Writing club

I love my job as a school librarian mostly because I get to enjoy the personal satisfaction of matching readers with great books. I also love my job because there is at least an element of writing in most of the activities I help out with at my school.

Near the end of last year I was asked by a couple of students if I would start a writing club. This would take up the remaining noon hour I had free during the week with Monday to Thursday already booked with yearbook, rock band (twice a week), and radio club. At least two Saturdays a month you will also find me at the school with our animation/computer programming club. Did I mention I love my job?

Anyway, our school writing club is my new favourite club (actually, like children, the clubs I take care of are all of my favourites, just in different ways). So far our writing club is very low key without the pressure of preparing for a show or eventual publication that comes with the work I do with my radio, rock band and yearbook students. As our group progresses this could change but for now the six or so regular attendees are content to take part in discussions and writing exercises about setting, character, plot and adding emotion, realistic dialogue and action to scenes.

We kept up our Writing Club Edmodo page (an educational, secure Facebook-like interface) over the summer and the students were able to share story prompts and examples of works in progress. One student is writing a historical teen romance novel. Another has been writing song lyrics that will likely eventually be the basis of some original songs for our school rock band. Another student has a writing blog with fantastical tales about a muffin robber. Some of the students have been exploring other student writing on Wattpad.

For me, our meetings on Friday at lunch are a time to wind down from a busy week and a scheduled excuse to write. I am always refreshed by the creative energy I expend during the less than an hour that we are together and the students involved seem to be too. I have surprised myself at how my own creative writing education as part of the Creative Communications program at Red River College where I majored in Journalism has come back to me. I know our writing club has inspired me to write more and I love how it has inspired the students involved in the club as well.

If you would like to try starting your own writing club or are just looking for some inspiration, here are the first two activities we tried:

Write a 144 character twitter story. Include a main character, a secondary character and a beginning, middle with climax, and end to your story. You don’t have to tweet your story or even have a twitter account. Just keep your story to the Twitter length of 144 characters.

Write a character biography. Answer the following questions in your biography about your character:

What is your character’s name?
How old is your character?
What hobbies does he or she enjoy?
Tell us about his or her parents and your character’s relationship to them.
Give us a description of your character.
Tell us about where he or she lives, etc.

You can write your biography as if a narrator is describing the character (third person) or as if the character is talking (first person).

On a Friday when our writing time was cut a bit short we decided to just write using one word prompts and came up with the word “relative”. The results were different for each writer but each of us had an interesting piece of writing to share when we were done.

According to my literary heroes, the most import part of being a successful writer is to write. Like me, you may find that being part of a writing club is a fun way to include more writing in your life.

 

 

Buy a book at the Last Chance to Buy an Aqua Book Book Sale

Today is the last day you will be able to buy an Aqua Books book. As I’ve been tweeting and Facebook posting, former bookstore owner Kelly Hughes will be selling books out of a warehouse at 165 Garry Street in Winnipeg from 12 – 6 p.m. today. You should go.

Kelly tells the tale much more eloquently than I can about how the cultural city hall of Winnipeg that was Aqua Books went from reality to memory and how his mental health withered along with it (we all hope he writes a book). For now, read his Facebook posts at Kelly Hughes. Add him as a friend. He has lots but could likely use more. You can also follow him at @kellyhugheslive on Twitter for up-to-the minute posts on the progress of his sale and other interesting tidbits like his adventures eating ube-filled crackers.

I’ve blogged about my favourite used bookstore before but never really from a personal perspective. I relied on Aqua Books not only to buy books but as a haven from a marriage breakdown that I didn’t want to break down and that broke down with little prior warning, leaving me in shock and a bit of a stupor (edit: life is good now :) . I went to Aqua Books to be among writers, poets, musicians and other like-minded people that didn’t mind I was newly, awkwardly single with nothing to do on a Friday or Saturday night or even a Sunday afternoon. It was kind of like my local hangout and I either got lost in the many shelves of great books or sat at the back near the door during events in the makeshift theatre upstairs in case someone asked too many questions. I heard my favourite writers and local political and musical celebrities interviewed during Kelly Hughes Live shows. Even though, hailing from the country, I couldn’t make every event, Kelly made me and countless others feel like regulars. Aqua Books was my second home.

Always a writer, but more of the journalistic and PR sort in recent years, I took part in a number of creative writing workshops, finding inspiration for a book while writing at the foot of Kelly’s The Stone Angel, a prop from the movie version of one of my favourite books. I read my poetry out loud for the first time and a few other times. And, as always, as a librarian, I bought books, lot of books.

I am working up the energy to go to Kelly’s last book sale today because for me (and likely much more for him although he seems to have come to terms with it and just wants to get rid of all the books) it is a sad day.

But, it is also a new beginning and I, like many others, look forward to what Kelly is going to do next.

If you can, go and buy a book today… or lots of books. And, if Kelly isn’t too busy, get him to sign one. He’s not just former bookstore owner Kelly Hughes. He’s a cultural superstar as far as supporting the arts in Winnipeg and from what I’ve seen since Aqua Books closed for good, I think he will continue to be. Kelly did a lot, often for free, for this city and the creative people in it. And we should pay him back.

Buy a book.

 

 

Heather vs The Coconut

 

Bought this coconut and wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. One of my former students from the Philippines advised me to peel it down to the “meat” and then stick a straw in to drink the liquid or drain it and then just break it open.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I think I peeled off enough of the wooden coconut covering to make a bread board. I had to switch to a much sharper knife and it took forever.

 

Of course, I cut my finger in the process but I was finally able to make an incision to drain the milk

 

 

There is a lot of liquid in one coconut. It tasted sweet and refreshing and made me look forward to the lovely coconut meat inside.

 

But alas, twisting, hitting it on the bottom of the sink and even scoring it with a knife and hitting it with a hammer would not open the coconut.

 

The coconut, in an unatural habitat. I am hoping -20 C (-36 wind chill by morning) will cause it to crack… or that a swallow will pick it up and drop it, finally revealing the tasty white coconut flesh I imagine inside.

 

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The coconut suffered -20 C temperatures and blizzard conditions and still it would not crack.

 

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 I dropped it from arm’s length onto the cement…

 

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repeatedly…

 

I contemplated next steps while it thawed…

 

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I tried this Wiki How recommended technique of baking at 200 degrees…

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Tried cracking it again by hitting it with a hammer while rotating the coconut. I even tried wrapping it in a towel and hammering it, to no avail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Success? I was about to give up on the coconut and throw it out (couldn’t drive to my dad’s today to use his sawzall because of blizzard conditions) when I decided to take a knife and pry at the incision I made to drain it the day before. Once the crack was bigger, I was able to hit all around the area with a hammer and make a small hole at the top. I guess the freezing, baking and sitting had dried out the shell making it more brittle so it finally gave way!

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I was never able to crack the coconut in half, however, so I had to use a fork to pull the coconut meat through the small hole I was able to make in the top. I guess because I had baked it in the oven for 10 minutes, the meat of the coconut had entirely pulled away from the shell.

 

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The empty coconut shell and the finally “freed” tasty coconut meat. I had a bit and it was good but perhaps a little dried out from being baked.

I managed to quell my urge to grate the rest of the coconut and store it in a bag (because then what would have been the point really?) I’ll save it in a container for later. As a bonus I now have an empty coconut shell that I plan to fill with pineapple juice to drink while reading The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.

 

 

 

 

Desert island books revisited… would I even survive long enough to read one?

In a former post I considered which five books I would choose to be stranded with on a desert island.

Since I have been trying unsuccessfully for two days to crack open a coconut, I am beginning to doubt I would survive as a castaway long enough to even re-read ONE of my favourite books. My failure (so far at least) with coconut opening has me wondering why when I saw the coconut in the grocery store I was compelled to buy it. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a bag of shaved coconut. And, if there’s ever a coconut sprinkled item offered at a bake sale, funeral, or family gathering, I’m likely to skip it in favour of those sweetly indulgent squares seemingly solely fashioned out of peanut butter and miniature coloured marshmallows.

So, what was it about the coconut in the grocery store that called to me? I had a lot of time to ponder this while I waited for the coconut to freeze and subsequently bake at 200 degrees when the apparently tried and true methods of draining, hitting, twisting and hammering the coconut refused to yield its white inner flesh.

In books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched about characters being stranded on islands, the characters at least partially survived by eating coconuts. It made sense then, that the prominently displayed coconut with its outer husk still attached, like a freshly cut down prize from a  palm tree on an exotic island, would capture my attention. The coconut likely held even greater appeal than normal because I would be leaving the grocery store to step into the beginning of yet another Prairie blizzard. The impending storm was in fact the reason I was at the grocery store to stock up on supplies, although not necessarily coconuts, in the first place.

I can’t remember all of the details of The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe but I’m sure when he was stranded  on the island he ate grapes and goats to get by in addition to more romantic fare like coconuts.  Similarily, in The  Swiss Family Robinson, the family took some provisions from their sinking ship  to help them survive. Robinson_Cruose_1719_1st_edition

Still, there is something about the site of a coconut that provides the same feeling of “getting away from it all” as a “desert island” book both in the favourite book sense and as an actual desert island themed book. Although some would suggest an exotic vacation to chase the winter blues away, the combination of coconut and a good book are enough of an escape for me and much less costly.

Plus, if I did pursue a tropical vacation there is a chance my plane would go down leaving me in a real desert island situation. My inability to open a coconut would mean I’d surely starve. Worst of all, assuming I’d even thought to pack them, all of my favourite books would get wet.

What to Read: Here’s my list of Desert Island reads. What books would you want to be stranded with? You can read the classic desert island tales The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson by following the links to Project Gutenberg. Please donate to this amazing site that offers free-to-download ebooks and audio books if you can. Other great “island” classics  in my library are  Lord of the Flies and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Younger students also enjoy the Island series by Gordon Korman and the Flight 29 Down series based on the TV show developed by Stan Rogow.

 

1982 was a good year…

1982Just finished reading the book 1982 in time for the reading/signing by Jian Ghomeshi tonight at McNally’s. If you don’t know who Jian is, you should. He used to be in the folk rock band Moxy Früvous and is currently the host of Q, an arts and culture program on CBC Radio.

1982 is about Jian’s life growing up as the son of Iranian immigrant parents  in the mostly white neighbourhood of Thornhill, a suburb north of Toronto. As the title says, the book focuses specifically on 1982, the year Jian decided he wanted to be like David Bowie, the year he met the girl of his dreams and the year that ultimately set him off on a career as a musician, writer, producer, and radio and television host with stellar interview skills.

1982 has a fond place in my heart too. While Jian was in Grade 9 and starting high school, I was in Grade 10. It was the year I developed a crush on a boy that was so severe (unbeknownst to him) that I took to writing poetry about him and other things in my life. This ultimately resulted in the “publication” of Musings of a Mad Poet, a “book” with carefully typed pages housed in a binder with a hand-drawn cover.  Multiple copies were made at the request of my friends whose lives were also chronicled in some of the poems. I even sent my manuscript to a local printing company. I still have the nice sort of rejection letter someone in the company sent back. The well meaning employee informed me that the company wasn’t exactly in the business of publishing poetry books, so perhaps I should consider self-publishing, an idea back then that was somewhat ahead of its time. I find it funny now that as the staff supervisor for my school’s yearbook my first actual involvement in a published book was through that same local printer.

1982 was also the year I took the “Choices” career test in school that suggested I should pursue a career in writing. It was the year I decided to come out of my shell a bit,  allowing my English teacher to read my poetry assignments out loud in class. It was that year that I entered and won an honourable mention in the Manitoba Chapter’s Canadian Authors Association short story contest and got to attend a special reading of the top three stories (phew, dodged a bullet and didn’t have to read mine!). It was the year I had my Christmas story, The Red Scarf, read on CBC radio. It was the year I gave a speech I had written about UFOs in front of the entire school. In short it was essentially the year that anyone who previously didn’t know me that well because I was so quiet found out that I was a geek who liked to write.

It was also the year I decided I would enrol in the Creative Communications program at Red River College when I graduated. “Choices” advice aside I had already decided that I hadn’t lived long enough or seen enough tragedy to write the next great Canadian novel so while waiting I decided to pursue a career in journalism.

Like most Canadian teens my age, who were about to be introduced to video rock shows like Good Rockin’ Tonight, Video Hits and Much Music,  music was a big part of my life too. 92 Citi FM had a good enough range to reach my brother and I even way out in the country and our school bus driver let us listen to more popish songs on KY58 every day on the way to and from school. So, of course, my brother and I both had dreams of becoming rock stars too.

Unlike Jian, who actually started a band eventually, my attempts at becoming a rock star (Jian was more into New Wave) were limited to using my hair brush as a microphone and, with my brother, recording myself singing Hotel California into his new Sony combination radio/cassette recorder/player.  Later attempts at fitting into the music scene  included using blue hair spray to “punk” up my hair on weekend outings to watch punk bands with my cousin.

That’s why I found Jian’s recollection in 1982 of using purple eyeliner (to be fair he thought it was black) to glam up his New Wave look particularly touching. I’ll bet those kids wouldn’t have laughed if they would have known where Jian would end up.

You will enjoy this book if you grew up in the 80′s or know someone who did, you like 80′s music,  or, if you made it through the pain of a high school crush in the 80′s (or any decade for that matter). If you didn’t do any of these things you will still enjoy 1982. It was a good year and it’s a great book.

 

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