In Celebration of the E-book Launch of the Owen Archer Series

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Today’s the day! And in honor of Owen Archer’s return to North America (an interesting feat for a mid-14th century Welshman, eh?), my friend Patricia Bracewell, invited me to appear on her blog for a Q&A about my mysteries. Check it out! I enjoyed answering her questions.

http://t.co/TkrZtbWZxf

And Diversion Books has arranged a great deal to entice you:

http://t.co/RSJZ5gkGNU

I’m feeling pretty good about all this, can you tell?

Countdown to Owen Archer E-books in the US & Canada

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It’s Sunday afternoon. In two days Diversion Books will release e-books editions of Owen Archer 1-7, 9 & 10 in the US and Canada. I can think of little else (though I’m doing my best to mark up the York map for the first Kate Clifford mystery–Charlie is waiting to work his magic on the map).

It seems only fair that you, my readers, should be the first to see the beautiful covers the team at Diversion Books created for these–they’ll also grace the trade paperbacks, which should be available by late August.

So here they are, in order!

The Apothecary Rose (Small)The Lady Chapel (Small) (2)The Nuns Tale (Small)The Kings Bishop (Small)The Riddle of St (Small)

A Gift of Sanctuary (Small)

A Spy for the Redeemer (Small)The Guilt of Innocents (Small)A Vigil of Spies (Small)

And the two most recent, The Guilt of Innocents and A Vigil of Spies, are published in the US and Canada for the first time this week, in any format. So those of you who thought there were only 8 Owen Archers, surprise! The series didn’t end with The Cross-legged Knight after all.

Aha. I hear the whispers, But where IS The Cross-legged Knight? Aren’t there 10 books in the series? Yes, but #8 is still available in trade paperback by my original publisher, so it couldn’t be part of this package.

I’ll post links to special offers here this week, and a link to Patricia Bracewell’s blog–she cooked up a Q&A for the launches of both the Owen Archer and the Margaret Kerr e-books (Maggie, 11 August) that we both think you will enjoy! You’ll learn how I worked with the team at Diversion to create the fresh look, along with many other fun facts Pat teased out of me.

A Visit with Old Friends

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I’ve spent a few weeks working with the Owen Archer novels to be re-released in eBook 28 July, and in trade paperback a month later. The tasks have seemed endless—writing fresh “flap copy” for each book (what do you call it when it’s also used to describe e-books, which, of course, have no “flaps’?), spot checking the text files to make certain that I’d updated my own files with the copyedit and final proofreading corrections—in some cases trying to reconstruct this from years ago, finding old errors that can now (happily!) be fixed, suggesting major symbols from each book for cover copy. A busy time, and, although I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed going back over the books, I’ve felt overwhelmed. Until a friend’s comment helped me shift my attitude.

She thought it an incredible opportunity that few people have, to read back over my career, appreciate what I’ve accomplished, see where I’ve been. Few people have careers that are, essentially, written down and saved.

She’s right. Along with the work, I’ve been visiting old friends, some I’ve not encountered in a long while.

“Wulfstan believed that if he obeyed and did his best, he could not fail to win a place, though humble, in the heavenly chorus. To be at peace in the arms of the Lord for all eternity. He could imagine no better fate. And rules showed him the way to that eternal contentment.” Brother Wulfstan, infirmarian at St Mary’s Abbey, The Apothecary Rose

“A woman loves a poet’s praises, the promise of fame and immortality in his songs. But she lusts for a soldier and marries a man of property.” Dafydd ap Gwilym, bard, A Gift of Sanctuary

Others who continue to be much on my mind.

“I see. Either way, I am to lose you. Pity. I liked that you hated the work. It is what keeps a man honest.” Archbishop Thoresby to Owen Archer, The Apothecary Rose

“I have spies all over France and Brittany. And spies spying on the spies.” Archbishop Thoresby, The Lady Chapel

“All our mortal lives we totter at the edge of a bog, Archer. The higher we sit, the deeper we sink when we lose our footing.” John Thoresby The Lady Chapel

“Magda Digby once forgot that her gift as a healer was for all folk, not only those she thought worthy folk. She forgot that her opinion must count as naught, that she must step aside from herself. I is not for a healer.” Magda Digby to Archbishop Thoresby in A Vigil of Spies

And characters about whom I’d completely forgotten, such as Brother Florian, Thoresby’s chief clerk who’d expected to replace Jehannes as Thoresby’s secretary when Jehannes is promoted to Archdeacon of York. Florian resents Brother Michaelo for this.

Brother Florian arrived at Windsor on the third afternoon of Thoresby’s visit. He was soaked through, having shared a barge with a group of jongleurs who had contrived to fill the enclosed area with their gear and persons before the clerk boarded, forcing him to make the trip as unprotected as the bargeman. Fortunately the sleet of the previous few days had subsided to a chill mist and occasional drizzle, but it was enough moisture to weigh down Florian’s cloak and his mood.

   “Might one ask, Your Grace, why these papers could not be entrusted to Brother Michaelo, your secretary, who sits so cozily in your chambers in London? Can he really have so much to do with the ordering and shipping of supplies to York that he could not be spared for this journey?” Brother Florian, white-haired and confident from years of experience, was not one to mince words.

   “You have asked, Brother Florian, and I am happy to answer.” Thoresby smiled. “I do not entrust the papers to Brother Michaelo because I cannot be certain that he will not trade their contents for some of the luxuries he finds irresistible. Whereas Michaelo is very good at the tasks to which I have set him because he knows that he will share in the enjoyment of these items if they reach my houses in Yorkshire. It is all actually quite tidy. Do you not enjoy being indispensable?”

   Brother Florian snorted. “Had I been truly indispensable, you would not have passed me over when looking for a secretary to replace Jehannes, Your Grace. It is no doubt Brother Michaelo’s Norman wealth that is truly indispensable.” Florian raised his cup to his lips, discovered it was empty, and thumped it down with a growl.

And then Florian seems to vanish from the books. Hm… I wonder what he’s been up to?

Owen Archer’s men Alfred and Colin first appear in The Lady Chapel—I thought their debut was in The Nun’s Tale. My, how Alfred changes over the years.

At some point I stopped Magda’s amusing practice of referring to people as the animals they resemble, except for a few—Thoresby is Old Crow, Owen is Bird-eye.

When I was experimenting with a new book last year I wondered whether Brother Michaelo had ever been on horseback in the books. I’d forgotten all about his playing messenger between Windsor and York in The King’s Bishop. And, of course, his journey to St. David’s on the west coast of Wales is largely on horseback.

Yes, I’ve been far busier than I’d imagined I’d be in high summer, but how can I resent spending time with such dear old friends?

Shop Talk with Patricia Bracewell, author of The Price of Blood

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On the occasion of the UK (HarperCollins) release of the second novel in Patricia 9780008104603Bracewell’s trilogy about Emma of Normandy, The Price of Blood, I’m delighted to welcome Pat back to A Writer’s Retreat for another Q&A [see the link to her previous visit at the end].

As I wrote for the US (Viking) publication of book 2: In The Price of Blood, Patricia Bracewell proves once more that she is an alchemist. She turns the leaden chronicle accounts of Emma and Aethelred’s embattled kingdom into a narrative thrumming with life, the historical figures heartbreakingly human. The epic battles of the Anglo-Saxon are rendered personal, tragic. The fated characters disturbed my sleep and haunted my walks. You have been warned.

Welcome, Pat! Let’s start with a few questions specifically about this book:

Q: When working on The Price of Blood did you experience anything that felt like a particularly “middle book” issue?

A: My agent and editor were very keen on making sure the book could stand alone, shadowso I had to bear that in mind while at the same time dealing with my own concept of this as the middle section of Emma’s story. I suppose that kind of double perspective is a ‘middle book’ issue of sorts. My critique partners had not read the first book, Shadow on the Crown, so they were very good at pointing out areas where a reader needed more back story to understand what was going on, and that was an enormous help. They made sure that I gave enough information about previous events and relationships between the characters to keep new readers engaged without slowing the story for those who had read the first book.

Q: You mentioned during the author Q&A at Kalamazoo that at some point in writing The Price of Blood you realized you didn’t have time to reach the year you’d intended. Could you talk about that a bit? What was involved in reorganizing the book?

A: I wanted to conclude The Price of Blood in December, 1013 because of some dramatic events that occurred in that year and that would have provided a tense, cliff-hanger ending. But so much happened in that year that I knew it would take me another 100 pages to describe it all, so I had to let go of that idea. As a result, I had to re-think my story arc and invent a new climax. It meant re-working the story so that a particular character – I’m not saying who – played a larger role than I’d first given him. I had to add some new scenes, delete others and re-write what became the final two chapters about, oh, thirty-five times. The story itself didn’t change, but the emphasis on certain characters and events did.

Q: You’ve just completed an extensive book tour for the US release of The Price of Blood, affording you a fresh opportunity to meet your readers. Did you learn anything from them about how your books are received? Did they tell you who were their favorite characters? Did any ask “what’s next for” a character? Or why something happened to a character?

A: That didn’t happen much at book store events – I suppose because we tried to avoid discussing specific characters and incidents for fear of spoilers. It happens a lot, though, when I meet with book groups. I sometimes ask them who their favorite characters were which has resulted in heated discussions about the challenges faced by Emma and Elgiva and the different ways that the two characters handled them. I love it when readers react so strongly to my characters.

Q: Moving into the third book of the trilogy about Emma of Normandy, have you any regrets? Corners you painted yourself into? Characters you wish you had not killed off so quickly? Characters or situations that you wish you had not created/engaged in the first place?

A: I wish I’d made it to the end of 1013 in The Price of Blood so I wouldn’t have so much to write now! Seriously, there are no regrets. Just the opposite. I’m quite grateful that I invented some characters for the second book – characters that weren’t part of my original plan – because I’m finding plenty of opportunities to use them in the book three.

Q: Is there anything you learned with the second that you’re bringing forward into your work on the third?

A: I’ve learned that I have to loosen my grip a bit on my characters and on the scope of the story. It’s still Emma’s book, overall, but it’s broadened. Elgiva has stepped forward significantly, and in The Price of Blood her character took on a life of its own that I’d never intended in my original concept. She went places I didn’t expect, and of course that has opened up more possibilities for the next book. I suppose it’s a matter of thinking outside of the box that I originally created for myself, and being willing to give my imagination free reign to explore ideas that weren’t part of my original plan.

Q: With time and familiarity your feelings about some characters may change—understanding deepens, quirks grow either more annoying or more endearing—could you talk about that? (Or am I generalizing something that’s peculiar to me?)

A: I think you’re absolutely right. Not with every character of course. I think the best example of that for me is Elgiva. It’s hard to explain it because she’s almost entirely a figment of my imagination. Whatever she is – I’m responsible for it because we know so little about the real person. The thing is, when I created her she was something of a monster – selfish, bossy, and ambitious. She was so bad that I loved torturing her. But in the second book she took whatever I threw at her and exhibited an admirable resilience. Maybe my subconscious took over and gave her that quality – made her so tough that it became a strength. Even as I write the answer to this question it’s occurring to me that she reminds me now a little of Scarlett O’Hara, but I promise you, she didn’t start out that way.

Q: In a similar vein, I’ve found that characters begin to dictate to me what they’ll do and how they could best be utilized. Do you find this happening, particularly after you’ve written about them in other books?

A: Certainly, as I mentioned above, Elgiva has done that. There are minor characters too – the king’s daughter, Edith, comes to mind – who have grown into larger roles that I found quite useful. In the third book I’ll be revisiting characters in Normandy who didn’t appear in the second book at all, and it will be interesting to see how that all plays out.

Q: Emma of Normandy is clearly the central figure of the trilogy, but you tell the story not only from her point of view but that of others. How do you choose the additional points of view? Are there any steps you consciously take to ensure that the reader remembers Emma’s centrality?

A: I chose the viewpoint characters very carefully, with an eye to telling pieces of the story that Emma could not witness, but also because I wanted to add conflict by playing them off of each other: Aethelred vs. his son; Emma vs. Elgiva. Really, any combination of those four characters squaring off against each other, even though they may not do it face to face. For example, Elgiva is still an antagonist of the other 3 in The Price of Blood, but she never shares a scene with any of them. As for ensuring Emma’s centrality, it’s very low-tech. I actually count the number of each characters’ viewpoint scenes and make sure that Emma has the most!

Q: Is there a particular point of view character you especially enjoy becoming?

Viking (US) cover

A: That would have to be Emma. I believe that the early historians who commented on Emma’s role in history never even attempted to put themselves in her place as a woman, a foreign bride, a mother, a queen, or, eventually, a widow. It’s only in the past several decades, as more and more women have entered the field and have begun to research that period of history that scholars have attempted to imagine the difficulties that Emma faced. Pauline Stafford, in particular, has been instrumental in raising these issues. With her groundbreaking work as my model I try to illustrate the complexities of Emma’s position, to step into her character and imagine the world as she would have known it, the difficulties that she faced and the heart-breaking decisions she was forced to make.

Q: Would you share with us five things that surprised you in your research about Emma’s era?

A: Free schools existed in England at this time, first begun in the 10th century by King Alfred of Wessex. They disappeared at the time of the Norman Conquest and would not reappear until the Elementary Education Act of 1870, almost a thousand years later.

Wives and daughters could inherit and hold property separately from their husbands or fathers.

Women could leave property in their wills, and often bequeathed land, clothing and jewelry.

The two archbishops in England, Canterbury and York, were appointed by the king, not the pope. Nevertheless, upon their appointment they had to make the expensive, arduous trip to Rome to receive their pallium, a white stole that was the symbol of papal authority. There was some grumbling about having to make that difficult journey.

An organ was installed in the Old Minster in Winchester in the year 994. It was the largest organ in England and needed 70 men to operate it.

[Imagine the task of calling together 70 pumpers not only for an event in the minster, but when you wanted to do a final practice!]

***

Oh, I do so love to talk shop. Thank you for answering all the questions I threw at you, Pat! But perhaps I’ve missed a question you, the reader, are burning to ask about Emma of Normandy. So ask away in the comments, and I’ll forward your questions to Pat.

[See Pat’s earlier visit here: https://ecampion.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/qa-with-patricia-bracewell-author-of-shadow-on-the-crown/]

One last note: if you haven’t yet picked up copies of Shadow on the Crown and/or The Price of Blood, well, I just have to ask, what are you waiting for?! And do check out Pat’s website: www.patriciabracewell.com

Rough Around the Edges, Barrel-Chested, With a Big Heart

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On the 4th of July, a big day here in the States, I’ll be quietly celebrating the life of IMG_0652my Uncle Ted, on the 25th anniversary of his death. I remember the day he died, hot and sunny here in Seattle. My mother’s voice on the phone was husky with tears. Uncle Ted had been very ill, though not from the cancer that had been in miraculous remission for years (non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma). Still, this was Uncle Ted, my tough, strong-as-a-bull godfather, and I expected him to go on and on. He had calmly said good-bye to the friends visiting him in the hospital the previous night, saying the 4th of July was a good day to die. He loved the 4th. Fire crackers at Coney Island. But no one there believed he meant that farewell. I would have. After I hung up with my mother, I went out to deadhead the climbing roses along our long fence. Hours later I came in scratched and bloodied, my tears spent. My husband had made the arrangements for me to fly to New York City for the funeral.

This year my time with Ted has started early. Gearing up for the re-release of all the Owen Archer and Margaret Kerr mysteries in the US and Canada this summer, I’ve been spot-checking the eBook files and generally rereading passages in all the books in order to write the marketing copy for each. And I keep meeting my godfather, at least aspects of him, in so many characters. Brother Wulfstan in the first five Owen Archers; the innkeeper Murdoch Kerr in the Margaret Kerr mysteries (her uncle); Brother Erkenwald, the soldier-turned-Austin canon in The Riddle of St. Leonard’s (no, Uncle Ted wasn’t a monk). I catch glimpses of him in other characters as well, even Owen Archer, at times, and even women—Bess Merchet, who runs the York Tavern beside Lucie’s apothecary, has more than a little Uncle Ted in her. Of them all, only Murdoch Kerr was planned as a tribute to my godfather. But there Ted is, in so many of my favorite characters.

He’s even in the new Kate Clifford mysteries, the wise and protective Berend, a former…let’s just call him soldier for now.

Uncle TedSo I’ve been wondering just what Uncle Ted represents for me. He was a barrel-chested, muscular, tough talking New Yorker who had nicknames for all his buddies like Ziggy and Moose. He wasn’t handsome in a leading-man way, balding early, with a bow-legged gait from knee injuries suffered in a jeep accident in WWII, and for most of his adult years, until the cancer, he sported quite the beer belly. He was a locksmith/safe installer, and in New York that meant he mixed with an interesting sampling of society. Family whispered that his gangster lingo wasn’t just an affectation. He was my mother’s brother, and she loved him dearly but often muttered a litany of his annoying qualities. When he came to visit us in the summer he entertained my friends—the whole block looked forward to “Uncle Teddy’s” visits. Oh, the tales he would tell, the magic tricks he’d perform, and the blunt, matter-of-fact way he’d talk to us, which made us all feel so grown up. (Magda Digby?) My friends’ parents loved him, too. The patio would buzz with conversations late into the night. He told me I was a great storyteller, and I should be proud of that. And he told me to be true to myself, not bother about what others said. When we went to Manhattan to visit my grandparents, I counted on adventures with Uncle Ted. He took me all over Greenwich Village and into the bars and coffee shops. He bought me things my mother didn’t want me to have and showed me how to hide them in my coat. He got a kick out of beatniks—the bongo drums, the goatees, how they chanted poetry as if they’re dying, and he enjoyed the folk singers in Washington Square Park. We had a falling out later, over “hippies” and “peaceniks”, but he eventually came to agree with me about a lot of my politics. And we agreed to ignore the rest.

The last time I saw my uncle in Manhattan I was there with my husband to spend time with his best friend who was dying of cancer. We were staying with our friend’s girlfriend in Brooklyn, and I didn’t have a chance to get together with Ted until the last night, when we were to catch the subway and meet him at a set time, a set stop. But our friend had a crisis that afternoon, and we stayed to see that he was okay. As we left for the subway I discovered I’d lost the notebook with Ted’s phone number and the subway stop (it had been a while since I’d been to his new apartment). So we were an hour and a stop late (maybe? I wasn’t sure), and I was panicking as we climbed up to the street. But there he was at the top of the steps, watching for us. He did that all the time. He knew how my mind worked? He had a hunch? Who knows? But my Uncle Ted was there, and everything was okay.

New Series Announced in Publishers Weekly!

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It’s official!!!!!

Pegasus Lands New Robb Series

Author of the Owen Archer series, Candace Robb, closed a three-book deal with Pegasus Books for a new historical mystery series set in 14th-century York. The first book, The Service of the Dead, introduces readers to the axe-wielding young widow Kate Clifford, who runs a high-end guest house. Robb was represented by Jennifer Weltz at the Jean V. Naggar Agency; Weltz sold North American rights in the deal.

I am having so much fun with these new characters in a familiar yet slightly later setting (begins in 1399) against the backdrop of rising tension between King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke, exiled Duke of Lancaster. Kate Clifford is a young widow determined to make her way on her own terms despite her late husband’s tangled legacy. And, yes, she is skilled with a small battle-axe as well as a bow. I can’t wait for you to meet her. I’ll be sharing more about her in days to come, so stay tuned.

Kate’s “guest house” is on High Petergate. I love this photo of the Christmas trees above the crossing of Stonegate and Petergate, taken at Christmas, 1992. It was while I was in York that Christmas season Petergate crossing at Christmas 1992 001that St Martin’s Press made an offer on The Apothecary Rose, but only if I agreed it was the first in a series.  The photo I’m currently using as the banner page photo on this blog, of me at St Mary’s Abbey, was taken the day after I learned the news, as I wandered around the city in a happy daze.

No set publication date yet, but the manuscript of The Service of the Dead is with my editor.

Minsters Preaching, Outlaws Feasting, Ships’ Scribes Trembling

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I’m woefully late writing about this year’s pilgrimage to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kazoo or Kzoo), so my notes are now a collection of enigmas. But here goes the first installment!

The first session I attended was a roundtable, on the 2014 NEH Summer Seminar for College Teachers in York: Arts, Architecture, and Devotional Interaction. York—that’s why I chose it, and so glad I did. The six speakers described the experience as energizing their teaching, writing, research, while the networking opened doors in remarkable ways. Their research interests included baptismal fonts, alien abbeys, processional shrines, Beverly Minster’s sculpture, the sculpture on Lincoln Cathedral’s Last Judgment porch, and James Joyce and the medieval Eucharist. Each speaker described how exposure to each others’ ideas and interests in conversations in the evenings, at meals, during field trips informed their own research and broadened their outlooks. Unfortunately, the NEH is cutting such programs. A loss to us all.

I particularly appreciated Julia Perratore’s comment regarding Beverley, that “the building itself [was] continually preaching” to the parishioners. Gregory Erickson, the Joycean, had not realized until exploring the medieval churches how deeply this architecture informed James Joyce’s work. As I listened I realized that architecture is a primary source we rarely mention.

I was so taken by all the participants that I gave my email address to one of the organizers and invited them to share it if they were interested in contributing a blog post. So we shall see!

The value of the conference isn’t just the sessions, it’s also the encounters throughout the day. At the end of this first session I was introduced to Anthony Masinton (anthropology/architecture) from the Christianity & Culture group, and we began a conversation about old cemeteries, particularly the crypts at Spitalfields, and how the overcrowded burial prevented the bodies from decomposing, contributing to the cholera epidemics in the 19th century. We continued our conversation the next day when he was giving me a demonstration of the group’s latest product, a thumb drive providing wonderful information about Micklegate Priory, York, in the 15th century (which will figure in my new series). Everything this group does is invaluable. Check out their website.

In the afternoon I attended a session, Food and Feast in Medieval Outlaw Texts. I confess I was so enjoying these presentations that I forgot to take notes (it was right after lunch, after all), so what I remember are the images that inspired daydreams that have stayed with me. Guildhall feasts were more about theatrics than anything else, with many courses. Rituals, the hierarchy and display were most important, and these are parodied in many outlaw tales. Brawls often broke out during processions. Lorraine Stock, a friend who is steeped in Robin Hood, made a fascinating point about post-World War II gender tension (women working in factories during the war, but had to step aside when the men returned home to reclaim their jobs) reflected in a Robin Hood film of that period. (Which one?!) And now I know that the Robin Hood TV show was written by top notch blacklisted writers who worked under pseudonyms!

From outlaws to pirates…. Saturday afternoon I attended a session on piracy in the Mediterranean. It seems it was quite an organized practice, sanctioned by authorities as a means of patrolling/controlling the waters they considered their territory. And now I know that in this context pirate and corsair are interchangeable. I gained an appreciation for the thankless position of ship’s scribe (maritime law required one on each merchant ship). He was the mediator between the ship and the merchant. His account, the ship’s cartulary, was an important legal document meant to keep the captain honest. It was kept in a strongbox on board. But here’s the rub—his neutrality was difficult, if not impossible, because the power once the ship was under sail lay with the captain, not the merchant. A scribe would have his right hand cut off for a false entry. He was often tortured under investigation. Not a profession I would have chosen!

That’s it for now. More to follow!

Coming Soon for US and Canadian Fans of Owen Archer and Margaret Kerr!

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I am delighted to announce that I’ve signed a contract with Diversion Books for the US and Canadian re-release of the Owen Archer and the Margaret Kerr mysteries—in trade more fb books 002paperback and, at long last, E-BOOK (all platforms). This includes the four books never before published in the US, The Guilt of Innocents and A Vigil of Spies (Owen Archer 9 and 10) and The Fire in the Flint and A Cruel Courtship (Margaret Kerr 2 and 3).

Stay tuned here, or sign up on the mailing list on my website for the latest updates. I’m so excited!

As I assembled the files for the production team I caught glimpses of characters I’ve sorely missed or almost forgotten about: Brother Wulfstan in the early Owen Archers, his warm affection for Lucie Wilton, Jasper’s devotion to him; Christiana, Margaret Kerr’s mother, how challenged she was in her mothering, the gorgeous furnishings she took with her to the nunnery.

What scenes or characters from the two series linger in your imagination? I’d love to hear!

Shop Talk: Creativity, Sanity, Deadline

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I have been quiet, working toward a looming deadline. A good friend across country is in a similar space, completing her doctoral dissertation. Earlier this week she asked how I do it over and over again, writing to a deadline and managing to keep my sense of humor and appear so relaxed and engaged with life. Hah! Maybe I missed my calling on the stage…. Another question she posed was how I work through snags in my writing. What follows is the meat of my response to her email. It’s casual, and I’m sure I could improve it, but when I reread it this morning I thought, hm, that’s it in a nutshell.

The deadline now looms so large in my mind, and dancing with that sense of urgency, how to use it but not let it overwhelm me, is my meditation practice. There’s a concept my meditation teacher talks about a lot, about noticing the space around me, around everything and all that I’m doing. This space is where I can breathe, it’s the pause between, it’s always there supporting me. So I keep bringing myself back to that space, finding ways to allow it. This is quite a challenge when the ticking clock is so loud in the room, but a powerful practice. It begins with taking three deep breaths. As Norman Fischer (another teacher, a Zen monk and  poet) says, we need to breathe anyway, so we can certainly afford the time to take those three deep breaths. Often that’s all I need. I’m back in my legs, back in my power. Sometimes I need to move–yoga, walk, dance. Even just a few minutes of movement helps. It’s that close.

And as to writing through snags, I’ve been working with that as well, and they seem to happen when–ta da–I’ve become too aware of the ticking clock and I’m rushing. Sometimes it’s just a matter of relaxing into the creative process. Two steps forward, one back, three forward, two back, stall, one step forward. Maybe that’s just the rhythm of this work. That’s often all it is. Nothing. Is. Wrong.

Or I need to ask whether this is truly a fresh idea I might consider, which would mean going back and changing a lot, or whether I’m panicking and my mind is using this to stall me–oh no, I should have done this differently, red alert, red alert, disaster approaching, impact in 3 seconds!

I know that I don’t know all that I’m thinking until I write it out, until I’ve played it out; then I ask myself what else is “in the room” (my metaphor) if I shift my gaze just a little. What thread have I dropped? That’s often when I go off for a walk, or go out into the garden and work for a while.

Questions really work for me. Have I strayed from the tonal quality I was looking for? Have I veered off point? Is that veering something helpful that I just didn’t see until I started writing? Or am I avoiding something, skirting an issue? Do I have my hands over my ears as I hum loudly so I don’t hear what I need to do–like do more research?

Sometimes just randomly writing words in a “cloud” on a blank piece of paper reveals what I’m thinking.

My pep talk: “Remember, you have loads of support all around you. Everyone wants you to succeed. You are respected. Trust yourself. Look at what you’ve achieved. Take a moment to appreciate that.”

Circling

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Out on a walk, I watched a couple with a small child approaching. Slowly, oh so 21 July office 001slowly, as the boy would take one or two tiny steps forward, then circle his progress, so he was looping down the street. As we passed, I commented on how he made me smile, and his granddad said, Seems he wants to be a garbage collector. I realized the boy was thumping the top of each garbage barrel as he passed, or the side if it was too tall—yard waste and recycling bins. But it was the circling that had caught my attention.

When I was a child, I would walk circles on the checkered linoleum in the downstairs room while spinning tales for my mother as she ironed or sewed. I often began with something that actually happened to me, then embellished until it was quite the fairy tale or adventure story. My mother would say, You’ll get in trouble someday for those stories. But then she’d ask what happened next.

Later, I skated in circles on the patio while making up stories in my head, often speaking the voices aloud. My parents worried.

Even later, I rode my big bike around in circles on the patio—challenging, the patio not that big, so I was daring myself to lean and not fall. And all the while I was thinking things through, figuring out what was going on by trying to fit incidents into stories so I could understand.

The first dance I choreographed for a class played with circular movement.

In my first house, I would stand in the window watching the boy who lived across the street ride his bike in circles, talking to himself. His little sister liked to walk in circles in the rain, under an umbrella, belting out songs—I think she thought with the umbrella up no one could hear her. This child could sing!

In my second house, the present one, a young girl moved in across the street. She spent hours on a scooter circling, circling.

And now, in my office, I often begin my day doing walking meditation in a circle, slowly. As the day progresses I pace in circles, thinking through a scene.

From the beginning I’ve consciously circled in both directions. So have the children I’ve watched. So, it seems, do cats.

However, I knew a sweet dog who always circled in one direction.

But yesterday, the boy looping. Now that’s fresh. I think I’ll try it.

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