Monday, November 29, 2021

Happy Hanukkah!


Happy Hanukkah ~ Hanukkah Sameach!

Note: Looking for Hanukkah presents for that other winter holiday coming soon? Check out books of Jewish interest for kids and teens here and here

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Wistful and the Good, Chapter One, by Mark Baker {an excerpt}

Dickens and Dumas serialized their novels. This classic approach to publication is becoming popular again with writers such as Salman Rushdie and Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk signing up with Substack to serialize their next projects. Mark Baker is taking the same route with his Anglo-Saxon period historical novel series,  Cuthbert's People. 

Serialization of the first volume  The Wistful and the Good, begins today. Read the opening below, and to read the rest of the chapter and to subscribe to receive a new chapter weekly, visit here.

Chapter 1, The Ship

Elswyth sat on the clifftop looking out over the bright sea. There was a steady onshore breeze blowing, stinging her eyes and tossing her hair out behind her. She refused to wear the wimple that should have covered her head and neck, for young men’s eyes would follow her hair as it bounced and swayed and danced. Young men’s eyes were a novelty and a delight. Not so long ago a child’s smock had hung from narrow shoulders straight downward to the ground. But now a woman’s dress flowed over curves like the tide flowing over smooth stones. Young men’s eyes followed the curves. Whenever she walked through the village, the young men would pause in their tasks, like seagulls hanging on the wind, eyes hungry for something beneath the surface of the wave.

Nor was she shy about looking at the young men. In the autumn, when the harvest had called every able body, man, woman, child, noble, free, and slave, into the fields from dawn till dusk, she had gloried in their broad backs, the flow of their muscles under the skin, the salt sweat of their tanned faces. And in the quiet of the evenings, she had found herself delighting in the thought of lying beside this one or that in the soft new-cut grass, and of the rasp of a calloused hand upon soft flesh.

But she was not for them. She was a thegn’s daughter, and promised long since to an ealdorman’s son. Young men’s eyes had no right to follow her. Her thoughts had no right to stray to hard hands or soft grass. There could be no starlit tryst on new-mown hay for her.

But the eyes of the young men were not her only delight. From where she sat, her eyes could follow the great curve of the horizon, the restless boundary between sea and sand below, the roll and swell of the tide, the curve of the sea grass, bent before the wind. These too were a delight, though the same blustering wind tried to tear her embroidery frame from her fingers and whisk away her threads to catch among the bracken and the gorse.

For the hundredth time she glanced upward, and this time, at last, she saw it. A flash of white, far out in the band of haze between sea and sky. A sail. Her frame and her needle fell into her lap as her eyes yearned outward toward a horizon that was empty once again.

This is how it is when you first see a sail. It will appear for a moment when the ship crests a swell and the light catches the sail just so. And then it will be gone, perhaps not to be seen again for minutes, or perhaps never again. Few eyes would have caught that first flash, or known it for what it was. But Elswyth knew, and in that moment of recognition her breath grew still and her heart raced as the world grew large around her.

Elswyth loved ships, every rope and spar, every plank and sail. She loved the smell of the pitch that lined the seams. Her eyes followed the curves of a ship. Her hands longed to touch, to follow the rise of the curving prow, the round fullness of the stern. She loved the way a ship cleaves to the swelling of the waves, its urgent energy under the force of wind or oar, its rise and fall as it mounted and drove from crest to trough of the ocean swell.

And she loved the young men who sailed in ships, with their strange voices, their hard, strong hands, their red sea-weathered faces, their sheepskin jackets stiff with salt and smelling of both land and sea and the marriage of both.

She loved the tales they told, of wild rocky northlands with their soaring peaks and deep fjords, of the sun-scarred south, where winters were green and summers brown, and men and women rested on the great verandas of stone-built palaces in the heat of the day. Everywhere they travelled, it seemed, was sharper, more vivid, more extreme than Northumbria, the soft country she was born to with its low hills, cool summers, and damp winters.

Once, as a child, she asked why they came here at all, to which the answer was, “For trade, my darling, and to see the pretty girls.” At which she had pouted and said, “But you always leave us behind!” And they always would leave her behind, for her fate lay elsewhere, in the ealdorman’s hall in Bamburgh. As the wife of Drefan of Bamburgh, she would rule over a great hall and host kings at her table. And yet, one glimpse of a sail and her heart was soaring, over the horizon and away.

Again a flash of white. She rose, letting her embroidery frame fall into the work basket at her feet. She shaded her eyes as she strained at the horizon. A square white dot danced into view along the line between sea and sky. She took an anxious step forward, careless of the nearness of the cliff edge. Her right foot caught her work basket and sent it tumbling over the cliff face toward the distant sands below, threads of green and gold and blue scattering to the winds.

What was it? Anglish, Pict, Norsk? It was a Norsk ship she longed for. But it was also Norsk ships her father feared. The ship she longed for was a knarr, a broad-bellied trade ship. The ships her father dreaded were longships, ships of war. Nothing but a knarr had ever come to their beach. Elswyth had never seen a longship. But the news was that a dozen Norsk longships had raided the holy island of Lindisfarne two weeks since, murdering dozens and carrying off much treasure and many slaves. Her home in Twyford was only a day’s ride south of Lindisfarne and her father, like every coastal thegn kept anxious watch for Norsk ships, though no other made his daughter his sentinel.

She longed for a knarr, for not only would a knarr bring wine and gemstones and silver—to trade for the dull necessities produced by her father’s manor—it would also bring new songs, old friends, and tales of Spain.

Ah, Spain! Her heart was full of the young men who sailed to Spain, who got drunk on the wines of Spain, who lounged on verandas with the dark girls of Spain. Was this a ship that had been, that would go, to Spain? Did it carry men who had been, who would go, to Spain? For a moment, all the longing in her heart was fixed on Spain.

The sail was plainer now, no longer disappearing into the haze along the horizon, and sometimes she could glimpse the line of the hull. Whether it was longship or knarr, she still could not be sure. But she was certain of its course now. By the quarter it came from and the line it sailed, it was coming from Norway, and it was heading for their beach. ...

… To finish reading the first chapter of The Wistful and the Good, and to subscribe to receive a new chapter weekly, visit and click the Subscribe button.

Mark Baker recently moved to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. One of Brian's students for several years, he is now serializing his historical novel, The Wistful and the Good, on Substack under the pen name G. M. Baker. Mark has also published three nonfiction books as well as stories in a number of journals including: Dappled ThingsThe Rockford ReviewStorytellerSolanderOur FamilyNew England's Coastal Journal, and Fantasy Book. Find him as G. M. Baker on Facebook here. Subscribe to his newsletter here. 

 See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Online: How to Make Yourself Write workshop, Sunday, Jan 23, 2022

How to Make Yourself Write

A Creativity Workout

Sunday, January 23, 2022
1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Online and accessible from wherever there's Internet

Let's get the new year off to a running start! 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 + hst = $42 paid in advance 

To reserve a spot now, email:

See all of Brian’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Seventy-seven Great Gifts for Writers

Books, of course, make great gifts, for yourself and for both the little people and the adults on your list. See “The best recent Jewish-Canadian books for kids” Part 1 here and part 2  here “More great books for gifts” here, and “Gifts to make the world a better place” hereSee “The 7 very best gifts for writers,” here.

Sleep tight – you know you want a quilt that looks like book shelves – available here. Or go for a variety of blankets for writers here

Fingerless gloves for writing ~ they come in
Alice in Wonderland, Hamlet, The Raven...
Stocking Stuffers
A gift bag of coffee or tea and snack foods, because writers have long thought that caffeine and sugar are their best friends. At the annual Briar's retreat in November, we determined that Hawkins Cheezies are the best junk food ever – and they're Canadian. Yum.
Healthy snacks, because sugar is not truly your bff.
If you're crafty in the kitchen, try some of these homemade treats here.
A bottle of Writers' Tears Copper Pot Irish whisky.

More books of course! Always a great idea for writers. According to Chapters you can find the best books of 2020 here. And don't forget that writers have kids who also like books.
If you're looking for Christmas books, Penguin has a boxed set of six Christmas classics: A Christmas Carol by Dickens, Christmas at Thomspon Hall by Trollope, The Night Before Christmas by Gogol, The Nutcracker by Hoffman … here.
You can find a selection of kids' Christmas books here or here or here or ... There are a lot of Christmas books for kids.
For a non-classic children’s Christmas book, try: Twas The Night Before Christmas: Edited By Santa Claus for the Benefit of Children of the 21st Century. This is a non-smoking version of the classic narrative verse by Pamela McColl, writing/editing under the pseudonym Santa Claus. See here here.
Good lists of Hanukkah books for kids are hard to find. Try here, or just buy all of Eric Kimmel's books. 

A gift certificate to Tim Horton’s, because a comfortable cafĂ© is often the best place to write {at least if you're not under lockdown because of a pandemic).
Fingerless gloves (type and have warm fingers). You can also get a Pride and Prejudice scarf, a Sense and Sensibility pillow cover, a Black Beauty baby blanket ... here
Reading is Sexy button … here
Timer for writing sprints
AquaNotes waterproof notepads (for shower ideas—yes, these really work!)
A stamp with a happy face for critiquing your fellow writers 

Board Games & Creativity Helpers
Apples to Apples is a great creative game; you need to match a noun card in your hand to a given adjective card and convince the dealer that your (absurd) choice really is the best. We had a hoot playing this at the end of the day at the Algonguin Writing Retreat last June. ~Brian
Dixit may be the most popular writing board game out there. Players have to convince other players that their story card is the best way to tell the story.
With 540 cards, the Storymatic feeds the imagination. Just pull out cards from each category (such as “Obstacle” and “What-choo-want”) and let the storytelling begin. Great for writers experiencing writer’s block and collaborative writing groups.  
Writer Emergency Pack. It includes 52 cards with fantastic illustrations and loads of ideas. Whenever you’re struggling with a story, you can pull out a card and get inspiration! (Or at least a giggle.)
The Game of Things  makes everyone write. You’re given a category like “Things that Jiggle” and everybody has to write down a funny or crazy answer. Then the leader of the round reads them anonymously and you have to guess who wrote what. If you play with the right people, it’s fun and funny.
In The Writer’s Toolbox, there are 60 games to play to inspire writers to create — be the first to create a story based on “First Sentences, Non Sequiturs, and Last Straws.” Also, use one of two spinners to generate a random detail that you have to include in your story. 
In Once Upon a Time, the leader plays cards to start a story, trying to guide the story toward his end card. Other players try to jump in and play their cards. First one to use all their cards up wins! Great fun for creative writers.
Bananagrams anagram game … here
Scrabble Magnetic Refrigerator Tiles … here
The Writer's Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the 'Write' Side of Your Brain ... here

For Writers Who Outline
Index cards
Post-It notes
Corkboard &  pushpins
Whiteboard with dry erase markers and eraser

For Writers Who Don't Always Write on Computers
Notebooks! Book stores often have great selections of notebooks and other essential writerly tools, and it's a good year to try to shop as much as possible at a bricks and mortar store.

Technology Helpers
Programs like Scrivener for organizing and word processing
Drogon voice recognition dictation software.  
Typing program (learn to type faster!), such as KeyBlaze.
Wireless/ergonomic keyboard or mouse
Virtual keyboard for mobile use

Big Ticket Items
New computer
Bigger computer monitor
Ergonomic desk chair
Cover design or editing costs for self-published authors

Writing Craft and Publishing-Related Books
The Art of Fiction, John Gardner
The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell
The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron
Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life,  by Anne Lamott.
Conflict, Action and Suspense, William Noble
The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White
The Fiction Editor, Thomas McCormak
How Stories Work, James Woods
On Writing: a memoir of the craft, Stephen King
The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker
Spunk and Bite: A Writer's Guide to Bold Contemporary Style, Arthur Plotnik
Writing Down the Bones, Natlie Goldberg
The Thesaurus books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (The Emotion ThesaurusThe Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus)
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder or Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley
And don't forget, books are available at actual book stores.

Miscellaneous Suggestions
Comfort clothes (robe and fuzzy slippers, sweat pants, but be careful; you may never change out of them. See here!)
Gift basket full of writing-related ideas (pens, notebooks, special beverage and glass, inspirational items or quotes, etc.)
Gift cards for books
Gift cards for office supply stores
Subscription to music source; such as Spotify
Lithographs: Shirts and totes printed with images and the text of your favourite novels. Tattoos available, too … here.

Out of Print Tee’s: T-shirts, tote bags, iphone cases – all sorts of things, decorated with your favourite book covers (here).
Premium level of online service (Dropbox for automatic backups, Amazon Prime for free shipping/lending library, etc.)
Entry fee for a writing contest
Massage gift certificates, a back or foot massager
A head scratcher  – which surely no writer can do without! (Dogs love them, too. Cats will tolerate them.)
Writing time (anything from babysitting to a writers’ retreat to a
housecleaning service)

Have I mentioned that books make great gifts? See “The best recent Jewish-Canadian books for kids” Part 1  here and part 2 here “More great books for gifts” here, “Gifts to make the world a better place” here, and “The 7 very best gifts for writers,” here.

See Brian’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.