Return to Ethiopia

Return to Ethiopia

Returning to Ethiopia (that’s Saint John-Toronto-Frankfurt-Khartoum-Addis Ababa) on behalf of CODE (Canadian Organisation for Development through Education) …

First trip (last August) was to serve on the jury for the Burt Award for Young Adult Literature and to do a couple of workshops on writing, editing, and book design. This trip is to conduct more workshops on writing and editing, in partnership with teachers from Addis Ababa University.

So I’m looking forward to renewing acquaintance with friends and colleagues from the first visit, and to meeting new friends and colleagues, and to staying again at the elegant old Ghion Hotel, and wandering its lovely, faded glory grounds (not that there’ll be much time for wandering), and to seeing another time of year in Ethiopia (last time was rainy season, now it’s summer, 30 degrees the other day, in contrast with the wind chill temperature of 10 below here), and to experiencing the contrasts that assailed me first time. (Photographers see contrasts everywhere – they can’t help it – but they seemed to be everywhere I looked in Ethiopia.)

Here’s a few ‘snapshots’ of contrasts left over from the last visit:

A woman in traditional dress with a cell phone to her ear.

A tiny, corrugated iron sided, awning covered shop with a huge Nokkia sign advertising latest electronic gear.

Satellite dishes among a maze of little, corrugated iron homes.

That forest of little homes sandwiched between the new Hilton and Sheraton.

A blue, three-wheeled mini taxi (one of hundreds) sporting a Manchester United decal.

Gorgeous children begging.

Teenage girls in traditional dress walking beside friends in music video fashion.

A woman begging on the median of a city four lane as she cradles a beautiful two or three year old child.

Just a trickle of cold water in my room at the Rosemary Hotel in Debra Zeit – but internet access!


Walking Away


Walking Away (Fierce Ink Press) is based loosely – very loosely – on the experiences and feelings of a group of friends, one of them me, at the cusp of the transition from high school into the world of work. Although I used real names of real friends, as a kind of tribute to my old mates, the characters – their actions and feelings – are amalgams of all of us at that time.

In the story, just-out-of-high-school Keith Mallard can’t settle into the world of work. With Arthur Miller’s “I am trying to protect my sense of self” running like a tape loop through his brain, he twice walks out – walks away – from it. This excerpt relates the end of his second walking away:

      He was going to keep walking all night, he said — keep on walking away, I suppose — but late in the evening he found himself heading for home. He walked in the back door around 10 o’clock and about one second later the shit hit the fan. Mr. Nason had called his folks saying Keith had disappeared and Mr. and Mrs. Mallard had been calling the police and the three city hospitals all day, worried sick.

     “Jesus Christ you’ve been missing in action since 9:30 this morning,” Mr. Mallard yelled. “Had your ma and me half off our bejesus heads and your ma crying since Mr. Nason called asking if we’d seen you because no one at the office had one foggy fucking clue where you were and what you were doing so us thinking you’d been in an accident or got yourself drowned or kidnapped or mugged and between us we called the police and all the hospitals ten times over …”

     Keith said, “Sorry.”

     His dad hadn’t finished his rant but something about the tone of Keith’s voice, something sad and resigned and defeated, stopped him. Mr. Mallard sort of shrunk and put his hand on Keith’s shoulder and said, “Are you okay? Where have you been?”

     His mom hugged him and said, “D’you want a cup of tea?”

     Keith shook his head and went to bed and stayed there for a week not talking to anyone, not even his folks. Not a word, like he’d totally lost his voice.

     Then he went back to work as if nothing had happened.

     You’re probably wondering why he went back. Why didn’t he just quit?

     Obvious, isn’t it?

     Why does the petty criminal persist in his life of crime, although he gets caught again and again?

     Why do unhappy couples stay together?

     Why do the lovelorn cherish their passion, knowing it will never be requited?

     Simply because it’s easier to than not to.


 Walking Away is on sale on Kobo for 50% next weekend, December 2nd and 3rd, along with all Fierce Ink titles. Here’s a link: It’s rated Teen 13 and up, which means, “May contain violence, crude humour, suggestive themes and/or strong language.”

Now you can’t resist – right?


Reflecting as I start drafting a new story …

It seems antithetical to the ‘creative process’, but I have to discipline myself to write a certain number of words per day to avoid procrastination. (Well – not procrastination so much as attending to other really important items on the to do list, like counting how many paper clips there are left in the little container on my desk and estimating when I’ll have to get some more.)

So – how many words per day to aim for?



An ambitious 5,000?

Reminder to self: Set realistic, attainable goals.


Settle for 25?   

Parisian Courtyard


We arrive at our rented apartment in Paris, open the door from the street, and walk into a flower bedecked courtyard, feeling as if we’re in a movie set, Before Sunrise, or Before Sunset.
Which starts me thinking about romance (being in Paris an’ all), the over the top variety, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Cyrano de Bergerac, Wuthering Heights, La Boheme, Moulin Rouge, Strait is the Gate, which I read or listen to or watch over and over again.
And this Parisian interlude reminds me of one of my own bits of over the top romance, not in real life, but in narrative form, in Defiant Island.
(I realise I’m about to break my self-imposed weekly 100 word limit, but literature – if that’s what I write – transcends rules, and anyway I made the rule so I can break it.)
The background: Penelope and Patrick are the world wandering, world weary lovers, whose lives repeatedly collide, intertwine, and splinter; whose backgrounds render them unable to live together; whose affections won’t let them live apart.

Defiant Island cover_edited-1     Excerpt #1 is Patrick’s reflections, as he seeks solace on White Rock Island, on his and Penelope’s latest parting:

     What are we now, Penelope? Old friends? Old lovers? Nothing? I don’t think I could bear the latter. I’d like us to be friends, old and special friends, as we used to be. I wish now that old and special friendship had never become love. Could it have been avoided, or were we fixed on an inexorable, inevitable drive to love? If a certain eye contact had been missed, a serendipitous touch unacknowledged, a sudden intrusion of circumstances avoided, could we have avoided love?

     When did it start? Was there one moment when we were friends, the next when we loved? Was it a lightning strike tempering friendship into love, or was it a gradual encroachment, a tide of love creeping stealthily over the sands of our long friendship? I don’t know. I think all we can do is look back and say – there, at that moment, I know I loved you then.

     That moment in the snow between our houses – I know I loved you then! I knew – we knew – at that moment things would never be the same again in our lives. As we looked at one another then, we knew, no matter what happened thereafter, whether our destinies entwined or diverged, we knew love would always be between us. There was nothing we could do to undo it.

     Neither do we know the moment when love dies – lightning strike of contempt or creeping tide of indifference; only that it has died.

     We had a ritual, whenever we got out of bed during the night, leaving the other, of touching when we returned – a stroke of the hip, a pat on the arm, something. Did you know that? When we met in Monaco last year, you got out of bed in the night and sat by the window for half an hour. You didn’t realise I was awake, too. When you came back to bed that night, you didn’t touch me, so I didn’t touch you.

Excerpt #2 takes place during perhaps their most bitter estrangement:

     He’d seen her on the cover of Chic and Toronto Weekend, and in the pages of Elegance. He’d also seen her – imagined he’d seen her – in Vancouver, Seattle, Boston, Marseilles, Hamburg and Rome. He carried her image so constantly that it was easy for him to imprint it onto any woman bearing the slightest resemblance seen from a distance, even as he told himself it was impossible that it was her.

     But it was not impossible. He went to Salzburg, for pleasure, and was sipping coffee at a sidewalk cafe near the Mozarteum when he saw her. He looked away, telling himself he was imprinting her image again. He looked back. It was Penelope, walking ostensibly alone, but with her stylists and her agent at a discreet distance alongside and behind her, and a photographer bobbing and weaving in front, shooting pictures from low angles. When Penelope saw Patrick, she faltered. He held his coffee cup still below his mouth. Their eyes met and locked. He saw her teeth bite at her lower lip and was pleased at the secret agitation it revealed. His hand was shaking, spilling coffee. Who would look away first? He bowed his head to his coffee. She swept past him, and the photograph that appeared in Allure – it became well known and established the photographer’s reputation – showed the beautiful, famous face and body ignored by the sullen café occupant too intent on his coffee even to notice, let alone appreciate, such sublime loveliness.