Spring Adventures in Canada: Part 2

The Frenchies

Our first day in Montreal, my partner Greg and I rushed off to meet our new landlord! We ended up in Le-Plateau-Mont-Royal, wandering down the street where the stores had market stalls on the street. We could have walked for kilometres but eventually turned back.

We really were in French territory here; everyone addresses you in French. It’s handy to have two little phrases, “I don’t understand” or “I speak English” in your French vocabulary, but almost everyone is bilingual. I am glad that some of the primary school French came back – I can identify some words and very few select phrases.


We went back to Mont-Royal with Duncan and Phoebe and spent some time wandering the streets all the way to the downtown/old town area, which had the well-known screech of the Formula One cars. It was the Grand Prix then, which meant the city was teeming in some areas but quiet and deserted in others. We got to see some old buildings, but unfortunately the oldest building from the 1600s, a seminary in old town, was being reconstructed and cared for so we couldn’t see it. Disappointed. We wandered into Marché Bonseccours, which we thought would be a bustling market but it was a series of high end stores.

Yesterday, we did find a  food market at Jean-Talon, where we are staying. It is a true farmers market, overflowing with pristine and delicious looking produce. We bought some strawberries and fresh food, and there were no regrets. We ended up back in the city, looking at Rue de Sainte Catherine, which is supposed to be a lovely place for shopping, but we didn’t find much to interest us.


We continued on to the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, or the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts. I can recommend this place as a whole day activity. It is huge, free (unless you want to go to the special exhibits) and has such a dynamic range. There’s work by masters like Rembrandt, Monet and several others in their collections. We only had a few hours and I was so absorbed in the paintings, I failed to hear the security guards telling me it was time to go. Oops!

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Outside, they had these really interesting sculptures. One was a ball of twisted glass; a sculpture for their upcoming exhibit of American artist Chihuly. The best one was the one the kids were mad about; a whole street covered in those rubber tags we use on roads, in 3 different colours. Kids and adults alike were running up and down laughing and interacting. Good work Montréal! Ending of the day, we took the Metro (which is comparatively similar to the London and French tubes Greg tells me; regardless, really easy to navigate and decorated beautifully!) to the Latin Quarter. We were all a bit underwhelmed but had a lovely time and nice sangria at a little Mexican place called Mananas.


The next day, we climbed the mountain. The city wraps around Mont-Royal, so it was time to pay tribute. I don’t know how long it took us, only that we were walking for hours. The walking tracks we used were reasonably steep, but there were some much gentler and longer ones. Of course, Duncan and Phoebe are in good shape so looked relaxed and elegant, while I huffed up the hill and Greg took a bit longer as his feet were giving him trouble. Luckily I don’t take long to recover, but I have been a lovely shade of pink all day. We got up to the summit, and just before I saw my first chipmunk! I was excited, but I didn’t manage to get a good shot. They are extremely agile. We had trouble figuring out where the observatory might be, the summit was not well sign-posted at all despite being riddled with paths, but we did make it to the Croix du Mont-Royal. It’s a huge cross made of metal struts that you can see from the city below. We went back to the Museum of Fine Arts after a well-deserved and hearty lunch, to get in as much as we could. Greg and I did not finish looking through and returned when we transited through Montreal when heading back west.

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Montréal is truly Canada’s city of churches. They are everywhere, and are generally beautiful Gothic style ones. Several have features of Notre Dame in Paris. I spent much time photographing this portion of the trip, much to the exasperation of the other travellers, I’m sure! One I found had cheeky gargoyles. Otherwise, Montréal a bit dirty and I feel like there might be quite an underbelly we haven’t seen. I can’t explain it more than as a feeling.


From Montréal we journeyed to Québec City. We stayed in a very inviting and homely place in Lévis, on the east bank of the St. Lawrence River and a quick ferry ride from the old town. We passed some of the huge icebreakers belonging to the Canadian government, obviously in dock for a few days during the warm springtime.The cobbled streets and lovely old buildings of the Lower Town charmed us, all lovely river views and European-style charm. In the sunshine, it was wonderful. The rain that drizzled on us all of the next day took the edge off our enthusiasm for the town.

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Greg and I wandered the old fortifications or ramparts around the Upper Town. There was a lovely walk up a boardwalk to the top, the Governor’s Walk, with expansive river views and flowers hanging between the railings. Otherwise, the dug-in fortifications of the Upper Town were mildly interesting to walk atop of; a unique barracks set-up punctuated with watch towers. We could have missed the barrack areas, as they were dull, but I found some really innovative graffiti. The Esplanade Gardens had some lovely flowering plants and the Fontaine de Tourny was a lovely diversion from the urban portion of the city.

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We left Quebec City and made a brief stop off at the Ile d’Orleon, where we picked up some tasty cider on the recommendation of a Québécois local. The morning sunshine and fresh ciders and jams on the rustic beauty of the island were a balm after the rainy days in Québec City.


This is part of a series, talking about our travels in the beautiful country of Canada. You can find the first instalment here or follow us along the St. Lawrence.

Spring adventures in Canada: Part 1


Vancouver and Ontario

Lionsgate Bridge
My partner and I  stepped off the 16 hour flight from Sydney into Vancouver’s nippy Spring. Typical West Coast weather for the first week: alternating drizzling rain and sunshine. Even though our hotel for the first week was on the party strip (we’re not clubbing enthusiasts…) we really didn’t notice. Granville Street is bustling and a bit dingy during the day (it boasts a host of homeless people in the doorsteps of closed clubs and pubs), but at night it really comes alive. I cannot fault the people in Vancouver though. One day while standing on a corner trying to figure out where the nearest VISA ATM might be, 2 people stopped in the space of 5 minutes to try to help us.
Coal Harbour


Vancouver itself is quite pretty; there’s lots of green spaces and one tiny park down the road was our first exposure to this. Stanley Park in the north east, and its start of the seawall walk at Coal Harbour is picturesque. There’s the stillness of the inlet of wharf, reflecting the dark green of the pines and the crisp outlines of white-capped mountains. The seawall along the waterways very much reminds me of the Tan (Botanical Gardens) in Melbourne; on a sunny day, it is covered in people getting their dose of vitamin D and fresh air. There’s many cyclists, some who strap speakers to their bike to share their music with you. Looking north-west across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver is quite scenic, even with the port and the sulphur piles glowing neon. I spent an age trying to get a decent photograph of a spotty Harbour Seal, but apparently they are shy and I had to be content with a distant head. We saw our first squirrels, the Black Squirrels (apparently introduced in 1914 Wikipedia tells me) and what I think may be Eastern Grey squirrels (they were much shyer). We walked right around (approximately 11 kilometers) to English Bay Beach, which has a beautiful outlook too. This is where we started to see piles of rocks in interesting shapes. I think this might be related to the Inukshuk, which as I understand were once landmarks and cairns for food stores used by the Inuits.
Rock sculptures
Granville Island was also a treat.  There’s a cute little ferry across False Creek, which is almost a floating platform. There’s markets with lovely fresh food, artists, a theatre, music and a great vibe. It once was an industrial area, I think, but is certainly affluent with the markets and a great university (Emily Carr, an arts school).
We’ve caught up with our Norfolk friends, who really have been invaluable for all the help they’ve given us. As well as being our local tour guides, taking us to funky artisan Kitsilano. Had the best vegetarian/vegan food of our life there.
We met my brother and his girlfriend in Toronto early in June. After the loveliness of Vancouver, I found Toronto a very impersonal city, all bright lights and glitz to distract from the general lack of upkeep. It rained constantly, so that might not have helped. I regret not getting a look at Toronto Island, but otherwise, was a bit underwhelmed.
America Falls, Niagara Falls
Niagara was our next destination. Everywhere outside of the immediate township was incredible. Phoebe, Duncan and I particularly liked the tidy, Victorian/Queen-Anne style homes of Niagara on the lake, a township on the northern end of Niagara River towards Lake Ontario. It was lush and green, pretty even in the rain. We wound down Niagara Parkway, looking at the powerful steely blue-grey river, and the many walkers and cyclists. If you are going to the falls, I would recommend staying here, and taking a bright morning/afternoon to explore the Niagara Botanic Gardens, flush with the bright blooms of spring. It eases the grating of the township of Niagara, which is cheap and despoiled by flashing fluorescent lights and empty entertainments. If you can keep your distance from this and actually make it down to the Falls, the 200 meters of parkland along the riverbank is mostly serene. You are sharing (particularly at this time of year) with many other tourists, but we didn’t really get bothered, because the walk up to the falls is enchanting view after enchanting view. Some of the best photographs we took were from downriver.
Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls
The Horseshoe Falls are, as you would expect with this very imaginative naming, semi-circular, and the water roars over them at a great pace, filling the air with fine mist and white noise. The water is a lustrous blue-green under the foam, and it is very photogenic. A little awe is required when you consider the amount of water that pours through every second from Lake Erie. A little spout of mist pops up from the central point of the falls, and all day and night the birds (perhaps just seagulls, but there may be others) swoop through the clouds of mist. You do find little bugs about a bit so I assume this is what they feed on. They all roost on a little area on the American side of the Falls; it’s split right down the middle, and the Horseshoe Falls are the only ones that are part of Canada.
The American Falls are straight down, like a ruffled curtain. There is a small offset called the Bridal Veil Falls attached to them too. I like the likening to lace, even though they are not delicate in any way. I think the Canadian side is the best side to get a full view of all of the falls. If inclined, the Maid of the Mist is not a long journey crammed on a boat with many others, but you get reasonably close to the roaring waters and covered in the spray. Good fun. I think it was worth $20 each.
Maid of the Mist
Back around Lake Ontario and on towards Ottawa, we stopped at a little place called Smiths Falls, which my brother had heard was the prettiest town in Canada. We stayed in a lovely renovated church, but the real highlight of the area was Perth. It had lovely old stone buildings, including an old mill that we had breakfast in, with a burbling stream flowing through and some nicely tended gardens, completed with two little arched bridges over the water. We enjoyed our morning there very much. On our trip towards Ottawa, we saw our first marmot. Saw it just munching away on some grass. It’s the size of a little dog with puffy little cheeks that stands on its hind legs, and could be mistaken for a beaver by the over-excited and uninitiated!
Ottawa at sunset
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, and came into being much the same way Canberra did, being nominated as a spot to stop several cities being upset by being snubbed and indeed snubbing them all. When Queen Victoria chose it, many of the politicians thought it was the end of their lives, being forced into the backwaters of the country. Albeit, I have only seen it since it was reinvigorated by a French architect, but I have to say that it is stunning. It is what Canberra has never been. Lofty Gothic and Victorian architecture gives the official buildings resonance, softened by the deceptively serene waters of the Ottawa River (called Kitchissippi by the First Peoples, the Algoquin).
Parliament House, Ottawa
We were staying in the north of the city, over the Alexandra Bridge, near the Museum of Civilisations. Gorgeous little unit. We explored the city on foot the afternoon we arrived, taking many photographs. I even have a photograph with a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, though disappointingly not in the full regalia. He was extremely friendly, giving us information about Parliament House. People were quite friendly, and we really knew we were in the French-speaking parts of the world as we were greeted bilingually wherever we went.
The city was buzzing and vibrant. We enjoyed the Byward market, which wasn’t nearly as good as those in Melbourne, but still interesting. They certainly have the art of pastry making there though – yum! We had a few drinks in a few different places. Unfortunately the bar Zaphod Beeblebrox was closed in the early week, so we could not go inside! Sunsets over the river were full of riotous colour and serenity. You can hire bikes numerous places in the city, a little like Melbourne, and it would be a great way to get around if you were game.
We went to the Museum of Civilisations. We got caught up in some smaller exhibitions of First Peoples (or Aboriginals as they call them here too), which were fascinating in their own right but not the main exhibit. The peoples cultures are so wide and varied that the hall dedicated to them is huge. You got to see the dresses, both older and contemporary, of the different Candian peoples. We didn’t have enough time to spend there, but I really enjoyed the recordings and written lore of individual peoples. What I was sad we didn’t get much time in was the top floor’s chronological depiction of the forces that shaped Canada. It went through the different groups that have laid claim on the country in some way or another, in full, life-sized wonder. We’re talking houses and workshops and pretend docks and saw mills. The ingenuity that went into creating it is a marvel. I do wish we had more time in this museum, and to see some others there too, which are highly recommended in travel guides. I could have spent a few more days here, but on to Montréal we went.
This is part of a series on travel in Canada. You can find the next instalment here.

Spine Poetry (not what you think)

What a wonderful way to create art on the go. Or even in other people’s houses, getting to know them by their libraries.

Creating poetry from the spines of books was the brain child of American artist, Nina Katchadourian, on a project called Sorted Books (which, if you are interested, she has released a book for). There is a great gallery from on The Huffington Post with some examples.

It’s spawned a couple of tumblr accounts, including this one or you could just search for the tags. Incidentally, it’s like tumblr was designed for this kind of sharing!

The best part is that it doesn’t take long and it requires only a bookshelf of books, which we all have at home. And a smartphone or another camera of any kind.

With my very limited library at the place we’re living in, here in Vancouver, I created one for kicks! Love to do one when I get home to Australia, with all my books there.

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It’s almost the weekend. If you’ve got any spine poetry, or you’d like to share any, I’d love to see it. Let’s get creative!



25 things you need to know when in Canada

Since beginning my travels in Canada, I have been learning little bits and pieces about the culture and history that I was surprised not to read about before I got here. So for your reading pleasure, here’s 25 things I learnt while in Canada:

1. Provinces are all important here and the equivalent of our states. Ottawa is the capital and similar in origin to Australia’s capital, Canberra. It’s in a middle of nowhere place someone picked out to stop arguments and is not the name the uneducated (including me before we arrived!) would pick. But Ottawa is what Canberra only has dreams of being: it’s big and friendly, has some really interesting museums, and has an elegant gothic feel. On that note, Vancouver is not the capital of British Columbia. That fine title goes to Victoria, a smaller city on Vancouver Island, who negotiated it as part of their agreement for joining the province.

2. On that note, it is still illegal to take alcohol across the border, so you will find wine from home before you will get one from across a province line. Beer seems not to have as much of a problem though.

3. Canada is huge. In driving terms, it certainly owns Australia. In all likelihood, you have to head to the wilderness to see some real wildlife. For Vancouver, that means 2 – 3 hours from the city. Though, we saw a racoon in inner city Vancouver!

4. Dollar coins are bigger and in a move that makes no sense at all, 5c is bigger than 10c and in the coin part of your wallet looks almost identical to a quarter. And yes, the notes are a veritable rainbow.

5. Walk/drive/queue on the right side dammit.

6. There’s food markets and there’s pharmacies, and between them they sell everything that you need. The be-all supermarket chain that you get in Australia is a different beastie to these supermarkets. But, we just don’t have coffee shops and cafes inside ours.

7. Disappointment central. Despite having met a delightfully charming member of the RCMP in Ottawa, they no longer wear their gorgeous red jackets unless it’s a special occasion. I am told the Calgary Stampede is the place to see them. (Also, you cannot get baby Mountie outfits-bummer!)

8. Rent of an apartment in the downtown area, complete with cable television, gas and internet is less than just our rent in Melbourne, which is not the most expensive city in Australia (in comparison with Vancouver being the most expensive city to live in here in Canada). Hooray hydro power!

9. Taxes are added on top of advertised prices. In BC, that’s 10% national tax plus 5% provincial tax (more for alcohol). So you think you have an idea of what it is going to cost, and then realise you forgot to add taxes. Damn.

10. Tipping is optional, but waitresses are paid minimum wage here too. 15% of the pre-tax total is standard. Surprise them: no one here expects Australians to know how to tip.

11. I’ve only seen one place advertising a Canadian breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes. Though I have encountered them tucked away on menus but…

12. There is maple in oh so many things. We had maple bacon on the weekend. And there’s lots of bacon.

13. An entree is not what we Aussies call an entree. Expect a meal folks.

14. Weird names: cilantro=coriander, squash=pumpkin or that other squash, peppers=capsicum.

15. The water is damn cold. As cold as Victoria. In the warmest part of the country. During the summer.

16. If you look lost, someone will stop to help you. If you look like a beggar, most people will ignore you, but some will buy some really decent food for you.

17. That being said, I can attest to Canadian drivers being as angry as Australian drivers. Yes buddy, that’s a horn. You’ve let them know that they did wrong. Sure, keep leaning on the horn. What’s that? Folks actually live in those apartments around you, and funnily, are sleeping at 2am?

18. Those huge snow storms? They happen only on the interior or perhaps just not in Vancouver.

19. Despite searches for Vancouver inner city bringing up Whistler as a great place to live, it is not just within city bounds. It’s almost 2 hours from the city. I will however accept Burnaby and Surrey.

20. Phone calls and data are heinously expensive by Aussie standards, which I really don’t get.

21. The Seabus is not a bus. The Skytrain, sadly, does not fly. While the sun shines, Canadians bike everywhere. Be sure to wear your helmet when you are out though-the law is the same as Australia.

22. The seawall is a wall along the very extensive ocean frontage. Very imaginative naming, but everyone knows what you mean.

23. Aerosol deodorant, particularly for women, does not exist. They seem not to understand that I need it. Although, I am feeling better about less waste and no propellants that I have been using.

24. In Quebec, cars only need one numberplate. How does that even work? Also, everywhere but Quebec, you can turn right at a red light providing it is clear. And indicators might just be your brake lights flashing (really confusing!).

25. An unofficial addition to my list, by request of my partner Greg, is coffee. American filtered coffee is the norm here so be prepared to go looking for espresso. Tim Hortons is a perpetrator of this crime against coffee. Blenz is the Canadian version of Starbucks. Shop local!


I wouldn’t consider myself a completely unexperienced traveller, but maybe I should have done some more reading.

Have you travelled in Canada? Is there anything you would add to this list?

Coal Harbour, Vancouver



Is it a case of author versus reviewer?

There’s been a huge outcry about a recent column in the well-known speculative fiction magazine, Strange Horizons. All over there are people drawing lines in the sand and defending fans who review and authors who comment.

The column started talk about fan-bloggers/reviewers (which the writer identifies herself as) and industry blogs, talking about recent novels releases and reviews of them. It wanted to discuss our easy access to authors in the digital age, and our ability to rub bad reviews in their face.

What it sparked was a huge discussion of authors interacting with their fans and reviewers, particularly in the online space. There have been some very public examples of people doing it the wrong way, and also of readers planning to bully authors (this blog summarises the whole sordid affair). It’s not a single platform problem either: both major review sites, Amazon and Goodreads, have had it happening in both directions.

Certainly, there is an element of this that is part of the element of online communities that are out to bully and harass individuals. There is nothing constructive in it. Whether we should be looking to censor this behaviour, which would lead to a whole other set of problems, or finding another way to encourage respectful behaviour is unclear.

Overwhelmingly, what I am reading from online communities of writers and readers is this:

  • Treat others with respect, even if you didn’t like their work or their review. You are entitled to have an opinion.
  • Writers: Reviewers are good for authors, in terms of meaning that your book is getting read. Thank them for reviewing and reading and leave it at that, unless you have a real error to correct (accusations of plagiarism where you can show that it is not for example) and if you do need to do it, disconnect and keep respectful and factual. Abusing reviewers will only earn you bad press and lose you readers. Expect bad reviews.
  • Reviewers: If you invite writers in by attracting their attention on line, do not be surprised if they drop by. Abusing authors does not help you or anyone else. You are entitled to your genuine opinion. If you are wrong, own it and clarify it to people who read your reviews.
  • If you are going to respond, be funny (see author’s comment, no. 23) and be genuine. At least then, you’re memorable.


Have you ever written a review that was harsh? Ever had any authors get involved?

Authors, have you ever had scathing interactions online? What did you do?


There’s also some great comments and discussion over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.


Spoken history fantasy: review of Anansi Boys

I admit it; I am a fan of Neil Gaiman. At the beginning of the month, I reviewed The Ocean at the End of the Lane for my work with SQ Mag.

At Neil’s talk for the Vancouver Writer’s Fest, I noticed a number of fans with this book under their arm. It was his last adult novel, before this latest release. So I thought I would give it a go, honestly not knowing what to expect.

Anansi Boys draws on the storytelling element of oral traditions, particularly of the people of the Carribbean and their roots in the rich mythology of African culture. It follows Fat Charlie, a rather unassuming young man with major problems with his father and a life devoid of any real spark. When his father dies, Fat Charlie returns home and learns a startling fact: he has a brother. A chain of events, kicked off my Fat Charlie’s errant brother Spider, leads to the destruction of the dull life that Fat Charlie holds dear.

What follows is a story about coincidences spiralling out of control, aided by a touch of old world magic. It is a story about growing up, about making your way in the world when you’re in the shadow of big characters about you. It’s about family, and especially how you cannot choose them. But there’s also a quest element, which really keeps the story in tone with the oral traditions and links in to cultural manhood ceremonies of older traditions.

My favourite parts are the snippets of folklore. I was a big fan of Brer Rabbit stories as a small child, with their skewed morality of tricking the greedy or lazy. These were based in African tales, told often of Anansi in African mythology, well researched by Neil Gaiman I am sure. There are several small stories within the novel and I enjoyed these fable breaks. The perception of the shadowy realms of magic and ancient power of the mystical run strongly through this book, and are described well.

It is not the strongest of Neil Gaiman’s novels that I’ve read. Some of the characters weren’t as real to me as some in his other novels, even if they had some endearing traits. For this novel, there’s a lot of interplay of mysticism and the supernatural, and the nicely packaged ending created a few moments that felt a bit forced for me.

If a new reader of Neil, I wouldn’t suggest starting with this one, as I would prefer you fell in love with his work. For those with a love of oral traditions, it’s a great book for weaving in tidbits of the stories, and I think you might enjoy the main arch as well.

Have you read the book? I’d like to know what you thought of it.

The overnight illusion

It is a disservice to writers everywhere to promote the idea that writing success happens overnight. Years of hard work and practice at the skill of concise and interesting stories is what precedes every novel that goes to print, and a good many besides.

Let’s look at a well-known fantasy name, George R.R. Martin. You would have to have been deaf, blind and mute to miss the impact that Game of Thrones has made on all things pop culture. I don’t know about you, but to the uninitiated, it seems as if GRRM came out of nowhere. It may be why the cover below surprised me. I was very wrong. Have a look at the bibliography on his website. He had a few publications in the 70s, was involved in some projects in the 80s, started the Game of Thrones series in the 90s but his major emergence on the world stage was when they turned his series into an HBO series. Even though his work has been nominated for Hugo Awards 4 times (his first nomination was in 1978), he’s never won. He’s been present in the industry, as a writer and editor, since he first began publishing. That’s not overnight success by any stretch of the imagination.

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Jo Rowling (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) is held up as the example of “instant success”, in that her book was picked up on the merits of that initial submission alone. But that ignores her whole history. It ignores her own words: “I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before.” So, she had been doing lots of writing in her spare time. Ms. Rowling had an agent, and it still took two rounds of offering for Bloomsbury to take on Harry Potter.

Even when you have an online fan base, like (I shudder to mention the book that is traditional publishing’s shame, but a point is a point) E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, it took from 2009 (when initially published on for it to be “traditionally” published in 2011. There was even a market made up of all of the original fans of the book. She had to work at keeping people interested in her work of fiction and publish updates regularly.

This post could go on and on about dozens of other authors whose work I respect. Why would anyone expect that success in this industry would happen overnight? Why is this idea of an instant advancement in the field of writing one that persists, and that is promoted? Especially in other types of work, the idea is that your former work is what builds your network, your array of skills, your attractiveness to those in your industry. It seems a disconnect from industry for us to think and feel this way.

If anyone is interested, I have a great blog by Delilah S. Dawson on the steps to becoming a traditionally published author. None of which include get rich quick schemes. I’d be interested to hear what my writer and reader friends have to say about where this misconception comes from.

Glorious libraries


Ah! The glory of libraries. All of those books in one place. So much knowledge, so many stories. It is the dream of readers everywhere to possess a library anywhere near half as extensive as this. Many libraries lack an artistic flair in architecture.

This beautiful building however, so elegant in the afternoon sunshine, is the Vancouver Central Public Library. It has 7 floors of books. There is a First Peoples storyteller and a writer in residence, the staff are mobile, and will meet you on any floor. In the Children’s Library on the bottom floor, there’s a vibrant dragon hanging.

Imagination has taken flight in that external curving section; many movies have been filmed in the glassed in halls. It’s closed to the public, very sadly.

The sculpture at the front of the building also tickles my fancy.


I also have a soft spot for the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. That beautiful building was founded in 1854, with the idea that it would be ‘the people’s university’. How wonderful is the altruism of that sentiment.  The La Trobe reading room (the one in the photograph below) celebrated her centenary this year.

Melbourne State Library; Melbourne Melbourne State Library; Melbourne

What I love about the State Library is that it has a wonderful collection of old books. It starts with some of the early illustrated books, mostly religious texts, and looks all the way up to pop culture covers and fiction. It also showcases drafts of famous works.

Each of these libraries has embraced more than just the printed word. There are interactive displays, such as games rooms and image galleries, and many activities to bring people into the library. They are attempting to place themselves at the centre of our communities, and I think this progressiveness is the way that libraries will retain their relevance. For the large role that they play in most lives and their availability to the economically or socially disadvantaged, I think it’s so important that we celebrate these gorgeous buildings and excellent organisations.

Which is your favourite library in those that you’ve encountered thus far and why?

An editor’s work is never done

So, I have another story from my night seeing Neil Gaiman. You might have read the first part here.

At the end of the talk, and at the beginning of the signing, I decided to sit in some empty seats at the very front of the auditorium reserved for Harper Collins editors, who I had seen leaving moments before. All I wanted was to take a photograph of Neil Gaiman as a memento for myself, and there I could get a clear view and shot with my iPhone without being in anybody’s way.

The assistants from the Vancouver Writer’s Festival, who were hosting the event, were coming around to offer a Post-It to people in the front rows, as Neil had decided to gift them extra signatures for waiting in the hot sun all afternoon. I declined, as I wasn’t one of the eligible. A woman had sat down next to me shortly before, and was directing them as to the way Neil liked the notes put into the books.

I struck up a conversation, asking how she knew. Had she been to many of Neil’s signings before? Turned out she was his editor. I only found out later that I was talking to Jennifer Brehl, Neil’s editor from New York, that he speaks highly about. She also has a few other titles than ‘Neil’s editor’: Senior Vice President, Executive Editor, and Director of Editorial Development of Morrow and Harper Voyager. I wish I’d known at the time, but I wonder if I would have taken a different tack. She wasn’t there to talk to me about work or even my work, after all.

We were chatting about Neil’s endless signings and how tired he gets from those days, picking up again and moving on the next day. She had been on the tour for the eastern parts of Canada with Neil; so Montreal, Toronto, etc. She helps out with the events; I heard and saw her helping with those getting signatures. You will even see in the picture I post, she is standing to Neil’s left and assisting. I can’t even imagine how she fits that in with the rest of her workload.

Many think an editor’s work is accepting a book and proceeding to edit it (and even that takes a lot more time than you might expect). But there’s many promotional engagements that you take part in for the people you edit, because if they succeed, so do you. I hadn’t thought that editors at Ms. Brehl’s level would have the time but the factors that drive good publishing are the same regardless of your other commitments.

So thank you chance, for allowing me just a moment to see what being a successful and tireless editor is about. I also hope that I have another chance to discuss work with Ms. Brehl again one day, and that we see this great team working together for a long time, with many more great novels to come.

Neil signing


Health update: Junk food will kill you.



Yesterday Vancouver was overrun… With zombies!

The annual Vancouver zombie walk was a huge success, with lots of varied and imaginative costumes. There was people of all age groups, from little babies (well-taken care of by Mama zombies of course) and small children, all the way up to adults with a few greys that worked well into their costumes. Families abounded, and boy, was there some of the cutest zombies I have ever seen! One pregnant zombie’s unholy offspring also sprung straight through the abdominal wall, not wishing to wait for birth.

20130817-20130817-IMG_1724Keeping an orderly shuffle, respecting red lights (for blood!) and the policemen volunteering with the event, the hoards of the undead made their way from the Vancouver library down Robson Street, veering left at Denman, and finally congregating at English Bay Beach, clearly unsure what to do at the water’s edge. Some of the shuffle were obviously a bit hungry, biting out at the bystanders, sending little Asian girls shrieking away. The eerie screams of some zombies set the scene for the apocalypse to come.

A few survivors struggled amidst the zombie throng, some prepared against the airborne threat with gas masks, or armed with (water) guns and (Nerf) darts. However, the survival of humanity seemed unlikely given how few stood against the rising tide.



Hats off to the dedicated people who participated yesterday. It was great fun even just to watch, and everyone was so happy to have their photograph taken.


Best bit about this woman’s costume? The limb dragging behind (sadly not pictured).
This person creeped me out by watching me for ages as they passed me. Good job on the creepy factor!


Which of the photographs was your favourite? Have you ever taken part in a zombie walk? What was it like?