As much as I enjoy blogging about Up She Rises, it’s not my whole life (although it sometimes felt that way as I wrote it.) I want to be able to share news about my other writing or books I’m reading, topics that don’t readily fit here. So, I’ve created a new blog to replace this one. Up She Rises will continue to feature on the new blog, but it won’t be the sole focus.

They say a change is as good as a rest, but  we don’t always like change.So I’ll make it easy for you: Tammi McBrien’s gorgeous photo remains the header on my new blog and the Twig posts and your lovely comments are making the move too.

So please come along on this new adventure. It’s not far, just click here. I’ll go on ahead and put the kettle on.


Pockets of Happiness


It takes awhile, but eventually Rachel starts to find pockets of happiness in Twig: music, craft, friendship. Sometimes we don’t realise what’s available right under our nose.Like Rachel, I recently found a new cause for happiness, a pocket of writers, in my own little town.

A few months ago I stumbled across the Loose Muse in Winchester, run by the wonderful Sue Wrinch. It features readings by poets or novelists, followed by an open mic session. I’ve attended two sessions and thoroughly enjoyed them both. When Sue learned I was from Ringwood, she told me about Rough Diamonds, a new literary event in my little town.

I took myself along to the May session of Rough Diamonds and was thrilled to meet and listen to fellow writers. I’m on the mailing list now, so there’ll be no stopping me. I might even read at the open mic session. I’m sure Rachel would want me to introduce her to the U.K, right?

Any rough diamonds or pockets of happiness hiding right under your nose?

Between the Jigs and the Reels

Rachel is a recovering violinist, having quit the instrument years ago. But when she hears school caretaker Phonse Flynn playing the fiddle, Rachel is enchanted. So much so, that she asks him to teach her how to play it his way.  Here’s an excerpt from their first lesson:

Phonse picked up his fiddle and cradled it, the wood gleaming like a brooch against his work shirt. Although I had practised, I was self-conscious now; my arms felt rigid.

“Like this, luh,” said Phonse. “See how it’s resting on my shoulder? It’s got to be loose, it’s got to be like a part of you.”

I slipped the fiddle into a softer pose. Phonse played a few bars very slowly, his movements exaggerated. Then he pointed his bow at me. “Have at ‘er, girl.”

I drew the bow slowly across the strings and tried to copy what he’d done. We repeated this a few times then he put down his fiddle, sat with his hands on his knees and listened, his head down. I was glad I couldn’t see his face.

“Good,” he said, when I stopped. “You got the talent all right, but you’re stiff as a plank, maid. Loosen up.”

Even as he spoke, I could feel my shoulders hunch forward, my right arm tight. I forced them back and began again. Once I’d mastered a piece, we would repeat the process. Phonse would play, then I would mimic. Line after line. His playing sounded fluid, soft, and floaty. Mine sounded staccato, laboured, and stodgy.

Now, enjoy this video featuring the master fiddler himself, Emile Benoit. And you know what, he looks a bit like Phonse.


I Love Rock ‘n Roll

Music is a big part of Up She Rises, especially as Rachel learns to play the fiddle and discovers the traditional music of Newfoundland. But Rachel’s students are much more interested in the burgeoning world of music videos, courtesy of Much Music. For them it’s all about the pop and rock songs of the mid 1980’s. During Rachel’s first evaluation with vice principal, Judy, she struggles with class participation on the topic of similes and metaphors. Luckily, Eddie Van Halen jumps to the rescue:

They were not participating. It was down to me. But what other example could I give? ‘Stunned as me arse,’ as I’d heard someone describe Calvin? That didn’t seem like the best example to impress Judy. Sweat was trickling down my back. When I walked over to open a window, Harry Wadden exhaled loudly. Annoyed, I picked on him.

 “Harry, can you think of a metaphor or a simile?” 

“No, Miss.” He avoided my gaze; his thumb working the edge of a sticker plastered on his binder – Eddie Van Halen, all goofy grin and big hair.

You’ve got to ro – o – oll with the punches, to get to what’s real…

With that, Professor Brennan saved me ; a snippet from one of his lectures popped into my head: ‘Grab their attention – bring the subject to life by making it relevant for them. ’

Might as well jump…

I went to the blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk, its slender form like a life line, grounding me. “Let’s try something different,” I said. “I want each of you to give me the name of a singer or a group you like.”

A few minutes later the blackboard looked like a record store poster: Wham, Duran Duran, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson and yes, Van Halen.

“Now,” I said, “think about the lyrics in their songs. Any metaphors or similes?”


The examples began to flow and I wrote them on the blackboard.

“You Must be my Lucky Star” – metaphor.

“You Spin Me Right Round Baby, Like A Record” – simile.

Then Billy raised his hand. “Madonna, Miss. Like A Virgin.”

Judy’s head whipped up from her notebook. I fought hard to maintain a neutral look. “Simile,” I said crisply, ignoring the snickers.

What’s your favourite song from the 1980s?


Stars in His Eyes & Dreams In His Head

On Christmas Eve, all alone in Newfoundland, Rachel O’Brien opens two gifts, one of which is a cassette tape of traditional music:

I stuck it in my boom box and lay back down as the lyrics of an unfamiliar song filled the room: 

“Sonny don’t go away, I am here all alone

Your Daddy’s a sailor, who never comes home

And the nights get so long and the silence goes on

And I’m feeling so tired I’m not all that strong

Sonny’s dreams can’t be real, they’re just stories he’s read

They’re just stars in his eyes, they’re just dreams in his head

And he’s hungry inside for the wide world outside

And I know I can’t hold him, though I’ve tried and I’ve tried…”

Sonny could be one of my students in Twig. But his lamenting mother didn’t sound like the ones I knew. Lucille, so proud of Linda teaching in Labrador, Cynthia’s mother, expecting her daughter to attend university and even Mrs Piercey who wanted more for Calvin than hauling wood. I thought of poor Georgie Corrigan, stuck in Twig but hungry for the wide world outside. They were all hungry for something, whether in Twig, in town, or even up on the mainland. I wanted to help them, but how?

Sonny’s Dream gets Rachel thinking. It has that effect on a lot of people. Whenever I hear it, I can almost picture the young Sonny, peering down the highway, stars in his eyes and dreams in his head. The song was written by Ron Hynes, a  Newfoundland singer-songwriter who died too young last November. The first time I ever saw him was when he performed with The Wonderful Grand Band at Memorial University  back in the early 1980s. The last time I saw him was at Union Station in Toronto about four years ago. I wasn’t sure who it was at first – leather jacket, black hat and guitar case – someone with presence, for sure. It was only when I was safely on board that I figured out who it was. I wanted to go find Ron Hynes on the train and tell him how I used to live in Newfoundland and had seen him perform. How I was trying to write a novel about Newfoundland and that it would feature traditional music. But I didn’t. I had my two young children with me, I felt a bit foolish, the list of excuses goes on. I really wish I’d spoken to him that day.



Any regrets?

We’ll Rant & We’ll Roar Like True Newfoundlanders

I said I would post about Ron Hynes this week, but recent events have bumped that post for now. If you’ve been reading my posts, it’s pretty clear that I love Newfoundland: a place of natural beauty with a strong sense of pride in its people and heritage. But many Newfoundlanders are ranting and roaring these days about the recent budget. Two things in particular stand out for me.

One, the province will become the first in Canada to charge HST on books. Two, just over half of  Newfoundland’s libraries are set to close over the next two years. Boo and hiss.  It makes no sense whatsoever for the province with the lowest literacy rate to bludgeon books like this.

Ranting and roaring about these proposals can make us feel better, but here’s two more things you can do:

  1. Sign the Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association‘s petition against the tax on books here.
  2. Support your local library, no matter where you live. Use it or lose it peeps.

And, to cheer us all up here’s Great Big Sea with We’ll Rant & We’ll Roar:






Three of a Kind 

What do these three books have in common ? Each features Newfoundland and/or Newfoundlanders. August Gale is a memoir/biography about Barbara Walsh’s Newfoundlanders ancestors, including  those who perished at sea in a terrible storm. The storyline shifts between that 1935 August gale and Walsh’s grandfather who abandoned his family when Walsh’s father was a child. It was given to me by a friend who has read several drafts of Up She Rises and gets my fondness for all things Newfoundland.

I passed August Gale on to my mother on a visit to Canada last week. In exchange, she gave me One Man Grand Band by Harvey Sawler about the recently deceased Newfoundland songwriter and musician Ron Hynes. I’m looking forward to reading it. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I think I got the better deal.) In next week’s post, I’ll write more about Ron Hynes.

Today I Learned It Was You is a newly released novel by Newfoundland writer Edward Riche. Bobbi French recommended it to me and Rick Mercer has endorsed it, so I know it will be fabulous. It’s not available in the UK, so I scooped a copy last week. No doubt I’ll be taking it back to Canada next time I go. I come from a family of readers and we like to share books. Sometimes my suitcase is so full of books I feel like a flying librarian, which would actually be a pretty amazing job.

Do you know any good books about Newfoundland ? Do you share your books?