Saturday, December 31, 2022

Courses this winter, online and in-person: Exploring Creative Writing, Writing Little Kid Lit, and Writing Personal Stories

Exploring Creative Writing

 ~ Discovering your creative side

Online: Monday afternoons, 1 – 3 p.m.
January 23 – March 20, 2023
Accessible from anywhere there's internet 

Or

In-person: Thursday evenings, 7 – 9 p.m.
January 26 – March 30, 2023 {No class March 23}
St. Elizabeth’s 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 true stories, writing in first person and in third person, writing technique and getting creative, getting down 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:  $176.11 plus 13% hst = $199

To reserve your spot, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Writing Little Kid Lit

~ Board Books, Picture Books, Chapter Books and Middle Grade Novels

Online: Tuesday afternoons, 1 – 3 p.m.
January 24 – March 21, 2023
Offered on Zoom and accessible from anywhere there's internet 

This course is for adults {or teens} interested in writing Picture Books, Chapter Books, or Middle Grade books. Accessible for beginners and meaty enough for advanced writers, we’ll focus on helping you develop your own writing projects. Through lectures, in-class assignments, homework, and feedback on your writing, we’ll give you ins and outs of writing for younger readers and set you on course toward writing books kids will love and parents will buy.

We’ll have two published children’s authors as guest speakers {to be announced}.

Fee: $176.11 plus 13% hst = $199

To reserve your spot, email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca 

Writing Personal Stories 

 ~ A wealth of writing and sharing

Offered at two times:

New: Online: Monday evenings, 6:30 – 8:30
January 30 – April 3, 2023 (No class March 27)

Online: Wednesday evenings, 6:30 – 8:30,
January 25 – March 22, 2023 
Offered on Zoom and accessible from anywhere there's internet 

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.

Sue Williams author of the memoir, Ready to Come About will be our guest speaker for these courses. 

Fee: $176.11 plus 13% hst = $199

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.  Brian is the author of a children's version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  (Tribute Publishing). But his proudest boast is that he’s helped many of his students get published. 

Read reviews of Brian's various courses and workshops here (and scroll down).

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

Thursday, December 29, 2022

“A Prickly Situation” by Wendy Truscott

Wendy's dad, James Lawson

I believe in temporary insanity, because I’ve seen it. 

The adventure began with Mom’s long-standing request for an open-concept living room. Arriving home from Sunday School one late winter afternoon in 1955, I was stunned to find Dad suddenly demolishing walls in our small semi-detached Toronto home. 

Mom was thrilled, and then flabbergasted. Dad actually had two projects in mind: opening up the room for Mom and building a boat in it for himself.

At that time we were new cottagers, and having searched for the perfect property, we had hacked a long trail through the bush, felled trees, hauled lumber across the lake on a raft, erected a basic cottage, and eventually built a road. 

Dad was now ready for something bigger than his rowboat with its five-horse power motor. Promising Mom his new craft would be ship-shape and out of the house in six weeks, he embarked on his project.

We became accustomed to strange sights like hot rags wrapped around wood pieces, bending them to the shape of the hull, and to the queries of puzzled neighbours and delivery men who couldn’t believe a man was building a boat in his living room. The mailman knocked on the door regularly to check on construction progress and, shaking his head, would tell Mom that he didn’t know many wives who would put up with this.

The promised six weeks turned into three times that, and then the great day came when it seemed the whole neighbourhood gathered to see if Dad could “launch” the boat out of the house. He never doubted it for a minute and was vindicated when it passed through the kitchen door and was at last delivered to the cottage. With its shiny coat of varnish, it was a delight to behold and sat beautifully in the water. All was right with the world: Dad had his boat, and Mom had her larger rooms.

We hadn’t counted on the porcupines.

It used to be said that the porcupine population, like many natural things, had a cycle; every seven years or so, there was a bumper crop. This was such a year. We would hear them moaning at night under the cottage, see them up in trees and on the road.  Where we never expected to see them was on the new boat.

Arriving late one Friday night in the almost primeval darkness of the lake, our headlights shone on the water and lit up a tableau that became frozen for all time in my mind; at least two big porkies were sitting on the boat’s deck,  feasting on Dad’s cherished handiwork. It looked as if they’d been at it for some time. After a moment of stunned silence, Dad raced out of the car, grabbed a piece of wood and, cursing, drove them away. The rest of us kept pretty quiet, realizing the magnitude of his frustration and anger.                 

The light of day revealed the damage: tooth marks and gnawed sections of the lovingly crafted and varnished deck. From that moment on, it was war. Porcupines in trees were shot, while those unfortunate enough to be seen on the ground were whacked with oars, or whatever was at hand.                                                                                                    

Ultimately, the moment came when nothing was at hand. Late one night, as Dad carried an armload of bedding for guests staying in our second small cottage, temporary insanity struck. A hapless porcupine ambled across his path. With his arms full and nothing available with which to attack, Dad, obviously deranged, simply jumped on the beast.   

James's boat, built in the Lawson family kitchen

I don’t remember if he jumped more than once, and I don’t remember the fate of the porcupine. I will always remember the sight of the quills lodged in my father’s lower legs and the sight of poor Mom trying to remove them. We had heard the pain would be lessened if quills were cut in half before removal. I think that was just another northern myth.

Mom had always described the moans of porcupines under the cottage at night as sounding as if someone were dying. Their pitiful moans paled in comparison to the ones coming from Dad that night. And if you’ve ever heard that expression, “the air turned blue…”, well let’s just say it turned a very deep, midnight blue.

A year or so later, the boy I would eventually marry confided in a friend that he was going to take me out. The friend, who happened to be a neighbour of my family, said, “Not that girl across the street? Her father’s crazy! He built a boat in their living room!”

I’m glad he didn’t know about the porcupines.

***

Wendy B. Truscott has taught Kindergarten and French in Toronto, but primarily, she was a Domestic Goddess (stay-at-home mom). After she and her husband moved to their home on a peaceful lake in Muskoka, she joined a memoir-writing group and was encouraged to try fiction. She has now published two successful YA historical novels, Haunted Journey and MacGregor’s Curse. Other interests include painting, genealogy, and memoir-writing, often including comical anecdotes of life experiences, which she hopes future generations will enjoy.  

Visit Wendy's website here.

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

 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Evolving schedule of writing classes, workshops, and retreats

2023

Spring courses:

Online: Writing  Kid Lit, with two children's authors as guest speakers, Sunday afternoons, 1–3 p.m. April 2 – May 28. Details here.

Online: Writing Personal Stories, Tuesday afternoons, 1–3 p.m. Details to be announced.

Online: Welcome to Creative Writing, Wednesday evenings, 7–9 p.m, Details to be announced.

In-person: Welcome to Creative Writing, Thursday evenings, 7–9 p.m,  in Burlington. Details to be announced.

Reserve your spots now before the courses fill up. Email: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

***

Workshops:

Online: How to Get Published, Sunday, February 26, 1:15 – 5:00 p.m., with Erin Clyburn, a literary agent with  Howland Literary Agency. Details here.

Online: Finding Your Voice, Saturday, April 15, 1:00 – 4:30 p.m., with author Laurie Elizabeth Flynn. Details here.

***

Writing Retreats:

Early spring Writing Retreat in Muskoka at Sherwood Inn, Friday, March 24 – Monday March 27. Details here. Waiting list only.

Algonquin in June Writing Retreat at Arowhon Pines Resort, Friday, June 9 – Monday, June 12. Details here. Waiting list only.

New: Labour Day weekend Writing Retreat in   Algonquin Park at Arowhon Pines Resort,  Friday, Sept 1 – Monday, Sept 4. Details here. We still have lots of room in this retreat.

To reserve a spot or for more details about any course, workshop or retreat, email brianhenry@sympatico.ca

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Santa's Great Escape by Norma Gardner

The tree twinkles, the mantel sits proudly adorned, the cookies tease our tastebuds, and the brightly wrapped gifts fill us with anticipation. Exit to the other side of the doorknob for an entirely different experience. Every year, my husband painstakingly and persistently attempts to make the outside of the house look as festive as the inside, primarily to rebut our daughter's critical assessment that our house is boring.”

Our neighbours hang garland that surprisingly stays in place. Their inflatable Santas, elves, reindeer and all manner of characters, obediently stay put on their front lawns. By some freak of nature, their beautiful urn planters lit with lush greenery, stand upright and at attention on either side of their garage doors, through fierce Northern Ontario winds.

While we attempt all of the above and more, our decorations seem to have a rebellious streak and an inherent tendency to fall off, tip over and literally attempt to escape when they think we aren't watching. And while our neighbours enjoy the same snowfall accumulation as we do in December, their lawn ornaments don't get swallowed up into the white abyss. Ours however, seem to disappear, only to be seen again after the spring thaw.

One fall, thinking we were quite clever, we removed the dead annuals from our black plastic urn planters but left the earth so that we could sink little potted self-lit trees into them at Christmas. Our hope was that the weight of the earth would keep the urns in place, after learning the previous year, that small plastic pots containing little bargain trees were too easy a target for the north winds or likely any winds.

Our hopes were dashed when we came home one night, only to find the plastic urns tipped over and unearthed. Even tying the trees themselves to the drain pipe didn't work. This only resulted in the tree still connected to the pipe and dangling in mid-air while the plastic urn rolled down the driveway, a trail of mud in its wake.

Then there were the Santa episodes. My husband purchased a three-foot plastic light up Santa, at a much-discounted price. He was an odd orange colour but was a great bargain and had one hand raised in welcome, which we thought would look very inviting by our front door. We were correct, except that every time the wind blew him over, which was almost a daily occurrence, the light bulb broke.

Many light bulbs later, we decided it would be best to securely tie him to the trunk of the maple tree in our front yard. As we normally had very white Christmases, the success of this strategy was short lived. My very patient and persistent husband dug Santa out after every snowfall before Christmas, after which time we all stopped caring and watched as he got swallowed up bit by bit by the snow until his little mitten clad hand was waving no more. Santa, that is, not my husband.

The following winter we retired plastic Santa and graduated to inflatable Santa. We had high hopes for this Santa. We were convinced that he could single-handedly elevate our house from boring to at least acceptable, in our daughter’s eyes. Apparently, all we had to do was place him on the lawn, hook him up to the Christmas lights, turn on the outdoor lights and lo and behold, instant Santa.

My husband even purchased a red floodlight to shine on our new addition, making Santa the star attraction in our simple display. We watched with great anticipation from the front window as, with the mere flick of a switch, Santa unfolded himself and stood at attention. This excitement quickly turned to dismay when we looked out one night to see Santa tilted to one side, at about a 45-degree angle from the ground. 

He looked as if he was either half asleep or fully intoxicated. Once again, my very patient husband ventured into the snow laden front yard to attempt a course correction. No amount of repositioning, packing snow around Santa’s feet, readjusting ground stakes or batting him back and forth in the head, a last resort after nights of many non-violent attempts, seemed to help. I worried that our neighbours with young children might report us.

Our next and final attempt was to tie Santa by his neck to the drain pipe beside the garage door. We optimistically thought that anchoring him close to the side of the house would offer protection from the winds. We left him unsupervised one night and returned home to find him still inflated, still somewhat tied to the drain pipe, but attempting to escape down the side of the house. He was actually showing us his back. This was probably payback for the head slapping incident.

Both Santas are now retired, the little pre lit trees are no more and the plastic urns are content to do summer duty, spending their winters in our storage shed where they steer completely free of trouble. The only outdoor decorations consist of a simple string of lights, a lovely wreath that is well secured to the door with a proper wreath hanger, and some bright red shiny shatterproof, weatherproof ornaments hanging from the bare branches of our maple tree.

The floodlight remains and shines onto an undecorated front lawn as a gentle reminder of our futile attempts, lest we get any grand ideas. The lack of entertainment is likely disappointing for our neighbours, I'm sure our friends miss the stories of our defiant decorations, and our daughter reminds us that her assessment is correct, but sometimes less is better, and boring is ok.

***

Norma Gardner retired from the corporate world a few years ago. Her longtime side gig as a seamstress,  is now mostly limited to taking requests for superhero capes and the like, from her grandchildren. She is content to spend time with family and friends, travel and practice perfecting her sourdough recipes and her writing. 

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

 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Finding Matthew by Donna Kirk ~ ten years on and still finding an audience

Finding Matthew by Donna Kirk

A child with brain damage, a young man with mental illness, a son and a brother with extraordinary courage

During the first few weeks after Matthew Kirk was born – brain-damaged as a result of oxygen deprivation during delivery – the doctors advised his parents, Donna and Ed Kirk, to put him in an institution, have another baby as soon as possible, and get on with their life.

But what the doctors didn't understand was that Matthew was their life. Indeed, as he grew, Matthew surprised everyone with his athletic good looks, spirited personality, and supreme ability to create joy and love as so many people gathered around to help him through his physical and mental struggles.

In this clear-eyed, laugh-inducing, and heart-tugging book, Donna Kirk recounts the story — the love story — of how she and her family found Matthew, and how he found them.

Matthew

Donna Kirk is also the author of short stories, which have been published in The Daily American, Ars Medica, CommuterLit, and Quick Brown Fox. She is also a former entrepreneur, having co-founded a company which sold tennis clothing to most of the tennis clubs in the GTA over a 15-year period. She lives with her husband, Ed, in Oakville, Ontario.

First published ten years ago in 2012, Finding Matthew is still selling, as word of mouth leads more and more people to this outstanding story. 

Available here. Visit Donna online here.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Happy Hanukkah


חנוכה שמח 

Hanukkah Sameach

Happy Hanukkah


P.S. Best Canadian Jewish books of 2022 for young people: here and here.

And in case you haven't come across it before....




Friday, December 16, 2022

The Prisoner and the Writer by Heather Camlot, illustrated by Sophie Casson ~ And the threat to Jews from both the right and the left

The Prisoner and the Writer is a beautiful book – beautifully written, beautifully illustrated – and what writer can fail to be inspired by the story of Émile Zola and Alfred Dreyfus? Yet for me the book was also a disappointment.

Alfred Dreyfus was a French military officer falsely accused and convicted of spying for Germany. Zola was a renowned author and he took on Dreyfus’s case, writing the most famous newspaper article of all time “J’Accuse!” which accused the French military of persecuting Dreyfus solely because he was Jewish.

Beyond that the purpose of Zola’s article was to force the French military to take Zola to court for libel so that, in court, Zola could show up the case against Dreyfus as the lie it was. A ballsy move – that resulted in antisemitic French courts convicting Zola of libel and him fleeing France to avoid prison.

Thanks to Zola and the widespread efforts of many in France, Dreyfus was eventually freed from his prison on Devil’s Island, pardoned, and awarded the Legion of Honour.

This is the story told in Heather Camlot’s picture book recommended for children aged 9 to 12. Written in free verse, the book brings out the emotion of the story, while Sophie's deft illustrations  with drawings that suggest both the emotion of the story and the historical era.

This surely is a story everyone should know – about a writer lending his pen to a fight for justice and against prejudice – and doing so at great personal risk to himself. Indeed, it’s suspected that Zola’s eventual death from smoke inhalation was no accident – that an anti-Dreyfusard had blocked his chimney in order to murder him.

Heather Camlot

But I cannot help but mourn that the most significant historical effect of the Dreyfus Affair is missing from Camlot’s story and her Afterwards: Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, said it was the Dreyfus Affair that convinced him that Jewish life in Europe was a dead-end – that the only hope for Jews was for us to create our own state. 

Tragically, Herzl was right. The triumph of the Dreyfusards in France did not mean the end of French antisemitism. Some decades later when the Nazis occupied France, there were plenty of French citizens to assist the Nazis in shipping Dreyfus’s granddaughter Madeleine Levy, along with tens of thousands of other French Jews, to Auschwitz to be gassed to death.

In her Afterward, Camlot voices her fears of resurgent antisemitism. It’s a fear many of us share. She also speaks of her hope: “When I see antiracism protests sweeping the globe, Queer-Straight alliances in schools, growing expectation that the diversity of the population should be represented at the highest level of government – when I see people standing up and speaking out – I have hope. “

Alas, I can’t share this hope. I see an antiracism movement that slides into antisemitism, with the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement wanting to remove the world’s only Jewish state from the map (see here and here for starters). And I see a “diversity, equity, and inclusion” industry that excludes Jews, that singles out Israel and Jews who support Israel for condemnation, and descends into outright antisemitism (see herehere and especially here for starters). The lessons of the Dreyfus Affair do continue to resonate, but those lessons haven’t yet been learned.

The Prisoner and the Writer is a book worthy of a place on people’s bookshelves. But what the Jewish community needs – and is not getting – are kids’ books that speak to the danger of antisemitism and Israel-hatred on the left.

 The Prisoner and the Writer is available from House of Anansi Press / Groundwood Books here.

***

Brian Henry is a writer, editor, creative writing instructor, and publisher of the Quick Brown Fox blog. He reviewed books for Books in Canada and The Toronto Star and has written opinion pieces for the National Post and the Toronto Star. He was also a regular contributor to the (now defunct) Jewish Tribune and the Engage and Harry’s Place websites in the UK.