Boarding House Blues

Accommodation is hard to come by in Twig, so at least initially, Rachel will be staying at Lucille Hanrahan’s boarding house. Here’s her first impression:

I sat down at a table shoved up against a large window. By now the fog was so thick outside that I could see nothing; it was like watching static on television. There were scattered cigarette burns on the vinyl tablecloth and a worn patch on the faded linoleum floor. A religious calendar hung on the wall, a big red circle around today’s date. September’s pinup was Mary, her veil the exact colour of Lucille’s house.

A steady heat emanated from the wood stove and the smell of fresh baked bread almost masked the cigarette fumes. Lucille dropped a tea bag into a mug, lifted a large kettle and splashed in boiling water. When she put the kettle back on the stove, drops of water spat and hissed. She placed the mug in front of me, then plonked a can of Carnation milk down beside it.

“You take sugar?” she asked.

I shook my head, staring at the canned milk.


Carnation Evaporated Milk, #10 can


In the 1980s many Newfoundlanders used Carnation Milk in their tea and when I lived there I did so on occasion as well. But it might take Rachel awhile to adapt…

How about you? Tea or coffee? Or???






D is for Dictionary & D is for Duckish

photo (42)

When Rachel arrives in Twig, she has some high-falutin’ notions about how to improve her students’ grammar and speech. Fellow teacher Doug decides to set her straight, introducing her to  The Dictionary of Newfoundland English:

Doug thrust two items  in my hands, a heavy yellow hardback book and a slim bound paper, its pages the colour of weak tea. Then he spun on his heel and left without another word.

Why was he so mad at me? I sat down on the stool and looked at the books he’d given me. The thick hardback was called A Dictionary of Newfoundland English. I couldn’t believe it. They had their own dictionary. I began flipping through the book, stopping to read random entries.

A discussion about arse went on for two columns; the entry for seal and related words and expressions lasted more than seven pages. It turned out that a bayman, which Patrick had said he’d make Doug in that first assembly, was someone who lived on or near a bay. A bazz was a blow or a slap. To blear was to utter prolonged complaints. Blearing. Is that what I’d been doing? My face burned at some of my thoughts about Twig and its inhabitants.

There are some wonderful videos on YouTube that explain Newfoundland words, like the one below about duckish. Oh, and I  looked duckish up in the Dictionary (p.158) and found that twilight can also be expressed as “between the duckies.” Love that.



Bonus time: pick a letter (any letter!) from the alphabet and leave it in a comment below and I’ll look up a word starting with that letter in the Dictionary and give you its definition below.




Destination: Anywhere

Rachel accepts the first teaching post she’s offered – in Twig – after being dumped by her boyfriend. She doesn’t know much about Newfoundland and of course, back in the 1980s handy research tools like Google Earth, Trip Advisor or Wikipedia didn’t exist. Rachel is from the big city of Toronto; she’s about to experience culture shock:

“Where’s the main part of Twig?” I asked.

“You’re looking at it.”

I’d seen the school and the church. Now we passed a gas station called Sully’s and then Bernie’s Snack Bar. A few teenagers were gathered outside Bernie’s, smoking. A tall dark-haired boy pointed at my car and they all turned to stare. A girl in a lumber jacket raised her hand. I waved back before I realised she was giving me the finger.


Have you ever felt out of place somewhere?


Fogo, Twillingate, Morton’s Harbour

When I was a schoolgirl in Ontario, long before my family moved to Newfoundland , I learned the song, I’se The B’y in a music lesson. I expect my protagonist Rachel did too. I had no idea what places like Fogo or Twillingate were like. I learned those place names by rote; precious little thought went into them.


Later, when we moved to Newfoundland we lived in St John’s; beyond excursions to nearby Ferryland, where my uncle lived, we didn’t do much exploring and Fogo didn’t chime any louder.

But for the past few years, Fogo Island has been ding dinging loudly in my thoughts.Ever since I read an article about returned Newfoundlander, Zita Cobb, who built The Fogo Island Inn as a way to turn around the economy of her birthplace. You know it’s very much in vogue when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spends Easter weekend there with his family.

If I ever make it back to Newfoundland, Fogo Island will be on my itinerary.Watch this clip featuring Zita Cobb and tell me you don’t want to go check it out too.



More Irish Than The Irish


In Chapter 19 of Up She Rises, Rachel impresses Peggy, a fellow teacher, by singing along to the chorus of Drunken Sailor:

“Sure you fits right in, maid,” said Peggy.

I picked at the label on my beer bottle. “My dad used to sing that song.”

She cocked her head. “Is he a Newfoundlander?”

I ignored the present tense. “Irish.”

“We’re more Irish than that crowd in Ireland,” Peggy said, clinking her beer bottle against mine.

Looking at her red hair and freckles, I had to agree.

Last week the Irish Times published an article written by Sinéad Ní Mheallaigh, currently teaching Irish Gaelic in Newfoundland. She says she only fully understood the expression “more Irish than the Irish themselves” when she arrived in Newfoundland. I had to laugh when I read this excerpt from her article:

These people celebrate St Patrick’s Day for a full month. They decorate their houses. They all dress in green for school and work. One bar even has a party on September 17th, marking six months to go. There are a number of Irish-Newfoundland groups here; the Irish Newfoundland association and the Benevolent Irish society both organise annual dances and events. On the morning of St Patrick’s Day, the pubs organise a buffet breakfast from 7.30am, with live music. Schools get a day off to celebrate.

Ni Mheallaigh’s article made me homesick for Newfoundland and Ireland. It’s a lovely piece and well worth a read.

What makes you homesick?






The Newfoundland dialect is wonderful grand. Descriptive, authentic, charming. You couldn’t set a novel in Newfoundland and not include some dialect, but I wanted to get the balance right. Too much and you risk alienating anyone unfamiliar with it, too little and it won’t ring true.

Upon her arrival in Twig, Rachel meets Phonse Flynn and immediately she is faced with a strong accent and unusual vocabulary:

“You might want to save the view for a fine day,” he said. “It’s right mauzy today, see?”


“Mauzy.” He gestured at the air.

Phonse doesn’t explain mauzy to Rachel, but this does:

What do you think about use of dialect in fiction? As a reader or as a writer?

Anne of Tim Hortons

The initial idea for Up She Rises came to me during my studies for a Masters in Creative & Critical Writing at Winchester University. Eventually, the first few chapters were submitted as my dissertation. It was a requirement that students include a critical analysis of their creative component and a friend suggested that I cite the reference book Anne of Tim Hortons.

The book wasn’t available in the UK at the time so I didn’t bother. But it’s the best damn title I’ve ever heard. It incorporates two of my (and Canada’s) most beloved icons: Anne of Green Gables  and Tim Horton’s donuts.

During my childhood, I worked my way through the entire Anne oeuvre simultaneously with Tim’s donut range. It doesn’t get much better than that.

When my protaganist Rachel O’Brien arrives in Twig, she has only the contents of two suitcases to help her survive the year. In one suitcase is her comfort read, a battered copy of Anne of Green Gables. Which leads me to the clip below.This is not quite how Rachel arrives in Twig, but it’s a fine example of the brilliant humour of CODCO, a Newfoundland comedy troupe popular in the 1980s.

What’s your comfort read? And why do I want a donut right now?