Writing during this pandemic

cropped-finalist-sticker-a.pngJust over a year ago I experienced the rush of excitement that came with having my first novel, “The Book of Answers” included on the short list for the “Unhanged Arthur”. It’s a prize for unpublished crime novels, co-sponsored by Dundurn Press and Crime Writers of Canada.

Link to announcement of nominations

20190523_192551I had a great time at the awards banquet. It was held in the banquet hall of Toronto’s historic Arts and Letters Club, which felt a lot like Hogwarts.

I was not at all shocked when another book, The Scarlet Cross, by Liv McFarlane won the award. For me, it was more than enough to make the move from the “long list” of ten, to the “short list” of five authors from across Canada whose work was considered for this honour.

It did come as a surprise that all five finalist’s works were to be read by the acquisitions team at Dundurn. They are a Canadian publishing house with an impressive list of books and authors.

I have had good, and useful feedback on my first serious effort, and I continue to learn the craft. My writing mentor said most first novels don’t end up being published. I am okay with that, and have moved on to work on a second story, tentatively called “The Book of Secrets”. It involves some of the characters from the first novel.

The editors at Dundurn might not be waiting with anticipation, but I look forward to sending them the new one to consider, when the time comes. (I just checked their website, and Dundurn is not currently inviting new submissions, so I guess there’s no great hurry!)

As  one of my fellow nominees, Heather McLeod noted recently, fiction writers in this strange time have to contend creatively with the pandemic. Do they set their story before COVID-19, during, or after?

For me, it seems too soon to write about life after COVID-19.  I have seen new micro-fiction set “during”, which captures some of the mood, and the questions of this time.

My first novel was set roughly in modern day. (Which was pre-COVID-19) That was the plan with my current effort, but I have found it hard to make the mental leap back into a world (even a fictional one) in which people are not worried about physical distancing and quarantines.

It’s the same problem I watching tv shows and movies, unless they are clearly historical pieces. What are they doing on that crowded street?

I do want to get back to the work (play) of writing about my protagonist, Tom Book, and his family and friends (and enemies). Whenever I do make the dive into the part of my brain where imaginary world lives, it’s still an interesting place to be.

 

A Night at Hogwarts: The Arthur Ellis Awards Gala

arts and letters societyThe dining room at St. George’s Hall, home since 1908 to Toronto’s Arts and Letters Society, has an ancient grandeur to it. Dark paneled walls, heavy wooden furniture, and leaded glass windows set high above us. It would make a great setting for an Agatha Christie novel, or a Sherlock Holmes story.

My wife Lexie (the one in the bottom corner of the photo, with the beautiful smile) joined me for the Crime Writers of Canada gala banquet, at which the winners of the 2019 Arthur Ellis Awards were anno20190523_192551unced. I was one of five authors whose unpublished crime novels made the short list for an award sponsored by Dundurn Press. The nominations in our category included:

cropped-finalist-sticker-a-1.pngJim Bottomley, Hypnotizing Lions
Don Macdonald, Omand’s Creek
Liv McFarlane, The Scarlet Cross
Heather McLeod, One for the Raven
Darrow Woods, The Book of Answers
I had the opportunity to meet and to congratulate Jim, Liv and Heather. Don Macdonald was the sole nominee not present for the announcement of the winning manuscript, which was The Scarlet Cross, by Liv McFarlane. Liv went home with the trophy, and a cheque for $500.00. She made a great impromptu acceptance speech. I was impressed with her eloquence, and her passion for this work.
20190523_215737 (1)The photo next to this paragraph is of me with Heather McLeod, who travelled with her mother (a librarian!) all the way from B.C. for the awards banquet.
I was happy for Heather, and for all the nominees, to get this far! Each of our manuscripts will be read by the acquisitions department at Dundurn Press. They are distinguished from other submissions received by publishers, as “Finalists” for an Arthur Ellis Award.
I am eager to read each of works nominated in our category, as well as some of the other award winners announced at the ceremony.
My writing teacher and friend, Melodie Campbell, was the emcee for the evening’s melodie campbellprogram. She also found time to introduce me to a number of her fellow authors, as well as other prominent people in the Canadian publishing scene.
Melodie is a former executive director of Crime Writers of Canada, an award winning novelist, and an inspiring teacher. You can learn more at her website:
At Melodie’s urging, I entered this competition in the fall of 2018, with the submission of 5000 words from my first attempt at writing a mystery novel. I was thrilled when the judges asked for the rest of the manuscript, and it was added to the “long list” of 10 books to be given further consideration. It was so much more exciting, and affirming, to learn in April that I’d made the short list of 5 nominees.
I consider each of us who completed a manuscript, and have had our work read and critiqued by a panel of readers, to be winners! Our efforts are receiving positive attention, and we are being encouraged by family members, friends, and now people in the industry.
We were not really at Hogwarts, but it was an evening of mystery, and magic.

The Local News

The-Harrow-News-PublishingI was interviewed today, by Shelby Wye, who writes for The Harrow News, a great local paper that serves the town where I work as the United Church minister. When Shelby called to set our time to meet, I asked if we could do the interview after I finished lunch at the Harrow branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. They have a lunch special on “Wacky Wednesdays” that can’t be beat, and I’d planned to go there with a group from the church, when they finished cleanup from a pie-making bee. (The church operates a pie booth at the Harrow Fall Fair that is a huge fund-raiser for our work in the community.)

While I was at the Legion, I checked in with some members of the executive about the annual grave decorating day, which happens on the first Sunday of June. Legion members and friends remove the old Canadian flags from the graves of veterans, and place new ones. As the son of an air force vet, who kind of grew up around the Legion, I am happy to be involved.

But back to the interview! Shelby, who in her words, “heard from a little bird” about my being a finalist for the 2019 Unhanged Arthur Ellis Award, came by to talk to me about my mystery novel, my aspirations as an author, and the competition. We had a great conversation, and she took a photo for the paper of me holding my manuscript. In the interest of full disclosure, the photo that will appear in the Harrow News will show me with a mock up of the actual manuscript, because at this point, it only exists in digital form. Click the link below to the imagined book cover I created, long before I actually wrote the novel.

book cover mock up

A home for things I write

20190515_185448My first mystery novel, The Book of Answers, made the short-list for The Unhanged Arthur Ellis, an award for unpublished crime fiction. The annual competition is sponsored by Dundurn Press and CrimeWriters of Canada. On May 23, my wife and I attended a banquet at Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club, where I had the honour of meeting other authors who were nominated, as well as a number of editors, publishers, and authors. It was great fun!

The winning manuscript in my category, the Unhanged Arthur Award for best unpublished crime novel, was The Scarlet Cross, by Liv McFarlane. You can learn more about Liv at her website: https://livmcfarlane.com/

I look forward to reading The Scarlet Cross, and the work of the other nominees:

  • Hypnotizing Lions by Jim Bottomley
  • Omand’s Creek by Don Macdonald
  • One for the Raven by Heather McLeod

 

That the manuscript of my first ever novel was even considered for such an honour, has inspired me to improve my online presence. This site is a re-tooling of my old “Sharing Bread Along The Way” blog, along with old material from “The Fifth Page”, which is where I used to post what didn’t make it into my sermons, which are always a maximum of 4 pages. (I now call them “learning times”, to reflect the truth that I am still learning as I go.)

I am a minister in The United Church of Canada, currently serving the congregation and wider community of Harrow, in beautiful Essex County, Ontario. In the words of Max Marshall, a singer-songwriter from Harrow, it’s a “bread-basket town” in “fruit-stand land”. You should also check out Max, he’s great! 

https://www.maxmarshall.org/about