stillpoint

musings from Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington ... home of The Write Spot

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Write Spot: Peggy Blair

I'm delighted to welcome Peggy Blair, author of the Inspector Ramirez mystery series, as my guest for this twenty-second edition of The Write Spot. Set in Cuba with intriguing Canadian connections, this series has become one of my favourites. (Here's my review of book three, Hungry Ghosts.) Watch for book four in the series, Umbrella Man, coming June 7th from Simon and Schuster.

Peggy Blair was a lawyer for more than thirty years. A recognized expert in Aboriginal law, she also worked as a criminal defence lawyer and Crown prosecutor.

She spent a Christmas in Old Havana where she watched the bored young policemen lean on light posts on the street corners along the Malecon, visited most of Hemingway’s favourite bars, and learned to make the perfect mojito. A former member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, she is named in Canadian Who’s Who. She currently lives in Ottawa.

Welcome to The Write Spot, Peggy, a bi-weekly author series spotlighting the many and varied places where writers write. Please tell us a bit about your personal Write Spot.

I write at the lake. I have no Internet, television or landline out there, although I can pick up email messages on my Blackberry smartphone, so no interruptions. I'm not a disciplined writer; I write like a fiend when I'm working on something, starting early in the morning and ending when it's time to go to bed. 



I love the fact that at my cottage, I can stop and go kayaking or take a dip when I need a break, whereas at home, I just keep going and going, like the Energizer Bunny. But the lake is such a nice spot to write that I've even managed to convince my freelance editor, Alex Schultz, to visit.


I can see why you love your lake, Peggy - what a beautiful spot! 

Other than your computer or laptop, what's the one thing you couldn't be without in your Write Spot?

My dog, Scout, nothing like having your best pal's support to keep you grounded and remind you when it's time to take a walk. 



I could do without Phoebe, the cat, sometimes (LOL) when I'm trying to work at home: she loves to climb on the keyboard and leave me editing notes like this one: pffffffffffffttttttttttttt


Poor Phoebe. She's just reminding you about priorities: you should be stroking her, not the keyboard. ;-) 

What are you working on now?

Nothing! I have just finished (if you can ever finish) an historical fiction manuscript called The PeaceWoman's Daughter, set in 1687, that I am shopping around. I plan on taking a little break now after five books in five years plus one massive non-fiction work (Lament for a First Nation) and work on my other business, the one that pays the bills: real estate.

Enjoy your break, Peggy, but I think I speak for all your fans when I say, don't make it too long. We want more Ramirez and Pike!

Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

The link to my website is peggyblair.wordpress.com (While you're there, be sure to check out the exclusive audio short story, The Angel's Share – An Inspector Ramirez Podcast, free to listen.)

You'll also find me on Facebook and Twitter.


Umbrella Man is the fourth book in the gripping Inspector Ramirez series by bestselling author Peggy Blair.

When Mama Loa, a witch doctor, tells Inspector Ramirez that people in the sky are going to die, he thinks she’s crazy. After all, there hasn't been a violent death in Havana in months.

But things quickly change when a Russian is murdered, execution-style, on the Malecon and three flight crew members die in suspicious circumstances. When Russian intelligence officer Slava Kadun arrives in Havana warning that a CIA hitman has plans to assassinate Raul Castro, Ramirez starts to wonder if the deaths are connected. With the political future of Cuba at stake, he has only hours to stop a cold-blooded killer.

Order Umbrella Man by Peggy Blair:





Many thanks to Patricia Anderson for the use of her wonderful Havana photo, the perfect background for this week's invitation to #TheWriteSpot.


About The Write Spot:
I've always been fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes. Whether it's backstage photos from my favourite play, a peek into the kitchen where a chef is working her culinary magic, or simply a glimpse through an uncurtained window into a stranger's private world, there's an undeniable thrill of discovery, a sense of secrets shared. It's no surprise, then, that I'm immensely curious about where other writers do their work. I've blogged about it before in this post about my own 'write spot' and so enjoyed the comments, I was inspired to launch a regular feature here at stillpoint. Watch for The Write Spot every other Wednesday and join me as I discover the many and varied places where writers write.


stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington



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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

chicken lessons...

It's not a proper homestead until the hens come home to roost. So, having survived our first winter on the farm, the spring of 1976 found us building ourselves a sturdy chicken coop.

Compared to the splendid backyard coops showcased in Country Living, ours might be kindly described as "rustic", but I always thought it a pleasant, welcoming place. Three multi-paned windows formed the south wall, above a hen-sized hatch and ramp. The west and north faces sported whitewashed board and batten siding, the east a human access door. The roof was steeply pitched, nattily shingled in a mostly-green patchwork. Doors, windows, and shingles were leftover odds and ends salvaged by hubby and my roofer brother-in-law. We learned to be frugal recyclers back in our days on the farm.

Inside the coop, six spacious, straw-filled nest boxes and a series of sleeping roosts spanned the back wall, with food and water stations opposite, on either side of the hatch. I remember standing in the newly-built coop for the first time, warm sunshine streaming through the windows, fresh straw rustling beneath my feet. A good place to be a chicken, I thought, and imagined easing my hand under a warm, contented hen to retrieve a fresh egg for breakfast. The only thing missing was a flock.


A Saturday morning trip to the local Farmer's Market solved that problem. In the bustling livestock area, we spotted a huddle of six red hens, retired working ladies who, according to the seller, still had plenty of good egg producing days ahead. With trimmed beaks and clipped wings, they certainly weren't the prettiest birds on the block but we liked them – and goodness knows they deserved a better life. We took them home. Upon seeing their new digs for the first time, our six ladies stood wide-eyed and open beaked for one surprised moment and then lunged, squabbling and clucking, for the food tray.

Lesson #1: Chickens have absolutely no manners and very tiny brains.

Instead of roosting on the thoughtfully provided perches, two of our six hens preferred to sleep in their nest boxes. Come morning, instead of choosing empty boxes with fresh, clean straw in which to lay their eggs, the rest of the ladies decided the occupied nests must be best and so they piled on. It's a wonder the eggs didn't wind up pre-scrambled.

Lesson #2: Easing your hand under a pile of warm, contented hens results in a wickedly pecked hand, three mightily disgruntled hens, and a couple of lovely brown eggs smudged with evidence of the previous night's chicken poop, thank you very much.


One of our girls was a rebel. We called her Ludlow. At first, she made a habit of dropping her egg-of-the-day wherever she happened to be standing at the time – usually on the bare floor in a corner of the coop, but sometimes out in the spacious fenced yard, well hidden from hungry humans. ("Cluck-cluck-cluck" sounds suspiciously like laughter when you're bent over, peering under burdock leaves.)

Within a month, though, hens and humans settled into a comfortable routine. Eggs were almost always deposited where we could easily find and collect them. And, oh, those eggs! The flavourful, bright orange yolks and firm whites were as different from pale, bland, watery supermarket eggs as our happy free range hens were different from their sad, battery-raised sisters. Some of our ladies regularly gifted us with giant double-yolkers. What bounty! We couldn't possibly eat all the eggs they produced, but neighbours were eager to buy whatever we couldn't use. Opportunity knocked. It was time to grow the flock.

We ordered two dozen baby chicks from the local farmer's co-op, half Leghorn and half Barred Rock. The day-old chicks were delivered in a big cardboard carton and when the lid came off – talk about cute! J and his brothers were beyond thrilled with our box of fluffy peepers. The chicks spent their first weeks of life confined to a comfy cage in our sunroom, eating, sleeping, peeping…pooping.


Lesson #3: Baby chicks may be the cutest things under the sun, but 24 of them together produce a mountain of poop. Also, they grow fast. Very fast.

Lesson #4: Between the fluffy baby chick stage and the handsome young chicken stage comes a gangly stage of ghastly pin-feathered ugliness. Also, just like their elders, chicks have absolutely no manners and very tiny brains.

Our sunroom smelled a whole lot better once the chicks moved outside. Their temporarily fenced-off corner of the coop had a baby-proof water fountain (because, given the opportunity, chicks will fall into their water and drown or be trampled by their siblings), a makeshift automatic feed tray (because chicks are non-stop eating machines), and a heat lamp to keep them all cozy at night.

Lesson #5: Temporary fencing keeps young chicks in but won't keep a fat Ludlow out when she's got her beady eyes locked on all that delicious baby food.

Weeks passed. Chicks ate and peeped and grew…and pooped. The youngsters sprouted sleek, shiny feathers. A few handsome lads grew impressive tail plumes, wickedly sharp ankle spikes, and youthful cocky attitudes. Crowing practice began every morning at dawn and continued throughout the day whenever the guys felt like showing off. Our peaceful chicken yard erupted in frequent rooster fights, sending hens young and old into frenzies of squawks and flaps as the males worked out who would be King of the Coop, the Alpha Rooster.


Lesson #6: Don't tease the rooster!

One of my most vivid memories of those early chicken days is the sight of our landlady's eight-year-old granddaughter, dressed in her prettiest pink Sunday dress with matching ribbons in her hair, running full-tilt down the lane, screaming for her mother. In hot pursuit was Lancelot, our newly crowned Alpha Rooster, puffed up to twice his normal size, looking and sounding like an angry, feathered demon from hell.

Turns out, Darling Girl had decided to have an uninvited snoop around the chicken coop and encountered Lancelot, loose in the yard. Spotting his impressive tail feathers, she decided she'd like to have one for herself. Cue one very angry rooster!

In a classic case of turnabout's fair play, Lance the Rooster was forced to beat a hasty retreat minutes later with an angry Italian grandmother hot on his heels, wielding her broom and cursing his ancestors.

Ah, farm life. Never a dull moment.



Permalink: chicken lessons…



Image credits:

Images are my own work with the exception of Fresh Eggs and Attack Rooster.  




stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington
   

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Write Spot: Louisa Treger


Louisa Treger began her career as a classical violinist and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher. She subsequently turned to literature, gaining a PhD in English at University College London. Married with three children and a dog, she lives in London. The Lodger is her first novel.

I had the pleasure of reading The Lodger, shortly after its release and absolutely loved it. You'll find my review here

Giveaway: Louisa has generously offered to send an autographed hard cover copy of The Lodger to two lucky readers of this blog. [Update: Congratulations to the winners, Sara in Ontario and Terry in Missouri!]

Welcome, Louisa, to the twenty-first edition of The Write Spot, a bi-weekly author series spotlighting the many and varied places where writers write. 

Tell us a bit about your Write Spot.

I live in London, but my late mother was South African. I still have family and strong ties with South Africa, and I spend as much time as I can there. South Africa has always been the place I feel most alive in. And so, I decided to share my South African 'Write Spot' with you.


What makes it 'The Write Spot' is the view: the lushness of grass and rolling hills, the river, the quality of the light. I am lucky to have such inspiration before my eyes! Also, the room I work in is visually simple and uncluttered. It is in a remote and utterly peaceful area; there is no noise, other than from birds, no phone and no WiFi.


What a spectacular view! Other than your computer or laptop, what's the one thing you couldn't be without in your Write Spot?

Actually, there are three things! Foremost, my dog, Monty. He is the sweetest and most undemanding of writing companions, and he has become a necessary part of the process. I refer constantly to my notebook, which I carry round whenever I'm not writing to mop up all the words and ideas that come to me at odd moments. And I depend on a constant supply of strong coffee!

Monty looks like a real sweetheart. Honestly, between that face and the view beyond your window, I don't know how you get any work done!

What are you working on now?

I am writing my second novel. It’s about a girl who was part of the Kinderstransport – the rescue mission that brought thousands of refugee Jewish children from Nazi occupied Europe to safety in England. They left their families to go to the care of strangers, in a foreign country whose language they only had the barest grasp of. They didn't know what would happen to them, or if they would see their parents again. The novel describes how the girl and her descendants adjust to English life, and how the trauma of the Holocaust doesn't stop with the people directly affected by it, but spreads down through successive generations.

A fascinating topic, Louisa. I'm looking forward to reading it. Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

The link to my website is louisatreger.com

You'll also find me on social media at the following sites:


I love connecting with readers, so do reach out!


The Lodger by Louisa Treger is available now!

Dorothy exists just above the poverty line, doing secretarial work at a dentist's office and living in a seedy boarding house in Bloomsbury, when she is invited to spend the weekend with a childhood friend. Jane recently married a writer, who is hovering on the brink of fame. His name is H.G. Wells, or Bertie, as he is known to friends.

Bertie appears unremarkable at first. But then Dorothy notices his grey-blue eyes taking her in, openly signalling approval. He tells her he and Jane have an agreement which allows them the freedom to take lovers, although Dorothy is not convinced her friend is happy with this arrangement.

Reluctant to betray Jane, yet unable to draw back, Dorothy free-falls into an affair with Bertie. Then a new boarder arrives at the house – striking, unconventional Veronica Leslie-Jones, determined to live life on her own terms – and Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie. Amidst the personal dramas and wreckage of the militant suffragette movement, Dorothy finds her voice as a writer.

The Lodger is a beautifully intimate novel that is at once an introduction to one of the most important writers of the 20th century and a compelling story of one woman tormented by unconventional desires.


Buy The LodgerAmazon






About The Write Spot:
I've always been fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes. Whether it's backstage photos from my favourite play, a peek into the kitchen where a chef is working her culinary magic, or simply a glimpse through an uncurtained window into a stranger's private world, there's an undeniable thrill of discovery, a sense of secrets shared. It's no surprise, then, that I'm immensely curious about where other writers do their work. I've blogged about it before in this post about my own 'write spot' and so enjoyed the comments, I was inspired to launch a regular feature here at stillpoint. Watch for The Write Spot every other Wednesday and join me as I discover the many and varied places where writers write.


stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington


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Wednesday, May 04, 2016

It's May!


Instead of a story post this week, I'm sharing a few of my reasons for celebrating this merry month of May – the very best month of the year.

Lily-of-the-Valley blooms in May. It's always been my favourite flower, delicately beautiful and sweetly fragrant. In the language of flowers, lily-of-the-valley means "return of happiness" – the very definition of spring.


I was born in May, so my birthstone is the emerald, a glorious green and glowing crystal, considered the symbol of hope and love.


My mother's family name was May. Here's the clan in 1923, all looking a bit grim, no doubt because this photo was not taken in the merry month of May. My grandfather is the handsome fellow second from the right in the back row. (Bow ties are cool!) I can see myself in my grandfather's face. Grandma is seated directly in front of him, holding my Mom. 


In my part of the world, May means the end of a long winter and the return of balcony weather. Finally! Sam likes nothing better than watching birds, sniffing the breeze, and interrupting my reading every five minutes to open the door so he can go in… no, out… no, in… (Note to self: get a cat flap.)


This year, May marks the first anniversary of my retirement from The Day Job. A job which, much as I loved it, left precious little time for reading, writing, and long walks on the beach. I've spent an enjoyable year trying to catch up on all three but there are so many books and so many unwritten words … and the beaches! I shall soldier on.



This May also marks a full year of weekly Wednesday blogging and nearly a year of my every-other-week project, The Write Spot. It's been a good blogging year – a busy blogging year – so I've decided to take a break this week to relax, recharge, and concentrate on getting my favourite month off to a memorable start. Which begs the question: if I blog about why I'm not blogging does it still count as a blog? ;-)

I'll be back next Wednesday to share The Write Spot with Louisa Treger, author of the wonderful historical novel, The Lodger. If you haven't read it, you really, really should. (Here's my review.) 

Wishing you May flowers and sunshine … and May the Fourth be with you!



Permalink: It's May!



stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Write Spot: Cathy Ace

Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales, and worked in marketing communications for decades across Europe. Having migrated to Canada in 2000, she now lives in beautiful British Columbia, where her ever-supportive husband (and two chocolate Labradors) ensure she’s able to write full-time.

Bestselling author Ace writes two series of mystery books: the Cait Morgan Mysteries, and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. Her fourth Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair, won the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery.

Welcome, Cathy Ace, to the twentieth edition of The Write Spot, a bi-weekly author series spotlighting the many and varied places where writers write.


I must start by saying I thoroughly enjoyed The Corpse With the Garnet Face – five stars! With smart mysteries and interesting locations, this series gets better with every instalment.  Protagonist Cait Morgan is one of those book people I'd love to meet in real life. She's a middle-aged, Welsh-Canadian criminologist, a 'woman of size' with a brilliant mind who struggles a bit to cope in social situations. She's strong, capable, and opinionated but underneath, just wants to be liked. I think we'd get along famously and I'm delighted to host her creator here on the blog.

Cathy, please tell us a bit about your Write Spot.

My study is the place where I feel most calm. It's painted in a soothing aqua colour (walls and ceiling) with all black furnishings and even a black carpet - it makes me feel almost as though I'm in a pool of tranquility. It also offers super views of the garden and a lot of desk space so I can spread out my research notes and all the other bits and pieces I accumulate when I'm in "prep" phase.


As for the back deck - well, the views are spectacular, and I enjoy being outside in the fresh air, while having the awning to protect me from either too much sun or the rain.


Other than your computer or laptop, what's the one thing you couldn't be without in your Write Spot?

Honestly - my dogs...two chocolate Labs named Poppy and Gabby. Even when they are fast asleep, their snoring (yes, snoring!) keeps me company. I enjoy the sense of companionship, and I'm able to take them for a walk when I need to stop, stretch, walk and think.


Poppy and Gabby are lovely girls! How nice to have faithful companions at you side while you write. What are you working on now?

I'm in an editing phase on two books: Cait Morgan Mystery #8 The Corpse With the Ruby Lips (due out in November 2016) and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery #3 The Case of the Baffled Bookseller (hopefully due also in fall 2016). As soon as they are off for more editing with their respective editors I have some secret plans afoot!

I'm looking forward to both! Where can readers find out more about you and your books?

Visit me at my website, cathyace.com or connect on social media:



The Corpse With the Garnet Face, book seven in the Cait Morgan series, finds the eccentric Welsh criminologist-sleuth accompanying her husband Bud to Amsterdam to try to unravel a puzzling situation.

To Bud’s surprise, he discovers he has a long-lost uncle, Jonas, who’s met an untimely death. Bud's mother assures him Jonas was a bad child, but, from beyond the grave, Uncle Jonas begs his nephew to visit the city he adopted as his home to delve into the life he built for himself there, founded on his passion for art.

With an old iron key as their only clue, Cait and Bud travel to Amsterdam to solve the cryptic message left by Jonas—and to honor the final wishes of a long-lost relative.






About The Write Spot:
I've always been fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes. Whether it's backstage photos from my favourite play, a peek into the kitchen where a chef is working her culinary magic, or simply a glimpse through an uncurtained window into a stranger's private world, there's an undeniable thrill of discovery, a sense of secrets shared. It's no surprise, then, that I'm immensely curious about where other writers do their work. I've blogged about it before in this post about my own 'write spot' and so enjoyed the comments, I was inspired to launch a regular feature here at stillpoint. Watch for The Write Spot every other Wednesday and join me as I discover the many and varied places where writers write.


stillpoint is the blog of Canadian author Cheryl Cooke Harrington


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