You keep Kleitos away. He’s the only one who’ll notice the difference.”

Cindy nodded and Evelyn zipped back up the steps to find a replacement statuette. When she reached her office, she flopped over and put her hands on her knees. As she drew several deep breaths, she felt herself calm. At least someone cared about her. Looked up to her. She straightened as the danger of hyperventilating passed.

Her gaze flicked over the top shelf of the bookcase in the corner. Her winged Nike with a laurel wreath. Goddess of Victory. She’d been here the whole time.

Maybe she could climb those stairs again, after all.

Nancy Taber is an academic at Brock University and a retired military member. Her research explores the intersection of gender, militarism, and learning in daily life. She has published multiple journal articles, books, and book chapters but is most proud of her published short stories, one in Fifteen Stories High and one on CommuterLit. She is currently working on two fiction-based research projects: a collection of short stories about women, war, and war museums and a book of historical fiction about Acadian women in 1759, 1864, and the present.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Cambridge, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Rescheduled: How to Make Yourself Write ~ A Creativity Workout, now Saturday, Aug 22, in St. Catherines


How to Make Yourself Write
A Creativity Workout
Saturday, August 22, 2020
{Rescheduled from March 14}
1:00 – 4:30 p.m.
St. Catharines Central Library, Rotary & Bankers Room
54 Church Street, St. Catharines, Ontario 
(Map  here.)

Let's get motivated and start the summer right! This workshop is designed to help you find the time and the inspiration to write. No more staring at a blank screen. Come to this workshop and give yourself a kick-start, and then learn how to keep going. This creativity workout will get your words flowing and help you make the breakthrough into the next level of writing.

Workshop leader Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada’s most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University, and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Charlottetown. But his proudest boast is that he has helped many of his students get their first book published and launch their careers as authors. 
See reviews of Brian's classes and workshops here.

Fee: 37.17 + 13% hst = 42 paid in advance by mail or Interac
or 39.82 + 13% hst = 45 if you wait to pay at the door
To reserve a spot now, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

See Brian’s complete schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Some highlights of 2019


I’m primarily an editor rather than a writer, a midwife more than a mum, so my most prized successes are the successes of my students, clients, and friends. The past year brought far too many successes to list, but I thought I’d try a round-up of some of the highlights of 2019. ~Brian

Tanaz Bhethena published her second YA novel, The Beauty of the Moment – to almost as much acclaim as her first novel, A Girl Like That. Beauty has been nominated for numerous awards and been recommended by the CBC, The Globe and Mail, Buzzfeed, etc, Tanaz also
contracted her next two novels, a YA fantasy duology, with Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Sue Williams memoir Ready to Come About was endorsed by Miriam Toews, listed as a “Summer Read” by the Globe and Mail, picked as a recommended read at numerous bookstores – and promptly sold out its first printing.


Hannah Mary McKinnon published her third and fourth novels: Her Secret Son, which became a Canadian bestseller, and Sister Dear. Plus,Hannah has contracted with MIRA Books {a HarperCollins imprint} for her next two novels.


Elizabeth Crockett published two poetry books this year: Wondering What’s Next, and Happy Haiku, a book of poetry for children. Plus, this month – January 2020 – she published her third women’s fiction
novel, The Smell of Roses.


Jennifer Smith won the Pottersfield Prize for nonfiction with her book, Green Ghost, Blue Ocean: No Fixed Address – and won the publishing contract that comes with it. We’re eagerly looking forward to
publication in April 2020.


Mary Steer’s short story, “The Yarnabomber” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


Lena Scholman placed 2nd in the Toronto Star Short Story Contest.


Oksanna Crawley’s SUPER HAMMY kid’s books have been optioned for a children’s animated series.

Many, many friends and students had short stories and personal essays published in various journals. Barbara Wackerle Baker’s personal essay, “Life Support” was published in the Globe and Mail and subsequently made into a short film which was featured at the Toronto International Film Festival. Watch it here.


Wherever She Goes ~ Kelley's latest novel 
And for Kelley Armstrong, 2019 was a banner year – she published six books, including novels for adults, teens, and adolescents, plus a collection of tales, and she edited and contributed a story for the Mystery Writers of America’s first teen anthology, Life is Short and Then You Die. Kelley’s total library is now 50+ books {I think – it’s hard to keep track}.

Congratulations to everyone! Writing is important. It’s how we articulate our humanity.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Southampton, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

New dates for: Exploring Creative Writing, Writing Personal Stories, and Next Step courses


Exploring Creative Writing
9 weeks of discovering your creative side
Thursday afternoons, 12:45 – 2:45 p.m.
New: January 30 – March 26, 2020
{Changed from: starting January 23}
St. Elizabeth's Anglican Church, 5324 Bromley Road,  Burlington, Ontario (Map here.)
This is your chance to take up writing in a warm, supportive environment. We’ll explore writing short stories and writing dialogue, writing in first person and writing in third person, writing technique and getting creative, crafting your very best writing and just for fun writing. 
You’ll get a shot of inspiration every week and an assignment to keep you going till the next class. Best of all, this class will provide a zero-pressure, totally safe setting, where your words will grow and flower.
Fee:  $167.26 plus 13% hst = $189
To reserve your spot, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Writing Personal Stories
9 weeks of sharing and writing
Thursday evenings 7 – 9 p.m.
New: January 30 – March 26, 2020
{Changed from starting January 23}
St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, 1541 Oakhill Drive, Oakville, Ontario (Map here.)
If you've ever considered writing your personal stories, this course is for you. We’ll look at memoirs, travel writing, personal essays, family history ~ personal stories of all kinds. Plus, of course, we’ll work on creativity and writing technique and have fun doing it. 
Whether you want to write a book or just get your thoughts down on paper, this weekly course will get you going. We'll reveal the tricks and conventions of telling true stories, and we’ll show you how to use the techniques of the novel to recount actual events. Weekly writing exercises and friendly feedback from the instructor will help you move forward on this writing adventure. Whether you want to write for your family and friends or for a wider public, don't miss this course.
Fee: $167.26 plus 13% hst = $189
To reserve your spot, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Next Step in Creative Writing
10 weeks of growth as a writer
Tuesday afternoons, 12:30 – 2:45
New: January 28 – March 31, 2020. 
{Changed from starting Jan 21}
St. Elizabeth's Anglican Church, 5324 Bromley Rd, Burlington, Ontario (Map here.)
The Next Step in Creative Writing is for people who have been writing for a while or who have done a course or two before and are working on their own projects. Over the ten weeks of classes, you’ll be asked to bring in five pieces of your writing for detailed feedback. All your pieces may be from the same work, such as a novel in progress, or they may be stand alone pieces. You bring whatever you want to work on. 
Besides critiquing pieces, the instructor will give short lectures addressing the needs of the group, and in addition to learning how to critique your own work and receiving constructive suggestions about your writing, you’ll discover that the greatest benefits come from seeing how your classmates approach and critique a piece of writing and how they write and re-write. This is a challenging course, but extremely rewarding.
Fee: $184.96 + 13% hst = $209
To reserve your spot, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca


Instructor Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada's most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Saint John. But his proudest boast is that he’s has helped many of his students get published. 
Read a review of Brian's various courses and workshops here {and scroll down).

See Brian’s complete current schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Cambridge, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

FEB 8 NEW DATE (was Jan 18) Writing Conflict: Fight scenes, Dialogue scenes & Love scenes --- Oakville

Writing Conflict: Fight scenes, Dialogue scenes & Love scenes
RESCHEDULED TO: Sat. FEB 8, 2020
(cancelled Saturday, January 18, 2020)
NEW DATE FEB 8 from 1:00 – 4:30 p.m.
St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, 1541 Oakhill Drive, Oakville, Ontario (Map here.)

This workshop is geared to both beginners and more experienced writers.  We look at the most important part of all stories whether fictional or true: the fully dramatized scene. You’ll learn how to write great dialogue and how to mix it with your narrative so that the interaction between your characters comes alive. 
As a bonus we'll look at how to create the most difficult scenes of all: the fight scene, the dialogue scene and the love scene. Best yet, you'll learn some of the successful tricks of the trade so that you'll never write a lifeless scene again.
  
Workshop leader Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada’s most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University, and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Charlottetown. But his proudest boast is that he has helped many of his students get their first book published and launch their careers as authors. 
See reviews of Brian's classes and workshops here.

Fee: $37.17 + hst = $42 paid in advance or $39.82 + hst = $45 at the door
To reserve a spot now, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Workshop leader Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada’s most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University, and he's led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Charlottetown. But his proudest boast is that he has helped many of his students get their first book published and launch their careers as authors. 
See reviews of Brian's classes and workshops here.

See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including Saturday writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor,  Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.