Is it too late to learn to play the piano?

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I’m taking a break from writing for a while and have embarked on a new venture. I’ve always wanted to play the piano. I’ve tried a couple of times, but gave up for one reason or another. Took too much time away from writing,for one thing.  But when my elderly uncle died and left me his piano, I decided that such a beautiful instrument could not be left sitting idle, and it needed to be played, so this was the time for me to make a serious effort. It’s a lovely old upright, made in Toronto in 1906 by Gerard Heintzman for my great grandmother, who was a classically trained pianist, and it’s in perfect imagecondition, even down to the original ivory keys.

My teacher is a delightful young woman who lives just round the corner.  She teaches mainly kids, so that’s how I’m learning. Short, fun pieces–I’m working on Bill Grogan’s Goat at the moment–and her enthusiasm really carries me along. She’s Chinese, and brings sheet music that has the titles of the songs written in Mandarin, so as a bonus, I might learn a few words of Mandarin.

Any other late learners out there? How’s it going with you? All words of wisdom and encouragement are very welcome.

 

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Review for A Country of Our Own

I was delighted to read the following review in the February 2014 issue of Resource Links:

Resource Links, Volume 19, Number 3

A COUNTRY OF OUR OWN, The Confederation Diary of Rosie Dunn

Reviewed by Karyn Huenemann

Excellent

Having read one or two volumes from girls’ pseudo-historical series such as the Dear America Series, or the British My Diary Series, I did not expect great things from Dear Canada; I didn’t want to see my own history similarly fictionalized beyond any claims to historical authenticity. Then I looked at the authors contributing to the Dear Canada Series. The list is extensive, and each author there is a familiar name to young Canadian readers; each author there is respected for his or her authorial integrity. Karleen Bradford’s Confederation Diary of Rosie Dunn is a welcome addition to the well-researched and well-written Dear Canada library.

It is 1866 and young Rosie Dunn has had to take her older sister’s place in service with a politician’s family destined to move to Ottawa, the capital of the new Dominion of Canada. Rosie’s father is keen on politics, so she is used to hearing the news, but not always understanding what it means. Her keen interest and intelligence, but lack of raw information, make Rosie the perfect vessel for bringing political knowledge to the young reader.

On 31 December 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the new capital of the Province of Canada; by 1866, when Rosie Dunn arrives, Ottawa is still little more than a backwoods community, with mud instead of sidewalks and small wood houses instead of the attractively designed and solidly constructed homes of Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, or Québec City. The “hardships” Rosie’s employers have to endure make her an admirable servant: she is industrious, honest, clever, and used to working in less-than-luxurious conditions. Rosie’s story is a rich combination of life in 1860s Ottawa and a lay-persons’s understanding of the political events that accompanied the birth of our nation. We learn much of what the common people might have thought about the politics of the time, of the relations between the British ruling class and the Irish and French Canadian working classes, and of the day-to-day activities of the working people in each community. The feeling Bradford creates in her story—the characters, the setting, the honest human emotions—remind me strongly of one of my favourite novels for young Canadian readers, Lyn Cook’s much earlier The Secret of Willow Castle (1966). Both books take a significant moment in Canadian history and bring it to life for young readers. What better way to engage with our history than through the eyes and ears and minds of well-constructed fictional counterparts?

Check out Karyn’s blog at

http://karynskidlitreviews.wordpress.com

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My Confederation Book is Out!

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The author copies of my new book arrived today, and it’s just as exciting for book #25 as it was for the very first one.

It’s been a long, difficult, fascinating two years. I lost count of how many rewrites I did with my fantastic editor, Sandra Bogart Johnson and, as is customary for all the Dear Canada books published by Scholastic Canada, I spent many hours making certain that my facts were accurate and correcting the ones that weren’t quite. These Dear Canada books are fact-checked by the fabulous and fastidious Barbara Hehner, and Dr. Ross Fair of Ryerson University was the expert on Confederation who went over this manuscript meticulously. To say that I learned a lot during the process is putting it very mildly.

Most of all, though, I loved getting to know Rosie Dunn and seeing early, raw, muddy, smelly Ottawa through her eyes during the period of Confederation. It was a tumultuous time for a young girl.

And here I am with my author copies in July 2013–one hundred and forty-six years later.

EXCERPT:

Rosie Dunn is devastated when she learns she has to leave her home in Québec City and go to Ottawa as a maidservant to the Bradley family. All she knows about Ottawa is that it is a smelly, barely civilized sawmill town in the middle of nowhere, where pigs and cows roam the muddy streets freely. But Queen Victoria has declared it to be the capital of the Province of Canada and Canadian Civil Servants, led by Premier John A. Macdonald, are to move there and start planning for the controversial confederation of the British colonies into a country of their own. Her welcome by a cheeky Irish boy named Briney doesn’t help. Especially when he points out that his Mam has a cow named Rosie.

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A Story About a Story. And Copyright.

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Back in the early 1970s, when I was struggling to get something–anything!–published, I sold a copy of a short story to a children’s magazine for one free copy.  “Never give your work away,” I was admonished, but I did anyway. I kept the copyright, though.

Much to my surprise, after the story was published, I received a request from another magazine to reprint it, and this time they were offering a payment of fifteen dollars.

And another request a year or so later. Then another. And another. Each time with a slightly larger payment.

I kept on writing stories and eventually began selling them regularly. Always keeping my copyright. I really liked that first story  and when I finally felt that I was ready to write a full-length novel, I decided to use it as the first chapter and go on from there. I could do that because I had kept my copyright. (Do you see a trend emerging here?)

024That story became my very first book, published by Scholastic in 1977, called “A Year for Growing.” It stayed in print for many years and went through a cover change and a title change. And all the time, the original story was still quietly being picked up by one magazine after another. The main character was sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy. Sometimes a First Nations boy, sometimes a Black youth. I was happy to authorize those changes, but no one could make them without my consent because…you guessed it. I had kept my copyright.

022The book finally went out of print three years ago. During the over twenty years that it was in print it earned me a substantial amount of money.

And the short story? Over the years it has earned me almost as much.

I just received a request last week from an educational publisher to reprint it yet again.

The moral? Keep your copyright. Not always easy to do nowadays, but copyright is a writer’s right and protection.

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Final (?) Edits

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This is what an edited manuscript used to look like. And what a mess it was. Additions scribbled in between the lines, new pages stuck in, paragraphs stapled over old paragraphs. Now my editor and I work back and forth in Track Changes:

Tuesday, May 8th, 1866 HAS TO BE THE 8TH SO THEY CAN LEAVE ON THE WED/9TH AND ARRIVE ON FRIDAY, 11TH. Then the weekend, May 12 and 13, they’re trying to get settled in, so R has time to write of the trip. ((According to Mr. K’s schedule they would arrive on Thurs. 12th, late in the evening))

I said my prayers tonight with dear little Bridget for the last time. We leave tomorrow! Tomorrow. I cannot bear to think about it. ((Do the ! give a sense of excitement vs dismay? I think they possibly do.))

Monday, May 14th, 1866

Ottawa, Province of Canada

We are here. At last I have I have a moment to scribble in this journal, but where to start? I am in a different world. At least I have a corner to myself where I can write in private. It is behind the kitchen and not much bigger than a broom closet but as I am the only maidservant, I have it all to myself. James has his own quarters in the back. I have a straw tick and a pillow, and the quilt that Grandmam made. I am sitting on my bed wrapped up in the quilt while I’m writing now, and sniffing the smells it still holds of Mam and cooking and home! My old doll, Meggy((use the name?))is tucked in beside me. I think I might well die from loneliness. I cannot bring myself to write more now. Perhaps tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 15th, 1866

It is very late. The house is all abed and sleeping. I only have a stub of a candle, but I will try to recount at least a little of our journey here. It was so long! We left last Wednesday evening on the overnight train to Montreal. Of the parting, I can only say that it broke my heart. The little ones clung to me and wept. Da gave me a hug that would crush a bear.

“Sure, I’ve great faith in ye, Rosie me girl,” Mam said, hugging me as well, and she’s not usually much of a one for hugs. “Ye’ll do well, I know it.” She tried to sound positive, but her mouth trembled. I could see it.

Mary Margaret was in as great a flood of tears as the little ones. She hugged me over and over and kept saying “Thank, you, Rosie. Thank you.”

For her sake more than any other, I managed to keep from crying myself. She is happier than I have ever seen her and has already set the date when she and Donny are to be wed. How can I not be glad for her? ((Why is MM weeping? Relief that she’s not having to go?))((Relief and gratitude))

Da helped me carry my bundle to the ferry that would take us across the river to the train station at Pointe Levi. The Bradleys  drove up in a smart pony trap, just as we arrived, with James following in a wagon with a great quantity of luggage, but most of their furniture and possessions had already been sent on ahead.

And the dog. Slobbering as usual and looking ridiculously happy. I don’t think the beast has a brain in its head.  ((This kind of comment gives us her dislike of dogs, or at least of this one.))

I stood at the railing of the ferry all the way across, looking back. Da waved until we were out of sight and I could not hold back the tears any longer. Fortunately, the Bradleys were sitting at the other end of the boat and did not notice.

There wasn’t much time to grieve, though, as when we got off the ferry and reached the train station the  locomotive was already pulling in with a great shrieking of whistles and blowing of steam. All of a sudden everything was noise and confusion. ((Loading all the luggage would take time though, right, and so the passengers could wait till that was nearly done? Or not?))

The Bradleys rode in a sleeper car. I was shown into a coach. James was told to see to the luggage and take the dog to a car at the end of the train, but as he led him away, the fool dog seemed to realize what was going on and of course locked his feet and balked. The last I saw of him, James was dragging him down the length of the platform.I am not certain exactly where they rode, but I could see James was none too pleased about it. James is almost as haughty as that maidservant and has not seen fit to address a word to me yet.

My candle is guttering out. I will write about that horrible journey tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 16th, 1866

I do not think I care much for the cars train as a mode of transportation. It was hot and stuffy in the compartment, but when I opened a window to get a breath of air, the wind blew a gust of soot and cinders back from the smokestack of the locomotive right into my face and I had to shut it again immediately. ((She wouldn’t say “train cars” or “rail cars”? I think the reader is going to misunderstand.))So I just stared out through the dirty glass until the sun set and all I could see was my own reflection. With each passing moment I knew that I was getting farther and farther away from everyone that I loved. What were they all doing now, I wondered. Were their lives going on just as usual, while mine was being wrenched apart so cruelly? Did Mam remember to make certain Bridget had her warm coat on? The weather is chilly for May and Bridget takes cold so easily.

That was a miserable night. I felt so strange and alone in that car. The chattering of all the other people gradually faded away, to be replaced by snores, but I couldn’t sleep. By the time we pulled into Montreal the next morning I was almost faint with exhaustion, but our trip was far from over.

That’s what my manuscript for my new Dear Canada book, A Country of Our Own, the Confederation Diary of Rosie Dunn, looks like now.

It makes life so much easier. My editor’s comments are in red, my revisions in blue. I send my revised manuscript back to her, she checks it over, then with one click removes all the back and forth comments, accepts all the new revisions, and sends back a nice clean copy. For the really final revisions.

And then there’s the copyediting, proofreading…..

It’s never final until it’s in print.

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When is it me and when is it I ?

I know that schools seem to think it’s an infringement of a student’s civil rights to make them learn grammar now, but I can’t stand it any longer. The grammar lady deep within me is screaming to be heard.

When is it me and when is it I? Let’s take two simple sentences:

Mary and I went to the movies.

Mother gave Mary and I money for the movies.

Now let’s do away with Mary. (You never really liked her, anyway.)

I went to the movies.  Okay, that sounds good.

Mother gave I money for the movies.   Ouch. Not so good.

When in doubt, leave the other one out.

Simple, isn’t it?

(Don’t get me started on the misuse of “lay” and “lie”. Just thinking about it makes me want to lie down and give up.)

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Lachine Rapids Then and Now

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I took advantage of a trip my husband and I took two weeks ago to visit friends to do just a bit more research for my book, The Confederation Diary of Rosie Dunn, in Ottawa and Montreal. In Ottawa I spent a day at the Rideau Canal Locks, watching boats lock through–and getting the rise and fall of the water in them right. I also spent a couple of hours in the Bytown Museum down beside the end of the locks. I had spent several days in Ottawa last summer doing the main part of my research before starting the book, but had not had time to investigate that little museum. Housed in Ottawa’s oldest stone building, the museum is a treasure trove of information about the history of the city and the locks.

Then we went on to Montreal. I had written an exciting account of Rosie’s trip through the Lachine Rapids on the family’s way from Ottawa to Cacouna for a few weeks’ respite from the summer heat, and wanted to make certain that I had got the facts right, so Jim and I booked an afternoon on a jet boat tour of the rapids. I had most of it right, but I hadn’t realized just how big and scary the rapids really are. For an hour we jetted and played around in the waves and in and out of the rocks.

“Bring a change of clothes,” we had been advised. They should have added, “including underwear.” We were battered and drenched, but we had a marvellous time and I was left with a healthy respect for the little steamers that took those rapids on in the 1800s.

Back home to tweak the (first) final revision and I got it off to my editor on July 1st. Very appropriate.  The book is due out with Scholastic Canada in September 2013, and my editor and I will spend the next year working on it.

Who says research is boring?

NOW

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