Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Another great Opportunity from NOWW

Dear NOWW Members,
Our second  Peer-to-Peer Review commences on April 1st.   This is an opportunity to receive feedback on your own work and provide feedback on another member’s work. Take some time to review the guidelines posted on our website at:
We look forward to receiving your submissions and to facilitate the review process to help you grow as writers. Wishing you all the very best!

Take care and happy writing,

Jodene Wylie
NOWW President
Joan's comment. This activity pertains only to the members of Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW). If you are not a member you can join for a measly fee at This the hub of writing information, help and contests. Open to all.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A very old poem for modern times.

This is the Key

This is the key of the kingdom.
In that kingdom is a city;
In that city is a town;
In that town there is a street;
In that street there winds a lane;
In that lane there is a yard;
In that yard there is a house;
In that house there waits a room;
In that room an empty bed;
And on the bed a basket –
A Basket of Sweet Flowers;
A Basket of Sweet Flowers.

Flowers in a Basket;
Basket on the bed;
Bed in the chamber;
Chamber in the house;
House in the weedy yard;
Yard in the winding lane;
Lane in the broad street;
Street in the high town;
Town in the city;
City in the Kingdom;
This is the Key of the Kingdom – 
         Of the Kingdom, that is the Key.

Sunday, March 22, 2020


Books are easy to come by, either on line or by mail from Indigo or direct from the publisher. When I travel, I download to my tablet. Instant gratification. But now that libraries are closed, the tablet comes in handy. 

On Facebook recently someone suggested reading Treasure Island as a good antidote to self-isolation. Good idea. Many classics are available on line, some free and some for very little money.

Maybe now is the time to check out  those books you never got around to, those books that made your teen age years angst-free, those books that everyone else read but not you, those books with familiar names that everyone loved but, for some reason, you did not read. 

Here is a partial list of books that have delighted readers over time. They are called minor classics but I call them great reads.

For those of us who like adventure stories, you (or your older kids) are never too old for:

Treasure Island. Author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote plenty of adventure stuff including Kidnapped, and The Black Arrow

The Sea Wolf by Jack London 

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. Purple prose swashbuckler with a lovely princess, a dastardly villain, and a fearless hero. What more can you want? Various sequels carry on the tale. Read it as a teen and again as an adult. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas or The Three Musketeers and their sequels, which I read a few years ago, and enjoyed every one.

Dune by Frank Herbert – of course.

The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I am not a Dickens fan but I loved this book as well as Great Expectations. 

Books to Dive Into. Here is my list of reader-friendly classics:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy
Roughing it in the Bush by Suzanna Moodie
The Dubliners by James Joyce
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. Never out of print. Great to read to older kids.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – another goodie to read to older kids.

Some series: 
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maude Montgomery. A good choice to read to older kids but I knew several adults who still turn to these books. Still dearly loved. The Anne books continue with Anne’s House of Dreams, Anne of Avonlea and so on. These may last until the end of the virus emergency.

The Jalna Series by Mazo de la Roche – a big hit in the 40’s, 50’s this series is almost forgotten. The books revolve around Jalna, an estate in southern Ontario and the family who lives there. The first book is The Building of Jalna.

The Fortunes of War, a six book series by Olivia Manning are considered by critics as the most underrated novels of the twentieth century. Here is a woman’s view of war from her own experience living in Rumania and eventually escaping to Palestine. The first set is the Balkan Trilogy and the second is the Levant Trilogy. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

 Poet  and writer Margaret Cunningham, a native of Thunder Bay who now lives in Ottawa, tells the story of how she finally got her driver's licence back.

Margaret R. Cunningham reads from her book of poetry "Slide and Soar."


by Margaret R. Cunningham

Success on the Seventh try

The reader needs to know that I did, in the end, pass the Driving test on my seventh try. After my 6thfailure in Arnprior, I was rather hesitant to try again. I asked my favourite Blue Line Taxi Driver if he knew a good instructor. He suggested a lady at Narisses’ Driving School who had taught his wife after her second failure. When I phoned her and told her my sad tale, she told me to call Larry’s taxi because “they are the experts.” 

And indeed, they were.

Brian Dunleavy was the instructor’s name. He was originally from Northern Ireland. After spending some time in England, his family moved to Canada. Brian said that because they were Irish and Catholic, they were not welcome in England.  

He was a Cognitive and Defensive Driving Instructor. He said that he would give me an assessment first to see if I had the potential to pass. I believe that he charged $125.00 for this and $85 for the lessons afterwards. I agreed. What were a few more dollars?  And it could be that I just might pass this time. Fortunately, he decided that I was teachable. Perhaps it was because of our shared heritage or some other reason. All I cared about was that I had been accepted.

He was calm, pleasant and straight forward. A natural teacher. Both his parents, I discovered, had been teachers. His favorite expression was “jolly hockey sticks,” when I made the right move. With every “jolly hockey sticks,” my confidence grew. He prepared me well for the test.

After four weeks of Brian’s tutelage, my test on April 15 arrived. Brian had suggested that I chew gum if I was nervous. I chewed gum. In the past, I had had trouble convincing the testers and instructors that I was turning my head at intersections. For this test, I changed my wardrobe. Instead of a coat with a fur collar, I wore a long sweater with another sweater underneath. Since there was nothing to block their view, the tester could see my head turn. 

The night before my final test, I phoned my friend Myrtle in Thunder Bay to ask for prayers. Myrtles got busy. I swear there was Divine Intervention because calm washed over me about an hour before my test. The calm never left me until I heard the words, “Congratulations. You have done very well.”

My daughter Maureen was waiting for me. She had accompanied me to all but one test. We were both ecstatic. I picked up my licence, not really believing that I had passed.

You can imagine the phone calls and e-mails that went out that night. There was great rejoicing in both heaven and earth. In four days, Easter would arrive but this was my own personal resurrection.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Kids can write

Hello Thunder Bay kids and friends outside the city.  I aim opening up this blog to kids. Many of you are home from school and cut off from friends. if you send me a poem, or a story or just a few words. I will publish them on this blog.  Send to Love to hear from you. Joan

Friday, March 13, 2020

Peer to Peer Opportunity Knocks.

The Peer-to-Peer Program occurs twice per year: November and April. During these months, writers may submit a piece of writing to be reviewed and to receive feedback on during the submission period (Days 1-7).
On Day 8, each person who has submitted a piece to be reviewed will then be emailed a submission that was written by another fellow NOWW writer. They will then have 21 days to read, review and complete the Peer-to-Peer Response Form based on the submission they’ve received.
Responses must be constructive, respectful, and honest with the intention to improve and strengthen the piece.
This form will be returned to NOWW at no later than the 29th Day of each month.
On the 30th Day, each person who has submitted to the Peer-to-Peer Review Program will receive an email containing the Peer-to-Peer Response Form about their work.

This sounds terrific.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

NOWW eWriter in Residence 2020: Susan Olding

Calling all writers:

The Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop (NOWW) would like to invite you to participate in the 2020 eWriter in Residence program. Members of NOWW will be provided with the opportunity to have their work professionally reviewed and edited by Susan Olding  an experienced writer of fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. 
Susan will also be leading two workshops, one in Thunder Bay and one in the region sometime this autumn. Further details to follow.
For the next three months, we are offering Susan’s services as an ewriter in residence to 20 NOWW members. This will include the following:
·      Proofreading and copyedits
·      A commentary letter of at least 500 words that will substantively address components of the material such as:
o   Prose: Discussion of form, content, technique, concept, point of view, narrative voice, character, dialogue, setting, theme, pace, and development, showing not telling, suggestions for revision and further development, and any additional topics which seem relevant.
o   Poetry: Discussion of form, content, technique, concept, line breaks, word choice, prosody, and suggestions for revision and further development, and any additional topics which seem relevant.
o   Suggestions for "next steps" in writing/publishing of the current or future manuscripts.
·      The submitting writer has 15 calendar days after he/she receives their work back to review comments, to ask up to 5 clarifying questions, and to submit a second draft. 
Submissions can be creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, or hybrid work. Length: Prose between 2500 and 7000 words. Poetry and hybrid work: up to 15 pages.
Susan will review one submission from each writer and also communicate via email to ensure that the feedback is clear, and to respond to follow-up questions. 
Once selected, participants will be given further details on submitting format, format for follow-up question etc. All manuscripts must be in by April 30.
Fee: There will be a fee of $60 for participation in the eWriter program. The fee will be due upon the NOWW member receiving notice that they have been accepted into the program.
Selection Criteria:
NOWW will select up to 20 writers who are NOWW members. Priority will be given to those writers who have not participated in the eWriter in Residence porgram in the last two years. Furhter we will keep two priority spots for writers from outside of Thunder Bay and two priority spots for Indigenous writers. If you fall into either one of those categories, please let us know with your first email. Any priority spots remaining after the deadline will be filled by other applicants. 
If interested please apply by email to NOWW at by March 15. Please include the word “ewriter” in the subject line and the following information in the body of the email:

1.    Name
2.    Address
3.    Phone number
4.    Email address
5.    Type of Genre you would submit

Please do not include your submission in this application. NOWW will email submission instructions to all who are accepted into the program.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A meditation on vacant lots by Margaret R. Cunningham


An empty lot

It means a lot

When you're a tot.

A special place

A special space

Just us and no one else

We would gather for a ball game

or just to chat

We would dig in the sand

To fill our pails

As we dug our way to China.

No lots for tots today.

They live in tall, tall buildings

And play on balconies

Far from earth.

More like caged birds

Then humans.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Fourteen Books in a Month of Reading

I spent my month’s vacation reading. And more reading. I down loaded books and fell into them, sitting on the patio or at the beach. Most of the books were delightful and insightful. Only two were clunckers and I left them for the end of this piece.

 Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead  by Olga Tokarczuk. The controversial Polish writer gives us another wonderful novel after winning the International Man Booker Price for her novel, Flights. This book starts with a murder mystery. Several bodies are found near a remote Polish village. An old woman, the narrator of the story, tries to find the answer as she meditates on feminism, the lives of animals, the wild nature of her surroundings and the poems of William Blake. 

Olga Tokarczuk

Yoga for People Who Can’t be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer. A memoir of a wanderer, a slacker, a drug taker, a friend of depression, boredom and loneliness, an intellectual who immerses himself in literature and lets you know it. He picks up women in various quarters of the world and her dialogue is as wry and rarefied and literature-laden as his. But all in all, his mesmerizing writing allows us to follow our flawed protagonist on his travels. The chapters on the Burning Man and the decay of Detroit are especially good. He is a travel writer with a good eye and a capacious mind.

Tonto and the Lone Ranger have a Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. A brilliant book composed of twenty-two interlocked stores told in poetic mesmerizing prose. Alexis depicts the struggle of Native Americans whether living on the reservation or in the city. His characters use dreams, surreal stories, flashbacks, ceremonies, and sheer cunning to survive.

The Dance of the Sea Gull by Andrea Camilleri. Brutal mafia killers protect a smuggling operation involving high-ranking Italian officials. The popular Camilleri police procedurals feature Inspector Montalbano who tries to remain honest while caught between corrupt politicians, annoying police bureaucracy and the Mafia. Enjoyable light stuff, perfect for a vacation. 

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, book two in the Neapolitan Quartet
and Those Who Leave and Those who Stay by Elena Ferrante, book three in the Neapolitan Quartet. In the first book in the Quartet, Ferrante charts the friendship of two girls, Elena  and Lina, growing up in Naples, Italy. In the next two in the series,  Ferrante follows their lives as they grow and change. Elena manages to leave the brutal world of her childhood but she keeps in touch with Lina who stays. As adults, both experience the misogyny, the violence, the fear or violence that marked their early years. These are seering books which depict the meaning of friendship, the passions of love, motherhood. marital violence and the brutality of the criminal world, against a background of political upheaval.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. Thomas McNulty flees a starving Ireland for the United States but there, still starving and ragged poor, he joins the army. He finds a buddy, Jack Cole, and the two eventually become lovers. The book follows their treks with the military from the Indian wars of the western frontier to the civil war. In the west, their job is to protect the settler, who will massacre the Indians in order to conquer their land. McNulty and Cole, barely surviving themselves, have to deal with their brutal past. 

The Last Supper By Rachel Cusk. Cusk is the author of the acclaimed novels: Transit, Outline and Kudos. In my opinion, she is one of the foremost writers today. The Last Supper is non-fiction, an account of the journey she and her family took to Italy. It is very different from the usual travel book. Instead, it is a Cuskian mediation on existence, art, travel, rootlessness and home.

Treasure Hunt by Andrea Camilleri , one of Italy’s most famous contemporary writers,  and one of the funniest mystery writers, gives us another tale of  Inspector Montelbano who must hunt for a kidnapped woman while, at the same time, he is pestered by silly anonymous notes that leave clues to the crime. As irascible as ever, Montelbano must convince himself he is not too old for the job while overeating wonderful Italian food and attempting to stay on good terms with his girl friend.

Significant Other by Armistad Maupin. I have read and enjoyed most of the Maupin books, which introduce us to a group of Gay friends living in San Francisco. They love, they quarrel, they break up, they marry surrounded by the death shadow of the AIDS epidemic. However this book, which promised comedy was interesting but not very funny.  

Twisted Twenty-Six by Janet Evanovich  Stephanie Plum, New Jersey bail bond agent learns her beloved granny married an old friend who dropped dead the day after the wedding. So another wild and crazy Stephanie Plum mystery begins. Still trying to decide between two hot boy friends, and still barely coping with her job, Stephanie has to protect Gramma from her ex’s enemies who believe a lot of money should come to them.

Swan Song by John Galsworthy from the Forsyth Saga. I read a lot of Galsworthy when I was a teen-ager but  missed the conservatism, classism and ultra nationalism that weight down the series with lard-like pomposity. This month I read it for the history: this version deals with the 1920’s. For four decades, Galsworthy kept churning them out, focusing on the various members of an ever expanding Forsyth family. The characters constantly muse about change, the English character. They believe in blood – ie her French blood leads her astray and so on. They are nailed to their concept of class. One character refuses to prosecute an old school friend who swindles him because they are both gentleman and were at school together. In the general strike, the Forythe's take the government side and see themselves as representing England. The strikers obviously are not English in their view.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Book club book long on emotion and descriptions of a marsh in North Carolina where the story takes place. It starts off with a teaser chapter: the body of a murdered young man. The killer is not revealed until the last pages. Meanwhile the plot, all backstory, is not believable. Dialogue clunky. Some talk  “southern” but others not. A seven year old girl is abandoned by her parents and grows up alone in the marsh where she manages to survive on her own. A young boy teaches her to read. When she is older she spurns him for the town jerk. She collects feathers, shells etc and reads all about them until she has educated herself, becomes a botanist, an expert of marsh flora and fauna and writes the definitive books on the subject. Come on. 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Like the Crawdads book, mentioned above, this book club favourite also starts off with a teaser for a first chapter. An arsonist has set little fires which burn down the house of a well-off family. We are left without explanation until the end. Instead, again like Crawdads, we are dropped into the back story, and into backstory of back story. Once again the young woman spurns the good guy and goes for the bad boy. Backstory, backstory. The girl’s mother has a secret. (Back story etc). Somewhere in the saga of a dysfunctional family, I realized I no longer cared. 
Andrea Camilleri died this year in July 2019. He was 93. He was considered one of Italy's most accomplished authors. He turned to writing detective novels when he was in his 60's.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Support our Thunder Bay Libraries

Phone your city councillor today. No library cuts!!!

Love among the Stacks
THE LIBRARY still stands as that most trusted institution: a keystone of communities and a place for individual readers to go deep and get lost. As text grapples with the challenges and opportunities of the digital age, here are some of our favorite writers, thinkers, and readers on the pleasure—and necessity—of books.
HAVING FUN isn’t hard
when you’ve got a library card.
—Marc Brown, from a song on the Arthur show
WHEN I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas every day.
—Jean Fritz
LET US READ, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.
—Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique
OH, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.
—Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
WHEN I was a child I read books. My reading was not indiscriminate. I preferred books that were old and thick and hard.
—Marilynne Robinson, “When I Was a Child”
I WAS made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.
—Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

IF YOU want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.
—Frank Zappa
A UNIVERSITY is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. The library is the university.
—Shelby Foote, North Carolina Libraries
MY ALMA MATER was books, a good library. . . . I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.
—Malcolm X
THE LIBRARY was a place I went to find out what there was to know.
—Zadie Smith, BBC interview
WHEN I graduated from high school I went down to the local library and I spent ten years there, two or three days a week, and I got a better education than most people get from universities. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years old.
—Ray Bradbury, interview with Brendan Dowling for Public Libraries
NO ONE can look back on his schooldays and say with truth that they were altogether unhappy. . . . There was the joy of waking early on summer mornings and getting in an hour’s undisturbed reading in the sunlit, sleeping dormitory.
—George Orwell, “Such, Such Were the Joys”
IT WASN’T until I started reading and found books they wouldn’t let us read in school that I discovered you could be insane and happy and have a good life without being like everybody else.
—John Waters, quoted in The Tenacity of the Cockroach by Stephen Thompson
A BOOK must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
—Franz Kafka, from a letter to Oskar Pollack
IT MUST have meant something, though, that at this turn of my life I grabbed up a book. Because it was in books that I would find, for the next few years, my lovers. They were men, not boys. They were self-possessed and sardonic, with a ferocious streak in them, reserves of gloom.
—Alice Munro, The View from Castle Rock
IF YOU want to be a writer, you should go into the largest library you can find and stand there contemplating the books that have been written. Then you should ask yourself, “Do I really have anything to add?” If you have the arrogance or the humility to say yes, you will know you have the vocation.
—Margaret Atwood, Second Words
THAT LIBRARY was a Pandorica of fabulous, interwoven randomness, as rich as plum cake. Push a seed of curiosity in between any two books and it would grow, overnight, into a rainforest hot with monkeys and jaguars and blowpipes and clouds. The room was full, and my head was full. What a magical system to place around a penniless girl.
—Caitlin Moran, “What Have They Done to My Library?” (The Times, April 18, 2015)
A GREAT BOOK should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.
—William Styron, Conversations with William Styron
BEN wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system. That way you’d be able to find whatever you were looking for.
—Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck
AS IN the card catalogue system, there is room for indefinite expansion without devices or provisions.
—Melvil Dewey, “Dewey Decimal Classification”
I LIKE LIBRARIES. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.
—Roger Zelazny, Nine Princes in Amber
WALKING the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines—it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.
—Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
THE LIBRARY is inhabited by spirits that come out of the pages at night.
—Isabel Allende
A DESERTED LIBRARY in the morning—there’s something about it that really gets to me. All possible words and ideas are there, resting peacefully.
—Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
THE GREYBEARD, at his soul’s behest
Exploring life’s unanswered jest;
The stripling knight astride a dream,
His eyes alight, his spurs agleam—
The library! There’s nothing there
Not found upon my thoroughfare.
Which quite excuses, you see,
My imperturbability.
—E. B. White, “A Library Lion Speaks”

Mary J Black says  "We need libraries."

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Couple of Good Books

Just before a trip to Costa Rica, I read two excellent books to send me on my way. Here are two short reviews.

By Andrew Wedderburn

The Milk Chicken Bomb drops us into the hilarious, amoral, focused world of a neglected ten-year-old boy. In sharply detailed prose, Wedderburn gives us a tender and realistic look into the child’s inner life, his imaginative day dreams as well as his hilarious, slapstick, heartbreaking adventures with his friend Mullin and an assortment of the town’s eccentrics. 
The little town of Marvin, Alberta, is their playground and their education. They reel from one misadventure to another in a series of exciting vignettes. Now they are selling lemonade in winter, exploring secret tunnels, stealing mail or setting up a betting operation at the bonspiel. They make missiles out of paint-filled glass tubes. They plan revenge on the violent school bully. They run away or hide away in their underground dugout. They outwit the mean hardware store owner and finally acquire the plans for the milk chicken bomb, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction open to them. I too have been successful with my humorous stories. I am told they too make people laugh but with a tear or two salted in.

By Heather Birrell

Heather Birrell, this brilliant writer, flings out her dazzling sentences to move us with ease into the inner dialogue of her characters. She flips us back and forth in time with Alice Munro-like precision. She flays her characters, opens them up, We see the spinning clocks of their souls., whether they are autistic boys, foolish people, lost people, people without balance or a centre; She slip-slides from one  point of view to another, reels us into brief plots which may never completely end and we recognize all the vicissitudes each one of us encounters on the trail. Birrell is addictive. Birrell’s interior monologues offer wavering and diffuse glimpses into the human experience.