Checked in on my Book Trailers and Music Stuff YouTube site today and was astonished to find the Libby Song, the little ditty I wrote to introduce Libby (of my stories ‘Libby on Strike’ and ‘Libby’s Got the Beat’) to young audiences, and that I videoed with music teacher Sara Hill’s St. George Elementary School (New Brunswick, Canada) choir back in June 2013, has now amassed over 10,000 views, far outstripping the next most viewed item (me playing Miss Celie’s Blues) which stands at a mere 3,979 views. So thank you again, Sara and students (students who would now be in high school and I hope happy with their musical legacy!)
For Valentine’s Day, and as a counter to the currently raging blizzard, here’s an oldie (oldie in the sense of when composed – 1982! – and when I recorded this lovely Dan Coates arrangement, 2014) … The Wind Beneath My Wings.
Leafing through the new edition of The Ragged Believers (by Speaking Volumes), my mind reels back sixteen years (sixteen years!) to the day the original edition was released. I’m sitting in a bar on the Saint John boardwalk, celebratory pint of beer to hand, leafing through the original edition, every now and then glancing up and gazing across the harbour, just as Strathearn does in the novel.
It was first published by Dreamcatcher Publishing, the brave little publishing house in Saint John, New Brunswick, that took on a number of first time writers, including me. Elizabeth Margaris, who became a good friend, was the publisher, and in those early days Yvonne Wilson, a novelist herself, was the editor.
I first met Elizabeth and Yvonne in their tiny office on the third floor of Market Square. Books were piled in every available space and there was literally hardly room to turn around. Elizabeth told me DreamCatcher was interested in The Ragged Believers, which I’d submitted a few weeks before, and Yvonne took me downstairs for a coffee in the Market Square plaza (there really wasn’t room for a third person in the office upstairs) and told me what I had to do in order for the novel, my first, to be published. She said, knowing my background, I was too much the journalist, intent on reporting every fact and incident, and not enough the novelist, then gave me the best advice I think I’ve ever received on writing: Think scenes, like a movie. She told me to strip the narrative down to its essentials, keeping ‘scenes’ in mind. When we met a few weeks later, after I’d reduced the manuscript from something like 90,000 words to around 30,000, she told me it was a good start and now to fill out the narrative. Stifling the “But I just stripped it down …” that was my first response, I went away and thought about it and obediently filled out each scene. Yvonne also told me to delete the last two or three chapters (my lovely words!) which I did reluctantly, although I realised she was right, so the story finished with the evocative image, The girls’ thin dresses waved and fluttered in the wind, so that looking back as we drove I saw the old truck with angel wings trying to lift it from the dusty woods road.
The Ragged Believers was published in 2003 with one of my photographs in the cover design. It was my last year principalling at St. George Elementary School. I left early (how did I manage that?), drove to Saint John, picked up a carton of books from Elizabeth, kept one and deposited the rest in my car, walked to the bar on the Boardwalk, and read, On summer afternoons in summer the girls in their white dresses lay on the rocks by the sea, as vacuous and unglamorous as the gulls wheeling above them, as serene and languorous as the seals on the further rocks …
We held the launch at the Curling Club in St. George and ran out of books. I’ve never had another launch like it.
DreamCatcher also published Defiant Island (2007) and Second Wind (2011). Elizabeth sadly died a few years ago, DreamCatcher Publishing with her, but not the books she brought to life.
Any time spent in the company of children and young adults, especially in uncertain and disturbing and distressing times, can be balm for the soul. Whatever that means. But if you spend your days with kids and young adults, especially if you do so on a regular basis in the business of school, you know what I mean, even allowing for the usual joys and sorrows the job brings.
I get my share of that balm as a has been teacher who reassumes that privileged mantle in the setting of teaching music at home, and reading and talking to students about writing, and sometimes singing songs with the younger kids.
A couple of weeks ago, I had three consecutive days of it, first singing Hallowe’en and other songs with a good friend’s kindergarten class, whom I thank for their responsiveness, and their mannerly behaviour, and their readiness to sing and join in the actions that accompany some of the songs.
The next day I had a bouncy two hour ferry ride to Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy, and an even bouncier ride back to the mainland (check out the video at https://youtu.be/lp96sSS4gtY), and in between enjoyed ninety minutes at the island’s library, reading from Colorland, Black Water Rising, and Riot School to fifty grade nine and ten students from the adjoining Grand Manan Community School.
On the third day I was singing Hallowe’en and other songs all over again, this time at the Town of St. George’s Fall Festival with a bunch of little kids stoked with Hallowe’en candy (preceding, and inevitably eclipsed by, the incomparable Perly the Magician).
Three days that remind you, as you struggle to come to terms with the reactionary mania that seems to be all the rage with the mindless set, that here, among school children, there is still joy and confidence and delight and acceptance and love. And, in the end, it will be all right after all.
It’s odd how often being a writer involves reading aloud to an audience.
There’s no logical connection between the two. Writing is an introverted activity, reading aloud the domain of the extrovert. Writing is creating, reading aloud is performing.
Sometimes we say a book is a good ‘read aloud’. But books aren’t necessarily written to be read aloud. It’s not like writing a play, where the actors, as transmitters of the written word, play a part – can’t help playing a part – in its interpretation.
What about a poem? Is it meant to be read aloud? If so, the same thing applies, even if the reader and the poet are the same person.
Of course that’s true for a novel, too, when the author, in reading the work aloud, also becomes its interpreter.
And, anyway, there’s always a gap between what the writer, in whatever genre, is trying to say and what the reader ‘receives’. But that’s true for all human communication, written or spoken. We never know how what we are saying – trying to say – is being received by our listener. It’s part of the essential alone-ness of the human condition, if you want to get existential about it.
Which I don’t, not right now, anyway, and never intended to.
What prompted these perambulations is a weekend of readings, which took me from the lovely olde worlde elegance of the Tidal Watch Inn, in the picturesque seaside town of St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada, to the casual cool chic of Saint John’s Teen Resource Centre.
The first reading was to a group of erudite Road Scholars (formerly Elderhostellers) from all over the U.S. It was a return visit for me to the Tidal Watch Inn, where Kathy, the owner, was kind enough to introduce me as the Inn’s resident author, and, as always, made the reading experience a total pleasure.
The second reading was to a group of cautiously inquisitive teens who gave up their Saturday night to attend an event intriguingly and seductively entitled Walking in the Myst. Part of Saint John’s Fog Lit Festival, it featured authors Eric Murphy, Vicki Grant, Lisa Harrington, and me. My contribution was the ‘official’ launch of Black Water Rising.
Both audiences were equally rewarding to read to. Hoping they both felt equally rewarded for listening.