Mayne Island Skeletons reviewed: “We can ,,, taste the blackberries”

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Magda’s curiosity and loyalty lead her into investigations set on her Mayne Island home.  We can smell the Gulf Island fir-scented mornings and taste the blackberries as she navigates daily life as well as the calls to adventure that stretch her courage.  I have read three Magda books with great pleasure and can’t wait for the next ones.

 – Jane Thom.

Author Interviews

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If you would like to be interviewed as part of this blog, please follow the submission guidelines below. Then e-mail me at treewithroots@gmail.com with answers to the questions below.

Submission Guidelines:

1) Provide a link to your book(s)

2) Provide a very brief author bio

3) Note any other links that you want included

4) The subject line of the e-mail should say “Author interview”  followed by your name and book title.

These answers may be embedded in the bio:
1) Where are you from?
2) When and why did you begin writing?
3) Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?
4) What books have most influenced your life?
5) Are there any life experiences that influence your storytelling?
6) What are your current projects?
7) What is the hardest part of writing?
8) What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned while writing?
9) What do you do in your spare time?
10) How can your readers get in touch with you?

I look forward to posting an interview with my fellow writers each Friday.

Its Over: I’m a NaNoWriMo Winner

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I submitted my 50,001-word novel today.

I started writing on November 1, with a setting and a character.  The setting was Montreal in 1967.  The character was a twenty-two -year-old woman, who becomes a private investigator. I decided two other things about her.  She would be driven by a need for Justice and she would have an overdeveloped sense of smell.

With just this to start with, I dove in and wrote the first chapter.  I decided to write in the third person, but in a few places I would write in the first person.  That was when she was a woman in her sixties, writing in the present time.  I liked her right away.  She had spunk.

I found myself doing research every day.  I needed to check out fashion, music, vehicles, police uniforms, Expo 67, Metro, names, geography, even firearms, and much, much more.  I learned a lot.

My most challenging part was writing the felons.  I had to force myself to make them more violent and unscrupulous than I was comfortable with.

I write books for pre-teens, my Magda of Mayne Island Mystery Series  http://www.treewithroots.ca/ so this novel, written for adults, was challenging for me.

I’ll let some time pass before I go back and rewrite this book, I think.  Idon’t know if I’ll be interested in writing for the adult market in the future.  I’ll have to wait and see.

Kathryn Poulin reviews Mayne Island Skeletons on MysteriesEtc

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I don’t normally review children’s books however Mayne Island is very close to where I live so I knew I would find the book very interesting.  The story brings me back to my childhood when I loved reading the Enid Blyton mysteries and the wonderful adventures the children in her stories had.

Harvey’s adventure starring Magda her preteen sleuth is a great book for children to read.  I love the location, Mayne Island, and I love the writing style of the author.  The children in the book are active, they are not glued to electronics.  They are inquisitive and mostly they show great character traits as they show the value of friendship.

Highly recommend this great read for preteens!

Skeletons on Smashwords

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As of today, Mayne Island Skeletons is available on Smashwords.

I would love to have you read this book and then post a review on Smashwords.

Go to  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93378

Thank you.

Magda’s Mayne Island Mystery – review by Denise Dunn

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Having been honoured by my dear friend Amber Harvey’s request that I preview and critique her first novel for children, Magda’s Mayne Island Mystery, I read it together with my ten-year-old grandaughter.  We had fun in Magda’s island world watching the fictional yet believable characters deal with both life’s easy and tougher challenges.

This island setting is familar to my grandaughter and I. We recognised the charm of the place in Amber’s quietly inserted descriptions.   Like all good stories, the tale is universal – something like blaming others solves no conflict, look to your own feelings and needs.  Again, it’s quietly inserted, no moralising, no shoulds or ought to’s.

Alas that first granddaughter became a teenager and was already into vampire stories when Amber’s second book in the series Mayne Island Aliens was published.  I enjoyed it on my own.  Now my second granddaughter is coming up to the age for Magda so I have an excellent excuse to read them again!  Happily there will be three mysteries to enjoy with the publication of Mayne Island Skeletons.  I look forward to hours of reading with my grandaughter snuggled beside me.  But I might just sneak a read first when I get my hands on a copy of Skeletons because I can never let a good story sit on the shelf.

PS Like a good elder I read one of those vampire stories, just to check ‘em out and have to admit I might well have been attracted at thirteen!

Denise Dunn

full-time grand-mother, social activist and retired teacher-librarian


Review for Amber Harvey for “Skeletons”

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Amber Harvey’s third book in her Magda series is well-paced and well-written, and a charm to read. Although Ms. Harvey retains a flavour particular to Mayne Island, where she lives, this story could occur in any small community.

Ms. Harvey’s love for, and knowledge of, children is apparent in all her books and she has a firm handle on her young characters who, although they display typical childish traits, are also shown to have compassion and caring for their peers.

In all, Skeletons, is another delightful story from Amber Harvey, and I look forward to the next chapter in her characters’ lives.

Celia Leaman

Author of Mary’s Child

http://www.devonshirebabe.com

September 16, 2011

Why Reading Fiction is Good For Us

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“If you read fiction, what you get good at understanding is what goes on between people.””

Brain scans, experiments and studies indicate that we really get better at understanding people and their interactions if we read fiction.  And if we talk about what we’ve read, perhaps with a friend or more formally in book groups, our understanding increases.  So don’t think of reading and talking about novels as simply a wonderful way for us to pass the time.  Think of it also as educational, a study in human psychology.

 

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/books/why-fiction-is-good-for-you/article2159339/singlepage/#articlecontent

In 2011, Grandparents Day fell on September 11th

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If your grandchildren didn’t acknowledge you on that day, it’s probably because other things of greater importance were happening, like the commemoration of the events that occurred ten years ago.

However, if you are fortunate enough to have grandchildren, remember that they are growing up faster than you are growing old, and enjoy every moment that you can with them.  You’ll live on in their memories long after your body is used up.  Make the memories significant.  Give them the best of who you are.  It’s really the only legacy worth leaving.

Nancy Drew Goes To Mayne Island – Book Review by Sonja de Wit

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Nancy Drew Goes To Mayne Island  — Sonja de Wit

When I was a kid, the Nancy Drew books were the page-turners every girl read. It’s been many, many years since I read those books, but I still remember her well, though you may want to judge whether I remember her accurately.

Nancy had no mother but a tall, handsome father, who never criticized or told her what to do. She had a dashing roadster. I wasn’t totally sure what a roadster was, obviously some kind of car. She wore dressy, perfect clothes we would have died for, and she had two somewhat silly guys hanging around at her beck and call. She did exactly what she wanted to do, and all grownups, including bad guys and police officers took her completely seriously.

Amber Harvey’s Magda books are page-turners, too. They have the same fast pace, cliff-hanger chapters, and improbable coincidences as well as the complete plot wraps, that I seem to remember were part of the Nancy Drew formula, which, face it, has been an indubitable success.

Magda, though, is a completely different girl. Although she is brave and adventurous, she is human enough to sometimes feel the need to remind herself of this. She has a mother who works, and who does not indulge her every whim. She has a bicycle, rather than a roadster, and although her clothes are not described in detail, I’d be willing to bet that some may have been bought second hand.

Where Nancy boldly called herself the girl detective (if I remember right), Magda happens on her adventures in the style of many contemporary adult detectives, just by being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time, and not backing off. Her friends are also grounded in real places and times, with (or without – one boy is under threat of going into foster care) real parents, who behave like grown-ups. They worry, provide advice, misunderstand, but also come through with help and support.

Amber Harvey has chosen Mayne Island, which she knows well, as the setting for her youthful heroine, and provides many interesting and telling details of this somewhat old-fashioned (people don’t lock their doors) Gulf Island.

If I were a ten to fourteen year-old today, urban or rural, you’d find me curled up with Magda and her adventures, envying her just a little, for her freedom to roam her safe, rural, lovely island.

Book Review of Mayne Island Skeletons

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Review by Lorraine Langford

The adventures of Magda Sommers continue in the third mystery in Amber Harvey’s exciting series. This time Magda and her friends discover a derelict house they believe to be haunted by the ghosts of the Parker family, rumoured to have been murdered many years ago. No bodies – or skeletons! – have been discovered, and the only suspect has disappeared. Magda, a curious, courageous – and stubborn – preteen is determined to solve the mystery despite her mother Jessie’s warning to stay away from the crumbling house.

There is another conflict facing Magda as she tries her best to do the right thing. Her strong-willed friend Brent, a seriously neglected child in danger of being sent to a foster home or worse, to juvenile detention, is suspected of stealing valuable First Nation artefacts. The police want to interrogate him, but he has vanished.

During a conversation with her – and Brent’s – friends, Magda realizes that they do not share her intense loyalty to Brent and have their doubts about his innocence; she is alone in her determination to prove he isn’t a criminal. Brent contacts Magda and she hides food and supplies to help him survive until she can clear him. Later, she fights a dangerous storm to get back home after failing to find him in the “Whispering Forest.”

Other people in Magda’s life include her employer, farmer Polly Prudholme. She is a stern, taciturn woman who never encourages or praises Magda, a diligent farmhand who loves working with Polly’s animals, and Hortense Warwick, an ill-tempered busybody who knows about other skeletons – the ones in people’s closets – but doesn’t give Magda anything useful about the missing Parker family or who might have killed them. More helpful in Magda’s investigation is Sport, a neighbour’s dog left in her care.

Magda suspects that the great-aunt of her best friend Shauna holds information that would help in her investigation and she travels with Jessie to Victoria to question her. During her investigation to find the real burglars, Magda overhears a conversation that provides information that leads to the conclusion of her case and keeps Brent from leaving Mayne Island and the people who care for him.

The author blends an imaginative and entertaining story with real-life issues and authentic dialogue. Children and their parents will be anxious to see what happens next with chapter headings such as “Fall into Danger” and “Bone Digger”. Magda is well on her way to becoming an accomplished investigator of Mayne Island mysteries. Readers will be intrigued by her boldness and intelligence and look forward to her next adventure. Magda’s curiosity and fierce sense of justice are bound to make more trouble for her.

LL

Book Review: Mayne Island Skeletons by Amber Harvey, reviewed by Lael Whitehead

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Amber Harvey’s latest book for children, Mayne Island Skeletons, is a gripping tale that will have the whole family on the edge of their seats. It has all the ingredients of high adventure – ghost sightings, criminals, run-aways and unsolved murders from long ago – all of which keep us turning the pages. But Mayne Island Skeletons is also a story about the importance of friendship. The tale’s young heroine stands by her friend even when others believe him to be guilty. In the end her kindness, loyalty and courage save the day.

The story takes place on peaceful, rural Mayne Island, home to little more than a thousand residents. Magda, a plucky, adventurous preteen, has a summer job on a local farm, but in her spare time she is an eager sleuth. One of her closest friends is a boy named Brent, whose troubled mother is increasingly unable to care for him. Together the two children have discovered an abandoned old house with a mysterious past. Is the house haunted by the ghosts of a family murdered long ago?

Magda, Brent and their friends have fun teasing some of their younger neighbours with tales of ghost sightings at the haunted house. But their fun and games come to a sudden stop when Brent is accused of stealing art treasures from an elderly island resident. Afraid of being arrested and sent to foster care, Brent goes into hiding. Magda then has two mysteries to solve: the ancient mystery of the haunted house and the very present problem of how to prove her friend innocent and keep him from being sent away from the island.

Without giving away the plot, let me just say that, with help from Sport, her neighbour’s, friendly black dog, Magda eventually solves the mystery of the haunted house. She also discovers the true criminals responsible for the theft of the art treasures and brings them to justice. Brent’s suffering comes to an end. He finds a permanent, safe and happy home on the island.

Mayne Island Skeletons is a highly readable story that will appeal to preteens and that families will enjoy reading aloud. Harvey’s writing is clear and engaging, her characters sympathetic and real and her setting evocative. Magda is a very likable and memorable heroine, one that today’s children will relate to. Magda  struggles, as we all do at times, between obeying the rules and following her curiosity. In the end, her instincts guide her true. I look forward to hearing about her further adventures!

(Re-posted)

Mayne Island Skeletons, by Amber Harvey: A Review by Lael Whitehead

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Amber Harvey’s latest book for children, Mayne Island Skeletons, is a gripping tale that will have the whole family on the edge of their seats. It has all the ingredients of high adventure – ghost sightings, criminals, run-aways and unsolved murders from long ago – all of which keep us turning the pages. But Mayne Island Skeletons is also a story about the importance of friendship. The tale’s young heroine stands by her friend even when others believe him to be guilty. In the end her kindness, loyalty and courage save the day.

The story takes place on peaceful, rural Mayne Island, home to little more than a thousand residents. Magda, a plucky, adventurous preteen, has a summer job on a local farm, but in her spare time she is an eager sleuth. One of her closest friends is a boy named Brent, whose troubled mother is increasingly unable to care for him. Together the two children have discovered an abandoned old house with a mysterious past. Is the house haunted by the ghosts of a family murdered long ago?

Magda, Brent and their friends have fun teasing some of their younger neighbours with tales of ghost sightings at the haunted house. But their fun and games come to a sudden stop when Brent is accused of stealing art treasures from an elderly island resident. Afraid of being arrested and sent to foster care, Brent goes into hiding. Magda then has two mysteries to solve: the ancient mystery of the haunted house and the very present problem of how to prove her friend innocent and keep him from being sent away from the island.

Without giving away the plot, let me just say that, with help from Sport, her neighbour’s, friendly black dog, Magda eventually solves the mystery of the haunted house. She also discovers the true criminals responsible for the theft of the art treasures and brings them to justice. Brent’s suffering comes to an end. He finds a permanent, safe and happy home on the island.

Mayne Island Skeletons is a highly readable story that will appeal to preteens and that families will enjoy reading aloud. Harvey’s writing is clear and engaging, her characters sympathetic and real and her setting evocative. Magda is a very likable and memorable heroine, one that today’s children will relate to. Magda  struggles, as we all do at times, between obeying the rules and following her curiosity. In the end, her instincts guide her true. I look forward to hearing about her further adventures!

Interview with Amber Harvey by Bill Maylone in July 2011 MayneLiner Magazine published by Alea Design & Print

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It is a very strange feeling to read about oneself.  As it brings others into my life story, I find it distances me from myself.   I wonder if everyone feels this way when they read about themselves, or if I’m just different.  Let me know what your experience has been I’d really love to know.  Amber Harvey

TCAC The MayneLiner, July 2011 Art on Mayne 

By Bill Maylone

Amber Harvey’s third book in her series of mystery novels for young readers has just been published. Set locally once again, “Mayne Island Skeletons” follows the continuing adventures — and growing up — of her young protagonist, Magda Sommers.”

Besidesbeing fun reads, Amber’s first two novels in the series dealt with the challenges of maturing. “Magda’s Mayne Island Mystery” investigated the feelings that result from the death of a loved one. The second book, “Mayne Island Aliens”, deals with the consequences of rejection.

“Skeletons” is again about internal struggles, concentrating on the issues involved in keeping~ secrets. Kids often protect their peers by not revealing trouble they may be in or when they do something dangerous. In the story, Magda must deal with the aftermath of a friend who ends up getting hurt, and who would have avoided injury if Magda had revealed a secret. Developing stories is a two-part process for Amber. First, she works out much of the “internal landscape”

Magda’s internal struggles as she grapples with ethical and moral questions such as trust and betrayal or  compliance with adult demands and independent decision-making. In developing a story, Amber considers what she experienced as a young person and how she viewed the world and responded to it at that time. The plot – the external situation that allows her characters to express their internal struggles, comes later. Amber enjoys the process of looking for real-world situations and events that allow the internal landscapes to play themselves out.

The real world in her stories is also full of the kind of unique fun, adventure and friendship that growing up on a small island offers. It’s an environment that also offers safety.  “Kids possess a real sense of freedom, and I try to capture that in Magda’s exploits. She’s a tomboy, and she really engages with the world around her. She likes to have fun.”

Writing is also a lot of fun for Amber. She finds the process of weaving the internal and external together to be an interesting one. “Sometimes the stories write themselves. When I’m working on a story, I’ve got a kind of “perception screen” that alerts me to situations or environments that may be useful in constructing the story. A lot of incubation happens too — somewhere deep in my mind, a part of it is still working on the story even though I’m not consciously thinking about it.”

As with many local artists, Mayne Island provides a lot of the inspiration for her novels. She uses familiar local settings: the ferry terminal, Miners Bay or a particular store or business, but she also uses island locations in a more ambiguous way.  “I don’t always specifically ID a particular existing clearing or trail, because I want kids reading the story to make some of the places their own. I’ll write about Magda going down to “the beach”, for example, so that it becomes for the reader, the beach they want it to be. It’s important to give the reader lots of room to put themselves in the story.”

Before she and her husband, retired to Mayne Island six years ago; she had done some writing, but retirement – and a beautiful environment – gave her the time and inspiration to write novels. Previously, she had written a few articles that were published in Parents Magazine or Teachers Magazine. Those articles grew out of her experience as a teacher and counsellor in both conventional and non-conventional school settings.

“My first teaching job was in Montreal in 1966. I walked into a multilingual classroom of forty students. It was so regimented; it was like working in a strict military camp. The kids were allowed little creative freedom, and they could still be strapped if they broke the rules.  I said to myself, ‘I can’t be part of this anymore!”, and I walked out.”

She had earned a reputation by then as a promoter of unconventional teaching techniques, and she was subsequently offered a position in an unstructured school. There, she was able to relate to students in a way that could transmit her sense of wonder, community and spirituality.

“By “spirituality”, she explains, I don’t mean religion. It’s something bigger than that. It’s about seeing how beautiful the world is, how important it is to have friends and family, to behave ethically and to cherish life.”

Her novels express that belief, using the fun and the challenging situations of growing up as a framework. However, she has one regret. “It takes me two years to write a Magda story, but I only age her one year in each book. I’ve become really fond of her, and I don’t really want her to grow up. I’ll miss her.”

My First Ever Interview

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Okay, it wasn’t the New York Times, but here on Mayne Island and interview in the MayneLiner Magazine is a very big deal.  The editor, Bill Maylone, asked me if he could talk to me about my creative process when writing my Magda series of books with the intention of publishing the interview in the July MayneLiner.  I agreed, but with trepidation because I had no idea what he would ask me or what I would say.  I really had never thought about how I wrote; I just wrote.  The interview revealed to me a few things about my creative process, and these were that my own experiences have a great influence on what I write about and that my professional background in teaching and counselling influences how I approach my characters.

Bill Maylone was able to engage me in conversation about long-ago decisions and experiences that I was only vaguely aware of.  I was quite surprised when I read the article for approval, that he had focused on parts of my life I had mentioned in passing but when examined I realized were influential in creating my mystery stories of Magda and her friends on Mayne Island, their adventures, their friendships, their goals, their inner struggles, and their values.

If you would like to read the complete interview, it’s in the July issue of the MayneLiner Magazine.

Bloody Words – Crime Writers of Canada Conference

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I learned so much I had to leave a day early!!!  Seriously!

Friday, started with a fact explosion when Robert Landori’s gave us detailed information about Terrorism and Money Laundering, so we’d get it straight when writing about them. I knew there was going to be a feast of information to digest.  Then we spent an hour with William Deverell, introduced by Adrian Chamberlain.  Mr. Deverell, famous author and winner of many prestigious awards including the prestigious Dashiell Hammett Award for Literary Excellence in North American Crime Writing, described his writing day.  I think a lot of us lesser writers could relate to the way he eases into it, from puttering around (not his words; mine) to editing earlier work, to writing “in a white heat” (his words) till past dinner time.  His talk filled me with a new determination to work harder at my craft.

Always proud of being from Mayne island, I usually let new acquaintances know it right away.  I was surprised when a fellow writer told me her great-great grandfather once owned Mayne Island.  Captain George Richards of the Royal Navy was surveying that area and generously named the island after his lieutenant, Richard Charles Mayne, her ancestor.

After registration, I was asked if  I wanted to join the Crime Writers of Canada.  When I learned that there would be competitions and prizes, I decided that I would.  Perhaps the added incentive of a prize would spur me on to greater writing.

Our reception was just delightful.  The writers I met were all friendly and very interested in what I wrote, just as I was very interested in their work. They felt like colleagues.  Some were much farther along in their careers, with many books safely completed, while others were there to see if they might be able to turn a synopsis into a book.

As a Volunteer, I sat in the room with the two agents, and made sure that each writer who had signed up for an interview had their fifteen minutes with an agent.  There were some who came well-prepared with writing samples, reports on blogs and web pages, and reviews.  Others were just exploring the idea of writing a book.

That evening, we stayed for a radio play from the 1940′s, read by mystery writers and directed by Michael Slade.  The name, “Shock Theatre” was very appropriate, since I found myself nervous about stepping on rats in my friend’s pristine basement guest room when going to be there, as a result of listening to the shocking play, complete with sound effects.  I could almost hear the “squeak, squeak” of the rats, produced by the sound effects man squeezing a plastic frog, as I was falling asleep!

The next morning we experienced “Read Dating.”  Instead of meeting a potential date pitching himself, we met authors pitching their book or books for three minutes.  I learned that in three minutes you can describe the setting, the lead character, the conflict, and some of the interesting details, with enough time left for a question or two.  And there are several new books on my “must read” list now.

On workshop was a panel discussion with two publishers, a published author and a self-published author.  They discussed the touchy subjects of electronic books, self-publishing, traditional publishing, and combinations of all three.  I believe that, although different viewpoints were expressed, that all agreed that good-quality books in whatever format, at a reasonable cost to the buyer and a reasonable payment to the authors was the goal they all wanted to meet.  They also dealt with the subject of  promotion and all agreed that publishers can not do as much as formerly.  Social media play a large and important role in marketing books regardless of the medium.   All possibilities are under consideration by Canadian publishers and authors.  Publishing in Canada is alive and well.

Another panel discussed the trends in crime writing.  The message I took away from that session was that by the time a trend is noted, it’s already too late to jump in and write a book about it.  Perhaps we’ll write the book that sets a new trend, one of the panelists suggested.

Side-kicks, villains, or other minor characters, can sometimes steal the show, in life and in novels.  Some authors write back stories about all their characters, so that if they  decide to make them a lead character in another or just have them appear in it, they will know them.  Some authors kill off their over-written characters or put them in a coma.  At times it’s necessary to edit your book and have fewer or smaller scenes for these characters.  If someone is writing a series, not a stand-alone book, it”s important to remember that your readers may not have read earlier books.  Introduce  your minor characters so that the new reader will get a clear picture of who they are and be able to remember them later on.

Another panel was especially good for those of us writing series.  It addressed keeping the long arc fresh, book after book.  This can be accomplished by placing your character in new, interesting settings and by introducing new challenges.  Some authors write two series, and alternate between the two.
some leave several years between each book in the series.  Some series cover a brief period, with the main character remaining the same age.  Others have the main character age.

Around lunch time of our second day, I began to realize that if I was going to process all I had learned, and put it to use in my writing, I would have to stop.  I had reached my limit.  Fortunately, my traveling companion and I both agreed to leave early.

Beautiful Mayne Island, so green, so clean, enveloped us in her arms as we drove off the Queen of Cumberland Ferry.  We were glad to be home again.

Books for older kids

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I keep trying to describe the process to other writers and readers, and the closest I’ve been able to come is to say that sometimes I feel as though I am the kids in the story as I write, and sometimes that they are talking through me.  At the same time,  I’m maintaining the adult role of writer, moving the plot forward.

My friends Terrill and Leanne have suggested I write a blog in Magda’s voice.  She’s the heroine of my two books, Magda’s Mayne Island Mystery and Mayne Island Aliens .  I would let the readers know it was really me writing as Magda.

Kathy congratulated me on publishing my books.

Shared Wisdom Question: Should I blog as Magda?

Pearls

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I love the luminosity, the colours, the brilliance, the spherical shape, but most of all, the magic in their formation.

But I was just reminded yesterday that an oyster has to die in order to collect them.  I had never thought about it before. I’d always imagined people opening an oyster to eat it and joyfully finding a pearl inside.  This didn’t worry me even though I’m a vegetarian.  Many  people eat meat and animals die in the process.  But this is different.  I guess I’m naive, but to kill oysters in order to find a pearl doesn’t seem right to me.

I’ve always known about pearl divers, and thought there was a kind of romance in diving into the ocean to find an oyster containing a pearl.  But I guess I blocked out the mass slaughter of oysters for their pearls because I love pearls so much.

Most pearls are now made by oysters that are raised in captivity.  Their lives consist of building a pearl from the nacre in their shell and then of being killed so that we humans can wear ornaments.

This morning I watched Hilary Clinton addressing the US Senate.  She was wearing a gorgeous strand of multi-coloured pearls.  I hope they were artificial.

What Was That Name?

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          Decades ago, before I had the frosty white hair I now use as an excuse for my forgetfulness, I was embarrassed constantly by forgetting people’s names. 

          One autumn week-end I was attending a workshop for women, one of those weekend retreats we used to hold in the eighties, where people re-enacted painful events of their younger years and went through a catharsis to cure them of their traumas. 

          Well, while standing in my bathrobe and slippers, brushing my teeth in the common bathroom, I started a conversation with one of the participants.  I told her my name and she told me hers, and then I said, “I hope I won’t forget it.” 

          “It’s easy to remember,” she said, rinsing off her toothbrush. “Just think of Woody Allen.”

          “I will,” I promised. 

          The rest of the weekend passed in the way we all expected it to; with lots of screaming, crying, hugging, and finally a closing ritual to bring us all back to our usual calm demeanours, so we could once more go out and face the world.

          A few weeks later, I was walking along a busy street in Victoria with a friend from work and I saw my new acquaintance on the other side of the street.  Proud that I remembered her face AND her name, I waved and shouted, “Hi, Woody!”

          She waved back.

          My friend, who was acquainted with her, said, “That’s funny.  I thought her name was Ellen.”

          “Oh, no,” I replied.  “Her name is Woody.  I met her at a retreat and I’m positive that’s her name.”

          My friend shrugged and I didn’t think of it again.

          A year or more passed and once again I ran into her, this time at a potluck.

          “Hi, Woody,” I said, grabbing a plate and getting in line right behind her.  “How are you?”

          She looked at me and said, very gently, “I don’t use that name any more.”

          “You don’t?”  I asked, now a little worried because I didn’t know how I was going to unlearn the old name and remember the new one.

          “What name do you use now?”  I enquired cautiously.

          “Ellen,” she replied.

          I suddenly remembered that community bathroom and her suggestion that I remember her name, Ellen, by thinking of Woody Allen.  I was mortified.  I must have blushed the colour of the pickled beets on the table.

          “Ellen,” I repeated.  “I’ll just think of Woody Allen.”