Sunday, January 30, 2005


"All tragedies deal with fated meetings; how else could there be a play? Fate deals its stroke; sorrow is purged, or turned to rejoicing; there is death, or triumph, there has been a meeting, and a change. No one will ever make a tragedy -- and that is as well, for one could not bear it --whose grief is that the principals never met."
Mary Renault, "The Mask of Apollo"

My first introduction to contemporary dramas were the tragedies of Tennessee Williams. In particular, my favorite play and probably one of the best plays ever written, "A Streetcar Named Desire", first performed on Broadway in 1947 starring Marlon Brando as "Stanley Kowalski" and Jessica Tandy as "Blanche Dubois". Brando reprised his role in the movie, filmed in 1951, with Vivien Leigh as "Blanche". As far as I can remember, that was my introduction to Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando. Williams became my playwright idol and Brando my favorite actor.

This weekend I took another ride on A Streetcar Named Desire and it was just as thrilling a ride as that first one all those years ago. Friday night I went to see the stage production.
Saturday night a friend came for dinner and we watched the movie. It was interesting to compare the two. Most intriguing was how the movie stuck excatly to the play script and even the sets of the play I'd seen Friday were very similar to the movie sets. I could see how the actress who played "Blanche" had studied Vivien Leigh's interpretation, to that high Southern drawl to the fluttering hand movements, though Vivien was a much more fragile Blanche and her voice was often low and sultry, whereas the actress's voice sometime became too shrill and tedious and there was too much hand fluttering. The young man who played "Stanley" was also very good although not the powerful hunk that Brando was. But then, who ever could follow those impeccable, brilliant performances of Brando and Leigh?

"Whoever you are -- I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Blanche Dubois,
"A Streetcar Named Desire." Tennessee Williams, 1947

Soon after being introduced to Tennessee William's plays, (I've since seen the movie versions of all and some of the stage productions too), I wrote my first serious drama. I was eighteen and in love for the first time. Tragically, my boyfriend and his two buddies had been introduced to a drug, unknown to us kids at the time, heroin. Within two weeks I saw my beloved boyfriend become addicted for life. It was my first real-life tragedy and one that would affect me for years to come.

I first wrote "The Street: A Modern Tragedy" as a cautionary tale for my peers. As far as I know at that time, there weren't any other plays, and few novels written about heroin addiction. In fact, there was no drug education at all and I spent hours in the library researching the subject so I could understand exactly what this horrible substances was that had taken over my boyfriend's life.

Somehow, with a troupe of young would-be actors, we managed to stage the play. Of course this early version of "The Street" was santized to suit the critical eye of my parents. Everything I wrote was censored. I could not possibly portray things the way I knew they were. I was, after all, an 18 year old preacher's kid. I was not supposed to know these things.
As well, society in the '50's dictated and censored a lot of what could be talked about and performed. Even the movies then were tame and sanitized. Roger Ebert notes: "In 1951, you had to guess a lot of things that are now made clear."

Surprisingly, the little amature production, which ran for two nights in a local hall and received some publicity from the newspaper where I worked as a copy-runner, was quite a success. We also had the sponsorship of a new organization, Narcotic Anonymous.

A few months later I decided to write another play on the same subject. When it came out that I was planning another such production, my father informed me that he had received a phone call that if I was to write another drug play, I'd be in serious trouble. Who knows who it was made such a call? But it put the damper on my aspirations, so I let it be.

Many years later, because of my involvement with a small local theatre group who produces plays of social conscience and issues, I mentioned "The Street" to the producer, Jay. He wanted to see it, and more or less for a joke, I dug out the old worn script from the archives.
It was the first time I'd looked at it for years and was frankly amazed at how a pathetic, amature piece of work like that had ever seen the light of day and been performed.

Jay was enthusiastic. At that time there was much publicity in our city about the overwhelming problems with drugs. This play was an East End play, based on true events, and he wanted to produce it. Obviously he wouldn't be able to do it in its original amature state, so I took a playwright's course at the college and over the course of the next two years I developed a new version of "The Street". This time there were no censors, no parents who would prohibit me from writing what was in my heart, and from my experience. The play is somewhat autobiographical. Of course I changed some situations including names. In the play, the male protagonist, Johnny Festa, is a good boy from an East End Italian immigrant family. I did use actual settings and the name of the cafe was real as it no longer exists.
"Angela" his girlfriend, is (like me) a pastor's daughter. Although I fictionalized much of the play, I also stuck pretty close to the way it was including scraps of dialogue that I recalled had actually happened during my relationship with my boyfriend.

To bring this tragedy more up-to-date, I had actually had a reunion with this boyfriend, Jimmy, 8 years before. After all those years, it turned out he was still addicted so I had to break off the relationship. In fact, just before the play was to open, a reporter who was interviewing me, tried to contact Jimmy and found out that he had died two years earlier of a brain tumour that had gone undetected due to his years of addiction to heroin and methadone. The tragedy had played itself out. From that first terrible day in the park at the Italian picnic back in 1953 when he showed me the outfit he had in the glove-compartment, to the day of his death 45 years later, Jimmy was an addict.

The new version of "The Street: A Modern Tragedy" opened Nov. 22, 2000 and ran for three successful weeks. After every performance there was a panel of drug counsellors, police, parents of addicts, addicts, social workers etc. Some nights it was like a revival meeting. Every night there were addicts in the audience who wanted to tell their stories, and girlfriends or parents of addicts who wanted to know what to do. It was the most powerful, moving experience of my writer's life. And one of the biggest thrills was when Jay, the producer and various other people, actors and audience, told me how much the play was so "Tennessee Williams". What an honour to know that I had written something so powerful as to be given that compliment!

After the production, I was able to work together with an excellent dramaturge to refine the play. She suggested that if I could get one more performance, I'd have no trouble publishing it. So far I've had one public reading of some scenes at a downtown venue, I've been promised a complete reading by another play company (but this has been lingering for a long time now and needs more follow-up). Last year I mailed out a lot of scripts to small play companies around the province, but so far no 'bites'. As far as I know, it's the only play of it's kind dealing with drug issues, aimed at young people. It was supposed to be performed in part in local schools, but when it was suggested that they would only do certain 'scenes' I declined. I believe that to have the proper impact, the whole story needed to be told, not a laundered version.

Although the play was fiction, I drew on my own experiences in telling the story. The play is dedicated to my foster-sister Luella who died at the age of 18 in prison of a heroin overdose. The character of "Sally" the street kid in the play is based on her life. The dedication and also the presentation of the play, was a special tribute to Jimmy. He lost the battle with his demons, but he will always be remember. As one reviewer said "The Street" is interesting but its major contribution is its in-your-face reminder: nothing has changed. Well, that's not true. It's gotten worse."

"You don't understand what it's like, do you? How I've craved it? What it feels like to think about it all the time." Johnny Festa, "The Street"

"All perform their tragic play
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear." Yeats.

Friday, January 28, 2005


"A pen is certainly an excellent instrument to fix a man's attention and to inflame his ambition."
John Adams (diary entry Nov. 14, 1760)

WRITER'S RULE #1: Always carry a notebook and pen with you to jot down those brilliant plot ideas, scintillating dialogue and scraps of narrative that come to you while you sip coffee at Starbucks or ride the bus tow rok. These spontaneous thoughts are the pure stream-of-conciousness bits that will keep your writing bright and alive. Don't wait til you get home, or you'll hve forgotten them. It's a good idea to keep pen and paper by your bed too. Some fine thoughts may come to you just as you're drifting off and if you wait til morning they'll be lost in your dream-world."

WRITER'S RULE #2: Learn to type, because you'll be spending half your lifetime at a keyboard. More importantly,, editors will not accept handwritten manuscripts.

I still have a box filled with hand-written stories in notebooks along with my own illustrations.
I was twelve, and seriously considering a writing career. One of the things I wanted more than anything in the world was a typewriter. A real typewriter like reporters used. I was convinced my parents would get me one.

Alas! When Christmas came, I was presented with a small festively wrapped box. Perhaps the typewriter was hidden somewhere in the closet or on the porch? No such luck! Inside the box was a Bulova wrist watch with an expandable gold strap. I was crushed with disappointment.

"It's a beautiful watch," my Mother said. I knew she meant well. I was a kid who always daydreamed and dawdled, perpetually late for appointments and school. And now I'd have no excuse not to get home by my 9 o'clock curfew. But I couldn't be convinced that a wrist watch was better (or more practical a gift) than a typewriter.

It wasn't until my fourteenth birthday that I got my wish. A second-hand black Underwood. A real typewriter like reporters use in editorial news rooms. I spent hours in the solitude of my bedroom pounding the keys, writing pages and pages of words. By the time I was sixteen I'd churned out half a dozen short novels all with a historical theme.

When I went to live in Greece in the '80's I bought myself a bright red portable Brother. I had no furniture so used an upturned drawer for a table and spent hours typing travel stories. Every story I marketed, typed on that little Brother, was published. I've kept it as a memento of those days, when the travel journalist was born.

Later, I graduated to a word processor, and eventually technology caught up with me and I bought a computer. How wonderful to not have to retype pages, change ribbons -- to be able to spell-check and correct, cut and paste. No more clack-clack ding of the old typewriter. Now just a soft click click of the computer keys.

Two summers ago when I went back to Greece to travel and write, I bought myself a palm pilot and small fold-up keyboard. As I am often camping, this was a perfect tool for me, portable and compact and more practical than a lap-top. I wrote all summer composing, editing, taking notes. When I returned home I became caught up in moving to a new apartment, taking my possessions out of storage, setting up. By the time I got my computer working again and went to hot-sync my summer's work into it, the palm's battery had run down (I had forgotten to read the fine print that said to keep it plugged in and charging). All my work had vanished!
Fortunately, I'd hand-written some of the notes and had saved them. Otherwise all would have been lost!

I usually always keep notes and my first drafts are generally written by hand first. I believe that the pen is more trustworthy than technology. In fact, this is the second attempt at writing this blog. The first one I wrote vanished into cyberspace when I accidently tapped the wrong key. All I had of the original were a few hand-written notes.

The mighty pen had made it's point.

"And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."
Shakespeare ("A Midsummer Night's Dream")

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any."
Russell Baker, "Growing Up"

In writing, there's an expression "balancing narrative modes", that is: dialogue, thought, action, description and exposition. It's important to examine the balance of these five 'modes' in your writing because if you favour one over another for the wrong reason (use too much of one) it affects the PACE of your story.

The same thing applies to our way of living. As they say "all work and no play..." isn't good for a balanced life. Although I love spending hours at my computer writing, I still have to consider putting bread on the table. And besides that, there has to be time left for pleasure and leisure. This week my busy time begins. And now is the fun of trying to 'balance my modes'. I have lots of work ahead of me but there's also got to be time for my writing. (And yes, my writing is 'work' too, but it isn't necessarily generating enough income at the moment to pay the rent.)

The reality of it is that I have to work some of the time outside of my home. I quit my full time job 12 years ago after twenty years of being a day-care supervisor. I did this in order to allow time for travel and writing. And I have never regretted this decision. From then on I have only worked on-call as a sub teacher. But by a stroke of luck in 1994 I got a job as an instructor for the school board teaching Travel Writing at night school and now I also teach Novel Writing and an experimental creative writing class called "Prompting the Muse." And once a week I instruct a Memoir writing class downtown. (These are all contract jobs, 8 weeks at each semester except in Summer). In addition, I've done one-day workshops and courses in Historical Fiction writing. Having the privelege of teaching these classes has validated me as a writer and allowed me to now live my life almost-but-not-quite as a full-time writer. But it's still 'work', and requires quite a bit of my time for preparation and committment.

I feel fortunate though, to have these classes as they not only supplement my meagre income but they are also a great source of inspiration and challenge. And it's all part of the connection and net-working a writer needs to achieve his/her goals. As a result of these classes I've also been invited for one day to teach a travel writing class at a colleges where my friend teaches journalism, and because I belong to the Federation of Writers I've been accepted for a second time running into a program called "Off the Page" where I will go to a school and talk to the children about becoming a writer. These are bonuses for me and I feel grateful to have these opportunities.

Of course, not working full-time requires making financial sacrifices. But I still manage to travel (on a wing and a prayer) and my daily needs are somehow always taken care of (thanks to supportive friends and guardian angels).

As I don't work every day and only teach at night, it's up to me to keep focused on my writing and use my time wisely. There must be time for pleasure too, and this will include waterfit, fitness club and daily walks. And on the weekend it's play-time: a little bit of fun with my friends, dancing and going to movies or shows.

It's a good life, really, so long as you don't mind making the sacrifices. I'm mostly short of cash, I have no credit cards, own no car and have no responsibilities such as a family to care for.

It's good living the writer's life. However the first thing I tell my students (in particular those in the travel writing class) "Don't quit your day job." Unless you're independantly wealthy or living off a big early-retirement pension, you need some cash flow coming in to support your creative life-style. I think I've found a perfect balance to support my life as a writer.
So far it's working. And when the refunds come in from my 'self-employment' income tax this year let's hope it will be enough to finance another trip!

"A little work, a little play,
To keep us going -- and so, good night." George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier

Sunday, January 23, 2005


"Go forth, under the open sky, and list
to Nature's teachings." William Cullen Bryant

Whenever I feel myself mired in the sludge of writer's block, I take a walk. Living, as I do, in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, with the mountains, forest and ocean close at hand, there are multiple choices of places to take a meditational stoll to find my Muse.

Lately, on this "wet" Coast, we've had an unrelenting deluge of rain, causing fatal mud-slides and floods. Good weather for ducks, maybe, but not too pleasant for hikers, joggers, walkers or even drivers. However today the weather gave us some respite and the rain let up. In addition, the temperatures were a balmy 14 C. The first green buds were sprouting on the branches.

I'd spend the evening yesterday out in the 'burbs at my friend's place. She's a writer too, and has the good fortune to live in a lovely condo with the forest at her back door and a nearby river, that is a salmon spawning ground. A perfect setting for a nature walk.

Last night she and I spent time talking about our writing, reading new work and discussing it with each other. I always enjoy spending time with this particular friend as we both find it an inspiration. This morning, donning rain gear (which we didn't need) we set off for a river walk. She's an avid birder, and took along her binoculars. We immediately spotted a great big old grandpa gray heron. On our way along the trail we saw various small birds, a variety of ducks swimming on the ponds and a young bald eagle.

Walking along in the pine and cedar fragrant forest, drinking in the cool rain-fresh air, just the chance to oxegenate the body was a refreshing treat. The river is swollen from the rain, a rushing torrent with white-water dashing over rocks. The sound of it roaring and splashing, the twittering of the birds in the underbrush, the crunch of our footsteps on the path, were soothing to the spirit.

I love walking in the forest. And I also like to walk by the ocean. Sometimes I go on my own and walk the sea-wall, especially when I am trying to work out a particular difficult passage of writing, or ready to start a new project, sometimes just to sort out my every-day thoughts. I tend to be a 'walking writer' and some of my best thoughts and ideas have come when I am on a hike. I have written a great many passages of my novel, bits of dialogue, description, narrative, when I am walking. So I always carry a notebook, ready to jot down my spontaneous thoughts. And it's these spontaneous bits of writing that are so often the pieces that need little or no editing, that keep your story 'fresh' and the action immediate. In fact, I got the idea for this blog today while I was walking in the woods.

So, if you're struggling with your writing, I suggest this: Get yourself out to a park, a quiet trail in the forest, a sea-wall walk, a stroll along a beach -- somewhere in nature where you can calm your mind and let the good thoughts wash through you. "Come forth into the light of things, Let Nature be your teacher." (William Wordsworth)

"To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language." William Cullen Bryant

Saturday, January 22, 2005


"Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Toward the door we never opened
Into the rose garden..."
T.S. Eliot
When I was fourteen I got my first diary. It was a little brown leather book with a tiny key attached, though I don't remember that I ever locked it. Perhaps I'd lost the key. I wrote in that diary for about a year until one day my Mother said to me "You write such lovely things in your diary, Dear." And then I realized that what I thought had been my 'private' thoughts, had been invaded. Not that I'd written anything that subversive, but just the same, I never wrote in a diary again until much later in my life. During my married years I didn't dare keep a diary as I knew full well my husband would have snooped. "Secret" thoughts were best kept safe inside my memory.
I wish now that I had kept writing diaries all those years because that was a time of growth and insights into "Life". Now, as I grow older, my memory is fading, especially for the details of those long-ago days.
One of the writing groups I instruct is called "Write from the Heart". It's a memoirs group, and I encourage the members to keep journals (diaries) because it's the best way to capture that moment in time, what you were thinking, feeling, and why. In that group we write from prompts, and from each person's story you'll find yourself spinning off to other stories that have long lay hidden in your memory. As it's a multi-cultural group, there are varied points of view on common subjects such as school memories and first loves, and growing up in war time. Having this group has been a rewarding and enriching experience for me, and as well for the members. I've been teaching this class for a few years now and the same people keep coming back, as well as new comers. It's not only valuable to write down our memories, but it's fun as well. This was the first week of the new session and we started out writing about where we got our name. (My blog name, wynn bexton, for instance, comes from a Welsh derivitive of my first given name and my mother's Saxon-sounding last name.) The assignment for this week's Memoirs is "Write about your family: what are your roots? Where did you family come from?" This might inspire a few people to start a more formal geneology. I've done one of my Dad's family (all Welsh coal miners) but I want to do one of my Mom's (from Nottingham, with possibly Saxon roots).
"I'll note you in my book of memory..." Shakespeare, (King Henry VI)
I began writing a journal again in the late '70's as a way of recording the changes and sometimes turmoil that my life was going through. It wasn't just daily gossip and anguished thoughts though, I would often record I Ching readings, poetry and significant quotations.
In looking back through my notes from those days, I could see myself changing, growing, and maturing. The '70's were a huge time of change for me, from married to single, to moderately well-off to living in a hippie house and trying to survive, the sole support of two growing kids. I wish I had started keeping the journal at the beginning of this psychadelic adventure, but it wasn't until about '78 that I got myself a notebook and started writing down my thoughts and feelings. A lot of it is probably rubbish. The angst of living-on-a-shoestring, the turmoil of unrequited love.
But looking back, I can see where I was growing, and along the way, the mistakes I made (and hopefully will not repeat). And one thing I noticed was, each time there was a crises in my life and I got through it, the next time it was easier to cope. This is the makings of a 'survivor', and through the years I got stronger and regained a better sense of "Self".
The other day at Memoirs we were discussing whether or not we should 'rip out' certain pages of our old diaries rather than leave them there for our children/grandchildren to read after we are gone. I've debated this. Do I really want my heart's secrets known? On the other hand, those thoughts were part of me, no matter how off-beat, silly or sometimes naughty.
That was what was happening in my life then. And, growing through it, I became what I am now. Awhile ago I started keeping a collection called "Confessions of a Black Sheep" . I've written 25 stories so far. Not all of them I've shown to my children. But friends who have read them say they are interesting and worthwhile enough to be published. I don't know about that, but I feel they are good stories, worth keeping in my book of memories.
I still keep a written journal as well as an on-line one (for fun and writing inspiration). And starting this blog about my writing life has been a great motivator to focus on a specific theme.
Because I am a travel journalist, I keep travel journals for each trip I take. And of course the years I've lived in Greece, I kept journals. Now, out of those journals and with the letters home that people saved for me, I hope to put together a collection called "Life Below the Acropolis". As these stories are mostly connected with living a writer's life, I will put some of them in this blog.
I teach a class in Travel Writing, and suggest to the participants that they must keep journals while travelling, because the little details, sights, sounds, smells, etc. that you see along the way will quickly fade from memory. When it comes time to write your story you may have forgotten some important aspects of the trip. It is also useful to send home travelogues by e-mail. I've done so the last couple of years, and this has provided me with a lot of material for travel stories, as well as enjoyment from my friends at home.
Keeping journals/diaries is a way of writing from the heart. And what we are thinking, feeling, dreaming of at that particular moment in time is a valuable part of our lives, worth recording.
"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train." Oscar Wilde

Friday, January 21, 2005



As the old saying goes: "writing is a lonely art", it seems imperative, even if it's not your nature, to get out there and 'blow your own horn'. This has become particularly necessary in the dog-eat-dog world of the publishing business. We spend hours alone in front of our computers, sequestered away from family and friends, spinning our tales that might or might not ever seen the light of public life. It's up to us to make sure they get out there. No manuscript ever got published that is left sitting in a desk drawer or filing cabinet.
But, for most of us, me anyway, being assertive and indulging in blatent self-publicity doesn't come easy. I'm learning though, and networking is one of the most important activities one can get involved in.

Many of my friends are writers, actors, dancers, artists or musicians. In my own family, my daughter is an artist and my son a musician. But for all of us it's the same problem -- self promotion. And one we must overcome. Belonging to a writer's group has been one of the best sources of inspiration and encouragement for me. Without my Scribblers I might not have progressed so far with my novel. I also belong to the B.C. Travel Writer's Association, which allows me a chance to meet with other travel journalists and is also an excellent source of networking markets. I also joined the B.C. Federation of Writers, just to get my name out there. And recently joined the "Play Centre" which allows me access to various theatre activities.

Yesterday I got the good news that, for the second time, the Fed has accepted my application for their "Off the Page" program which will allow me to go into a school classroom and talk about writing to the children. I did this last year and, though the class was a rather lively and somewhat inattentive one, I think I did make a hit by producing a copy of one of my very first manuscripts (hand written), an excerpt of which was published in a Girl Guide magazine when I was twelve years old. This time I may try to get into high school class.
And today, I went to a playwright's forum at the Play Centre where a group of Scottish playwrights are presenting forums and readings this weekend. That proved to be a bit of inspiration that I certainly needed!

Last Fall I was accepted into a playwright's workshop at the PC which was a huge thrill for me as I'd be working with the director of the Centre as well as five other playwrights. I was anxious to develop my new play "House of the Muses", based on the life of the lyric poet Sappho. Unfortunately for me, it hasn't been a successful project (yet!) but today I talked to the Director and he assures me that he is planning more meetings. So hopefully I will pick up my wounded pride and redo the work I'd so laboriously slaved over (only to have more-or-less trashed. Ah...the life of a writer! All those rejections.)

That episode was a crushing defeat for me at the time and I decided to put the play aside and resume work diligently on my novel, which is the main priority right now. However, if I am able to continue working with the director/dramaturg and other playwrights to salvage my brilling idea I'd be a fool not to. Try, try they say.

I was taking stock last night of unwritten and unmarketed travel articles too, and it's that time of year to get things in the mail or e-mail. So much work to do...But in order to keep my status intact as an active travel journalist I'm expected to send stuff out and (hopefully) get it published.

So tonight, all fired up from the acceptance by the Fed and the interesting input of the playwright's forum, I shall forgo my usual Friday night frolick at my fave neighbourhood bistro, and stay home to work. Perhaps I'll indulge in a movie later as I have a shelf of unwatched videos. I'll make sure it's something inspirational.

"He (the writer) must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed -- love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice..."
William Faulkner: speech on receiving the Nobel Prize, Dec. 10, 1950.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


"A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever..." Martin Farquhar Tupper

The last couple of days my writing has consisted mainly of the blog and various random notes. However I did spend some time yesterday browsing in a book store, and this is one of my favorite diversions. Unfortunately I don't always have a lot of extra money to spend on books, but I do like seeing what's available, the lastest best-sellers, and generally just checking to see what I'd buy if I could afford to.

The books I saw that caught my eye yesterday were those containing short studies on 100 philosophers, Travel Tales of Cuba, and an especially attractive coffee-table book titled "Shakespeare's Flowers" which had glorious photos of flowers accompanied by quotes from Shakespeare.

A person recently commented to me: "How can you be a writer if you don't read?"
I found this comment unwarranted, mainly because this person was criticising me because I don't necessarily read the books he reads himself. I will admit my time for pleasure-reading is at a minimum, but that's because I spend a lot of time reading what pertains to my type of writing, including a lot of history books that I use for reference and research.

I tend to read for pleasure when I'm travelling, or on the bus going to and from work, or on my breaks at work. Once home I'm usually busy writing. And I'm not one to read in bed, though when I was young I think I ruined my eyesight reading by the hall light when I was supposed to be sleeping.

I've loved reading as much as writing for as long as I can remember. I still have my very first favorite story book "The Honey Bear" which I'd plead to have read every night when I was tucked in. When I was in school I'd bring home stacks of books from the library, mostly historical fiction books. I recall once, when I was fourteen, I somehow got a copy of a racy paperback titled "The Chinese Room". We were on a camping weekend with some Church young people and my parents. I, the pastor's daughter, was secretly entertaining my tent buddies with passages out of the book, in particular naughty bits like the one about the concubine with rouged nipples. Somebody ratted on me and I was in big trouble! The book was tossed into the bonfire. This was my first experience with 'censorship'. But that didn't stop a curious bookworm like me. Another time I obtained a forbidden copy of a 'banned' book titled "Maria Monk" which I hid in a brown paper cover.

In my youth I was fond of Mickey Spillane detective stories and that likely gave me the idea of becoming a crime reporter. But really, historical fiction has always been my main passion and interest. I love the writing of Margaret George, and especially Mary Renault who I read over and over again, and my current favourite, Steven Pressfield.

There are hundreds of good books out there. I just wish I had time to read them all. Belonging to a Book Club would be a good way to solve this, if only I had the time for it. To read or to write...there must be a way I can balance both.

Some of my favorite authors, (and I'd like to read more of their work) are:
Rohinton Mistry "Such a Long Journey", Salman Rushdie "Midnight's Children", anything by Isabel Allende and other Latin American writers, Louis de Bernieres "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" which I read and enjoyed so much after the first time I visited Kefalonia, Greece.
Of course there's the classics too, and other favorite authors such as Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. (I just visited some of his haunts in Havana, drank a daiquiri in La Floradita and posed beside a bronze image of him at the bar.) There are so many more...

Have you read a good book lately?

"'Tis the good reader that makes the good book; -- in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


"To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius, and to mend the heart;
To make mankind, in conscious virtue bold,
Live o'er each scene, and be what they behold:
For this the Tragic Muse first trod the stage."
Alexander Pope (Prologue to Mr. Addison's Cato)

Though I love Shakespeare's satires and comedies, since I first saw "Richard III" when I was a kid of thirteen, my favourite plays have always been the tragedies. "All perform their tragic play, There struts Hamlet, there is Lear..." Yeats.

We have an excellent Shakepearean theatre company here in my city. Every summer "Bard on the Beach" performs the works of Shakespeare in an outdoor venue near the beach. The tents are built in the fashion of the old Shakespearean theatres and the performances run from June to September. There's also a junior Shakespearean company where a friend of mine teaches. How I wish there'd been such an opportunity when I was a kid!

I hope that this Spring I'll get a chance to attend a performance of a Shakespeare play at the New Globe in London.

One of the biggest theatrical thrills I've ever had though, was to see the Greek tragedies performed in their original venues in Greece. I've made it a point to visit as many ancient theatre sites in Greece as possible, and I've seen a great many including the theatres of Epidaurus, Dodoni, Phillipi, Dion, Delos, and Thassos. The thrill of actually watching a tragedy performed at these magnificent venues is something not to be missed. If you're ever in Greece during the Athens Festival (June - Sept) be sure to attend one!

I love the dramas of Euripedes, Sophocles and Aeschylus. As the dramas are performed in Greek, it's a good idea to read the play first so you can follow the text. But the way they are staged it is easy to follow, even if you don't understand the words. My favourite collections of plays to read are "The Oresteian Trilogy" by Aeschyuls, "The Theban Plays" by Sophocles. And "Ten Plays by Euripides" which include: "Medea" and "The Trojan Women". One of my friends is a Classical Scholar who is writing her doctorate thesis on the Greek plays. Whenever we are in Athens, we attend the plays together and she provides all the background information about the how? why? what? of the ancient theatre.
To sit in the marble tiers under the stars at Epidaurus and watch "Oedipus the King" being performed (or others) is a thrill beyond words. The big Roman-era theatre of Herod Atticus ("The Herodian") in Athens is also an magnificent venue. I once saw a breath-taking performance of "Hamlet" there by the Peter Hall company of Britain.

I've also seen a few performances of the Greek tragedies here at home (in English), most recently Euripides " Iphegenia Among the Taurians". The tragedy I love most is "The Trojan Women". In the movie "Troy" I was sorry they left out that part of the story.

I started writing tragedies myself when I was eighteen. My first major play, titled "The Street: A Modern Tragedy" was based on a true-life experience and written as a cautionary tale for my peers.

I'll write later about how it turned out to be a successfully produced play, running for three weeks to excellent reviews in 2000.

"A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself--with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions." Aristotle.

Monday, January 17, 2005

"THE PLAY'S THE THING"...Shakespeare

"Players and painted stage took all my love..." Yeats.

PART I: Bitten by the theatre bug.

I don't know when I was first bitten by the theatre bug. I started writing plays before I can remember writing anything else. Perhaps living in a town named "Stratford" where all the streets and schools were named after Shakespeare and the River Avon that ran through the town. I didn't really know much about the famous playwright's work at that time.

We write what we know, and at that time I was a child still. But I knew about the War. I was only 10 and my father, like so many of my playmate's fathers, was overseas. Daily the stories of prison camps, bombings and death were part of our lives. Not one family, it seemed, was untouched by this tragedy. My Dad was a chaplain in an army field hospital in Belgium and Holland. Every night I'd sit at the kitchen table with my Mom and Grandparents and we'd put the coloured pins in the map, marking where he was stationed and where the fighting was located. There was no TV. We listened to the B.B.C. news nightly, and sometimes went to the movies on Saturdays where they's show news reels of the action. I started writing little plays about the war for my class at school.

Sometimes I organized campaigns to collect funds for the Red Cross. We'd dress up in costumes (nurses, soldiers) and parade the neighbourhood with our collection boxes. War was very real to all of us. The best costume parade of all was the one held on VE Day in which all of us participated.

For lighter entertainment, I created fairy-tale plays to entertain friends. But I much preferred action! adventure! and intrigue!

"The world's a stage on which all the parts are played..." Middleton ("A Game of Chess")

When the War ended, my family moved to the West Coast. My first experience attending a big theatre production was in Grade 7 when my class went to see "Richard III" It was my first introduction to Shakespeare and the tragedies. I remember that day so clearly, how enthralled I was by the acting, the stage sets and costumes, the intriguing story! Years later, on my very first trip to England, I went to the Tower of London and saw the place where the little Princes were murdered. I have always loved that play. It got me hooked on Shakespeare.

Soon I began to write plays for Sunday School. One play I wrote and performed at camp was about David and Absolem, in particular the dramatic events leading to Absolem's hanging himself by his hair in an olive tree. For an Easter production, I penned "Pilate's Wife" Another tragedy.

While I was in junior high, I went to a production at my cousin's school of an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. That got me interested in musicals. On summer at camp I got the part of "KoKo" in "The Mikado". Now the stage bug had readlly bitten me and I was hooked on the theatre.

I not only loved to watch plays, I wanted to act in them too. In high school I joined the drama club and tried out for a part in another operetta, "The Pirates of Penzance".
I was in the chorous. I also got parts in other drama club productions. And I began to attend as many theatre events as I could. Every Christmas, for sure, my mother made sure the whole family went to a pantomime. When I was 13 I heard they were casting for one of these Christmas productions, and it happened to be my favorite story, by J.M. Barrie, "Peter Pan".
I longed to have a leading role but was accepted for the chorus as a dancing lilac. The play was presented in a large downtown theatre. I don't actually remember seeing it right through because we were in the back dressing rooms waiting for our cues to come on stage. But it was the thrill of my lifetime and my big debut on the stage! I had stage fever in my blood then. There was no stopping me!

PART II: Writing Tragedy.

"This whole creation is essentially subjective, and the dream is the theatre where the dreamer is at once scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience and critic." Carl Gustav Jung

Sunday, January 16, 2005


"O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest haven of invention!" Shakespeare (Cymbeline, Sonnet 38)

Writing is a lonely occupation. Finding your Muse -- a literary catalyst which inspires and encourages, gets your creative juices flowing, boiling until they overflow onto the page with clarity and passion, is every writer's quest.

Sometimes the Muse is found on a quiet walk, or in the melodic sounds of music, perhaps she'll even come to you in your dreams. And often the Music appears in the form of a person, a friend who inspires and encourages.

It's a good idea, especially if you're just beginning, to find the company of other writers. I've been fortunate for the past 10 years or so to belong to an excellent critique group, The Scribblers. Without them I might have grown discouraged long ago, especially with my lengthy and ambitious work-in-progress. I value their commentaries on my work, and find solace in their companionship. We are fortunate to have a unique rapport which all of us treasure. Twice a year we go on a retreat to an island and enjoy a weekend of writer's fun, often following a theme for which we dress up and perform. ( Our "Treasure Island" weekend was a huge hit!) These idyllic retreats have helped us grow closer. And it is important, in a writing group, to have complete trust, understanding and respect for each other's endeavours.

I'm also a Chairperson for a downtown writing club (check out our website at But because I teach night school classes I am often absent. Still, this Club has provided me with many valuable connections and new friends.) My classes also are an enriching experience, a learning curve for me as well as the new writers who attend.
And from these classes I have made several new writing friends, often being a 'mentor' to new writers who are keen to pursue the 'lonely art'.

Once in awhile, if you are lucky, you might find one special person who becomes your Muse. Love inspires lofty romantic thoughts just as broken relationships might prompt poetry that reeks of self pity and bitterness. Some years ago, when I had resumed writing after a long drought and many distractions, I made friends with a Palestinian man who became my Muse. In our many delightful meetings and discussions, I would be carried away to ancient worlds. I swear that often I would hallucinate and 'see' him as a character from another time. And after each of those magical trysts I'd write for days and days. My writing instructor once said, "He is your literary catalyst." And he was. He used to jokingly say, "Don't put me in one of your stories!" And I never did, though it was he who prompted me to unleash all my creative thoughts and begin writing a new novel.

Our trysts ended when I went to live in Greece. But there I found another Muse. His name was Roberto, and he was a painter living in exile from Argentina. He and I became soul-mates, best friends. He was like the brother I never had, another Gemini like me, perhaps my alter ego. It was Robbie who inspired me most, encouraged me and urged me to keep writing on my current work-in-progress, "Shadow of the Lion." He taught me to use my five senses in writing: to use my eyes like an artist, to capture subtle details of my surroundings, colours, smells, sounds.

Hanging out at the tavernas, he'd say: "Watch those men! They are Alexander's soldiers. Pay attention to the way they interact!" And I'd jot copious notes in my notebook (which writers should always carry!) that became valuable references for my descriptions of Macedonian warriors. Robbie and I shared houses together over the various years I have lived in Athens. We'd talk late into the night, discussing literature and art and music and often talking about my novel. He believed in me, gave me the inspiration I needed to carry on with this difficult, intricate piece of work. He encouraged me to dig down deep into my imagination and 'live' with my characters. When Roberto died a few years ago, I lost not only a treasured friend but my inspiration, my Muse. And when I finish the novel there will be a dedication for him in the front. "You must finish this novel!" he would say. And I will!

I wonder now "Who will be my Muse?" It is important for me to talk about my work now and then, especially when I'm caught in a sticky place. When I describe various scenes or episodes, it helps me 'see' the way I am going, 'feel' the presence of the characters. (Yes, even those 'fictional' ones who do exist somewhere in real life.) When I'm caught up in Alexander's world, I am far removed from this reality. It helps to re-enter my 21st century surroundings again, if there's a friend nearby, perhaps a Muse, who wants to share my adventures with me.

"The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains." Marcel Proust

"To inspire hopeless passion is my destiny." William Makepeace Thackery.

Friday, January 14, 2005


"THE VERY TRUE BEGINNING OF HER WISDOM IS THE DESIRE OF DISCIPLINE, AND THE CARE OF DISCIPLINE IS LOVE." The Apocrypha ("The Hidden Books" found in the Alexandrian Greek Scriptures)

Here I am with a full day ahead of me in which to write and, as is my usual habit, I am procrastinating. Procrastination is the thief of time, it's said. Or is it just the 'art of keeping up with yesterday'? No matter, I'm an expert at it. (Just the very act of sitting here writing my blog instead of working on my novel is an example of what an expert procrastinator I am!)

One thing you learn early on, if you want to pursue a writing career, is "DISCIPLINE". If you don't have it, you'll never get any of your projects finished. And believe me, it's one of the most difficult things to achieve.

When I am living in Greece (where I sometimes go for several months for the purpose of researching and writing) I have found it much easier to stay disciplined than I do here at home. So long as I allow myself a certain amount of time each morning before beginning my 'work', I manage to stay on track. For instance, I'll rise early, do chores and errands, then allow myself a certain amount of 'procrastination' time, usually spend doing cross-words or playing a few games of Solitaire. (I prefer the kind with real cards, but here at home I use the computer games.) These are limited to no more than 5 games or two or three cross-words. In fact, these activities are a kind of 'meditation' that settles my mind and clears my brain before I begin my writing day.

My best time for writing is between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. with a break for lunch or exercise, although if I'm on a 'roll' I often forget to break. It is now 10.30 a.m. That means I have only half an hour left to procrastinate. Then I simply must get down to it!

For a couple of days this week I stayed indoors all day. But did I do a lot of writing? Well, I composed a couple of blogs and made some notes for my novel, wrote one short new chapter segment and edited another. Today I must try and get on with more new writing. Time is slipping by and the novel has already taken me much longer than I would have dreamed.
Besides, I have other writing tasks to get done including a couple of travel articles. Travel writing is my 'bread and butter' writing and, alas! I am very remiss at sending out stories.
I have also been working on a new play (more about that later) but since before the end of '04 became disillusioned with it and decided to shelve it in favour of finishing the never-ending Homeric epic I am writing.

Yesterday I decided it was high time to get out in the snow and enjoy the sunny day. One method I have of 'clearing my head' is to go for a walk in our lovely Stanley Park. Yesterday I joined a friend and we went for a snowy walk through the Park and along the sea wall. If I had been alone, I'd have listened to music as I walked and taken along my notebook to jot down random ideas that always come to me when I am walking. Yesterday my friend and I enjoyed conversation, including talk about writing (she's also a writer) and theatre and life in general. It was a pleasant way to the spend the early afternoon and the fresh air, lovely surroundings and interesting company was a good way to rejuvenate my creativity. Today, I really MUST get down to business.

Rules for protecting your writing time:
( 1) try not to be distracted by unnessessary telephone calls.
(2) No matter what, don't have the TV on!
(3) If you have kids or partners around, make sure you choose a work time when they are not going to disturb you even if that means writing in the middle of the night. Lucky me, I live alone!
(4) Make sure your work space is not cluttered or it will distract you. Oops! Time for a clean-up.
(5) Tell your friends you can't come out to play until your work is finished.

Anyway, those are the basic rules. Oh,oh! Time's up, and I better get down to business.

"I have found power in the mysteries of thought,
exaltation in the chanting of the Muses;
I have been versed in the reasonings of men;
but Fate is stronger than anything I have known." Euripides (485-406 BC)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


"Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy." F. Scott Fitzgerald

I met him first when I was sixteen, in my grade 11 history class. It was just a brief encounter, a few paragraphs in a chapter about Greek history. But I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about him, so I went to the library and found all the books I could that had been written containing the story of his life. His name was Alexander. They called him Megalos Alexandros, Alexander the Great. He was a young Macedonian Prince who became a king when he was twenty and went on to conquor the world.

I didn't date boys then, at least not my school mates. I was the nerdy preacher's kid who always had her nose in a book and her head in some far-away dream world. My teacher's dispaired of me. "If you spent as much time studying your school work instead of day-dreaming, you'd be a better student!" they scolded.

I had dropped Math and Science after grade 10, excelled at English literature and composition; preferred being in the drama club to sports; loved singing, but was too shy to get any of the leading roles in the school operettas. Alexander was my hero. I spent all my time reading about him, living my life vicariously in his world. He and his Companions became so well known to me that I was asked "Do you think you might have lived in that other time?"

Indeed, many years later, when I made my first trip to Greece, I was amazed, in referring back to that old manuscript, how accurately I had described the country, the colours, smells, vegetation, as if I had truly 'been' there before.

During my final year of school I was most often secluded in my room furiously typing on my old Underwood typewriter. I was working on a long novel about a young Theban girl, Adele, who on her wedding day was taken captive by the invading Macedonian army led by its youthful King Alexander, in retaliation for a Theban revolt. I had a mentor at the time, a kindly old gentleman named Dr. McLaren. He was a retired professor, once Superintendant of schools. He thought my literary talents promising, perhaps even 'brilliant' and forwarded my 100,000 word manuscript to a former student of his who happened to be a publisher.

I wish I still had the encouraging letter that publisher sent to me when he returned my manuscript. He was impressed, he said, but suggested I put it away for a few years until I was older and more experienced in life and had honed my writing skills.

The novel, "Rivers of Blood", written when I was seventeen, was to lead me later into Alexander's world, opening the door to countless new adventures.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you imagined." Henry David Thoreau

P.S. Yes, I have seen the movie "Alexander" three times. And I loved it. I think Oliver Stone and I are on the same wave-length when it comes to his vision of Alexander. Sure there were flaws in the film. But I disagree with the vicious commentaries so many of the critics gave it. For me it brought Alexander's world all the much closer to reality.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


"The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls
and whispered in the sounds of silence..." Paul Simon

It's that time of year again, the beginning of a new year, a time to start fresh. Out with the old. In with the new. As usual, I'm surrounded by stacks of papers, newspapers, magazines, scraps of writing from works-in-progress, research notes, clippings and shelves full to over-capacity with books. What to discard, if anything?

OK. most of the newspapers can go. I'm an obsessive clipper of articles -- a throwback from my years of working the editoral news library. I save things. Not only stories that may enhance my research files, but things of interest, possibilities for further story ideas. (You can generate a lot of writing prompts by reading the daily news.)

Every time I move (twice in the past couple of years) I've culled my personal library, donated books to yard sales or friends. Sometimes I've regretted my decisions. Where are my Rosemary Sutcliffe and Pauline Gedge books? Why did I give agway my beautiful copy of the Tao te Ching and all my Tai Chi books?

Now I must assess the stacks of papers and file boxes that line the walls of my office/bedroom. What to toss out?

To me, words are precious things, especially the words I've written myself for story ideas, passages of my novel, poetry, etc. I have made it a rule never to toss out any hard-copy unless I'm certain it is useless drivel or something I can't restore to a semblence of publishability. (Same goes for deleting off my computer files). Thus I am overwhelmed by my paper collection. I even have a box of old MSS dating back to when I was twelve, including the very first Alexander-themed novel I wrote during my last year of high school in 1951. I nearly failed my grades that year but I kept my study hall companions entertained with chapter segments. And that early novel is responsiblefor all my other serious writing since then. It even got as far as a publisher who was duly impressed by this teen-age writer, but suggested I set it aside and rewrite it once I was older, more mature in age and writing skills. And I've given serious thought to doing this, turning it into a juvenile historical. But will ther ever be time? Still...I have kept the original (and rewrites) of this major achievement and its there if I ever want to rework it.)

Keeping the old manuscripts (even the ones hand-written in lined scribblers) proved useful last year when I was accepted by the BC. Federation of Writers to work on a project called "Off the Page" in which I was invited to attend a school (any grade) to present a lecture about writing. I went to a grade six class in my neighbourhood, a school I was familiar with as I used to be director of a daycare on the same grounds. So I knew the dynamics of the families and children there who are mostly First Nations and immigrant families, many of them needy.

I chose one of my ealiest stories, and found an excerpt from it which had been published in a Girl Guide magazine, when I was twelve. It is the story about a Dutch war orphan who was adopted by a Canadian family. After WWII ended, I was struck by the news reel stories and those passed on by my father who had been a chaplain in an army field hosptial in Holland, about the refugee camps that were full of children orphaned by the war. This was a story about a little girl, Janni, and her brother Peter, and how they found a new home in another country.

The children in the classroom, in spite of some unruliness, were impressed and, I hope, inspired. For me it was an opportunity to share with them how I had dreamed of being a writer when I was their age, and how I had followed that dream.

So there is some value in saving those pieces of paper, ideas you've jotted down and kept. You never know when you can use them again.

Words have longer life than deeds. (Pindar)

Sunday, January 09, 2005



It began when I was about eight years old, this urge to write things down-- my hopes, dreams, fantasies. Always a curious, imaginative child, I was encouraged to enter this land of make-believe and story-telling by my parents. My earliest memoires include stories my Mom or Dad would tell or read to me.
"Tell me about when you were little," I would beg at bedtime. Or, "Tell me about when I was little."
I started writing my story ideas down when I was in grade school Mostly I wrote plays, fairy tales to entertain my playmates or plays abou the war to present in my classroom at school. It was during WWII and almost everyone then, including myself, had a parent or relative serving overseas. There wasn't TV then, just the occasional news reel at the movies. And always, every day, the BBC news broadcast coming over the airwaves like sound traveling under-water.
Dressing up in costumes whether for plays or neighbourhood parades was also a favourite pasttime of mine. My Mom was a good sport and an accomplished seamstress and always made the costumes to order. I lived much of my childhood in a fantasy world. And from an early age I read voraciously, carrying piles of books home from the library, or often walking to and from school, one foot at the edge of the sidewalk, my nose in a book. I ruined my eyes reading by the dim hall light at night long after I was supposed to be sleeping.
After the war, when my family moved (by train) across Canada to the west Coast, the historical fiction writer in me was born. First I wrote pioneer stories. Then I discovered the world of Biblical times (my Dad was a pastor). I still have a box of these old manuscripts, written in lined scribblers with my own illustrations, or typed on my very first typewriter, an old Underwood my folks bought me for my 16th birthday. That was the year I was introduced to a character named Alexander the Great. And getting to know him has taken me on some of the best adventures of my life.
I knew from an early age I wanted to be a writer more than anything else. For a time I had aspirations of becoming a crime reporter. My first job from highschool was in the editorial department of a city newspaper where I began an apprenticeship as a copy runner. Later (because the City Editor refused to have an 18 year old girl working on the news desk takin gpolice calls, I trasferred to the new library ("the Morgue," they called it, where they kept 'dead' stories.) I had the job of filing Bios and taking charge of the "crime" files which turned into a fascinating task as I got to run errands to the police station, collecting the police rap sheets from which I'd transfer info into my card-index files about the various criminals around town. This included sorting out the who's who of the local gangs running the drug trade. Exciting stuff for a kid like me with an insatiable curiosity for knowing what was going on in the world outside my fairly strict family life.
I worked for the newspaper until my marriage took me away to another part of the country where I languished in suburbia, raised two kids, pretty well quit writing, and survived a dysfunctional relationship. For awhile everything turned into a disaster because of my husband's alcoholism. We moved back to the Coast, lost the house, and I had to go to work to support my kids. I tried, but couldn't get back into the newspaper job again. What to do? I became an Early Childhood Educator, working in daycares looking after other people's kids.
But I never gave up my desire to become a full-time writer, and in spite of the set-backs and discouragements
I was determined to realize my dream. So I went to night school and took some creative writing course and once again, I began to write. Now, all this time later, I am living the writer's life.
How I did it, and what adventures happened along the way is what I want to write in my journal. "LIVING THE WRITER'S LIFE".
Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back: a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country...Anais Nin