Final (?) Edits


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


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?


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First draft finished – Champagne cooling

First draft of The Confederation Diary of Rosie Dunn is done! I don’t know about the rest of you, but first drafts are really really hard for me. I start off with great enthusiasm and energy, but inevitably run into a brick wall. There will be a day when I stagger into the living room and announce that this is the book I can’t finish. At this point my husband comments, often without even looking up from his newspaper, “Oh, third chapter already?”

This time, while I was moaning about it, a friend gave me the useful advice that when stuck, having the roof fall in usually gets you going again. I didn’t do that, but I did set fire to the cowshed. It worked. By the time I got the cow out and the fire extinguished I was off and running again.

Once the first draft is done, however, I can relax and have fun. I love rewriting and revising. To me, it’s playing. I can’t wait to get at it and see what I’ve written and where it’s going to go. My first drafts are usually short and sketchy, with lots of room to expand and layer. And I want to dig in and get to know Rosie Dunn better. She is a lively girl.

This book is set in Ottawa in 1866/67. I did an enormous amount of research, a lot of it at the Public Archives in Ottawa. Ottawa was a pretty horrible place to live in, in 1866. Nothing much there when Queen Victoria declared that it was to be the capital of Canada except sawmills and mud. And the Parliament Buildings, of course. Not quite finished when the Government moved in, but still big and beautiful. A lot of people wondered why the Queen had chosen Ottawa.  At the time, after the War of 1812, people were worried about another American invasion, however, and one witty civil servant remarked that at least if the Americans did invade, they would never be able to find the town, it was so remote from civilization.

How about all of you writers out there?  How do you feel about first drafts? Do you write long or short? When do you hit your wall? Or do you? Maybe you’re one of the fortunate ones who never gets blocked?

I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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An Osprey with Attitude

My fashionista Osprey is back. I wrote about her in my very first blog last May. Despite the destruction of her nest the winter before, she had rebuilt it–with panache. No ordinary sticks and twigs for her. Her nest was decorated with bits and pieces of anything colourful or interesting that she could find.

Last year her nest was amazing, but this year she has outdone herself. And very proud of it she is.

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The Other Elizabeth and the War of 1812

We’re celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 this year and to that end I’m showcasing my book, The Other Elizabeth, here in my blog. It’s the story of a girl who goes to Upper Canada Village with her Grade Seven class for a Canadian History field trip and suddenly finds herself back in time to a point just before the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, one of the decisive battles of the War of 1812.

I have often been asked how I got the idea for this book. Writers are always asked that question, aren’t they? Well, one hot and sunny day I took my children to Upper Canada Village on the St. Lawrence River. After a while they tired of visiting the old buildings and decided they had to find food. I was left on my own. I found myself in the old school building, all by myself. At that time there were no guides to the buildings, people were left to roam around and discover their secrets all by themselves.

It was a small, one-room schoolhouse. I looked around me at the black slate boards on one wall, the old, battered wooden desks and stools, the pot-bellied black iron woodstove, the bucket for wood and another bucket for water and then, most particularly, at the slab of wood that served as a threshold to the room. It was a thick, rough-cut piece of timber, and had been worn down smoothly at the center to a depth of a couple of inches at least. I started to wonder: how many feet had crossed that threshold, to wear it down so? How many children had sat at these desks, learning to read, write and master arithmetic?

And then the writer’s magic words: “What if?”

What if a modern day girl, on a field trip with her school, perhaps, walked into this room and suddenly found herself back in time?

In a flash, Elizabeth was born. But in another flash, following hard on the first, came the questions. To what period of time would she go back ? More importantly, why? There always has to be a good reason for a traveller to go back in time.

I  poked around a bit and found out that in 1813 the Battle of Crysler’s Farm had taken place right here. That would be interesting, I thought. That would be a good time to take her back to. Then another thought stopped me dead. I had not been brought up in Canada. I knew nothing of Canadian history, nothing of how pioneers lived. I couldn’t write about that time!

But Elizabeth had established herself firmly in my head and she would not let me off the hook, so I gritted my teeth and decided that I would have to do–ugh!–research. At that time I had only written one book and several short stories, but nothing that had required–ugh!–research.

I rounded up my kids, took them home, then came back another day on my own. I found a small research centre tucked away in the Village, not open to the public, but open to people doing serious research. In there I found lists of the names of the people who had settled the area–mostly Loyalists who had fled up to that area after the American Revolution. I found maps of where each family had settled, where orchards were planted, where mills were built, schools erected. I found old newspapers with records of sales of cattle and other goods. I found out that the only building in the Village that stood on the very spot where it had stood in 1813 was Cook’s Tavern, so I decided to make the time transition occur there. All the other buildings were authentic for that time period, but had been brought in from other areas. By the time I left the Village that day my story was bubbling and building up in my head, overflowing with details and ideas.

I carried on researching in libraries, museums, wherever I could find information. I travelled down to the United States to find out more about where the Loyalists had come from, what the situation had been like for them. The more I discovered, the more intrigued I became.

Since that book, I have written many more historical novels. With each one I have learned so much. Research is no longer something to be dreaded, but a fascinating journey of discovery. Like a detective unravelling clues in a mystery. Like putting together the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. The research gives me details for my stories that I would never otherwise discover. You don’t know what you don’t know until you find out about it, do you? My main problem now is making myself stop researching and start writing.


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How to Approach the Writing of a Book

You’ve got a great idea for a book

First you celebrate

Sketch out an outline

Sounds good-dive in!

Going great. Ride the wave.

Going’s getting heavy. Paddle doggedly.

Think about it for a while

Eye it suspiciously.

Sidestep around it a bit.

If you’re really stuck, sleep on it.

But eventually

You’re going to have to make like a kangaroo.

Kangaroos can only go forward. They can’t go backwards.


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