Saturday, October 30, 2010

Time to Begin

The books on the subject of my latest project, a biography of Mary Pickford, are still coming in on inter library loan. Today I picked up the eighth of these. I've been reading, and making copious notes, almost non-stop since I was first offered the project, on September 21st.

 My dining room table holds piles of notes on the lined, yellow pads I use, each stack labelled as to its source. I've bought myself a used copy of Mary's autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow, published in 1955. I've also ordered a copy of the best of the books I've discovered so far. I know I'll want to refer to it again and again.

I've reached the point in the research now where I am finding nothing new. Soon I must start writing. A 45,000 word biography seemed a gargantuan task at first, but now that I've made an outline (I never write fiction from an outline) and divided into chapters the topics I must cover, the project is starting to take a manageable shape.

Monday is November 1st. That seems like a good time to begin. The beautiful young girl above will be my muse.

Write on! 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Small Audiences

There is something to be said for small audiences. On the weekend, I gave a presentation for children at a local library. The group I spoke to numbered no more than six (including two parents).

I've been doing this for a while, so I don't let anything faze me. Once, I gave a writer's workshop to one young lad and his mother. As long as there is someone interested enough to show up, I will be there with them.

A small group provides an opportunity for everyone to be more comfortable. The children are able to crawl forward on their carpet squares, get a good look at the books, pass around the articles I've brought to show them, see the visuals up close.

I am able to answer questions as they occur to the kids (and to their parents). The atmosphere is relaxed and chatty. Last week, because I was adapting the session as I went along and had shortened it up a bit to accommodate the age of the audience, there was even time at the end to read them a special story.

Note: the photo above is by Cassandra Davidson, photo journalism student at Loyalist College, Belleville, Ont.

Till next time.
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Sunday, October 10, 2010


Last week I had one of the best visits I've ever had with a group of school children. My audience, at the Trent Hills Public Library, was made up of two classes of Grade 4/5 students, their teachers and a couple of parents.

As soon as I entered the library I was greeted by the sight of a colourful banner that extended the length of the second floor gallery. "Welcome Peggy."
The children had painted it and each of nine sections was a scene from one of my books. Needless to say, I was delighted!

Then the children trooped in. They sat around me on the floor in the sun-filled hall at the top of the stairs. To my surprise, some of them were in costume, other were carrying props. All would later be revealed, I discovered.

I loved that these kids were already familiar with my books. The teachers had read, or were in the process of reading, Treasure at Turtle Lake to them, and I had geared my presentation to that book and its sequel, Trouble at Turtle Narrows. Many had gone on to read other books of mine and had earlier emailed me their questions and comments. It seemed as if we were already friends.

At the end of our time together I gave them a little quiz, ten questions about Treasure, obscure questions like what size sneaker Matt Penny wore. They were enthusiastic about taking part in the quiz and they did very well.

 But they had a surprise for the author. Remember the costumes and the props? The twenty-six students in one of the classes had each taken on the role of a character in my books, even including the latest, Growing Up Ivy. The teacher told me it was the first time he'd been able to find enough different characters for each one of his students to have a role.

 Each child could give me three clues, and  I had to try to guess which character he or she was. It wasn't easy! Often I could recall the character, see him in my mind's eye, even the book he came from. But his name? That was another matter. They even included villains like Victor Govier, and Bus Guy/Eddie (the stringy, grey wig and the shovel should have given him away), as well as the more likeable characters. More than once the children had to resort to a "name rhymes with" clue.

Imagine being stumped by your own characters! It was great fun and we were all wearing wide grins by the time it was over.

Keep on being excited by reading, kids!

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Celebration of the Arts

On Saturday I attended the Conference for the Arts, held at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Cobourg. (Added bonus: a long drive through the brilliant fall colours.) The organizers called their conference "Living the Arts: celebrating creativity in our lives." I came away thinking that there is much to celebrate.

Although there were few writers in attendance and the sessions were geared toward the visual and performing arts, I was still able to glean a lot that would be useful for those of us involved in literary art.

The keynote address was delivered by famed Canadian tenor, Michael Burgess, star of television, film, recording and performance. Along with his many entertaining anecdotes, Michael reminded us of the need for artists to keep challenging ourselves. Even on the toughest days, he said, we need to just show up, because nothing ever happens if we don't show up.

I attended a session on developing and teaching workshops, learned the things to consider when setting one's fee and how best to promote the event. Another interesting session was called "Marketing to a Moving Target." I know that the information on how to use social media to get the word out will be most useful to me.

The best thing about events like this conference is the opportunity they present to spend time with creative people. And I am always grateful that so many of them are willing to share contacts with me. 

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