Archive for the ‘Canada’ Tag

My Life in Music: 1980

On 31 January 1980, I left England to move to Canada, with my mother, my stepfather and my younger sister. I was ten years old and it was the biggest upheaval I had ever experienced in my life.

Four days before the move, my dad and my stepmother got married, because they wanted my sister and me to be at the wedding. My dad is passionate about the American West, and they had a western-themed wedding – at the local Salvation Army Hall, where he was a member. It was such an unusual wedding it made the local paper. The attached photo is the four of us, on that day, near my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne. This is another photo taken by my grandfather.

Life in Lancashire at the end of the 1970s was somewhat depressed. We were living in an area where factories provided the main source of employment, and when they all started to close down the result was mass unemployment. At that time, emigration to Canada required a sponsor. My stepfather’s sister and her family were living in Canada and they were prepared to sponsor us, which made the move possible. But I was not happy with such a major change in my life, and I didn’t want to go. At age ten, you have opinions of your own, but you are not mature enough to express them in a way that will make people listen.

In those days, we were all regular visitors to the library. I enjoyed picking books, and then taking them back a few weeks later to pick out new ones to read. My mother was an avid reader as well, but she also used the library to borrow albums and discover new music. One of the albums she found in the run-up to our move to Canada was a ‘best of’ album by Roger Whittaker, which included a song called “Canada Is”, a patriotic anthem to the country. My mother played this song constantly in the weeks before our move, possibly trying to convince us all what a wonderful place we were moving to.

The first year in Canada was very difficult. Everything changed and I was expected to adapt, and I struggled with that. Everyone dressed differently, spoke differently, did things differently. There is a mindset shared by the people of a country that differs from other countries, and you don’t realise until you spend time there how different that mindset is from your own. I had never been ice skating before we moved to Canada. Canadian kids are put on ice skates the moment they learn how to walk. The first time I went ice skating with my class, I spent the session clutching the side of the rink, while all my classmates sailed by in disbelief, because they had never met anyone who didn’t know how to ice skate before.

I got very homesick. I missed my friends, I missed my family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. But most of all I missed my dad. In those days there was no email or internet. The only way of staying in touch with people was to write letters, or speak on the phone, and international calls were so expensive they were infrequent and limited to three minutes, and really what can you say to people in three minutes?

Ironically enough, the song that made me feel the most homesick was a song about Canada, because it reminded me of those last few months in England when I was sick with dread about the move.

This year’s song is a bit of a cheat, because it was actually released in 1974, but it became so integral to the changes in my life that year that it’s really the only choice for 1980. So here’s Roger Whittaker’s “Canada Is”, accompanied by a patriotic video with images from across Canada.


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Exercise and Me: Reaching An Uneasy Truce

I make no secret of the fact I hate sports. I have no hand-eye co-ordination and no dexterity. I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I can’t run without falling over. It’s been this way for me since childhood. I was always happier curled up reading a book than I was running about outside.

I hated physical education lessons and I was always last to be picked for teams. And because I am assuming this barbaric practise doesn’t happen in schools any more, let me enlighten those of you too young to experience this. ‘Picking teams’ was when the teacher couldn’t be bothered to divide the class into teams, so they would get the kids to do it instead. The teacher would choose two team leaders – generally those who were good at sports. The team leaders would then take it turns to select the people in the class they wanted on their team. Naturally they picked their friends first. Then the kids who were good at sports, and the cool people.

When it came down to only the unpopular and nerdy kids that were left, the choice for the leaders became more difficult. After all, you don’t want your street cred to suffer by picking one of the kids everyone made fun of. Whenever this ritual happened at my school, the outcome was always the same, regardless of which school it was (and it happened at several). At the end there were always two kids left: the special needs kid, and me. The special needs kid was a bit clumsy and a bit slow, but he or she had a reason for being that way. The special needs kid got picked before me. And as if being the one no one wanted wasn’t bad enough, as I made my way over to the team that was stuck with me by process of elimination, I had to listen to none-too-subtle complaints of my team mates. “Oh no. We’ve got her. We’re going to lose.”

This is why I hated PE. And then we moved to Canada when I was ten years old, and my misery was exacerbated in a country that places a great emphasis on sports. Canadians are born knowing how to play baseball, it seems, and they all get put on ice skates at the time they learn to walk. I was made to play baseball with the school, but I didn’t know how to play and I was too shy to ask, and everybody shouted at me when I got it wrong. A few weeks into our new Canadian life my class went ice skating. It never occurred to anyone to ask me if I’d ever been skating before (I hadn’t). I spent the session holding onto the side of the rink, and my classmates were fascinated – they had never met anyone who didn’t know how to ice skate before.

Things came to a head with my eighth grade gym teacher. She felt I was being wilfully lazy, and singled me out for punishment. Her name was Mrs Parker, and she still appears in my nightmares sometimes with her shrill cry of, “come on ladies, hustle!”

All this led to an insecurity that persisted through adolescence. Because I was no good at sports, I was somehow inadequate as a person. An inferior human being. Worthless.

When I got to high school I was able to drop gym class, which I did, like a stone. But it took me a long time to get over those feelings of inadequacy. That not being good at sports did not necessary make me worthless. That it was OK to be a non-sporty person and that there were other things I was good at instead. Like writing stories.

The psychological scars of all this are still with me. But I have learned to regard exercise the same way I regard vegetables. I don’t like either, but they are a necessary part of a healthy life, so they must be tolerated.

I have spent all of my adult life trying – and failing – to get fit. I have listened to all the advice: “look for an activity you enjoy”. But I don’t enjoy anything. Some things I can tolerate, like swimming. Some things I can’t, like pilates. “Stick with it, and you’ll eventually get that buzz from a good workout”. For over 35 years now I have been embarking on various forms of exercise, and I have never once experienced that “buzz” that people talk about.

But I am turning 50 this year, and I am now worried about the consequences of poor health in old age. So I am trying a new tactic. I am going for regular sessions with a personal trainer.

I was very nervous about starting this. I was imaging someone like Mrs Parker, who would shout at me for being lazy or not trying hard enough. Thankfully, this fear proved to be unfounded. For a few weeks now I have been doing weekly one-to-one sessions of 25 minutes, in the local park. I haven’t been particularly enamoured about this – as well as not liking exercise, I’m also not a fan of the outdoors. But Karen has been very supportive. Each week we try different types of exercise and she guides me through what I need to do, being mindful of what my limitations are (arthritic knee for instance) but always trying to get me to push just a little farther. Today she said she was impressed with the speed at which I was picking things up. The exercises involved a medicine ball, with some throwing and catching, which I was better at than I was expecting to be. “Who said you were rubbish at games?” she asked me. “Everyone”, I said. And she said that I just need more confidence.

So far, then, this mode of exercise has been going quite well but I am aware it is early days. Having someone who’s expecting me to turn up has helped me stick to this, and I do appreciate the one-to-one session, as Karen can focus on my technique and correct me when I’m not doing something right.

So, a shout-out to Karen of Be Epic, for her patience and tolerance and willingness to help me improve my fitness level. It might be slow going, but at least I’m doing some form of regular exercise now.

And to finish, because it sums up my attitude to exercise and weight loss, here’s a spoof of Adele’s ‘Hello’ by Dustin and Genevieve, called ‘Hella Cravings’. It makes me smile and nod every time I watch it.

 

‘Bunty’ and Ballet

Growing up in the 1970s, comic books for children were very popular, and consisted of a series of comic strips that told a story. Some, like The Beano and The Dandy, which my grandparents kept at their house to entertain their grandchildren, were suitable for boys and girls and generally the stories were humorous. Others were more specifically targeted at boys or girls and the stories were serials, usually more of a drama (or possibly soap opera). From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s I had a weekly subscription to Bunty, which would arrive with the daily newspaper.

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Stock photo of the ‘Bunty’ annual for 1979, which I owned

I loved Bunty. When we moved to Canada I objected to the fact it was not available over there (I objected to many things, actually, but this is the one that’s relevant to my story). My dad, back in England, picked up the subscription for a while and would periodically post my Bunty to me in Canada, but I guess he got bored with doing it because I was informed one day I was too old for Bunty and no more would be forthcoming. I was quite aggrieved about that for a while. I always hated things to change.

But the comic book itself changed in time. It ceased publication in 2001, but I remember seeing it on newsagent shelves in the 1990s and it looked like any other teen magazine, advertising articles about make-up and boyfriends, despite being aimed at girls under 14. In my day there was no boyfriend advice in Bunty. It was just full of stories told via comic strip.

I did love reading the comic strips, and would eagerly await the next issue as my favourite stories always ended on a climax. There was always a story about a girl and a horse, and always a story about little ballerinas, because a lot of little girls are into horses and/or ballet. I always preferred the stories about orphans, although I remember one story (‘Melody Lee, a dancer she’ll be’) was about an orphan who was also into ballet.

I might have been more into ballet if I took lessons, but we didn’t have the money for such things. Along with piano lessons and holidays, dance lessons were one of the things I promised myself I would be able to afford when I was older. Well the holidays I have caught up with and then some, the piano lessons became bass guitar lessons when I finally got to a point when I decided as an adult I was going to take music lessons, and I did take dance lessons for a while in the 1990s, run by a girl I knew through my amateur dramatics group. Although I enjoyed the lessons I discovered I have two left feet. I am not a dancer. I lack dexterity and manual co-ordination.

However, having discovered first-hand that dance lessons are really hard, I have an appreciation for those that can dance well, and I have discovered a new love of being a spectator at the ballet in recent years. I think ballet dancers move so gracefully and beautifully, and there is much to admire in the complexity of the choreography. Not to mention the beautiful scores, with all the classic ballets being penned by some of the greatest composers that ever lived.

I have now seen ‘The Nutcracker’ performed as a ballet twice, and each time loved every minute of it. A few days ago we went to see ‘Swan Lake’, which is a ballet I’ve wanted to see for many years. When I got notification earlier in the year that the St Petersburgh ballet company were coming to the London Coliseum to perform ‘Swan Lake’, I nabbed some tickets.

It was a wonderful spectacle, and now I can cross watching ‘Swan Lake’ off my bucket list. I may be a rubbish dancer myself, but I enjoy watching those that are good at it do their thing.

The theme from Swan Lake is one of the my all-time favourite pieces of music. The clip below is a bit boring because there’s no dancing, but it’s the best version of the music I could find on Youtube. It gives me shivers whenever I hear it.

My Life in Music: 1971

Throughout the 1970s, I was growing up in Lancashire in the north of England. My life experience was limited, and although I have memories here and there from quite early in life (the earliest one being riding in a little seat that was fixed on top of my baby sister’s pram, at which point I would have been about three years old), the memories are snippets, and a bit hazy after all these years.

Toddler Sara, in 1971

In the picture here I think I am about 18 months old. Clearly not yet toilet trained as the nappy is on full display. There were no disposal diapers in those days; they were all terry cloth, with plastic elasticated pants worn over the top. I remember a big yellow plastic bucket that my mother used to wash my little sister’s nappies in. It smelled of ammonia. I can still recall that smell.

I also don’t know where this particular picture was taken, but I always thought I look quite determined to make my own way down from wherever it was.

Anyway, for the next couple of entries in this series about music I am cheating a bit because I really don’t remember much about the music of the early 1970s. So instead I am picking a song that was released this year, but which meant a lot to me a bit later in life.

I was six when my parents divorced. I don’t have many memories of us all living together. What I do remember, though, is that after that point and before we moved to Canada, my sister and I spent weekends with my dad and we listened to a lot of country music because that was what he listened to. I grew to like it. I still have a liking for country music, however uncool it might be to admit it, and for the last couple of years I have attended the Country 2 Country Music Festival weekend at the O2 in Greenwich. I go with my dad because there’s nobody else in my life who likes country music enough to put up with a whole weekend of it.

Anyway, when we left England to move to Canada with my mother, my dad gave me a cassette of all of my favourite songs from his country collection. I was ten years old at the time, and moving thousands of miles away from my dad and from everything in my life that was comfortable and familiar was a big upheaval. I listened to the tape a lot, because it was the only link I had to my dad, and every time I did so I felt desperately homesick.

So the song for 1971 is by John Denver, and was released in this year, and it’s all about longing to be home. Although he’s singing about West Virginia being home, whenever I hear this song I think of my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne, which had no TV and no central heating and was never actually my home, only a place I stayed on weekends; but still I hear this song and I think of it. And it takes me back to being a lonely, homesick ten-year-old.

I still cry every time I hear this song. So although the memories it holds for me are not from 1971, the song has such a powerful hold on me I had to include it in this series of posts.

Here, then is the song for 1971: “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver.

High School Reunion

I spent eight years of my life living in Canada. I moved out there with my mother, stepfather and sister in 1980. I was ten years old at the time. I resented having to move countries. I moved back in 1988, at eighteen years old, after finishing high school.

The high school I attended was Grand River Collegiate, in Kitchener, Ontario. I spent five years there because in those days Ontario had a grade 13 – now long gone, I understand. The school opened in 1966. Last year, 2016, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it decided to have a ‘reunion weekend’ to celebrate fifty years of ‘Renegades’.

I have a lot of bittersweet memories of my teenage years. Does anyone ever have a good time during puberty? But in high school, at least, there were some good experiences, and it was a big improvement on junior high. It was in high school I began to have confidence in my writing – that this was, at least, something that I was good at, and I had some very encouraging English teachers. I made some good friends in high school, friends I am still in contact with. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons. And I was finally able to drop that most hated of classes, Physical Education. The Canadian education system – at least when I went through it – did not seem to comprehend that some people will never, ever, be any good at sports, no matter how hard you push them. But that is a post for another time.

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Me (L) and my sister, haunting the old school corridors 30 years on

Ultimately the most important lessons you learn are those you discover after school. I was bullied in school. I suppose most people are. Perhaps we had it easier, in the days before social media and the internet when your bullies had to come face to face with you instead of hiding behind Twitter accounts. Bullying is always tough. But you grow up, you learn to love yourself and you learn to put the hurtful things the bullies said behind you.

Anyway, the school opened its doors for an open house weekend as part of its reunion celebrations, and I decided to go. My sister, who still lives in Canada, came along. We were both, briefly, at the same high school. But she was three grades below me and at the time she found me terminally embarrassing, so we were rarely in the same place at the same time.

It was a strange experience, going back into my old high school after nearly thirty years. I think back to those times and sometimes it feels like it wasn’t me – like it all happened to someone else. And the school has changed quite a lot since I attended. There’s a proper drama room with a stage now. We just had a room with a carpet and no desks – we had to sit on the floor. There’s a really high-tech music room, with soundproof practise booths. But as I walked around, every so often a memory would hit me. We went up the stairs to explore the upper floor and I suddenly remembered clattering up and down those stairs every day, between classes. I went into the girls’ toilets and remembered that these were the ones I used every day, at school, because they were conveniently placed between corridors. I’m pretty sure the decor, or the facilities, hadn’t changed in 30 years either.

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Exhibit A: Evidence of Sara’s terrible dress sense during adolescence?

In the corridor that used to be where all the French and business studies (ie: typing) were, ‘decade rooms’ had been set up. So of course I headed straight for the 1980s room. Photographs of the time were hung up every where, and who should I see in that room but my old typing teacher. While I was talking to her telling her how in all honesty her typing class was the single most useful class I ever took in my life, my sister was prowling the room looking at the photographs. I was in quite a lot of them. I threw myself enthusiastically into high school and joined all the clubs. I was trying to get people to notice me. My sister was making a point of trying not to be noticed. She kept bringing me pictures I featured in. Most of them I remembered – I bought all the yearbooks, and most of the pictures were there somewhere. But then she brought me one I hadn’t seen before. “How do you know that’s me?” I said. “The face is turned away.”

She gave me a look and pointed at the picture. “Look at that outfit! Of course it’s you. And socks with sandals? Who else would wear that?”

Perhaps she had a point. I am attaching the picture as Exhibit A. I am the person with long brown hair in the foreground, lookng away from the camera. You can judge for yourself whether or not my dress sense was as terrible as my sister perceived it to be.

On the whole it was fun, revisiting my high school for a day, and it brought back some good memories that I had forgotten all about. But I think the most important thing about reminiscing on high school days is to remind yourself how far you’ve come since then.

Hallowe’en

This blog has been neglected of late. There’s been a lot of life stuff getting in the way of the writing, which I hope to talk about at a later date.

Today, though, is Hallowe’en. As a horror writer I feel I can’t let the day go by without comment.

The irony is that for the first ten years of my life, Hallowe’en completely passed me by. Living in the North of England in the 1970s, we didn’t really celebrate Hallowe’en – possibly because we have Bonfire Night five days later, which was a much bigger deal – when the whole neighbourhood would throw their scrap wood in a pile on a vacant lot all year, and then on 5 November it would be lit to create a big bonfire, and everyone on the street would gather to watch fireworks and light sparklers and eat Parkin and black peas. And if none of these things mean anything to you, you’re probably not British.

Anyway, in January 1980 we moved to Canada, and in October of that year I experienced Trick or Treating for the first time. I was a week past my eleventh birthday. I dressed up as a princess. My sister and I went out with my mother and stepfather and a couple of friends, and we hit three or four of the neighbourhood streets. I came back with a haul of candy so large it lasted me pretty much until the following Hallowe’en.

I didn’t get many trick or treating years in, as two years later – a week past my thirteenth birthday and in Grade 7 – I decided I was too old for trick or treating and volunteered to sit at the front door handing out the candy. I ended up serving it up to quite a lot of my classmates that year. Which they seemed to find quite embarrassing.

What I’ve always loved about Hallowe’en, though, is the concept of dressing up – of being somebody I’m not, just for a day. In high school everyone was allowed to turn up for school in costumes for Hallowe’en. One year I decided to go as a punk. This was so far removed from what I usually looked like at school that most people didn’t recognise me. Which was the idea, of course. And it was quite liberating, to shed my usual goody-two-shoes image and pretend to be a bad-ass. Even if it was for just a few hours, and it was entirely theoretical because I was way too timid to be a bad-ass for real.

Nowadays I’m in the UK again and although Hallowe’en is more of a thing than it was when I was a kid, it’s still not as big a deal as Bonfire Night. Trick or treating happens, but not everyone buys into it and for stores it’s pretty much nothing more than another retail opportunity. Some kids may get to go to school in costume, and some retail outlets let their staff dress up in spooky costumes for Hallowe’en, but I don’t know any offices that will let you do so, and as I sit here typing this at my desk at the day job (I am officially on my lunch break, so even now I’m not breaking any rules), it’s just business as usual.

But in spite of that, I still want to acknowledge the occasion.

Happy Hallowe’en!

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Monday’s Friend: Judy Penz Sheluk

Today I’m pleased to welcome mystery writer Judy Penz Sheluk to the blog.

SJT: So you hail from Canada, like my amateur sleuth. What do you think makes Canadians stand out from other nationalities?

Judy Penz Sheluk (2)JPS: I don’t know that we do, or perhaps if we do, we’d rather not, preferring to keep a low profile (although our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, don’t seem to be particularly camera-shy!)

Canada, and by definition, Canadians, are changing, especially in the major urban centres, which have become very ethnically diverse. Toronto, where I grew up, has changed dramatically over the past two decades. Once quite one-dimensional, it’s now a huge International melting pot. If there’s a food you’re hankering for, you’ll find the real deal in Toronto, from Vietnamese to Indian and everything in between. I’m not sure if that’s so different from any other major city. Probably not.

I think, though, as Canadians we are often compared with our neighbours to the south, and there is a difference. One thing that always makes me laugh is the way we look at travel. A Canadian going to the U.S. will say, “I’m going to Chicago or New York, or Miami or Dallas.” An American will say, “I’m going to Canada.” Doesn’t matter if that’s St. John’s, Newfoundland or Vancouver, British Columbia. I suspect the same would hold true for travel to the UK. A Canadian would say, “I’m going to London or I’m going to the Cotswolds.” An American would probably say, “I’m going to England.”

SJT: When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?

JPS: Destined? I’m not sure if it was destined, but always knew I wanted to write (although it took me years to do anything about it). As a kid, I used to make up stories in my head all the time. I’d have a storyline going on for a couple of weeks, like a TV series, until it came to an end. Then I’d start another one. I always thought everyone did that. I found out later that’s not the case. Part of it is because I was an only child of very strict immigrant parents (they emigrated from post-war East Germany (mom) and then-Yugoslavia (dad) to Nottingham, England, where they met…and then to Toronto in the 1950s, when they married). They were both teenagers during the war, and I think the memories made them a bit overprotective. Anyway, I spent a lot of time in my room, reading Nancy Drew and L.M. Montgomery, and making up stories in my head. Put like that, I suppose it sounds quite horrid, but it wasn’t. I loved going to my room and sometimes I’d purposely get into trouble so I could go there to be by myself. I still value my alone time. I can be social, but I’m happiest in my office, writing stories, my dog under my desk.

hanged mans nooseSJT: Who would you cite as your influences?

JPS: Agatha Christie had a profound impact on me. I read every one of her books (including her six romances penned under the name of Mary Westmacott) during my teens/early twenties. I always knew I’d want to write a mystery, when I was ready to start writing.

Truman Capote. His book, In Cold Blood, was nothing short of spectacular. In a time when there were no 24/7 news cycles, Capote captured the horrific murder of the Clutter family, and he humanized murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock while doing so. I can remember reading it as a young girl and thinking, “Wow, that’s how you paint a picture with words.” I’ve reread it as an adult, and while it doesn’t pack the same punch today (we’re so desensitized to violence), it’s still beautifully written. One of my favourite movies is Capote, starring the late Seymour Philip Hoffman. Hoffman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Capote and it was well earned. If you haven’t seen it, you must.

SJT: Have you always written mysteries, or have you ever ventured into other genres?

JPS: I wrote a few “literary” stories in the early 2000s. That’s when I first started trying to write and started taking workshops. Three of those flash fiction stories were published in THEMA, a literary publication out of New Orleans. I self published the collection on Kindle (Unhappy Endings) earlier this year.

Once I started to write mystery, however, I never looked back. It’s my go-to genre to read, and reading is the best teacher. I also want to write stories that I’d like to read.

SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

JPS: I always quote Agatha Christie when I’m asked this. “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” It’s the best advice I can offer. If you decide to wait for the muse to pay you a visit, you’ll grow old without a single word on the page!

SJT: Tell us about the new book.

JPS: I’m ridiculously excited by it, and it’s gotten some amazing advance reviews. It’s very different than The Hanged Man’s Noose (my first novel, July 2015), which is told in third person, multiple POV. Skeletons in the Attic is told in first person, one POV. Here’s a brief synopsis:

Skeletons in the Attic Front Cover (2)What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

dogJPS: I love being outdoors. In the summer, I golf in two ladies leagues. Only 9 holes, more because of time than anything else. I’m a runner. I’ve done four marathons, and a bunch of half marathons, 30ks, 10ks etc. These days, I’m not training for anything in particular, so I’ll run 5k three times a week. You can always ramp back up (though it does get harder as you age up!). I also enjoy walking my ten-month-old Golden Retriever, Gibbs. I’d like to get running with him, but his leash training needs to come a ways first. I’ve had Goldens most of my life. I can’t imagine life without a dog (although I would not miss the dog hair). I also enjoy going to our cottage/camp on Lake Superior in northern Ontario. It’s a far drive from where we live (8 hours) but it’s beautiful and a great place to write while my husband, Mike, does his man cave stuff (moving rocks, splitting firewood).

SJT: What’s next for you, writing-wise?

JPS: I’m currently working on the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose and hope to have that into the publisher this fall. I’ve also been asked to write a sequel to Skeletons, so that is a priority. And I’m planning a new series, novella-length. Another mystery series, but a bit more light-hearted. To quote Erica Jong, “When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.”

Thank you for having me.

Author Bio:

Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose, was published in July 2015. Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published in August 2016.

Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Find Judy on her website/blog at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.

Find Judy’s books on Amazon: Amazon UK

 

 

A Home for Shara Summers

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that the second novel in my amateur sleuth series has found a home with MuseItUp Publishing.

The first book the series, DEATH SCENE, introduced my amateur sleuth – Canadian actress Shara Summers, summoned back to England because of a family crisis.  One of the things I wanted to explore in the series was the concept of cultural alienation.  Shara makes observations throughout about things that are different in England, compared to her home in Toronto.

It proved a tough sell.  One of the most common reason for rejection for both books was the fact that my contemporary amateur sleuth was not based in America.  I got told many times over that such things do not sell in America, and therefore there was no market for the book.  Americans like books set in America, apparently, or historical English mysteries featuring people like Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes.

When Lyrical Press took the first book I started writing the second.  Officially titled DEAD COOL, my working title for it was “The Case of the Defenestrated Rock Star”.  Mostly because “defenestrated” is such a great word, and how often do you get the opportunity to use it in a sentence?

However, by the time LPI released DEATH SCENE, they’d stopped taking mysteries and were focusing on romance and erotica, so I knew there was no market with them for the sequel.  And so Shara Summers was adrift, without a publisher.

Not to mention that by the time I finished the third draft of the second book, I’d developed some serious insecurities about it.  You know how it goes.  It’s rubbish.  It’s full of plot holes that can’t be fixed.  Why am I deluding myself that I’m trying to be writer?  I crawled into a hole with the book and didn’t want to come out again.

Then on holiday in France a couple of years ago, I met a retired London Metropolitan Police copper who used to be on the Murder Squad, and I asked him if he would read my crime book, to pick up any glaring procedural errors.  He agreed.  When he came back to me, he told me he’d really enjoyed it.  It was a good holiday read, he said.  And he hadn’t picked up any major problems with my procedurals.

Which is exactly what I need to hear, and it gave me the confidence to finish the book.  Said retired copper will be getting a mention in the credits, but I owe him a lot more than that.

Now I am delighted that my Canadian amateur sleuth has come home to Canadian publishers.  No release date has yet been set, but it is likely to be the latter half of 2014.

I am very much looking forward to working with my new publishers, on Shara’s continuing journey.  I hope you will come along with me for the ride.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

When we first moved to Canada from England in 1980, I was ten years old.  There was no email, in those days.  The World Wide Web was not available to all.  In order to stay in touch with all the people I’d left behind, I’d started writing letters.  There were a lot of people I wanted to stay in contact with.  School friends.  Aunts, uncles and cousins.  Grandparents.  My father and step-mother, who were still back in England.

Most people wrote back.  I would look forward to getting home from school and checking the mail, to see if any letters had arrived for me.  I made a point of replying to every one.  I became very good at writing letters, and the process became a ritual.  I kept every letter I received in a letter rack, stacked in order of receipt with the oldest in front.  When I sat down to write a reply, I would reply to the person whose letter I’d had the longest.  If the person had asked any questions in their letter, I would make a point of replying to them, whether it was something generic like “how is school?”, or as specific as, “how did that play go you were rehearsing for last time?”  I would also write about any news that had occurred since last time I wrote to the person.

My letters were long, generally running to at least six pages, sometimes more.  A lot of people gave me stationery sets when we moved to Canada.   Generally they contained a number of decorated front sheets, the same number of envelopes, and half as many continuation sheets.  I never understood this, because it wasn’t enough.  I used up all the continuation sheets within two or three letters and then either had to use more than one of the front sheets, or carry on with pieces of ordinary lined notepaper.  I always wondered why there were never more continuation sheets than front sheets.  How could anyone possibly have so little to say they could do it in a letter only a page long?

Somewhere in the last 20 years, the art of letter writing has been lost.  I admit I don’t write letters any more.  Many of the people I used to write letters to are now on Facebook, so I keep up with their news that way.  Pretty much all of them are on email, and I will occasionally send people newsy emails.

I write emails the way I write letters – in fact, the way I write anything.  Sentences are complete, with all the punctuation in the correct place.  They tend to be very long.  Sometimes I miss writing letters, but it occurs to me that writing this blog is, for me, the modern equivalent of writing letters.  I can relay my news via the World Wide Web, and I don’t have to repeat myself – something of an advantage over letter writing, I must admit, as in my letter-writing heyday I was repeating the same news in every letter.

Nobody writes letters anymore, and not many people write long emails, either.  I can’t decide if this is down to laziness, to the fact that life has just got so busy, or that people’s attention span has got shorter in the last 20 years.  We are used to being fed instantaneous information, in short bursts – Tweets; texts; 30 second commercials.  Now nobody wants to be bothered to read to the end of a lengthy email.  A lot of people seem to write emails the way they write text messages – devoid of grammatical structure, and full of crass abbreviations (“u” instead of “you”) and erroneous spellings.

Most people do not communicate via lengthy emails.  Some people communicate entirely by mobile phone.  I have always been a person who prefers written communication to verbal.  There are very few people I have long telephone conversations with.  If I’ve not seen you in a while and I want to chat, I am more likely to send you a long chatty email than I am to pick up the phone.  But, I am a writer.  Written communication is and always has been my strength.

Sometimes I mourn the lost art of letter writing.  I sometimes regret we can’t go back to those long-gone days when I used to look forward to getting home and reading a letter that had arrived in the post for me.

I also mourn the correct use of English.  I don’t know if grammar has been removed from the school curriculum these days – the appalling state of some people’s Facebook statuses makes me suspect it has been – but certainly letter writing has been.

It may be that people have no need to write letters any more, but kids should still be taught how to form a sentence.  Effective written communication, even by email, is an essential life skill.  What chance have you got of getting the job if the cover email that accompanies your CV is written in text-speak?  If I received a job application like this I would delete the email without even bothering to look at the CV.  If I get an advertising brochure from anyone featuring a misplaced apostrophe in the word “its”, I will make a point of avoiding whatever product it is advertising.  There is no excuse for poor grammar, and no excuse for not knowing how to form a correct sentence.

If we were all taught how to write letters, we’d all be aware of that.

On Being Weird

When I was a child, I was very girlie – into dolls and dresses and such things. I didn’t climb trees, and I didn’t like getting dirty (this is still true, and one reason why I never got into gardening). I never really thought I was ‘different’. Then when I was 10 I was displaced from my home and moved to Canada, and suddenly everything was different. My new classmates talked differently, dressed differently, watched different TV shows, had different cultural references. When I moved back to England eight years later I was still the odd one out, because things had moved on in that time and I had become, to a certain extent, ‘Canadianised’.

I’ve been the odd one out ever since. It took me a while to accept it, but I’m OK with that now. My colleagues have always thought I was weird. I don’t like football, I don’t like curry (going out for curry is a Great British Pastime), and I don’t watch the same TV shows they do. The other week I joined my colleagues at the pub for someone’s birthday lunch, and they were talking about some reality show – which I don’t watch. The conversation went on for 20 minutes without me being able to contribute a word, because I had no clue who any of the people they were talking about were.

My social circle consists of people who I have met through common interests – writing; love of horror and crime books; amateur dramatics; D&D and live action role playing. But even amongst my friends I often feel I am still the ‘odd one out’. Most of my writing group are fans of fantasy and science fiction. They all read the same novels growing up. I didn’t. If you’ve been following the ‘My Life in Books’ posts, you may have noticed that THE LORD OF THE RINGS has not been mentioned. That’s because I’ve never read it. My tastes in books were fairly mainstream until I discovered Stephen King, age 14, and then discovered VI Warshawski at age 19 which triggered my love of crime featuring kick-ass women. I like fantasy and science fiction films, but I don’t really read books in these genres. I dabbled in SF for a while in my teenage years, but I never got into fantasy.

Whenever I meet with fellow members of the British Fantasy Society and we talk about TV shows such as Warehouse 13, The Walking Dead, and Grimm, and they all know what I’m on about. The BFS social nights are always fabulous evenings, and I meet an array of interesting people. I will emphasise that when the BFS was started in the 70s, ‘fantasy’ was a term that embraced anything containing supernatural or other wordly beings. It still promotes British horror, fantasy and SF writers and film makers, even though ‘fantasy’ is no longer a generic term to cover all these genres. I joined initially because of its support for horror writers.

Friday night was the BFS Christmas social gathering. As ever, when you put a bunch of writers into a room with a bar they drink a lot. It was fairly late in the evening and the booze had been flowing, I was sitting with a couple of fellow T Party writers when a lady asked to sit in the vacant chair at our table. She looked vaguely familar, and I assumed I’d seen her before at previous BFS events – you often see the same faces there. She joined us, introduced herself as Pat, and started the conversation by asking if we were all writers. We said we were. She was an actress, she told us. When we asked her what she’d done, she said that her most well known film was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. Then I suddenly realised why I recognised her. She was Patricia Quinn, who played Magenta.

I’ve never ‘got’ his particular film. I’ve started watching it on numerous occasions. I even tried watching it late one night whilst drunk, having come back from a party. It didn’t help. Every time, I get about half an hour in, decide it’s just too weird, and switch off. I just don’t get it. It’s not scary, and I wouldn’t classify it as horror. I don’t find it particularly funny, so it’s not a comedy. It’s just weird.

I did vocalise these thoughts (perhaps unwisely, but I’ve never been one to hold back), and Pat looked a bit taken aback. At gatherings of SF/fantasy/horror fans, she probably doesn’t meet too many people who don’t like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. A conversation ensued about why geeks love this film, and I started to understand its appeal. Those who grow up feeling like the odd ones out, go to see the Rocky Horror show and suddenly find an audience full of like-minded weirdos. And they realise they’ve found their tribe. They belong.

This hasn’t happened to me. The geeks and weirdos find me a bit too mainstream to fit in with this particular tribe. But the mainstream crowd think I’m a weirdo.

What do I conclude from this? Maybe I don’t have a ‘tribe’. Even the people I have things in common with find me a bit of an oddball. Perhaps I’m just a lone wolf. A unique brand of weirdo.

And that’s OK. I am me. I am comfortable with who I am. If it means I am forever destined to walk out of step with absolutely everyone else, I’m OK with that, too.

And incidentally I had a fabulous night at the BFS open night, Patricia Quinn was lovely, and we all had a very interesting chat. I do hope she wasn’t too offended by my not liking the film that made her famous. Tact has never been my strong point…