Monday, November 30, 2020

Some of the best presents – for yourself or for the kids and grown-ups in your life

Also, see 7 great gifts for the writer in your life here. 

Lana Button has a number of marvelous picture books, mainly with Kids Can Press. Check out: What If Bunny's NOT a Bully? 2020, My Teacher's Not Here! 2018, Willow's Smile 2016, Willow's Whispers 2014, and Willow Finds a Way 2013.

She also has a picture book with OwlKids: Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School).

And you can even pre-order Tough Like Mum from Penguin Random House in April 2021.


Jennifer Mook-Sang is the author of the wonderful picture book, Captain Monty Takes the Plunge, from Kids Can Press, and the acclaimed middle grade book, Speechless, from Scholastic.


Erin Silver recently published a very funny middle grade book, Just Watch Me, from Common Deer Press – warning while touching on serious topics, this book  may also contain bathroom humour 😊

This fall,  Erin also published a timely nonfiction book for ages 6+, What Kids Did: Stories of Kindness and Invention in the Time of Covid-19, from Second Story Press.  

And she has a second nonfiction book, this one for young adults, coming in the spring of 2021, Proud to Play – The inspiring stories of amazing Canadian LGBTQ athletes (from Lorimer).

Note: Lanna Button and Erin Silver will be the guest speakers for the Writing Little Kid Lit course starting in the new year. Details here.

Kira Vermond is the author of six nonfiction books that make kids think. Four of them with OwlKids: Trending: How and Why Stuff Gets Popular;  Half-Truths and Brazen Lies;  Why We Live Where We Live Growing Up: Inside and Out; and The Secret Life of Money: A Kid's Guide to Cash, which was my son’s and daughter’s favourite book  the year it came out, although my kids are four years apart.

Kira also has two books written with the Ontario Science Centre and published with Annick Press: Why Don’t Cars Run on Apple Juice? And, coming in March 2021: Why Does My Shadow Follow Me?


Angela Misri has a funny middle grade adventure novel: Pickles vs. the Zombies, that answers the question, what will the pets do during a zombie apocalypse? A sequel, Trip of the Dead, featuring Trip the racoon, will be out in February 2021, and rumour has it she’s writing a third book in the series featuring Emmy, the berserker hamster (all from Cormorant Books’ DCB imprint). 

Angela also has a series of Victorian mystery novels, featuring her female sleuth, Portia Adams. The most recent came out this fall: The Detective and the Spy (from Cormorant)  or you can start with the first in the series, Jewel of the Thames.


Kelly Armstrong has 50+ books, for adults, young adults and middle grade readers. If you’re not yet familiar with Kelly’s books, the best place to start is by browsing the shelves at your local bookstore, or if it’s on lockdown, check out her website here.  


Sylvia McNicoll is the author of more than a dozen middle grade and young adult novels, most recently Body Swap, a young adult novel published by Dundurn Press and the four books in the Mistake Mystery series for middle grade kids, also from Dundurn.

Note: Kira Vermond and Sylvia McNicoll will be the guest speakers for the Writing Kid Lit course starting in the new year. Details here.


David Moores published, Attitude, his debut young adult novel this year with Middle Road Publishers.

Attitude is a fast-paced novel pitting resourceful teens, Lyle and Laura, against a cast of quirky, dysfunctional characters and real bad asses who mostly get what’s coming to them.” ~Mike Joll


Two great sailing adventures:

Sue Williams’ bestselling tale of her journey of self-disovery while crossing the Atlantic with her husband, Ready to Come About from Dundurn Press.


Jennifer M Smith’s amazing account of her 40,000-mile journey circumnavigating the globe aboard a small sailboat with just her husband, Green Ghost, Blue Ocean, from Nimbus publishing.

Note: Jennifer will be the guest speaker for the Writing Personal Stories course starting in the new year. Details here.

Karma Brown published her most recent novel, Recipe for a Perfect Wife with Penguin Random House. Her four earlier novels were all with MIRA Books a Harlequin/HarperCollins imprint. Check them out here.


Hannah Mary McKinnon is the author of four domestic thrillers, most recently, Sister Dear, published with MIRA Books, and you can pre-order Hannah’s fifth novel coming in May 2021: You Will Remember Me. Check out all five here.


P.S. Check out 77 more gifts for writers hereAnd check out some of the very best gifs for writers here and gifts to make the world a better place here. Plus, don't forget, try to shop local. Buy your books straight from the publisher or from a book store

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding online and in-person 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, 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, November 28, 2020

Algonquin Park Writing Retreat at Arowhon Pines Resort, Friday, May 28 – Monday, May 31

Algonquin in May is alive with moose calves and other young animals

Algonquin Park Writing Retreat

Friday, May 28 – Monday, May 31, 2021
Arowhon Pines Resort, Arowhon Pines Rd, Little Joe Lake, Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada

Give yourself a long weekend of writing time  a weekend of instruction, inspiration and creativity. Award yourself with time away from distractions, with no dishes to do and wonderful food at every meal, as you sit with your feet up and write in the most beautiful wilderness setting in Ontario. This is where the Group of Seven got its inspiration (Tom Thompson is buried just a couple of lakes over); it’s a wonderful place for you to find your inspiration, too.

The retreat will feature both instruction and guided writing exercises, plus one-on-one critiquing and coaching from Brian.  You’ll also have lots of time to relax, rejuvenate, and reconnect with your creativity. 

All writing levels welcome. Whether you are just beginning or have a novel in progress, please join us. 

This year, the retreat will be limited to eight participants to allow for physical distancing. As a bonus, this will mean more one-on-one time with the instructor.

The setting: Arowhon Pines is a peaceful, quiet resort nestled in the woods on Little Joe Lake inside Algonquin Park. There are no motorboats on the lake, except for the resort’s own pontoon boat which takes guests on occasional wildlife tours.

The resort is without TV and is far from the roar of traffic. The cry of a loon is the loudest noise you’re likely to hear all day.

Rates include charming accommodation (cabins have a mix of queen beds for one person or couples or twin beds for two people rooming together; rooms also have private bathrooms and each cabin has a lounge with fireplace to share with your fellow writers). 

Three all-you-can-eat gourmet meals per day are provided, featuring an abundance of fresh food prepared by master chefs and an inspired kitchen staff. (Bring your own wine or beer!)

All activities included. When you’re not writing, or for spouses who accompany you, there is plenty to do: canoe or kayak a series of lakes or hike trails to see wildlife (moose, loons, beaver, turtles, fox, deer), swim in the lake, sail, stand up paddleboard, play tennis, relax. For indoor activities there is a games room with table tennis, shuffleboard, books, board games. Your stay also includes access to all Algonquin Park programs and activities including a car pass for you to fully enjoy the park.

Check-in isn’t until 3 p.m., but guests can arrive in the morning to fully take advantage of the facilities (though the meals included in your package don’t begin until after check-in time, so lunch on Friday is extra if you arrive early). Each guest can borrow a day pass for Algonquin Park. The formal retreat will begin late Friday afternoon. On Monday, we'll have our last formal get-together at 11 a.m., ending at 12 noon. Check out time is at 1 p.m.  Most guests have lunch while the bellhops load the car. But once you’ve had lunch, don’t feel you have to rush off!

Participants are welcome to bring spouses, partners or friends, as there will be plenty to do while you’re writing – canoeing, kayaking or sailing, swimming if warm enough, tennis, reading and just plain resting and unwinding, enjoying the wilderness.

Read about a stay at Arowhon Pines here.

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 has helped many of his students get their first book published and launch their careers as authors.

Read reviews of previous writing retreats at Arowhon Pines here (and scroll down). 
To see more reviews of Brian’s weekly courses and Saturday workshops, see 

Seminar fee:

For the full 4-day, 3-night retreat: $203.54 plus hst = $230

Accommodation fee (including accommodation and food, plus use of all the resort’s facilities):

$268 per person per night double occupancy ($536 per couple) OR $335 per night single occupancy, plus 15% service charge (in lieu of tipping), then plus 13% HST. 

Book early – space is strictly limited! Full receipts issued.

For more information or to register, email:

If you have questions or need more information about the accommodations,
phone the resort: 1-866-633-5661

Note: At this point, we’re assuming that some Covid-19 restrictions will still be in place come May 2021. As a result, this retreat will be restricted to just 8 participants, though in addition, non-participating spouses, partners, or friends are also welcome, and we’ll be observing any regulations related the virus.  If there should there be some unforeseen setback in the battle against Covid-19 and we’re forced to cancel, we’ll endeavor to move the retreat to a later weekend.

Who can attend the retreat?

Everyone interested in developing their writing skills is welcome to attend, whether you're aspiring writer or an accomplished author or simply enjoy writing as a hobby. There is no requirement for you to have been previously published or even to have an intention to publish.

I'm a poet / playwright / other writer. Is this retreat for me?

The retreat is open to anyone who enjoys writing. Instruction will focus on narrative writing; i.e., stories, whether fiction or memoir. But if you’re an essayist or poet or whatever, you’re entirely welcome.  

Should I bring my work in progress?

Yes, if you have an on-going writing project, bring it with you! If you’re not currently working on anything, don’t worry, we’ll get you writing.

Should I bring my laptop?

Yes, if you prefer to work on your laptop. If you prefer to work on paper bring that. Or go crazy and bring both your laptop and your notebook.

Can you cater to specific dietary requirements?

Yes, just let the staff at Arowhon Pines know beforehand about your needs.

I want to stay longer or arrive early. Is that possible?

If you want to stay longer, that’s fine. Just arrange it with the resort. I don’t Arriving early isn't possible, though, as our retreat is scheduled for their opening weekend. There is plenty to see and do in the park, and Arowhon Pines is a lovely base from which to explore. Arowhon will keep the same rate throughout your stay.

Is there cell phone reception and WIFI?

Arowhon Pines is an island of luxury, but in the midst of wilderness, so no cell phone reception and no WIFI, though there are landlines and there’s access to the resort’s Internet connection. (Contact the resort for details.) But be sure to have your writing projects on your laptop when you come, not stored in the Cloud.

How about alcohol?

Arowhon does not serve alcohol, but guests are welcome to bring their own wine, beer or whatever to have with meals or back at your cabin or wherever. (Though do note that Hemingway’s advice to write drunk, mostly produces drivel.)

Can I bring my spouse?

Certainly. Just let them know you’ll be spending most of your time writing, (though you will have some free time every day), and make sure they enjoy superb food, beautiful wilderness, and relaxing on the deck or the dock or out on a canoe as they glide past a moose munching on water lilies.

For more information about the resort, visit their website here.

For more information or to register, email: 

To book your accommodation at Arowhon Pines, phone toll free: 1-866-633-5661
And be sure to tell them you're with the writing retreat!

Or you can book on-line here~ But be sure to also phone and tell them you're with the writing retreat!

Friday, November 27, 2020

“The Birthday Party” by Randi Evans


I had felt her presence for a while, but I didn’t hear her voice until the day of my retirement party.  She whispered, “So, how long do you think we have left?”

I managed to subdue her for 4 years, as I volunteered at my granddaughter’s school, revived my garden, and read through the stack of books that had been patiently waiting. My husband, Bill, took a retirement job in the wine industry and spent his spare time at the golf course or squash court.  I had tried to like golf, but to me it was just a workshop in creative profanity. We did, however, agree on one pastime. Travel. We had visited every continent except Antarctica at least twice, in an effort to ensure that our children would never be burdened with having to manage too much money.

It was as Bill and I approached our 70th years, she returned, roaming uneasily through my body. Again she asked, “So, how long do you think we have left?” I clamped my hand firmly over her mouth.

Bill and I were not into big celebrations, but I decided it would be easier to silence her if I was busy planning something special for our 70th year.  There was no question that travel would be involved, and choosing the country was easy.  Spain had called us back repeatedly since our first trip there in 1973, and we both wanted to explore more of the north coast.

We made our celebration a command performance for our three children and their families.  They didn’t object.  On a lark, we sent out feelers to other well-travelled family and friends to see if there was any interest in joining us.  Some jumped on board by return email. Others signed on over the next few months. Thirty-five people later we realized were going to have a birthday party in Spain.

Now, to nail down the exact location.  We wanted our guests to have a genuine Spanish experience - sun, sea, timeworn streets, fortress walls, Spanish omelets and ham, the best coffee in the world, and that unique brand of Spanish energy.  We needed a village big enough to accommodate tourists but not so popular that foreigners had corrupted their lifestyle.  I had been making most of our travel arrangements, but now I had to satisfy thirty-five people from age seven to eighty.

Reality set in. I had committed to planning a party. A Big Party. In Spain. From Canada. In Spanish. What the hell was I thinking?

After a particularly sleepless night I emailed friends in Barcelona who did some brain-storming and came back to us with Hondarribia, a Basque village on the north coast near San Sebastian. It had 3 distinct districts – narrow, winding streets leading up through a walled village; the seaside with marina, sandy beaches and boardwalk; and what we affectionately called “Party Street”, where wine flowed and tapas magically appeared on little stand-up tables in the middle of a cobblestone walkway lined on one side with bars and the other with colourfully painted homes and businesses. Perfect.  We knew where we were going.

Now the details.  I found an apartment on the 3rd and 4th floors of a building on the water. It had six bedrooms for the eleven immediate family members, a playroom for the kids and a large common area with a balcony overlooking the busy promenade and across the Bidasoa River into France. Having learned my lesson about DIY, I immediately sought a small travel agent in Hondarribia to help with tours. This remarkable woman, Txaro, had spent her school years in New York State, so her English was perfect.  She was intrigued by a group of crazy Canadians coming to Spain to have a birthday party and made it her mission to ensure our celebration would be one we would remember.

With air booked, accommodations and tours settled, we had a few months to relax. That’s when I heard it again  that disturbing question.  “So, how long do you think we have left?” I upgraded our seats to business class.  That shut her up.

Bill and I flew into Spain a week early with our younger daughter and her fiancĂ© (they in economy class).  We had to tweak the details and put together welcome kits - maps, schedules and of course, a bottle of local wine all nestled into a Spanish souvenir bag.  A few days later, our older daughter, our son and their families arrived.  Then the rest of the group began trickling in.

Txaro introduced Hondarribia with a walking tour through the walled village, noting, not only the rich history, but also where the town scenes from Papillon had been filmed. The following day we were happy to see our guests split into new friendship units to spend their free day hiking the hills leading to the Bay of Biscay, exploring vibrant San Sebastien or hanging out in the local bars.

We rented a bus for two days, with the first to be spent in France.  It started by dragging our grandson from the playroom wailing, “but there are no toys in France!” He perked up when he learned he would get to explore a real neo-gothic castle and was totally appeased after choosing his lunch from the fresh fruit, specialty meats and pastries in the open air market. 

The driver dropped us off on the beach for the afternoon, and we made our way back to Hondarribia via the 10 minute ferry across the Bidasoa.  

We spent the next day in the Spanish countryside, learning of the strong Roman influence, donning helmets that perched uselessly on top of the oversized Evans’ heads to tour an iron mine and sampling Txakoli, the signature dry, slightly spritzy wine of the region. We lunched at a Cider House serving the largest portions of the bloodiest meat we had ever seen outside a butcher shop. We ended the day winding down the hills past vineyards and farms as the sun set on the Bay of Biscay.

The only surprise was the bus driver. He was bilingual as promised, but his languages were Basque and Spanish. The inconvenience was surpassed by the hilarity of our broken Spanish and pantomimed conversations.

The Birthday dinner was intended to be the high point of the week.  While it was a fun five hour stuff-and-drink-yourself-silly event, the best parts of the week were the other evenings.  Our apartment had an open door policy. Guests started arriving around 5:00 with food and wine.  The cooks among us crowded into the tiny kitchen to see what we could concoct. Not surprisingly in Evansland, a contest evolved – who could buy the cheapest drinkable bottle of wine. Bill judged the winner to be a 1.5 Euro, 1.5 liter bottle of Garnacha, which was better than some of the more “expensive” (2 Euro) bottles.

The evenings ended with very loud singalongs accompanied by our son and our daughter’s fiancĂ© on their guitars.  Those with a Welsh background carried the tune while the rest of us mouthed the words. I was sure that we were going to be evicted. However, when the seniors tottered to their beds and the younger crowd headed to Party Street around 11:00, we could hear the revelry coming from outside and realized that the locals were just getting started.  Spaniards know how to party.

On the last evening our three children roasted us with original lyrics to “Homeward Bound”. Instead of extoling the virtues of their wonderful parents, they divulged how much I worried, how much Bill slept, and how they wished we were indeed “homeward bound” instead of squandering their inheritance. I had prepared a slide show of our 70 years, accompanied by our favourite music - from 1940’s songs my mother sang to me to Lady Gaga.  Our older daughter, the comedian, made a heartwarming speech, thanking me for saving her time in planning our funerals.

Our guests trickled out just as they had trickled in.  Bill and I stayed in northwest Spain another two weeks to unwind. I wouldn’t want to take on that kind of project again, but I don’t regret an iota of the time, effort and expense. The bonus? I hadn’t heard her voice in a full month.

In the 5 years following our party, she has become more active.  She jabs her toe under my kneecap. She pings my sciatic nerve with her nails. She swooshes through my inner ear until I am off balance.  She whispers. She murmurs. She sighs. But now, when she asks ,“So, how long do you think we have left?” I tell her, “Just leave me alone.  I’m busy.”


Randi Evans enjoys travelling, gardening, classroom volunteering and being a grandma. She has always enjoyed writing, but found little time to do more than edit the company newsletter and write the occasional article. In retirement, Randi has written a few stories for her young grandchildren and is now experimenting with other genres, starting with memoires. Randi lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with her husband, Bill.

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding online and in-person 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, 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.