Tales Found Abroad: A Day with Dickens

“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”
Charles Dickens

48 Doughty Street, Borough of Camden, London. Charles Dickens lived here in this gorgeous Georgian house. Here he dreamed, imagined, created and wrote from 8am to noon every day (a testament to the need for dedication, discipline and focus if one is to truly call oneself an author) from 1837-1839. The rest of his day involved going for walks and taking care of additional business. I am sure that those walks around London informed much of his writing and that on them, he took in the dialogue, smells, tastes and textures of the city at the time.

Here, on Doughty Street, he toiled at his desk (the one on display) and breathed life, colour and conversation into his ideas for characters such as Pip and Nicholas Nicholby. He spoke to them and they explained themselves in his fabulous narratives. He would often entertain people in his parlour, treating them to an electrifying reading from newly imagined pages upon which the ink was barely dry.

It might have been jetlag, but I felt a bit overwhelmed when we entered, like I was walking on some kind of hallowed ground, and in doing so, I might absorb some of Dickens’ genius through the very soles of my shoes! By the end of the visit, indeed I think I had…or at the very least found commonalities between Dickens’ experience as a writer and my own.

The house and its contents told a Tale of Two Dickens, presenting both the private and public sides to his personality. I loved seeing letters written in his own hand in curling cursive. I was impressed at his ‘touring writing podium/reading desk’ that he designed and had built especially for him. It showed he was one serious celebrity. I enjoyed discovering his life as an actor and seeing the souvenirs he collected in Montreal where he was the ‘stage manager’ in a play and where his wife also had a small role. He had a love of the stage and theatrics. He even had his own theatre for awhile!


There were playbills, posters, his writing desk, his bed, his dining room table, chairs and table settings, a set of his clothes and even Dickens’ commode as he was know to have tummy troubles (even writers have to…you know).


If someone were to create a museum to you, what would they place in it? What would these artefacts say about your life, your thoughts, your personality?

For me, they might include the coveted teaspoon collection that I inherited from my mom, or perhaps the ribbon I wore as the crowned Miss Summerama, or my Tickle Trunk…or everything fairy collection…or this mac where I dare to dream as Dickens did.

Leave your response in the comments section below!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tales Found Abroad: Lead Laden Curses and Long Lost Gems

What have the Romans ever done for us?

This question reminds me of a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. “All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?”

Can you picture Romans, in their tunics and cloaks setting up shop in Somerset, England thousands of years ago and bringing with them all of the above? Well that is exactly what happened! They brought, with their knowledge of irrigation and engineering, exquisite spa baths to the city known as Bath today!


The Romans were expert at blending cultures, with a heavy serving of their own added to the ones they infiltrated. The mineral springs at Bath were known prior to the Roman invasion.  It was said that a legendary Celtic King, Bladud was cured of leprosy in the 9thcentury BC by wading through the area’s warm mud. It wasn’t until the Romans arrived, though, that the baths gained true fame.

They developed the baths with Roman architecture and decorated them with Roman art, establishing a temple to Sulis Minerva there, a god they invented by merging the Celtic god Sulis with the Roman one, Minerva. The town was known as Aquae Sulis at the time and people came from far and wide to worship, bathe, exercise and gossip from 80 to 400 AD. When the Romans left, the site was abandoned.


Over time, other cultures built up over top of the town and it seemingly disappeared, until…in the 1700’s odd and interesting artefacts started popping up as sewers were being dug for the town above. In 1775, some workmen broke through a layer of rubble and discovered the spectacular Roman baths intact and in almost as good shape as they had been 1300 years ago!

I had the pleasure of digging for stories in Aquae Sulis myself. I am a lover of the strange and unusual, of mysteries and puzzles, particularly historic ones. On my journey to excavate story tidbits I came across a multitude of inspiring details.

Here are but a couple that were found in the drains of the pools of Aquae Sulis: Curse tablets and long lost gems.

Curse tablets were small messages engraved on lead or tin plates and then thrown by either the author or a priest into the waters at Sulis, to be taken care of by higher forces. Most were cursing people for stealing, and written with such vehemence, one would NOT want ot be on the receiving end of one.

The lost gems were interesting because they were so small, ornate and detailed. They most likely either came off the wearer’s jewellery in the hot water of the spa or were left as offerings. In these tiny gems, are insignias and carvings, so tiny they are hardly visible to the naked eye, but each means something.

I am sure I can find a place for a curse tablet or a long lost gem in a story somewhere. Can you? What would your character inscribe on a curse tablet? Who would they curse and why? What secret could be found in a long lost gem? What clue could it unlock? Tickle our imaginations by leaving your thoughts in the comment section! Happy writing!




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tales From Abroad: Gretta’s Ghosts

My close childhood friend, Gretta, lives in a small town in Oxfordshire, England called Harwell. Her home has a great deal of character and indeed seems to be inhabited by a few characters too.

Her house is over 400 years old and as you ascend to the third floor, the beams get increasingly lower and the wooden floors slant. As the uncarpeted and somewhat creaky stairs curl upwards, you have to duck a bit so as not to hit your head on the doorframes. It is absolutely gorgeous, spacious, comfortable and, well, as you might imagine…haunted.

No need for goosebumps though. Gretta’s home was once used as a schoolhouse, so any spirits there are benign, curious, helpful and respectful. They are not your typical troublemakers.

gretta's house

I had stayed there before, but in a different bedroom, a floor below, one that I felt sure should be haunted, but there was no supernatural activity that trip, at least none that I saw or heard. This trip was different. Some say that ghosts will only appear on the level of the home or place where they died or spent most of their time in the human realm.

One evening at dinner, we talked a lot about writing, schooling and Margaret Atwood (who is all the rage with her new novel coming out). I gave Gretta, her daughter and my husband a taste of “Hungry for Arts” my next book to be published; a little dramatic, old style reading around the table, as people did before television and the internet. They played along when I asked them to dance the motions of the Whammy Roo. It was fun and energized.

Other ears must have been listening in. That night, I did not sleep well. Something kept drawing me from slumber. Something or someone (there were two of them actually, standing side by side), kept wanting my attention. Over and over the little one said, “I’m Daisy.” The taller one said, “And I’m Evelyn. That’s EEEV-elyn, with a long E, not with a short E.”

“Remember us.”

“Write about us.”

“Put us in one of your stories.” They smiled excitedly.

Both were dressed in long skirts with pinafores and wore bonnets. Daisy had long, blonde hair. Evelyn could have been her sister, but certainly took a protective stance over Daisy. They did not come into the room, but stayed politely in the doorway…but the chatter!

They did not leave me alone until I acknowledged that indeed I would remember them and write about them. Their parting words, were, “Oh, and mind the stairs.”

The next day, I told Gretta about the girls, that was, after I fell down the stairs and earned myself a bruise the size of my palm.  I had not ‘minded the stairs.”

I told Gretta about the two and that they had given me their names. She was not surprised as people had told her that her place was haunted before. When I pronounced Evelyn’s name, I said it with a short E. Gretta said, “You mean EEEV-elyn”.

“Yes. EEEV-elyn.”

Do you have goosebumps now? Well I certainly do because I have to find a place for both Daisy and Evelyn in a story. One must always keep their promises to the spirits.

Have you ever seen a ghost or felt the presence of a spirit? Was it in a creepy setting or a rather normal one? Share a tidbit of your otherworldly story or suggest a place where one might encounter a ghost in the comment section below! Think out of the box!


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Harvest of Inspiration: Tales Found Abroad

I love travelling! It brings a change of scenery, a mix of new people, conversations, experiences and of course, inspiration that can fuel the details, conflicts and characters of stories both short and long.

I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to the United Kingdom which took us from Trafalgar and Piccadilly’s neon blinking, unevenly cobbled and vibrantly busy squares to thatched cottages and four poster beds down dark, quiet country lanes where we awoke to the cooing of morning doves and trays of home made jam and croissants and read Shakespeare and Shelley to one another.

It was my goal to find ‘aspects’ of a story or even a full story each day, to discover the fine details of setting, to expose myself to energies and artefacts that are not readily available ‘at home’.

My sensory bank is overflowing and there is an urgency, now that I am back to cash in on some of my experiences and find a venue for them. Where to begin? The various footsteps on the path below the bay window at our suite just off the shops on King’s Road in Chelsea? Some were slow and measured with a walking stick, others were more feverish, with a destination in mind and still others danced with the energy of a child walking one of the neighbourhood’s many wiener dogs. Should I begin with the tapestry of accents, the scent of a 400 year old pub? Should I describe the reflection in a London window, the taste of a Cornish pasty scalding out of the oven? Should I capture the feeling of being deep in the oak belly of Lord Nelson’s ship the Victory? Or reveal the conversations I had with a couple of young spirits in Harwell?

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration on this trip. England was a feast for all of my senses! All I had to do was look up, down and all around and most importantly…BOTH ways when I crossed the street. I’m sure they could tell I was Canadian by which way I chose to look first.

Stay tuned for more photos and blurbs in my autumn Harvest of Inspiration series! Leave a comment or share a story or a photo of what inspires you! Inspiration is a chain reaction!


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Summer Kickoff! A Couple of Hooray for Summer Poems.

School is out! Time for picnics, diving off docks, beaches, bike rides, mosquito bites, campfires, marshmallow roasts, shooting stars, holidays, outdoor concerts, baseball games, cut off shorts, running in the rain with your face turned towards the heavens, road trips and SPF 60. Summer conjures some of our favourite childhood memories and gives us the opportunity to create new ones. Summer is full of dog days…

dog at beach

Did you know that the expression dog days originated in ancient Rome?  They called the hottest, most humid days of summer “diēs caniculārēs” or “dog days.” The ancient Romans associated the hottest days of summer with the star Sirius, also known as the “Dog Star” because it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog).


So for all of you lovers of dog days and marshmallow roasts, here are a couple of summer poems composed by heading into grade 7 students Ivan and Andrew. Enjoy and don’t forget to try writing your own and leave it in the comment section!

Happy summer everyone!


Summ’r,Thy Attributes Ye Shareth

By: Ivan Sun

Summ’r o summ’r,

thy bright blue sky,

thy shining stars,

glistening right by.


I adore thy warmth,

and plaited rays.

I visited the beach,

ye madeth so valorous,

I wast out of speech,

It wast marvelous.


The sunset ye provideth,

the beaming of lighteth,

on the tide,

the quite quaint sunset,

blasts of colour and lighteth,


On the beach,

the smooth, satisfying sand,

eating a peach,

listening to a night band with mine own cater-cousins,

staring at stars.

The days art longeth now.

Plenty of timeth to playeth,


The wind doth blow,

the summ’r day goeth.

I am nev’r blue,

lots on mine own mind,

I maketh the most out of the most wondrous summ’r!

Enjoying the attributes thee shareth with cater-cousins, and family!


Ode to Summer

By: Andrew Li


Oh summer oh summer
how lovely you are,
I’ve been waiting for you eagerly,

like a shooting star!

Chilling with best friends
No more work in mind
closing all my textbooks
what a wonderful time!

The grill slowly heats up,
cold drinks are handed out.
The aroma of steak rising,
a backyard party breaks out!

Oh summer oh summer
I wish your cousins were confined
My love is always with you
Your days dance in my mind



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You Need Space to Write Your Own Adventure

Have you heard that some authors, when writing, use different coloured sticky notes to plot out their stories? They jot down ideas then make a timeline all around their writing space. Imagine miles (or kilometres) of neon pink, yellow and orange squares snaking around the walls of your room!

Well, author Kris Yang had a similar experience when writing his choose your own adventure book called, “Triton’s Adventures in Minecraft”. Every week, he had to compose two different endings to his chapter, which then often branched out into two additional endings.

The only way to keep track of all of his plotlines was to print the drafts out and tape them together to see where they matched up and to make sure there were no holes or omissions. In the end, Kris’ story took up a lot of space, as it slowly spread across the room page by page.


It took at least a year to complete his book. Kris’ advice to other writers is, “If you would like to write a book like this be mentally ready because it is quite a challenge.”

Kris kept himself busy with a variety of other writing during his choose your own adventure project. He researched and wrote a poem for the Royal Canadian Legion’s poetry competition taking several weeks to carefully compose it. The result…his poem won first place in the Junior Poetry Division both municipally and regionally. It went on to compete at the provincial level where it fared very well.

His poem is featured below. Research, diligence, old photographs, patience, paper, sticky tape, rhyme zone and the thesaurus helped Kris to achieve being both a winning poet and author of a unique choose your own adventure book within the space of a year. The teaser for his newest novel is, in his own words, “About a kid who goes to a new boarding school where ‘stuff’ happens.”

Paying My Respects

By: Kris Yang

Bodies never found

Maybe buried in a mound

Three thousand five hundred ninety eight

Took the hand of fate

On the ridge at Vimy.

Trapped in no mans land

Our heroes could not withstand

Seven hundred thirty three cut clean

They died at the scene

Battling at The Somme.

Raiding from the sea

They were ordered not to flee

Five thousand fought on France’s shore

Witnessed too much gore

On the beach at Dieppe.

Each year for one day

Our heartfelt respects we pay

To the warriors who fell for us

Whose bravery we discuss

On Remembrance Day.

I wonder what I’d do

If I were twenty-two

And had to face a war

Do things I might deplore

To protect my home.

As the bagpipes play

I silently pray

For those who bore the pain

So Canada could attain

Safety, peace and hope.






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Playful “Hungry for Science” Ideas for National Poetry Month!

It’s April and what better time to turn your thoughts to poetry as the cherry trees begin to blossom and people around the world experience an awakening as they sit, dreaming, their faces turned skyward under them. For my friends in Australia…well, you’ll have to wait a few more months…but enjoy the change in seasons all the same.


April is National Poetry Month and to celebrate why not read, write or engage your senses with the language and lyricism of haiku, cinquains, sonnets, free verse…the list is enormous. Why not take it one step further, publish your work and hold a poetry café for a few friends and family?

Recently, at my Spring Break Camps at the VSO School of Music in Vancouver, we had the opportunity to publish some “Hungry for Science: Poems to Munch on” inspired writing.

Our young authors read “An Elephant in the Classroom” and then built accordian books to take home. They wrote and illustrated their own stories or poems. The process is easy and the materials simple, the result…a class full of proud and creative students, with 100 different approaches as to how to get the elephant, unstuck.


Materials: Construction paper or paper that has a strong consistency


Glue sticks

Crayons, markers, pencil crayons, pencils, erasers

Link to how to make accordian books: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGh7b-ABWRY

This is only one of the ways to make accordian books. My method is even simpler and has just a thicker paper cover, 8.5 by 11 paper folded in half (landscape style) and glued at the outer edges to create the accordian flaps. These papers are glued to the thicker paper cover and students write and illustrate inside. Extra hint, students can use a combination of collage and illustration to create pages in the book instead of just drawing them all.

This simple approach to publishing will have young writers and artists blossoming in no time!

For more details, give me a shout or send some samples of student publications, I am happy to highlight them!




Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Planting Creative Seeds with “Hungry For Science” and the VSO School of Music

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are the seeds of today.” Chinese proverb.

In one of the final days of Spring Break Camp at the VSO School of Music we gardened our minds and used our hands to create works of art for our windowsills.

Scary Mary, of “Scary Mary’s Garden Tour” fame made an appearance. The kids loved that her horticulture was a fun and colourful version of ‘horrific’ (thanks Peggy Collins) and wondered if they could also grow zombie faced roses!

We acted out the poem, becoming different kinds of sharp toothed plants in Scary Mary’s garden. We brainstormed symbols of gardening and drew them on the board. We talked about the children’s experiences in gardens and the importance of nurturing seeds and the things they need to grow.


On to art! Using some of the symbols that we brainstormed, students used acrylic paint to decorate plant pots. You could even tie a math lesson in here (patterns). They were left overnight to dry, then we loaded them full of soil and some ‘secret seeds’.  I didn’t tell them what kind of plant would grow (mountain flowers), only that they would have to take care of them and see what popped up!

Materials: Terra cotta plant pots with trays, seeds (preferably fast growing), acrylic paint, paint trays or paper plates (for mixing paints), various sized paint brushes, water, cups, paper towel, plastic table cloth, if possible paint bibs,

What creative ideas will you plant?





Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Day Three: Full STEAM Ahead: Hungry for Science Encourages Young Engineers!

It was day three at the VSO School of Music Spring Break Camp and it was jam packed with fun!


We read “A House Like That” by Kari-Lynn Winters. This poem in “Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch on” really lends itself to movement, discovery, experimentation and building.

Beginning with some drama warm ups, we created different structures, such as the ones mentioned in the poem, using our bodies; a great activity for building teamwork and collaboration. We then used vocal sounds and body movements to build a machine incorporating elements of drama such as extension, expression and levels. See full set of instructions at:


A true highlight was building our own take home structures using common household and craft materials and of course, marshmallows. I loved watching how each student created something completely different! They were faced with all kinds of obstacles and questions that they had to work through themselves.

They had to name their creation, discuss its uses, make it freestanding, so pieces had to balance, think of symmetry and so much more. Each student did a presentation at the end, introducing their structure to the rest of the class.

You can make your own rules for this activity! It can be done in groups or as individuals. You can provide criteria such as you must have triangles in your structure or that each group/participant is given the same, limited amount of materials and must build from there.

Materials could include: modeling clay, toothpicks, marshmallows, Dixie cups, paper, wooden skewers or popsicle sticks, glue…


Enjoy the process! And try not to eat all of the marshmallows!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Using Crayon Resist and Math Poetry to Explore the Seasons: An Easy, Accessible Activity to Accompany Reading “Cycles” in “Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch on”


It is day two of my spring break camp with the VSO School of Music. Invigorated and enlivened by the  smiles and enthusiasm of the young students enrolled in the class, I find myself inspired at the end of the day.

I am far from a visual artist but I do, as children do, like to play with art materials without having to be perfect. I found this activity to be relaxing, easy and inexpensive. Everyone could be a success!


First we read the poem, “Cycles” from “Hungry for Science: Poems to Crunch on”. We then explored, using drama and movement the kinds of things we liked to do in each season. We played versions of “Freeze Dance”, created tableaux and spoke in role to generate ideas. This led to a good brainstorm of activities and images that we associated with each season. I wrote these on the board, demonstrated how to do the crayon resist activity and away we went!

Materials:Crayons, watercolour paints, paintbrushes, water and water containers, plastic table cloth, paper towels, plain white paper or watercolour paper.

How to: After brainstorming images for each season, have students draw their image, in crayon on a blank sheet of paper. Make sure they colour heavily and leave some white space. When complete, have them paint over top of their image with watercolour. The paint should not really stick to the parts covered in crayon, it resists the wax. Allow them to dry and voila! Beautiful artwork!

Extensions: Have students write a math equation poem to go with their artwork. They can write this before they draw their pictures on the bottom of their sheet, preferably in marker or sharpie. An example might be: Sun + Sand = Beach!

Students can also create their own set of artwork by creating an illustration for each season.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment