By Dorothea Belanger
Psst, have you heard? Sitting is the new smoking and it’s killing us! Studies show that sitting a mere three hours a day shortens life expectancy. Then there’s the chronic injury and pain degrading that quality of life. I experienced this first hand when I cut back teaching to two days a week to write a novel, [no pressure there, ha]! White Flowers was inspired by stories about the 400 German Prisoners of WWII who’d been interned on Lake of the Woods and a trip I took to visit cousins in Berlin.
In my 40s, I started having brief bouts of back pain. A physio diagnosed unstable ribs, taped them in place every now and again and told me to remain active. I carried on fine with my full life: family, work, writing, yoga, swimming and walking.
As I began to write more, I knew that sitting in front of a computer didn’t feel good so I invested in a highly rated office chair. The accompanying DVD illustrated how to adjust the arm rests, the lumbar and the seat pan to support me. I was sure this chair could launch me into the galaxy of novel writing for many pain-free hours!
Unfortunately it was all for naught. One day I leaned forward to get out of the car and blew a few discs. I spent the next few months lying on the living room floor in pain. When I became mobile, I was limited and needed carry out at the grocery store, couldn’t put on my socks and was unable to read let alone write.
What followed was years of trying different ways to write. Initially, heating pads and lumbar supports on the chair were my best friends and enabled me to put together a grant proposal. I sent a chapter of White Flowers to the Northern Arts division of the OAC and was successful. This bought me more time to write and was an affirming boost.
After brief sessions at the computer, I’d continue working by walking and talking into a hand held tape recorder. In this way I modified an excerpt of White Flowers for The Writers Union of Canada Short Prose contest and made the short list!
Icy roads made walking in the winter treacherous so my husband rigged up an old treadmill to fit under a table. I could walk at a slow speed and type or write with a pen but not for hours. I set a kitchen timer and alternated between the chair and the treadmill every 30 minutes.
But I was still fragile and watching out for what might set me back was utterly consuming. Riding my bike over a little bump the next summer caused my spine to lock up and I walked around like the Tin Man for a week. Someone suggest a chiropractor. I don’t understand how the cracking of my neck, mid back and and sacrum works but this weekly 10 minute treatment was a turning point. Between cracks she explained that given the right cues, your body will heal. The following week I told her swimming, my old standby for staying in shape, was causing arm pain. She told me to try a mask and snorkel to keep the neck neutral.
Body in neutral, three natural curves in the spine. I’d heard that often in yoga classes and decided to take it seriously. I placed a full length mirror against the wall to check how I was sitting in the chair. I looked a bit hunched, I certainly felt sluggish. I tried a stability ball and on it I could sit taller, there were three curves in the spine and I felt perkier! By alternating between the ball and the treadmill every 30 minutes, I could write for two energy-filled hours a day.
Charles Wilkins presented a writing workshop at the Word on the Water Writing Festival in Kenora. Not only had he rowed across the Atlantic, he’d taken notes and written a book about it! I was in awe of that physical feat and inspired by his thoughts on a sense of place in writing. To test them out I wrote an article about how stories can deepen a connection to place which was published in Canada’s History.
I decided to put White Flowers on hold in favour of shorter articles. I needed to have a sense of completion. Figuring out how to chop carrots and vacuum with out seizing up was too consuming alongside the scope of novel writing. [Now I can chop carrots indefinitely at the kitchen table, it’s lower than the counter. Vacuuming is still iffy so I break it up over several days or let the house get dusty.]
I’d been a member of NOWW for many years. I enjoyed the writing by others who shared the same geography of northwestern Ontario in the NOWW HEAR THIS magazine. Meeting them at workshops in both Kenora and Dryden was like an invigorating transfusion of fresh ideas to take back to my own writing.
I attended the Sleeping Giant Writers Festival in Thunder Bay. While reading a new excerpt of White Flowers out loud in Miriam Toew’s master class, I immediately sensed how it fell flat. Miriam made polite suggestions but at lunch I got the best feedback from another participant: try putting the scene in the present tense, to make it more immediate. I met Miriam in the hallway that evening and babbled on about the difficulty of making historical material come alive. She listened, paused and said: just think really hard.
I drove back home fired up for another year of writing. Now I allow time for “just thinking really hard” while writing, after all, it’s what I did to heal and strengthen.
And when I read, I ask myself, how is the writer making this scene more immediate? These tips mentioned in passing have pushed me forward to better writing. I can’t emphasize enough how instructive it is to belong to a community of writers. The only time I use my office chair now is for the monthly NOWW board meetings I attend via Skype. I don’t want all the movement on the ball or the treadmill to draw attention and after all these years, I can sit there once a month without atrophying, it’s no problem!
By Marianne Jones
I just devoured William Paul Young’s newest book Eve in one sitting. For those not familiar with Young, he`s a Canadian author whose self-published novel The Shack, initially written as a gift for his children, went on to sell 22 million copies and be translated into 48 languages to date. Suffice it to say that it struck a chord with a lot of people.
Along with making Young a superstar in some circles, it also drew a lot of fire from Biblical literalists who don’t “get” the difference between a work of art and a theological treatise.
I have to say that I loved The Shack when I first read it years ago. And Eve doesn’t disappoint. Like The Shack, it is a wildly imaginative, poetic and deeply moving book about where the worst pain of the human heart meets the all-encompassing compassion and love of God.
Eve explores the story of Creation with some startling twists. It undermines traditional biases that blame Woman for the brokenness of the world. It declares the equality of the genders, as stated in Genesis. And it doesn’t flinch from showing the darkest horrors of the human experience: rape and trafficking of the innocent and vulnerable.
Young never shies away from writing about pain and atrocity, because he has experienced it in his own life. He is keenly aware that talking about God’s love to wounded people is meaningless without the willingness to hear their stories and comprehend their grief. In Eve he depicts the insidious way that shame takes root in trauma, and matures into self-hatred and a belief in one’s own unworthiness to be loved. He also shows how love explodes that lie and restores dignity and destiny.
I’m not usually a weeper when it comes to movies and books, but I challenge anyone to read this without tears.
This week we launched our 18th Annual NOWW Writing Contest and I thought it would be fun for Flashback Friday to take a look at our 1st Annual NOWW Writing Contest.
We have definitely come a long way in 18 years. Back in 1999 when the contest began, we had 1 category, Fiction. We have now grown to 5 categories: Short Fiction, Poetry, Creative Non-Fiction, Novel Excerpt and Bill MacDonald Prize for Prose (creative non-fiction), and receive submissions from all across North America and the world.
Take a look at the winners from our 1st Annual NOWW Writing Contest:
First place: Holly Haggarty
Second place: Peter Powell
Third place: Tiina Ahokas
You can find out more about your past contest winners here
For more information about our 18th Annual NOWW Writing Contest including submission guidelines, fees and entry dates, click here
You can also find out more about our judges and their body of work here.
Also, if you are not yet a member of NOWW, it's not too late to join. Current NOWW members in good standing (membership paid up for the year) receive free entry into the contest. No time like the present to become a member and join an amazing community of writers across northwestern Ontario. To find out more information about joining NOWW, click here.
Review by Alex Kosoris
Some authors tie everything up in a neat little package, leading the reader along a clear path through the narrative in their stories. Ishiguro is not one of those authors, or, at least, A Pale View of Hills is definitely not one of those stories. No, it comes across that way at times, but the author occasionally presents something that seems discordant with the story up to that point, and even, by the end, makes you question everything you read.
The story follows Etsuko, an elderly Japanese woman living in England, as she reminisces about her time in Nagasaki after World War II, before she emigrated. We learn about the intense changes affecting the country at the time, and how different people coped, including her detached, workaholic husband, her old-fashioned father-in-law, her neglectful neighbour, and her neighbour’s disturbed child. The most interesting moments crop up when Ishiguro makes it clear that our narrator isn’t remembering things necessarily the way they happened. As well, the story gets quite unsettling. I know I often prattle on about pacing, but I really need to make special mention of it here, as it’s one of the book’s triumphs and possibly its chief failing. The author sets the story up to be a muted, reflective affair, so the suspense comes almost without warning, to great effect, and then it disappears. Had the tension escalated or, at least, lingered, I think I’d have a greater appreciation for the book.
That being said, A Pale View of Hills is still a wonderfully crafted work that stuck with me long after I finished it. (To be fair, I still am not sure I fully understand it.) Because the author is hugely confident and because the story is a great measure of subtlety, it honestly amazes me that this is a first novel.
By Brandon Walker
When you think about ancient Egypt, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?
Maybe it’s pyramids or pharaohs, but more likely you think of hieroglyphs and wonder what they mean.
In journalism school I learned the scribes of ancient Egypt were probably the world’s first writers.
While today’s scribes use a computer and keyboard (or note pad and pen if you’re hard core), Egyptian scribes wrote on papyrus from the inside of a reed using reed pens and brushes dipped in a wooden palette.
While we use letters to form words, scribes used pictures called hieroglyphs to convey words or ideas.
I see scribes as a combination newspaper reporter, record keeper, and letter writer. Not only did they cover temples and tombs with hieroglyphs, they also recorded genealogical records, stocks in stores for workers, court proceedings, magic spells, tax records, wills and legal agreements.
Not everyone in ancient Egypt could read, either – only about one in 10 people were literate – so scribes also read to those who employed them.
According to AncientEgypt.online.co.uk, “The hieroglyphic language of the ancient Egyptians was complex and beautiful, and those who had mastered it held a valued position in society.
“Scribes were the protectors and developers of ancient Egyptian culture and central to academic research and the smooth running of the state apparatus. The scribes not only copied existing texts – preserving them for future generations – they also edited existing works and wrote new texts. They were considered to be members of the royal court and as such did not have to pay tax, undertake military service or perform manual labour.”
Scribes are the reason we know so much about ancient Egypt. The information they collected on walls and papyrus – sometimes as stories – has provided a detailed description of what life was like back then.
Today’s authors and reporters are essentially scribes, the protectors and developers of culture and central to research. One day, historians (or aliens) will look back on the human race and judge us by our art and culture, our newspapers and newscasts, our blogs and comics.
While reporters are doing the first writing of history, fiction writers are describing the emotional state of humans, life in a modern world with modern problems, our fears, dreams, hopes and challenges.
Like the dreams we experience at night, these stories take us away from reality. Also like dreams, stories help us realize how things might go if we follow the path of our protagonist (or antagonist) in similar circumstances.
Writing may be one of the oldest professions, but that doesn’t make it easy. If you’re a new writer, hang in there and don’t get frustrated by how difficult it can be.