Familiar Defiance

A small, isolated community is under threat from a fiscally prudent government intent on rationalising services to rural areas.

A familiar scenario?

I thought it was back in 2007 when I wrote Defiant Island, a poignant and gently funny story about a remote island’s struggle not only to survive, but also to preserve its independence in the face of government cutbacks. Rereading it in preparation for a new edition I was struck by how much more topical and relevant the novel has become.

In a kind review of the original edition Terry Seguin (of CBC Radio and Television) summed up the story like this: “An absorbing story of a proud people’s fight to survive … A story of struggle and enduring friendship … a story about love.”

Defiant Island was originally published by New Brunswick’s own DreamCatcher Press. It’s been out of print since the company folded a few years ago, but is now re-released in a completely new edition by Speaking Volumes Press.

I should receive advance copies today. Meanwhile, here’s artist Rick Turylo’s stunning and evocative cover of the new edition.

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Libby Strikes Again!

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What has a line of kindergarten students holding cardboard and foil microphones, and sporting feather boas, got to do with literacy?

Answer: They were part of Milltown Elementary School’s Libby Day, along with life size drawings of Libby, Etta and Celery, the principal characters in the story; homemade instruments replicating those played by Libby and her friends in the band they form, ironically and defiantly named The Underachievers; clay models of the same friends; Underachievers band t-shirts (various designs); drawings of scenes and characters from the novel; writing about My Favourite Character; an illustrated rewriting of the story; acrostic poems; and a whole school singing of the Libby Song.

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Libby Day, shared by parents and guests, was the culmination of the New Brunswick School’s four month long project, Milltown Elementary Reads Libby’s Got the Beat, which started back in October, when I visited each class to read excerpts from the novel and to sing the Libby Song.

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I wrote Libby’s Got the Beat (J. Lorimer 2010) with the underlying thought that the imposition of mass testing was taking the joy and excitement out of school and learning. How pleasant and rewarding – and flattering – then to see that little story about Libby and Etta and Celery’s revolt against provincially imposed tests bring such joy and excitement about books and reading to students at Milltown Elementary School.

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Thanks to students and teachers and staff for building a bridge between the world of books and real life.

Oh – and the connection between the cardboard and foil microphones and pink feather boas and literacy?

You have to read, and see, the book to find out.

Since It’s Valentine’s Day …

Sentimentality, like the use of cliché, is one of those arch crimes of the writing world you’re supposed to avoid at all costs, although I confess I like to lapse into it, even wallow in it, occasionally.

But at certain times of the year, standards are allowed, even expected, to slip, and romantic bathos briefly flourishes. (Check out the movies that show up on TV this Valentine’s Day weekend.)

So, taking advantage of this, here’s a reposting of a little schmaltz from the musical world, the lovely, tear inducing, The Wind Beneath My Wings (in a Dan Coates arrangement).

On discovering myself in a used book store


Browsing through the shelves of a second hand book store (always exciting), I came across a copy of The Ragged Believers.

Nothing particularly interesting about that.

Except it’s one of my novels.

My first thought was – at least someone’s read it.

Second thought: Or have they?

I took the book off the shelf and flipped through it, looking for signs of reading, maybe a name at the front, or pages turned down at the corner, or pencil marks in the margin indicating particularly memorable passages, or dried tears on pages containing particularly moving episodes.


Did someone receive it as a gift and take it straight round to the used bookstore without even reading it?

I picture the PR (Potential Reader) unwrapping it and, with the donor hovering, exclaiming, “I can’t wait to read it …” and then as soon as the donor is off the scene, the PR thinking, “Thanks for nothing, a no name book by a no name author. Best I can do with it is part exchange it at the second hand bookstore for something worth reading.”

Or maybe the PR actually read it … and cared so little for it, he or she promptly dumped it at the second hand store, begging the question (well, my question) – How could the reader not treasure and cherish such a masterpiece? Maybe save it as an heirloom to pass on to future generations. Or treasure it to savour over and over again, or to quote favourite passages from, or simply for the joy of possessing a copy, just as you might treasure any work of art.

Then, moving from artistic to mercenary injury, I think – I’m being gypped! I got a meagre 10% from the original sale, while the feckless PR has made a few dollars in part exchange at the used book store, and the used book store owner in turn will rake in all of the second hand selling price, so it’ll have been sold three times over – and all I’ve got is still my original, miserly ten per cent.

It’s a tough life, finding oneself discarded.

But at least it gives me something to write about.