Hackmatack, Moose and Nova Scotian Hospitality

Driving the Cabot Trail

WOW!! Just got back from my Cape Breton and Halifax tour for Hackmatack. My book, Born to Write: The Remarkable Lives of Six Famous Authors, was nominated for the 2011 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award and  I was invited down east to tour some schools and attend the award ceremony.

I had so much fun and was treated like a queen by all my hosts. I got there in the middle of a rainy deluge, but I didn’t care. I love the East Coast, rain, fog, sun or snow!  The rain stopped long enough for me to glimpse the famous winding road, headlands and rocky beaches of the Cabot Trail, whetting my appetite for another trip soon I hope. I also saw my first moose of 2011, right ahead of us on the road, and snow banks (in May!) in the highlands.

The Giant Fiddle of Sydney and Me

I had a wonderfully warm reception from Chris Thomson and Tara MacNeil, from the Cape Breton Regional Library, who ferried me around and fed me and made sure everything ran smoothly at the schools. The students and staff were also very welcoming at the four schools I visited:

Cape Smokey Elementary, Ingonish

North Highlands Elementary, Cape North

Brookland Elementary, Sydney

Étoile de L’Acadie, Sydney

A bumpy little Dash 8 flew me from Sydney to Halifax, where I met up with the other Hackmatack finalists for a party and an exciting ceremony where the winners were announced. I didn’t win ― but yes, I guess I did, because being nominated for this great award means that students read my book and the whole trip was like a prize: meeting new book lovers, staying in a fancy B & B in Sydney and a haunted hotel in Halifax (TRUE!!)


* The introduction from my presenter at the ceremony, Gwyneth Fountain, in grade 5 at Sacred Heart School: her enthusiasm about my book made my day.

* The funny questions from students: How old are you? How much money do you make?

Showing the picture of Madeleine L'Engle and her dog at Brookland Elementary

* The serious questions from students: Are you proud of writing Born to Write? What were the echoes from your childhood when you wrote it?

*Six pillows on my Princess and the Pea bed at the B&B and the stool I had to climb on to get into it.

* The pilot who said we couldn’t take off for Sydney because “the boys who are supposed to wave us out have disappeared.”

* Kate Watson, Scott, Steve, the Hackmatack board members and all the wonderful volunteers who make the Hackmatack reading program such a success.

* My fellow nominees, children’s writers from all over Canada: you rock!

The Princess and the Pea high bed at the B & B in Sydney


May 16, 2011 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

Is the Silky Ghost from Edinburgh?

On Saturday morning the Silky stood in for me at Chapters on Kenmount Road in St. John’s, and told spooky international ghost stories to children for a couple of hours.

Everyone had fun! Two groups of children sat for 45 minutes each, picking countries on the Ghost Ball for ghost stories, and the Silky cooperated with tales from Jamaica, China, Finland, Africa and many more. All the books sold out!

One little girl’s family came from Scotland, which made the Silky just a tad nervous. She can be a bit embarrassed about her over-the-top Scots accent. But as the father thanked her and said goodbye, he asked if she was from Edinburgh.

“No!” said the Silky.

“Where are you from then?” he asked.

The Silky laughed again and dropped her voice to a whisper. “It’s a fake accent,” she confided. “It’s not real.”

He shook his head. I don’t think he wanted to believe it. “I could have sworn you were from Edinburgh.”

That got me thinking. Maybe she is from Edinburgh.

November 2, 2010 at 11:09 am Leave a comment

Grade 3s Rock and Rule!

There’s something to be said for finding the exact right age for a school presentation and a book. With A World Full of Ghosts, it’s always been Grade 3 for me! They’re at that magical age of 8, old enough to listen but young enough to see ghosts everywhere.

At Holy Trinity school in Torbay last week, I was treated to a room full of Grade 3s and the presentation just sailed along. I love that when it happens: the kids are with me every step of the way. At the end, when we turn out the lights and I warn them to sit closer to their friends, the room ripples with anticipation and then I tell the them the story that was too frightening to put into the book: The Old Hag, the ghost from Newfoundland.

I met more enthusiastic students in Paradise last week, at Holy Family School, and I also drove to Whitbourne Elementary. That must be a particularly haunted part of Newfoundland, because the kids were bursting with ghost sightings of their own.

On the pretty drive back home along Trinity Bay I saw an old business sign that gave me pause: “Job’s Insurance.” Hmmm. I wonder.

So now my Ghost Tour is finished for another year. It was a great success: I met lots of kids, sold lots of books, had enormous fun scaring them with my extra-scary Newfoundland ghost stories. I went to places I’d never been before (Paradise, Whitbourne, Mount Carmel) and visited wonderful schools with many ghost-loving students.

Just one more event tonight: the award ceremony for the St. John’s Public Libraries Ghost Story Writing Contest. The Silky is rolling up her sleeves. Rumour has it that the dust at the A.C. Hunter Library is shocking.

November 2, 2010 at 10:59 am Leave a comment

The Hidden Schools of St. John’s

I’ve been trying to find my way around St. John’s for ten years. First as a summer visitor, and now as a semi-permanent round-the-bay dweller. It ain’t easy for a Toronto girl who thinks in straight lines and four-corner intersections. Apparently the streets in St. John’s evolved from cowpaths that led up and down and around the many hills. Cows don’t know about straight lines. Or street signs. Or traffic lights. Before I realized that the best way to find anything in St. John’s is just to keep driving in circles until your destination materializes before your eyes, I spent a lot of time swearing, pulling over to the curb and struggling with fold-out maps.

This week I discovered that St. John’s likes to hide its schools. As a concept, it appeals to me. A secret, no, an invisible school, hidden away between streets, where children are protected from the outside world. People can only find the schools when the moon is full, or when the fog lifts, or by learning a magic spell.

My first experience with this was when I tried to find way into Bishop Feild School on Monday. I could see it, but I couldn’t get there. It was a bit like the castle in Sleeping Beauty: protected by high hedges, one-way streets and dead ends. Yesterday I visited two more schools that were tucked away from the bustling world: Macpherson and Bishop Abraham.

Macpherson wasn’t so hard to find, because the entrance was actually on the same street as its address — but it stood alone down a long driveway in an in-between place that was neither a city block nor a park. Like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, it was spooky and quiet when I arrived at 8 a.m. The door was unlocked, and the only living person was a janitor, who could have been a ghost now I come to think of it. Gradually people started arriving and I was delighted to do my presentation for big group of very well-behaved children. Actually, they were unnaturally well behaved… maybe they were ghosts too, or under an enchantment.

Then I was in a rush to get to Bishop Abraham, which the teacher had assured me was just a few short blocks away. I kept my Silky dress on, loaded my books into the car, and screeched out of the driveway, after consulting a map for the exact location of 196 Pennywell Road. (Okay, so I still use maps.)

I got to Pennywell Road, no problem. But then I ran into trouble. I kept seeing those traffic signs that warn you that a school is nearby, but the school never appeared. After a few blocks, I realized I was 200 numbers past the address, so I turned around. I was supposed to be there at 10:30. It was 10:40. I don’t like being late.

I had seen a big building called “Bishop’s College” and I wondered if this could be the place. I hauled into the parking lot and accosted someone, who pointed away over some scrubland and fences — and there it stood. Bishop Abraham School. I could see it but I couldn’t get there.

I drove back the way I had come, catching glimpses of the school between houses. Finally I found a side street I could turn into, and that led me into a between-the-streets place where the school sat in the sun, waiting for me.

I got a great welcome from the teachers and the kids, and the presentation went very well. There were even some grade twos there, usually a bit young for my ghost stories, but they sat as if bewitched, eyes big, clutching their friends in the really scary parts. Then I sold a lot of books, which is always very satisfying.

I like to think I’m catching on to the way things work in Newfoundland. But my expectations are still Ontario. If an address is 196 Pennywell Road, I expect the school to be there, right between 194 and 198. Not so. I should know better by now. My own house has two different street names and an invisible number that doesn’t relate to any other houses. This summer, new street signs  with different names suddenly appeared on my road.I tell couriers I’m the last house on the road to the lighthouse. That seems to work.

Next week I’m going to Paradise for the first time. I wonder if the cows planned the streets there. I’ll soon find out. I think I’ll give myself an extra half hour, just in case.

October 23, 2010 at 10:44 am Leave a comment

Driving through Newfoundland and Rainbows

After a summer perched in my Seaside Blue Happiness Cottage beside the bay, I’ve suddenly started driving. Last week I drove down the Salmonier Line to St. Catherine’s Academy to do my first Ghost Presentation of the season. True to my experience of Newfoundland, it was different than anywhere else! I had consulted maps and Google, but the school suddenly presented itself to me, around a corner on top of a hill. A big school, Kindergarten to Grade 12, with two friendly teenagers in the office who offered to help me lug my stuff to the library. Then my host, Brenda Nolan, arrived with her entire Grade 6 class (about 6 kids I think) to offer me more assistance, so I felt very well taken care of. The kids were responsive and very well behaved, and begged for the Silky ghost to reappear at the end of the presentation. Which she did!

Since then I’ve been in and out of St. John’s to visit Bishop Feild School, which is more than 150 years old and is tucked away on another hill in downtown St. John’s. This was not easy to get to: with the one-way streets and dead ends, I kept circling for about 15 minutes. I could see cars parked by the school but no way in! It was like an impregnable castle… but eventually after I spoke to the school secretary on my cellphone, she revealed where the entrance was… down an impossibly narrow street from another level of the city.

I loved the school: it has big old staircases and cavernous arches leading down to the basement. The library had big tall windows and a huge fireplace. The kids were enthusiastic and chatty and surprisingly fearless: they voted most of my most frightening stories at only a one-skull scariness level. Even my Old Hag story,which usually results in a show of hands for three-skulls worth of spookiness, had them nonchalently voting one skull. I guess living in haunted downtown St. John’s, they’ve seen worse!

The day I drove to St. John’s the sun came out and then the rain swept in and then the sun came out again and then it rained. I love the drive up and down the ribbony highways, with the barrens spreading out ahead of me, and the other cars chugging along through miles and miles of space and sky.

I came back to my little cottage and have been walking to the lighthouse in the mornings, climbing over the wrecked boardwalk (a souvenir of Hurricane Igor), and counting rainbows. This year I have been surprised by all the rainbows in the bay. One seems to start at the same point of land across the water from me. They are often a complete arc, right across the bay, and sometimes the colours are piercingly vivid, but by the time I run to get my camera, they fade.

October 20, 2010 at 7:58 am 1 comment

Celebrity Judge: St. John’s Libraries Ghost Story Writing Contest

When I was writing A World Full of Ghosts, I asked all my friends if they’d ever seen a ghost. To my surprise, nearly everyone I spoke to had a ghost story to tell me. I put many of them into the book.

This October, the St. John’s Public Libraries are giving young people a chance to put their spookiest stories into words and submit them to a writing contest. The winners will receive prizes at a special ceremony on November 2 at the Arts & Culture Centre in St. John’s. As the Celebrity Judge, I will have the honour of awarding the prizes. The Scottish Silky Ghost will come along to do some dusting and perhaps tell a tale or two.

This is going to be fun! Here are all the details:

Share a Scare
St. John’s Public Libraries
Ghost Story Writing Contest
Entry Deadline: Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Young people 7 to 15 are invited to write an original ghost story and submit it for a chance to win a prize. Entry forms are available at all St. John’s Libraries:

A.C. Hunter Children’s Library – Arts & Culture Centre – 737-3953
Marjorie Mews Library – Highland Drive – 737-3020
Michael Donovan Library – Topsail Road – 737-2621

For more information, contact:

Julia Mayo
Marjorie Mews Library

Follow the blog at: http://ghoststorycontest.blogspot.com

October 5, 2010 at 9:53 am Leave a comment

Second Annual Newfoundland Ghost Tour

Halloween is coming, my favourite holiday! Yikes! Can’t wait for all the ghosties and ghoulies to crawl out of their cupboards and start haunting the streets of Newfoundland.

I am looking forward once again to scaring schoolchildren in October as I take my book,  A World Full of Ghosts, to schools on the Avalon and Burin Peninsulas. The Scottish Silky Ghost will be with me as usual, dusting libraries and children as we introduce them to ghosts from different cultures around the world.

With haunting (and hilarious!) illustrations by Marc Mongeau, this book is always popular with boys and girls. Everyone loves to be scared! After playing a few rounds of Ghost Ball to discover what frightens people in other countries, I turn the lights down low and tell two thrilling “true” Newfoundland ghost stories.

The Silky Ghost entertains students with spooky stories

Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries, Eastern Division, have graciously offered to sponsor me to go to the Burin Peninsula the week of October 18th. I love it down there! Lots of ghosts!

And­―this really gives me a thrill―I am the Celebrity Judge for the St. John’s Libraries Ghost Story Writing Contest. Kids all over the city are encouraged to submit their scariest ghost stories, and I get to read them and help decide which is the most terrifying… and well written, of course! The Silky Ghost has promised to help me and make sure all the entries are free of dust.

So hang on to your witches’ hats, and keep those nightlights burning, because the Scary Season is nearly upon us!

September 15, 2010 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment

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