A Good Home, Artists, Authors, Canadian Authors, Canadian Homes, Canadian life

AT HOME WITH AUTHOR YVONNE BLACKWOOD

Yvonne Blackwood is best-known for the books she’s written about her African travels: “Into Africa A Personal Journey”, and “Into Africa – the Return”.

The former bank manager loves books. Writing them, and reading them. 

Blog Photo - Yvonne with Book

Not surprisingly, there are many books in her home north of Toronto. The photo above shows her in the bedroom “nook” overlooking the wetlands behind her home. 

“I can watch the geese frolic there all year except for the winters. A bookshelf stands in a corner and it is chock full of my favourite books along with books bought but not yet read.” 

Blog Photo - Yvonne wetlands2

More recently, Yvonne authored a humorous book “Will That Be Cash or Cuffs?”

Blog Photo - Yvonne at Desk

Long before that book, however, Yvonne wrote two others.

“One crisp autumn morning after exiting the train, I walked briskly up University Avenue (in Toronto) to my office. I noticed a tiny park next door to a large courthouse, and a gang of squirrels were frolicking and having a good time there. The crab apple trees in the park had lost all their leaves.

“It was a beauty to see the slender branches covered with thousands of little ripe crab apples. Some were strewn on the ground and the squirrels were feasting on them. Suddenly, an idea came to me; write a children’s book about squirrels living in a city!”

But she couldn’t find a publisher. Last fall, she “dusted off the manuscripts, edited them”, found an illustrator and published the books herself. 

Blog Photo - Yvonne Nosey Charlie 1

Two Nosey Charlie books – for children 3 to 8 — were published earlier this year on Amazon’s platform, Createspace.

Blog Photo - Yvonne Nosey Charlie 2

How is writing for children different than writing for adults? I asked.

“The big differences are―because it’s a children’s picture book―pictures show the readers a part of the story, therefore, there is no need to spell out everything in prose; you use fewer words. Each book has less than fifteen hundred words.

“You also have to be a bit more careful with the words you use. Although you never ‘talk down’ to children, at the same time you do not use too many big words, and you do not write long, complex sentences.”

BLOG Photo - Yvonne with NC Book

As Yvonne enjoys the summer in her house and garden, there is still more news on the way.

Blog Photo - Yvonne Clematis Vine

A third Nosey Charlie book  will be published in September .

Yvonne says:  “I’ll keep writing the stories as long as I remain inspired and the readers continue to love Charlie.”

Congrats, Yvonne!

 

 

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A Good Home, Doors Open, Serendipity

Serendipity: A Post-Script to The Grange Series

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Life is strange, isn’t it?

There my husband and I  were, a year ago, in a pub in Newcastle, Ontario.

We were meeting with our younger daughter’s future in-laws to plan the wedding. 

We were all nervous. The kids were totally in love and getting married.  But what if their parents disagreed — about everything?

Then my husband started telling jokes and everyone dissolved into laughter.  Loud, boisterous laughter. It broke the ice and everything went well.

There was a couple at the next table. Daughter and I went over to apologize for our loudness. 

The couple introduced themselves. The husband also gave me a book and introduced himself as the book’s author.

My daughter said: “That’s funny. My mom’s an author too!”

We all ended up talking. About books. And weddings. And marriages.

blog-photo-ebor-house-gates

Meanwhile, my blog series on Ebor House was a big hit at last year’s Doors Open Clarington tour.  The printed version was a fundraiser for Doors Open.

Blog Photo - Doors Open 2016 CR at Ebor House

This year,  I told co-chairs Marilyn Morawetz and Bernice Norton that I’d volunteer again for Doors Open Clarington: I’d write about another house. 

I had no idea it would be the home of someone I’d already met. 

Then life went nuts.  Over 3 months, Marilyn gently nudged me — repeatedly.

Finally, Hamlin decided to take a break from his busy schedule to help me out: he kindly agreed to drive us there and take the photos.

Blog Photo - Doors Open The Grange Sign and driveway Hamlin

When we arrived at The Grange, hosts and visitors warmly embraced and laughed together at the coincidence.

Nick and Wendy Boothman were the couple we met in the Newcastle pub!

It was a lovely visit.

Wendy drove us to see Screaming Hill.

Then Nick took Hamlin to photograph the barn and the grounds, while Wendy and I stayed in the house and talked.

It reminds me that one must leave room for the unexpected. And that the thing called serendipity is sometimes, strangely, within our gift.

Thanks to Hamlin Grange, Nick and Wendy Boothman, and Marilyn, Bernice and the Doors Open Clarington team. 

A Good Home, Artist, Arts, Authors, Canadian life, Children's Books, Homes

At Home with Andrea Torrey Balsara

Two years ago, Andrea Torrey Balsara and her husband Nav bought a grand Victorian home surrounded by lawn, woods, and big old barns.

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in Morning

“To me, the greatest wealth is to have nature around me. To now be on a property where there are old trees, squirrels, wildlife…it is such a blessing that I had given up on ever having.

“This place came out of the blue for us, as we had resigned ourselves to subdivision living. Initially, the property was what attracted me, but I have since grown to love the old house, too; there is a spirit and charm to it that really touches me. For the first time since I was a child I feel I am truly home.”

Blog Photo - Andrea view to the barns

Blog Photo - Andrea and Maisie

Andrea is a storyteller – she writes and illustrates books for children. Characters include Greenbeard the Pirate Pig and Happy the Pocket Mouse.

Blog Photo - Andrea Swashbuckling Guinea Pig

She fell in love with pictures early.

“One of my first clear memories is at 6 years-old, reading a picture book. I say ‘reading’, but really I followed the story by the exquisite art. I remember a feeling of yearning come over me to make pictures that were so beautiful. I also grew up on Donald Duck comics. I didn’t realize until many years later that I never usually read the comics, just followed the pictures. The visual sense of humour that I have in my drawings is totally influenced by the cartoonist Carl Bark’s Donald Duck comics.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Mouse Vacation

“With my picture book, Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, I was finally able to write and illustrate a book. Since then I have also illustrated the Happy the Pocket Mouse series, written by Philip Roy, through Ronsdale Press. Book 4, Mouse Vacation, came out in October 2016. Illustrating without writing the book is a whole new experience, and one which has taught me a lot about collaboration.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Office

Andrea calls her work space her ‘art loft’.  “Really, it’s the former servants’ quarters. The stairs going up are grooved from the generations of servants going up and down the stairs. I love feeling connected to the history.”

From the window, she sees an expanse of trees, yard and old barns.

“I can’t believe I have barns!”

Blog Photo - Andrea Barns and hydrangea

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Knowing her passion for art, you may be surprised to learn that Andrea once dropped art altogether after getting a C in Grade 8.

“It was so devastating to me that I vowed never to share my art again. A drastic reaction! At that age, my sense of confidence was non-existent, so the grade felt like a defining moment to me. I avoided art classes after that, as I didn’t want to have my love of art taken from me. Odd kid-logic, I know.

“Now I feel I have so much catching up to do with people who have gone through art school; it’s made it a much longer learning curve for me to learn how to illustrate a book.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Living Room

Writing and illustrating children’s books — here, in her beloved home — is a blessing. Andrea doesn’t only produce them — she loves reading children’s books.

“I guess because in many ways I still feel like a kid myself. I went through a traumatic experience as a small child, and a part of me is still that age. I don’t relate to many of the books meant for adults as I often find them cynical, incredibly violent, and gratuitously sexual. I love the innocence and openness of children’s books. There is a joy to it that writing for adults doesn’t have.

“In children’s books it’s not only okay to have hope, and to believe that the world is a place of beauty and love, it is essential. Even the books for adults that I love come from a place of childlike innocence and the belief in the nobility of the human spirit.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in spring

As with her art, care for her home has been a labour of love. She loves the living room because it now feels homey. But the house is old and required a lot of work.

“It took me time to love the house, as initially it smelled musty and the windows were decrepit, with bugs living between them and the storm windows. It was sweltering in the summer and infested with cluster flies. I bought a vacuum I could strap on my back, with an extension wand to reach the high ceilings, and wielded it like Luke Skywalker fighting the Evil Empire. Then, in our first winter (last year), we froze. I now own several sets of long underwear (thank-you, old house!)

Blog Photo - Andrea Living room

“Thankfully this winter, with the new radiators we had installed, it has been snug. Now that we’ve sorted out some of its issues I love our old Victorian home’s uniqueness.”

Here in this unique home, Andrea is also completing a young adult novel called The Great and the Small.

It’s about a colony of rats, led by a charismatic chairman, who are waging a war to exterminate humanity using the bubonic plague. The only thing between annihilation and life is the chairman’s nephew Fin who is rescued from certain death and nursed back to health by a teenage girl. Fin grows to love the girl, and realizes that what his uncle has told him about ‘two-legs’ is wrong. Now he has to choose: follow his uncle whom he adores, or turn against him and rebel.”

Home, family, art — Andrea appears to be in a very good place. Her husband Nav and daughters are her greatest supporters. And there’s other joyful news: her older daughter will be married at the beautiful family home this fall.

A Good Home, Blessings, Memoir-Writing, Writers, Writing, Writing workshops

MIXED BLESSINGS

It’s November, the month when many writers write.

Not me.

I’m not working on the next book, not writing my blog, not even journal-ing every day.

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In typical Cynthia fashion, I had a good stretch of days some weeks ago and was so thankful for it, I tried to do too much.

Ignored the warning signs. Committed other rampant acts of mindless-ness.

The bad pain came, then the flu. And throughout it all, the bloody nightmares whenever I slept long enough.

But pushing myself, as my therapist and journals remind me, is how I’ve come this far.

And I’m pushing again.

~~

Twice a week now, I lead very small groups of individuals who are writing their memoirs.

None is a professional or even an experienced writer. But they are bright, interesting, mature people.

Some of their stories are painful to write, I know. But what a joy for me to help them develop as writers.

They’re changing in front of my eyes — and theirs. Blooming.  

~~

At first, I wondered how they’d see me.

It’s obvious I have difficulty walking – sometimes it’s very bad. But I decided to reveal — on the very first day — some of the stuff others don’t immediately see. That I sometimes stutter or speak strangely. That I might struggle to cross-reference or absorb new information and that if voices/sounds come at me from more than one source, it affects me.

Just as well I did.

I’ve come up against my limits repeatedly – and so markedly, twice, that I later went to the washroom and cried.

Then there’s the tiny paycheque.  I earned more money in my early 20’s!

So why am I smiling?

This activity has given me a purpose outside the home. I spend 2 hours, twice a week, with a group of individuals whom I like, respect and marvel at. I can see their progress each week and it delights me. The stories they tell — even the painful ones –are a balm to my soul. 

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Blessed am I to have such students.

And blessed am I to have readers who notice when my blogging patterns are ‘off’, and ask why.

Thank you.