My home landscape

August 26th, 2015

Hello, friends. We were recently in Tofino, B.C., and I took a walk along the beach at sunset. Here are some shots of the landscape I love best; the one I consider “home”.












Kingston is beautiful, too, but today I’m really missing the Pacific Northwest. See you next week, with a more substantial post!

Bookmark and Share

Late harvest

August 19th, 2015

Hello, friends. Happy August! Know what this is a photo of?


If that photo didn’t make you squint or recoil, CONGRATULATIONS! You are probably a fellow garlic obsessive.

We’ve been travelling, so we’re really late harvesting our garlic this year. We’ve also lost the tiny diagram I made to indicate where we planted the different varieties. Still, the garlic looks pretty good. When I’m pulling the plants, I tend to feel disappointed by how tiny the bulbs appear. Later on, when they’re drying off, they seem to grow in size – at least, to my eyes.

We picked about 150 bulbs this year. We’ll save the biggest and best of them for planting as seeds in the autumn, and either eat or give away most of the rest.

What are you up to, in the waning days of summer?

Bookmark and Share

First pass pages

August 12th, 2015

Hello, friends. A few weeks ago, I wrote about re-reading; I’m here today to talk about a different kind of re-reading.

Recently, I went through the first pass pages of “The Legendary Garrett Girls”. That’s the title of my short story in Jessica Spotswood’s upcoming A Tyranny of Petticoats – a collection of 15 short stories about girls in American history, to be published by Candlewick Press next year. (Here’s its Goodreads page, if you want to add it to your reading list.)

“First pass pages” (also called “page proofs”) is the stage at which an author sees something resembling the finished book. At this point, the manuscript has already been substantively edited, line-edited, and proofread. It’s then laid out (or “typeset”) using the appropriate number of lines per page, in the font we’ll see in the finished book. It’s a terribly exciting moment because until that point, the manuscript is a Scrivener or Word file (usually with a ton of tracked changes). When you receive the first pass pages, it suddenly looks like a book.

It’s also a pivotal moment because some months have elapsed since you, the author, last fiddled with the book. Seeing it suddenly re-framed (new font, new layout) after a gap like that makes the story seem like a faintly familiar stranger. Previously, depending on your writing process and personality, the story might have been a best frenemy of many years’ standing.

Sometimes, this distancing effect is delightfully liberating: I freely confess to having laughed at my own jokes. At other times, you gasp with horror because you suddenly realize that you’ve omitted something really important. In the case of “The Legendary Garrett Girls”, I had a moment of genuine queasiness when I noticed the omission.

Happily, this is why the various editorial stages exist. (First-pass-pages is NOT the time to add/strike a character or rework the plot, but small emendations – a sentence or two – are usually okay. This varies from publisher to publisher, of course.) I added two sentences to the story and a line to my author’s note, and we’re now good to go.

I’ll have one more chance to check the story for uncaught errors, when the advance reading copy (ARC) is printed. At that stage, though, our book will also be in the hands of reviewers and booksellers, so it’s much better to have corrected my oversight in this round.

I’m so grateful to work with passionate editors and proofreaders who lend me their expertise and make us all look good. And, as you can tell, I’m a big fan of re-reading.

Bookmark and Share


August 5th, 2015

Hello, friends! I am not presently in North Wales, but our holiday was too lovely not to share with you. This week’s photos are from the Victorian seaside town of Llandudno.

We took an Edwardian tram car up the very steep side of a cliff called the Great Orme (Pen y Gogarth, in Welsh). Here’s the view from the midpoint:


And from the top of the Great Orme:


And then we descended to the seaside, which features one of the longest seaside piers in the UK (not pictured, sadly, as my phone was acting up). But here’s the beach, where bold and overfed seagulls snatch ice creams from the hands of children. (True story.)


Halfway through our ice creams, I was distracted by an extraordinary, piercing, squawking voice. I turned around and saw my first-ever, real-life, Punch & Judy show.


Obviously, I couldn’t just watch the show and move on; I was burning to find out more about this Victorian seaside tradition. As a result, the rest of this week’s post is over at the History Girls and it features, among others, diarist Samuel Pepys, Victorian artist George Cruikshank, and the notorious hangman, Jack Ketch.

Here’s Mr. Punch with Jack Ketch:


“That’s the way to do it!”

Bookmark and Share


July 29th, 2015

Hello, friends. My whistle-stop internet tour of major tourist destinations in North Wales continues. Today, we’re in Conwy!

Here’s a view from the quay that includes the medieval town walls.


The harbour again, this time with Conwy Castle (Castell Conwy, in Welsh) at the right.


We began our day at the Smallest House in Britain. Here it is, with me standing by the door for scale. I’m about 5′ 2″.


As you can see in the photo above, it’s the end unit in a row of terraced houses. According to the owner/host, there was originally a row of terraced houses to its left, as well, and this smallest house was built to fill the gap between the two rows.

Here’s the main floor.


It’s very cleverly designed: the bench on the left (red cushion on top) has a lid that raises for storage (most recently, it held coal for the fire). A ladder on the right (not pictured) takes you up to the bedroom, which is just wide enough for a narrow single bed and a small table. There are two fireplaces, one in each room, so the home was probably warmer than many a cavernous country house.

The bearded man in the portrait is the home’s last occupant, a 6′ 3″ fisherman. He lived in the house for some 15 years, until 1900, when the Council declared the house unfit for human habitation. On being evicted he travelled around Britain measuring other tiny homes, in order to verify that his was the smallest.

The town has a delightful ice cream parlour, Parisella’s, where we lapped up Welsh honey and honeycomb ice cream. Outside, a twelve-person recorder ensemble played Beatles covers to raise money for charity. (This sounds like I made it up. I promise I didn’t!) Conwy also has a beautifully curated indie bookstore called Hinton’s, with an adorable baby working the register.

We spent quite a long time exploring the thirteenth-century town walls.


View from the town walls!


Sadly, we ran out of time to visit Castell Conwy, or Conwy Castle. (My 7yo took the photo below, hence the inclusion of car and bike.) But having been there since the thirteenth century, I’m hoping the castell will hold up just a little bit longer, until we can come back.


Next week, I’ll report on my first-ever Punch & Judy show by the seaside!




Bookmark and Share

Summer adventures

July 22nd, 2015

Hello, friends. My family and I are presently revelling in the glory that is North Wales in the sunshine. See what I mean?IMG_20150718_134539368_HDR


Here’s some breaking news from Betws y Coed. You heard it here first.


A view from the town centre of Betws y Coed:


The three soccer hooligans in the foreground (red, white, orange) are cousins, aged 6, 7 and 8. Together, they produce an absolutely astonishing amount of dirt, noise and hilarity. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve even been able to slip away to do a little work on many days. (That sounds sick, I know. But I’m really absorbed in this project and it brings me a huge amount of peace and satisfaction to dip into it. I’m not striding ahead, but I’m keeping myself linked to it. It would be hugely stressful if I had to abandon it for the whole holiday.)

And here’s my most recent “office”!


The view from the office:


Another view from the office:IMG_20150719_150325696_HDR

I hope this post doesn’t come off as unbearably gloaty. We’re having a marvellous week and I hope you are, too.

Bookmark and Share


July 15th, 2015

Hello, friends. Every spring, I feel like it’s been a long, hard winter. (To be fair, I live in Ontario.) Every spring, I worry that the plants are behind. And every June, things kick into high gear. I really should stop worrying.

Here’s a bowl of garlic scapes I snipped the other day. I added some basil leaves and toasted almonds and turned it into a massive batch of pesto. I love digging little tubs of summer from the freezer in November.


Here’s our kale, before I made the mother of all kale salads. We have 3 varieties this year: curly, Red Russian, and Tuscan.


We have a very generous neighbour who periodically pops round and says things like, “Could you use a very healthy zucchini plant?” Yes, we can. We always can. Thank you, Bob!


Our raspberries are doing well, too, despite the lemon balm that’s competing for space in that patch. Our children tend to bolt out the door first thing each morning, stake out the raspberry patch, and come back only when it’s picked over. One day I, too, will eat raspberries from our patch.

IMG_20150712_200615532(In fact I did, right after taking this photo. The kids were asleep.)

We’ve harvested the first round of our snowpeas, but as you can see, the scarlet runner beans are just starting to blossom now.


And we have high hopes for tomatoes. Again, our children graze most of the ripe cherry tomatoes right from the vine, but last year we had enough full-sized tomatoes to last us through the winter. We’re hoping for a repeat.


And that’s our garden at the moment. How is July treating you? What are you up to?

Bookmark and Share

On re-reading

July 8th, 2015

Hello, friends. One morning last week, as I was still waking up, I had a moment of intense clarity about my work-in-progress: its shape is wrong. I need to restructure the first third of the novel.

As I’m less than halfway through a first draft, I did not welcome this insight. Indeed, I spent a couple of days squinting at the corpus-thus-far-assembled, giving it a poke here and a jab there, as though testing the monster’s reflexes. Still, I think my half-waking vision was accurate. Since then, I’ve made a pile of notes and shuffled some ideas. I can keep some of the sections already written, while others need to be excised. About half of it needs to be rewritten.

Happily, some of the changes I’m going to make mean that I also need to revisit one of my favourite books: Freddy Spencer Chapman’s The Jungle is Neutral. I’m SO EXCITED to spend more time with my historical boyfriend! (If you’re wondering who on earth Freddy Spencer Chapman is, I’ve blogged about him over at the History Girls.) I’m reading partly to re-ground myself, and also for a detailed timeline. For example, here’s a map that includes some of his journeys in the month of January 1941:

journeys in Malaya, January 1941

(Pedant alert: Freddy didn’t travel to Telok Anson that month. That leg of the journey is included for SECRET WRITERLY PURPOSES.)

But as much fun as I’m having plotting and mapping, the most thrilling part of re-reading The Jungle is Neutral is how much better I’m able to appreciate it. Freddy is as breathtakingly adventurous as ever, of course. But after two years’ research into wartime Malaya, I’m familiar with all the main players. I know the geography and natural landscape. I have a firm grasp on the politics. And I bring this richness of understanding to The Jungle is Neutral. Everything means more.

I make a habit of re-reading favourite novels every few years: Middlemarch, for example, grows and deepens for me every time. I recently read both The Trumpet of the Swan and Pippi Longstocking with my son, and adored them both all over again. Yet I’m not sure I’d have thought to do this with a work of non-fiction, until now. But it’s true, it’s true, it’s true.

Everything means more.

P. S. I finished Paul “Raj Quartet” Scott’s 1960 novel, The Chinese Love Pavilion, and blogged about it at the History Girls. If you read my original blog post, written when I was halfway through the novel, you’ll want to skip down a few paragraphs. If you haven’t… well, brace yourself!

Bookmark and Share

Cover story: Rivals in the City

July 1st, 2015

Hello, friends. Happy Canada Day, and Happy Fourth of July this weekend!

This week, I’m very excited to bring you some behind-the-scenes images from the cover photo shoot for Rivals in the City.

These pictures were taken in New York by Candlewick Press designer Heather McGee. As you can see, Candlewick used the same model, Amber Ahlquist, to represent Mary Quinn on every cover in the series. What might not be so obvious is that they’re also working with the same costume stylist, makeup artist, and photographer! I’m so grateful for Candlewick’s consistent attention to detail. It makes such a huge difference in the final product.

Here’s a shot of Crystal Thompson (stylist; behind model) and Souraya Hamdi (makeup artist) at work.

photo 1

Victorian dresses often came in two pieces: a shirtwaist (ie, a blouse) and a skirt. As you can see here, this one is a single garment. It fastens at the front because, as a woman without a ladies’ maid, Mary Quinn would have to dress herself. Dresses that buttoned down the back were a sign of social status: the lady who wore those would have a maid who helped her to dress and undress.

photo 2

Here’s photographer Scott Nobles checking light exposures. Models seem to spend a huge amount of time getting prepped and waiting around, and a relatively short time actually being photographed.

photo 3

A few minor costume adjustments, between shots.

photo 4

And makeup, too. Perfectly historically accurate Victorian makeup, of course.

photo 5

I love the juxtaposition of jeans and pocket-cameras with 1860s costume!

photo 6

And there we are. I know I’m biased, but I love seeing how much effort goes into the creation of a book cover. Thank you, Candlewick!

Bookmark and Share

Almond-Orange Cake

June 24th, 2015

Hello, friends. My family is still somewhat under the weather and I’m short on blogging time, so this week I’ll share my new favourite cake. It’s based on this grain-free almond layer cake recipe with a few little changes: increasing the butter slightly, replacing milk with orange juice, adding orange zest. This makes an incredibly fragrant, not-too-sweet cake. When both filled and frosted with buttercream, I find it a little too rich. But with just a layer of buttercream filling, in the manner of a classic Victoria sponge cake, it is pretty much perfect.

Almond Orange Layer Cake

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

zest of one orange

4 eggs

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups almond meal/flour

1/2 cup coconut flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans and line them with parchment. (The cakes get stuck without the parchment.)

Cream together butter, sugar and orange zest. Add eggs, one at a time. Add orange juice and vanilla extract.

Sift together almond meal, coconut flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the butter-sugar mixture and mix well. (It’s a very thick batter.) Divide batter between cake pans, smooth tops, and bake for 18-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Once cooled, make a sandwich of the cakes, using about 1 1/2 cups of vanilla buttercream as the filling.

Hope you like it!

Bookmark and Share