The best laid holiday plans…

We were really looking forward to getting away over the Christmas holidays this year, not that that’s really any different than any other year, but this year we had A PLAN. We were organized, sort of.

The Plan: Drive down the west coast of the US, camping at various state parks, to San Diego, where we would stay with friends for a few days before heading home.

We started out on a Friday afternoon with a ferry trip to Port Angeles. Once we were through customs, we took a quick detour to the supermarket to buy food, and then we drove off into the dark in search of our first campground – Sequim Bay State Park. The weather was pretty squally, not yet raining, but windy for sure, so Patrick attached our newest van accessory – the Wasserstopper – which is like a tent fly for the pop top. That worked a treat, keeping us dry and warm all night.

The next morning we hit the road heading south. A storm had swept in during the night and the rain was bucketing down, so when we plowed through a particularly deep puddle and Ginger started to misfire, like the engine was going to die any minute, we figured some water must have got into the electrical system somehow.

All the way down highway 101 we talked through the possible causes of the misfiring, keeping our fingers crossed that it would either sort itself out or we’d make it to Olympia where there were mechanics and vanagon parts if we needed them.

By the time we got to Olympia we were pretty hungry, so I navigated to the Trader Joes and picked up some lunch, while Patrick went next door to the Barnes & Noble to use the free wifi. He’d decided that the problem might be with the distributor cap, wires and spark plugs, and thought we could find an automotive shop to see if they had the right parts.

Sadly they didn’t and there were no mechanics open on a Saturday afternoon, so we had to decide what to do next – carry on south and hope for the best, or stay in Olympia until Monday and get a mechanic to check Ginger. We chose the second option and found a hotel in town (yay for smartphones and mobile data plans!).

On Sunday, we had fun exploring downtown Olympia, with a coffee and treats at the delectable Bread Peddler (if you’re passing through Olympia, I highly recommend stopping in here!) We’d been hoping to have plenty of opportunities to get out for a walk, so having a whole day to wander round wasn’t such a bad thing, and anyway, we were ON HOLIDAY, so it was all good!

The Bread Peddler

The Bread Peddler

By Monday morning though, we were ready to hit the road. We got up early and arrived down at the mechanic’s shop at opening time – 8am – and lucky for us, Pete Lea was obliging and took a look. His immediate diagnosis was that the distributor cap needed replacing, as did the rotor underneath it. He said he could order the parts and get them fitted by lunch time. Two thumbs up! So we headed back to the Bread Peddler, of course, for coffee and more treats, and to read our books.

At lunch time, Pete called to say that the parts had arrived and that he’d fitted them, but that Ginger was still running rough. I can’t remember the exact order of what happened next, but by 4:30 he called us back to tell us the sad news that there was nothing more he could do. The thermostat needed to be replaced, but the nuts holding it in place were frozen and even heat couldn’t loosen them, and the oxygen sensor was also not working properly.

“I strongly recommend that you drive the van back to Victoria,” Pete said.

“Hmmm,” we said. “Maybe we’ll just leave Ginger here, rent a car for the rest of our trip to San Diego, and then pick her up on our way home.” Which wasn’t a bad idea, except that there were no cars available to rent until late on Wednesday. “Hmmm.” I’d promised our friends we’d be in San Diego by December 27, so we had to do something. Maybe we should fly?

To be continued…

Silver Birch Express nominee

On October 15, the Forest of Reading nominees were announced and I was absolutely thrilled to find out that Prove It, Josh was nominated for the Silver Birch Express award.

The Forest of Reading® is Canada’s largest recreational reading program. It’s an initiative of the Ontario Library Association (OLA) that offers eight reading programs to encourage a love of reading in people of all ages. The Forest® helps celebrate Canadian books, publishers, authors and illustrators. More than 250,000 readers participate annually from their school and/or public library. All Ontarians/Canadians are invited to participate via their local public library, school library, or individually.

The Silver Birch Express award, which is the category Prove It, Josh was nominated in, is for books meant for readers aged 8 to 12, from Grades 3-6, but focusing on the lower grade levels and reluctant readers. Readers read the books and vote on their favorites.

It’s super exciting to know that Prove It, Josh will be read by thousands of children, some of whom I’ll get to meet when I go to Toronto for the Festival of Trees in May 2015. I can’t say a big enough THANK YOU to the Ontario Library Association and the Forest committee for the nomination.

And…. Prove It, Josh gets a new cover, with a Silver Birch Express nominee decal. How cool is that!

Prove it Josh


Conference season


I look forward to October every year – and it’s not for the weather, which is invariably cold and wet!

From October 24-26 I’ll be attending the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. It’s the one conference I sign up for every year, as soon as registration opens. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with online friends, meet new people, and learn from all the fabulous presenters – people like Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Hallie Ephron, Donald Mass, Jack Whyte, and Cory Doctorow. The line up of presenters seems to get better and better every year.

If you’re a writer and you’ve never been to a conference, I’d highly recommend you find a local one and try it out. There’s nothing better than being surrounded with writers and talking about writing for an entire three days. It’s exhausting but exhilarating, and a great reminder that there’s a whole community out there supporting our writing journey. And even if you’re an introvert like me and a bit shy, you’ll find it’s not that hard to strike up a conversation. If you can’t think of a way to break the ice, you can always start with “Have you been to this conference before?”

If you’re in Surrey, come and say Hi. I’ll be at the SCBWI Canada West table off and on, happy to sign books, and thrilled to see you!

Victoria Writers Festival

And then two weeks later, from November 6-8, it’s the Victoria Writers Festival. I’m excited to see that this year they’re including an event for children’s writers on November 6 with Kit Pearson, Polly Horvath, John Wilson, and Morgan Purvis. If you come to that, look out for me – I’ll be there, as well as volunteering on Friday evening.

Our first adventure in Ginger

For our first trip in Ginger we headed to the Sunshine Coast, to a charming campground recommended by some van owners we met in Victoria. Since we had to go over to the mainlaind to catch a ferry to the Sunshine Coast, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take Carlos to an avian vet in Vancouver, as well as to catch up with our long-time friends in New Westminster. As it turned out, it was the best decision—not only did we enjoy hanging out with our friends, staying in their driveway meant Patrick could replace the left front brake caliper, which had seized as we drove through downtown Vancouver in heavy traffic. Welcome to van life!

Once Patrick had fixed the van, and Carlos had visited the vet twice and we’d stocked up on bird medications to treat his suspected bone infection, we were off. We caught the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to the Sunshine Coast, and then cruised up the highway to the campground, with an obligatory stop in Roberts Creek for ice cream and coffee.

Creekside Campground was a good spot for our first night of real camping. We were just a short walk from a supermarket (where we bought a piece of New Zealand steak to go with our salad), Strait Coffee (good coffee and delicious raspberry bar!), and most importantly, a Canadian Tire, where we bought an electrical adapter so we could plug the van into the power (to plug in Carlos’ heat lamp and run the fridge).

We did a bit of exploring—a trip up to Earls Cove, a visit to Porpoise Bay Provincial Park (add this to your list for future camping trips!), and a lovely evening in Davis Bay eating fish and chips and watching the sun set.

Fun times!

Everyday magic

I’m at the end of my second week of an online photography class called Everyday Magic, taught by Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens. I thought it would be fun to learn something about composition and lighting, and figure out how to get better photos from my phone, since that’s the camera I always have with me. And maybe the things I learn from taking pictures with my phone will translate to the “big camera” which I only tend to pull out when we’re on holiday. Also, I like the idea of learning to see the magic in everyday life.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a handful of my favorites from the first week.

If you’d like to see more, I’m posting on my Tumblr page every day, and the odd one on Instagram too.


Writing Process blog tour

Newbie Nick coverThanks LISA MCMANUS for inviting me to be part of this writing process blog tour! The idea of this blog tour is to let you know a little bit of the why and how of my writing process, and to introduce you to some new writers you might not be familiar with yet.

Lisa and I know each other through the Vancouver Island chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the Victoria Children’s Literature Roundtable. Lisa’s first young adult novel, Newbie Nick, is due to be released by Lycaon Press on June 18th—the ebook is actually available for pre-sale right now. You can read Lisa’s answers to the blog tour questions here.

Here are my answers to the questions about my writing process:

What are you working on?

Prove It Josh coverCurrently I’m working on three different writing projects. One is another middle grade story featuring Josh and Dakota, in which they get up to all sorts of mischief as they try to clear Josh’s name when he is blamed for lighting a fire at the local mill. The second story is for a younger audience – I’m just in the early stages of that one, so there’s nothing much to tell just yet. And the third is a young adult novel – also in the very early stages. I’ve also signed up for an online photography class to spark my creativity (I hope!).

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

When Patrick and I were riding our tandem bicycle, him in front, me behind, he often used to joke that I was cycling with my eyes closed. We’d be riding along a back country road and he’d ask, “Didn’t you see that massive hole in the road? What about that heron standing in the field? Or that sailboat up on blocks?” It’s true—I hadn’t seen those things—which made me feel as if I were missing all the important stuff. Until I realized that I saw things he didn’t see. “Hey Patrick, did you see that bald eagle in the top of the tree? Did you see that picnic table – looks like a good place to stop? Did you see the mannequins standing in the window of that house?”

I think every writer has a unique way of seeing the world based on their childhood, place of birth, place of residence, family, work, hobbies, and experiences. It’s my unique view and the things I see that make my writing and my stories different.

Why do you write what you do?

The first book I remember reading as a kid that really fired up my imagination was Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. The children in his books had so much freedom to play and explore away from adult supervision, with endless possibilities for adventure—I wanted that too, and still do! It’s that sense of wonder that I hope to inspire in the children who read my writing, and that glimpse of a different life that I hope will help them see the potential in their own lives.

How does your writing process work?

My process evolved out of years of working as a technical writer, which required a combination of a deadline, a word goal or page limit, an outline, and knowing my audience. Lots of experienced writers advise new writers to just get the story down and worry about word limits at a later stage, but that much freedom and flexibility didn’t help me as a new writer. I needed parameters to work within.

Based on publisher submission guidelines and published contemporary middle grade books, I set myself a word count and figure out how many words should be in a chapter. Then I set up my Word document (or, more recently, my Scrivener project) so that the page looks as close to a published page as possible. I know for some writers this would totally kill their creativity, but for me, it helps to see what the finished “product” will look like. And knowing how long a chapter should be, gives me an idea of how quickly the action should move the story forward. If I get to the end of a chapter and nothing much has happened, it’s pretty obvious I need to cut some of this non-action and pick up the pace.

In terms of the actual writing, I try to write every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. That way I’ve always got the story in mind, and even if some days I don’t come up with anything brilliant, I just have to be patient—eventually the ideas will come. I also like to have an outline so that I have a sense of the direction for the story. If I know where the story ends, I can work towards that point. Of course, that’s all in a perfect world. Sometimes writing is not so simple and I end up with hundreds of pieces, and have to put them together like a puzzle. Those days make me a bit crazy!

That’s pretty much it for me.

I’ve tagged two authors—Maggie Bolitho and Kay Stewart—to follow me on the blog tour next week, so be sure to look for their posts next Monday – June 16. I met Maggie at the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Canada West conference last year, and I met Kay when I volunteered for the Bloody Words conference in 2011.

Lockdown coverMAGGIE BOLITHO is curious by nature. She has been a soccer player, a horsewoman, a martial artist, a scuba diver, and a cyclist. Her many jobs have included waitress, florist, insurance underwriter, realtor, tax auditor, and accountant. Born in Victoria BC, Maggie has always been a devoted West Coaster. Except for the seven years she divided between Toronto and Edmonton and her twenty years in Australia. In Sydney she trained as a member of the CFU (Community Firefighting Unit). During this training, an interest in disaster scenarios was born.

An ardent reader from an early age, Maggie didn’t start writing fiction (short stories) until 2002. One of her poems and some of her award-winning short stories have been published in Australia, the US, and Canada. From 2012 to 2014 she led the Young Writers’ Club of North Vancouver. In 2006, she switched to writing novels. In 2014 her debut novel, Lockdown, was released by Great Plains Publications. You can find out more about Maggie at

Unholy Rites coverKAY STEWART writes a police procedural series featuring RCMP Constable (now Corporal) Danutia Dranchuk, often in collaboration with her husband Chris Bullock: A Deadly Little List, Sitting Lady Sutra, and Unholy Rites. All are available as audio books, and the last two in ebook as well as print format.  Kay has also published short stories, personal essays, and writing textbooks. You can find out more about Kay at

If you’re curious to read about the writing process of other writers all over Canada, try a Google search for “writing process blog tour” or “writing process blog hop”. You’ll find all sorts of fun posts, and maybe discover some new writers to follow or books to read.

If you’ve got questions or thoughts about my writing process, feel free to leave a comment on this post!