Footprints Rediscovered

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Footprints (Breakwater/Jesperson 2008) has always been one of the stories I’ve been proudest of, with (forgive my conceit) its memorable characters, its driving action that builds to a stunning denouement, and its dealing with the timely issue of how you should – and if you should – pursue a cause, the rightness of which you believe passionately in, when all avenues of legitimate protest are rebuffed or ignored or derided.

Reviewers at the time of the YA novel’s release seemed to agree with my assessment, Joan Sullivan in The Telegram calling the story “astute, contemporary and engaging”, and Darrell Squires in The Western Star commenting, “Footprints is an excellent, character-driven short novel for young adults; it’s relevant and contemporary.”

But the novel never quite took off, and of all my nineteen books, it seems inexplicably (to me, anyway) to be the least read.

So it was a treat for me recently to visit the lively and erudite students of Barnhill Memorial School in Saint John, New Brunswick, and find 375 middle level students who were not only reading Footprints, but also responding creatively to it as they discussed and delved into its issues.

Here (above and below) are some of the signs that greeted me as students, with teacher Charles Robinson, walked in for the first session of the day.

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The placards, held in the story by the central characters, Drumgold, Isora, and Harper, protest the privatization of their favourite beach, the incident that sets in motion the escalating series of events that propel the story.

So I thank Barnhill students for choosing Footprints to read, as well as my Walker’s Runners, Falling Star, and Black Water Rising, and for affording me a happy and worthwhile and fulfilling day.

Here (below) is the prologue of Footprints …


She glides from the shelter of the trees, clutching the device carefully in one hand, and is across the road, pressed against the wall of the cottage grounds, before the boys have time to worry about someone seeing her. Keeping low, she peers around the stone gatepost. No sign of Anderson’s men. She eases herself up until she can reach the security panel, and presses in the code. She flattens herself back against the wall as the tall wrought-iron gates swing silently open. She has ten seconds before they close of their own accord. She peers around the gatepost again. Still no sign of life. With a glance back to where the boys wait in the woods, she sprints to the barn and slides into the space between it and the high garden wall. As she lowers the device towards the hole under the barn, the timer already set, she reflects: How did a walk on the beach lead to this?  

And here’s the closing sentence (not a spoiler!), that serves as an epilogue:

Harper, glancing at his friends again, wonders which of them he fears the most.




Where I Work

This comes with acknowledgements and thanks to Nimbus Publishing for including me in their ongoing Where I Work series … 

Today’s special author for #WhereIWorkWednesday is Robert Rayner, author of “Black Water Rising” (


About his work space, he says:
“My writing workspace, what I hyperbolically refer to as ‘the office,’ is a former back porch at home, long ago walled in to form a kind of uninsulated summer room, which has become a year round workroom, still uninsulated, and therefore inclined to be a bit parky early in the morning in winter. It’s not only a writing workspace, but also a music teaching preparation room, and a waiting room for music students, and a general dumping ground for camera and music equipment.
It’s where I draft stories in the early morning, and do the business stuff associated with writing. It’s also where I tidy up written stuff, like transferring revisions done on a hard copy to computer. (I always draft in longhand, and almost always rewrite from hard copy, something to do with needing the ‘distance’ a hard copy creates in order to read objectively, I think.)

Black water CoverMAY2

Oh. ‘Dear.’ What Can the Matter Be?

She was thirty something, a stranger, but I smiled and said, “Good morning”, the way you do in a small town.

She said, “Hello, dear.”

I did the aural equivalent of a double-take before murmuring to Nancy R., with whom I was out walking, “Did she call me dear?”

Nancy smirked. “Yes, dear.”

(But that’s okay, Nancy calling me ‘dear’. She can use any term of endearment – or abuse – she likes. Twenty-five years together earns you that right.)

Now I may be – er – mature. But I’m not a hundred, and I don’t forget where I’m going, or walk with a walker, or shuffle along at 0.5 mph (although I am old fashioned enough to think mph and not kph).

And what difference would it make if I was a hundred, and I made a habit of forgetting where I was going, and I walked with a walker, or shuffled along at 0.5 mph (not 0.804672 kph)? I’m not your ‘dear’ unless our relationship is old enough and entrenched enough to justify your calling me, and my calling you, ‘dear’, and even then it’s only to be used with initial caution, like French ‘tu’.

After a few moments of speechless incredulity and suppressed outrage, I started to wonder how I should respond. But of course it was too late by then. With Nancy and I travelling at a brisk 3.5 mph or thereabouts, and the thirty something woman at a paltry 2.0 mph (a slowpoke, despite her relative youth), we were already fifty yards (not metres, you’ll note) apart.

However, there will be a next time. Being called ‘dear’ is, regrettably, a common occurrence, and I need to be prepared. So how should one respond? Smile and suck it up and accept it as a well-meaning if misguided appellation? Reply, “Hiya, babe” (or sweet pea, or darling, or cutie), and risk outraged censure for one’s patronising sexism?

Maybe the problem is the lack of a casual and informal salutation to use instead of ‘dear’. Something like ‘mate’, or ‘buddy’, perhaps. But these seem to be used exclusively male-to-male, and ‘dear’, used in the situation I’m writing about here, seems always to be used by women.

There’s always ‘sir’, I suppose. I’d settle for that.

(Nancy, how about it?)

In the meantime, at least no-one has called me ‘dearie’.

Not yet.

Por Eso Te Quiero

Here’s a lovely, dense, lush piano transcription by Elmo Peeler of Ernesto Lecuona’s Por Eso Te Quiero (That’s Why I Love You).

I was trying for a definitive performance but abandoned that aim after several lamentable failures and settled for the least error strewn effort.

Here it is, warts (mine, not the composer’s or the arranger’s) and all, with acknowledgements – and apologies for not doing the song full justice – to Senor Lecuona and Mr. Peeler.

Libby’s Legacy

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!)

A Winter Warmer

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.


Deja Vu

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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.