Maybe I’m Writing; Maybe I’m Not

Success as a writer depends on many things. When I started writing fiction I didn’t think much about being successful. I just wrote. I wanted to create an interesting story in an imaginary setting. It took me years, but I completed that story, then revised it several times. In some ways it was a waste of time.

Despite all the revising, I knew it wasn’t a good story. It had fatal construction flaws. During those years I also began exploring authors’ blogs and writing sites. That’s when I realized I didn’t know how to write a novel, so I backed off the writing and began reading how-to books.

Since then I’ve written more novels. I’ve even sent off occasional queries and submissions, investigating the possibility of agent representation and publication. But I haven’t persevered. The reasons are vague — partly lack of confidence in the quality of my work, partly reluctance to share with a public audience what seems like a very private part of me.

To be a good writer I truly believe one has to be honest — willing to do what K.M. Weiland so aptly describes in her recent blog post:

“Creating is about sticking your fist down deep in your soul, ruthlessly clawing at whatever you can find, and then dragging it out to be shared in the shocking light of day.”

In the novels I’ve written, I haven’t been digging down far enough. I know I’m a private person, and that has me wondering if I can ever find what it will take to write with complete abandon and honesty.

Does that mean I’m thinking about quitting? No, I love writing too much; but my goals may be changing. Instead of writing fiction, I’ve been inserting other tasks into my free time, feeling the push to complete projects that have been sitting in a corner (literally) for years. One involves gathering bits and pieces of our family history together to finally create our family tree. I’m sure my advancing years play a part in this (I’m appalled at how quickly time passes!) but a dose of reality is redirecting my focus.

I’m interested in your feedback. If you’re a writer, has your writing journey moved ahead without interruptions? Has it ever changed directions? Am I wrong in taking my current approach?

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I’m Irish! (but what’s in a name?

Truthfully, there’s only a part of me that’s Irish, but I’ve embraced it for as long as I can remember. My maiden name was McGuire, and I always thought my Grandfather Henry McGuire was born in Ireland. One of the things I remember best about him is all the Irish stories, true and otherwise, he would tell us grandchildren. Our official family tree, however, places his birth in West Arthurlie, Barrhead, Neilston, RFW Scotland.

Henry & Winnifred McGuire

Henry and a brother came to Canada and settled in an area just north and west of Edmonton, Alberta where a group of farmers set up the Paddle River and District Coop. A central point in the area was chosen for a store, and when an application was made to have a post office in it, a name had to be submitted. The McGuire brothers suggested Barrhead in recognition of their home in Scotland, and this was adopted.*

However, the McGuires (or Maguires) really did originate in Ireland.

“The Irish family of Maguire, the chiefs of Fermanagh since the year 1302, derive their name and descent from Odhar, the eleventh in descent from Colla-da-chrich, great-grandson of Cormac Mac Art, monarch of Ireland about the middle of the third century.”**

Maguiresbridge in County Fermanagh (Gaelic: Droichead Mhig Uidhir), takes its name from the family.

How did these Irish end up in Scotland?

John & Edith Aconit

“Irish immigration to Scotland was part of a well- established feature of early 19th century life in Ireland: the annual harvest migration. Scotland was Ireland’s closest neighbour (only 13 miles separate the two countries at one point)…

In the 1820s, up to 8,000 economic migrants crossed back and forth across the Irish Sea every year, bound for seasonal agricultural work or other temporary contractual work in northern England, Wales and Scotland….

While most of the temporary migrants and probably a small proportion of the skilled workers eventually returned home to Ireland, some chose to settle permanently….

In Girvan, Ayrshire, for instance, some three-quarters of the 6,000 population was Irish-born in 1831. By 1841, when the earliest Scottish census was taken, some 125,321 (4.8%) of the 2.6 million population was Ireland-born.

For my purposes today, it’s adequate to know they did, and some subsequently came to Canada.

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I married a Garvin, Scottish in name, but with an Irish connection I didn’t know about at the time. In a family history compiled by my brother-in-law, Murray Garvin, I learned…

“According to my father’s account, three Girvans migrated from the town of Girvan, Scotland [to Ireland]. One located in Carrickfergus, one in Stoneyford, County Down, and one at Glencoe, County Antrim, and it was from the Glencoe settler that we have our origin.”

Girvan was the original spelling of our name. That Glencoe settler was one David Girvan who had been born in Scotland in 1586. Traced through his lineage, two brothers, Robert and another David, emigrated from Ireland to the United States and then came to Canada in 1831.

“Robert Girvan, on reaching Canada, settled on the 4th line of Golburne (sic) Township, Richmond County, Ontario, taking up land and also opening a blacksmith shop.”

Robert married in 1836/38 and he and his wife Sarah Vaughan had fourteen children. Yes, fourteen! Seven of the girls were baptized, but apparently none of the boys. In baptismal records, spelling of the family name takes various forms, possibly because they were written phonetically, and, as the account suggests, “perhaps the Irish accent added to the confusion.” Two of the girls’ names were recorded as Girvin, one was Girvan, and four were Garvin, as were the parents. However, on his gravestone the father’s name is inscribed as Girvin. Our line carried on as Garvin, although we have relatives in Ontario who use Girvan. Ackk! What confusion!

Enough about names! It’s time to celebrate all things Irish. I’m ready to indulge in a little wearing’ o’ the green, and maybe have a slice of the chocolate brownies I’ve topped with green peppermint icing. It would go down nicely with a mug of Irish coffee … but I’m not sure I have the makings on hand. I suppose I shouldn’t admit to that, being Irish and all. 😉

Oh, and the photos here? They’re of my paternal and maternal grandparents. I was fortunate to know all four of them for many years, unlike my hubby who was just four when his last grandparent died. There are fewer photos of them but perhaps I’ll hunt them up for a future post.

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*TRAILS NORTHWEST
Barrhead and District Historical Society

**THE MAGUIRES OF FERMANAGH
By John O’Donovan

Giraffe Cam Addiction

I know, I know … you think I’ve abandoned this blog. Well, I haven’t. Admittedly, I’ve been distracted lately. Ever since discovering the live web cam at Harpursville, NY’s Animal Adventure Park, I keep checking their pregnant giraffe, April, in every spare moment.

I think giraffes are remarkable creatures; baby giraffes are particularly adorable. When our children were growing up they had a collection of bendable animal toys, including the ever-popular Gumby and Pokey. All of them were small enough to constantly get misplaced and one by one they disappeared. All except the giraffe. For some reason it outlasted them all. In fact, it was still around to be sold in a garage sale long after our kids were grown up and had moved away.

I’m not a huge fan of wild animals in captivity except where the focus is on preservation and education, which is the case at A.A.L. Right now a lot of people are being educated in all matters pertaining to giraffes.

Giraffe’s have a fifteen-month gestation, and April’s due date was considered to be “sometime in January or February”. Day by passing day an increasing number of viewers from all around the world (254,029 subscribers at last count, but millions are tuning in. It’s become a global phenomenon. ) have been watching for the arrival of the new calf. It’s like watching paint dry! We keep staring at her, but nothing seems to change.

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“Hello! Are you watching me?”

April’s mate, Oliver, is a young and feisty bull, but April is more mature at fifteen, and is gentle and sweet-natured. Everyone loves her. We’ll love her calf, too … When. It. Finally. Arrives! In the meantime, I’m not getting much done. A little writing. A little reading. Lots of complaining about our weather.

But tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. I’m going to bake a loaf of Irish Soda Bread. Oh … wouldn’t it be the perfect day for the calf to arrive? The adventure park staff are going to have a naming contest for it. If it came today, Stormy would suit it since Harpursville is in the midst of a nasty snowstorm, but if it arrives tomorrow, Paddy would be perfect. I’m Irish. I’m hoping for tomorrow.

(I’ll edit this to add a note and screen shot when the new little one arrives.)

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My Memory (or Lack Thereof)

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I take my mind for granted until it fails me. In my younger years it wasn’t uncommon to forget a name, or forget to pick up something I’d planned to get while grocery shopping, but at that age nobody worried about a bit of forgetfulness. In my ‘golden’ years, such lapses make me stop and ponder whether I’m losing my mind altogether. Still, I take a deep breath and tell myself that hasn’t actually happened…yet.

What brought this to mind today was the recent frustration of not being able to remember the magazines that used to carry a favourite article. Granted, it was forty years ago that I eagerly awaited each issue. The featured article was written by Marjorie Holmes and most often it was just a bit of homestyle wisdom or a descriptive observation. I loved her outlook on life and her way of expressing it on the page long before I realized she was a successful author of many books.

But could I remember the name of even one of the magazines? Nope. The harder I tried, the more elusive it became. Exasperated, I finally put it aside and left to do something else … and promptly had the names of two magazines — Family Circle and Woman’s Day — pop into my head, both of which carried Ms. Holmes’ articles. My mind likes to play games with me. Maybe it finds that kind of thing entertaining. Personally, I find it annoying.

It’s frustrating to have my body fail me as it ages, but as the quirky quotation says, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” * Way back in 2009 I posted on the topic  ‘Where Does the Mind Go?’. Eight years later I still don’t have that answer. I do know it doesn’t help to stress over it.

There’s a notebook and pen on my bedside table because no matter how much I might struggle (and fail) to sort out a particular scene in one of my writing projects in the daytime, I can be sure if there is a solution it will find its way out of my grey matter just as I’m dozing off for the night (and  I’ve learned from experience I won’t remember it in the morning). The urge to burrow deeper under the covers is overcome by the urgency to record precious words; I reach for the notebook.

It’s a contradiction that I focus most efficiently when a deadline is looming, but the one hundred billion neurons in my brain won’t cooperate when I try to force them. I know that, but still….

With Alzheimer’s in my family, possibly I’m super-sensitive to memory lapses. Do I put too much importance on the need to remember everything exactly when I want to? Maybe my problem isn’t about memory so much as impatience.

At least I can be comforted by knowing I haven’t tried hanging up my truck keys in the refrigerator or some other equally inappropriate place. But at this rate, if I’m to keep frustration at bay, I think I may need a larger collection of notebooks so there will always be one close by when my memory provides some recollection that I’m bound to forget again within moments. I’m also going to have to develop some kind of indexing system so I can locate the record of those memories when I need them.

Now, back to hunting up that Marjorie Holmes article.

~

If you’d like a good explanation about how memory and the brain work, this Science Daily article is an interesting read.

*Attributed to both Ozzy Osbourne and Mark Twain

“Snowmaggedon” 2017

I’m sure many of us have admired Currier and Ives Christmas card scenes — picturesque drifts of snow, frosty wreaths on doors and gates glistening under a dusting of fresh powder, shoppers bustling along sidewalks, smiling and greeting each other. Maybe the spire of a country church is outlined against a brilliant winter sky. Or a farmhouse nestles into a stand of snow-laden trees, windows outlined with twinkling coloured lights.

Then there are the beautiful nature scenes. So very pretty!

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It’s all very magical and nostalgic. The trouble is, this isn’t the entire picture. While admiring such scenes, there’s a reality we tend to forget.

Impassable roads, burdened branches and breaking trees…

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Damaged power lines…

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Constant clearing of snow and ice to facilitate going anywhere on sidewalks, driveways and roads…

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(Yes, everyone helps!)

Trying to salvage expensive garden shrubs, often to no avail…

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Are you getting the picture? I love the beauty of a fresh snowfall as much as anyone does, but if you’d been within earshot this past week you’d likely have heard my hubby and me muttering about the dratted white stuff. After all, enough is enough!

All these photos were taken on our property and street. The heaviest snowfall we’ve had in twenty years blanketed the neighbourhood over several days last weekend, taking down trees and power lines, and plunging us into four days without electricity — no lights, cookstoves or water. Fortunately, we do have a wood-burning fireplace in the family room, plus three kerosene lamps, and an emergency supply of bottled water. We spent most of our days huddled in the one warm room which usually stayed around 15-17 degrees celsius as long as we got up a few times during the nights to keep stoking the fire. The bedrooms, however, were a chilly five degrees. Thank goodness for cozy down duvets!

Of course we survived. I suppose it was an adventure of sorts, but we’ve seen enough snow for now. I’m thankful to have all our electrical conveniences back. I’d be happy to get our television cable restored, too (it’s been off for a week), but that’s a minor inconvenience.

I’m ready for spring. Crocuses and snowdrops are buried somewhere under all this white stuff and we’re hoping the predicted warming trend  will soon return us to more typical balmy west coast February weather. I think our local critters would appreciate that, too. These guys are camping out on our back deck, begging for extra birdseed.

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(Douglas Squirrel)

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(Varied Thrush)

No, there’s no real point to this post. I’m just complaining a bit. Once in a while a body just has to let loose and rant. 🙂

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Musing

More than six years have passed since I wrote about a young man in our church (see ‘Supporting a Young Singer/Songwriter’s Dream‘) … about his talent and his dream. Johnathan Booy didn’t win the CBC competition that year, but he has made great strides towards achieving his dream.

In 2015 he graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Music, and then went on the next year to complete a Master’s Degree in Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games at Berklee College of Music, Valencia Campus in Spain.

On his website his Bio says,

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the best musicians around the world, recording at amazing studios such as AIR Lyndhurst in London, Budapest Scoring Stage, and The Warehouse in Vancouver.”

He’s already made good progress on his journey and I have no doubt he will reach his goals. In the world of artistic endeavours he has what it takes — talent, desire, persistence, and a humble, faith-filled heart. His music always moves me. (He’s a source of inspiration to me, too, as I putz my way towards goals of my own, in writing and publication.)

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It’s also a particular joy that he has returned to BC just at the right time to once again fill a vacancy in our church. As of February 1st he has become our pianist, choral director and Director of Music. Haney Presbyterian Church is blessed!

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Enduring Winter’s Blahs

dsc01298Bit by bit we’re emerging. Snow is receding and the grass is becoming visible. At the same time, I’m emerging from my germ-infested fog. I’ve had this winter’s common complaint — a cold/flu/whatever-it-is bug that has kept me inactive since before New Year’s.

I’m tired of it — the bug and the snow — but it’s hanging on, so I apologize in advance if I sound cranky. Our balmy west coast usually has a week of cold weather and perhaps once in a decade or so will get a prolonged spell of it. Back in 2008 and 2009 we didn’t see green grass here for three solid months, but that’s most unusual.

It’s equally unusual for me to get sick — at least nothing beyond the occasional mild cold. I’ve dutifully gone for my flu shots every fall for many years, and I’m sure that helped me avoid the annual misery. However, I had my flu shot this year, too, only to hear recently that it might not be as effective as it was in previous years, depending on the strain(s) of flu virus prevalent in this area. ::sigh:: Apparently I was doomed to get this.

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I know I just have to wait it out. There’s no other way to get past this winter’s “blahs”. An active not passive kind of waiting is probably the most beneficial. I’m trying to engage in activities that don’t require too much energy but that actually accomplish something worthwhile. Writing annual reports, history scrapbooking, reading my way through the TBR pile of books stacked on shelves in my office.

Often as not though, I just end up dozing off to sleep again. I’ve managed to pass at least the cold part of this bug to my hubby, so we’re a less-than-energetic twosome these days. At this rate it’s going to be a while before we’ll be ready to tackle clearing downed trees and tying up damaged shrubs and broken branches (of which there are several). It doesn’t sound like we’ll get to it before next weekend’s predicted snow flurries. Drat!

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