A Tale for a Winter’s Night

Imagine: It’s a cold night in December, the snow is falling, the wind is howling. But you and your family and friends are warm and cozy, sitting by the roaring fire. There’s delicious food, warm drinks, and a general jolly spirit throughout. Then the stories begin…

“You will be haunted,” resumed the Ghost, “by Three Spirits.”

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Hands down, the most popular Christmas story (besides the Nativity story) is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. First published in 1843, the 6000 copies sold out in a matter of days. By the end of the following year, thirteen editions had been released.  Today, a first edition copy can be found online selling for upwards of $25k.  

We have Charles Dickens to thank for some of the ways we celebrate Christmas now. A combination of Oliver Cromwell’s puritanical change of religious traditions (he even tried to ban Christmas carols) and the Industrial Revolution meant that Christmas was quite understated. In the 1800s, families were often scattered for work and workers were only allowed one day off at Christmas, thus familial gatherings and traditional celebrations were starting to disappear. Charles Dickens helped bring back the carols, feasting, decorations, the festive spirit. His descriptions of the family celebrations of the Cratchits and Scrooges’ wealthy relatives, ignited a festive spark in the minds of the new urban society.


Growing up, it seemed strange to me that such a spooky tale would be associated with Christmas at all. As a youngster, I watched The Muppet Christmas Carol and was thoroughly scared of Waldorf and Statler as Jacob and Robert Marley. It wasn’t until I was a little older when I read the original story for the first time. 

In western culture, October is the “time” for ghosts and ghouls. Halloween is when I break out the Stephen King novels, visit haunted houses, and generally enjoy a more spooky atmosphere. But this is actually a more recent development in North America and Europe. 

The celebration of Christmas coincides with the pagan festival of Yule, which falls on the winter solstice. Being the longest night of the year, the festival was considered more haunted due to the themes of the death of light. The barrier between the world of the living and dead was the thinnest and the dead could walk the earth on Christmas Eve. A convenient night for Marley’s ghost to appear to Scrooge.

The tradition of telling ghost stories was actually unknown to me until about a year ago. Obviously, I knew of Dickens’ book, and I’d heard the lyrics from “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year“: There’ll be scary ghost stories / And tales of the glories of / Christmases long, long ago. But, I’d never thought too deeply about what that meant.

However, this storytelling tradition goes back much farther than either Andy Williams or Charles Dickens. 

A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one / Of sprites and goblins.

Act 2, Scene 1
The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s play dates back to 1623. The title itself is a reference to these “sad” stories, or possibly is a reference to a play by George Peele from 1590, where a storyteller tells a “merry winter’s tale” about a missing daughter. 


For the Victorian English, ghost stories at Christmas were just as common as Mariah Carey’s Christmas songs are on the radio now. Charles Dickens continued to write ghost Christmas-y tales in the Christmas editions of the magazines he edited, Household Words and All the Year Round. Dickens stopped publishing Christmas stories in 1868, claiming he felt as if he’d “murdered” Christmas.

Many other authors continued the tradition though. 

Even at the turn of the century, Yuletide ghost stories continued to be popular. Authors such as M. R. James (1862-1936), Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927), and J. H. Riddel (1832-1906) wrote spooky tales for Christmas. 

Jerome K. Jerome in his anthology “Told After Supper,” wrote:

Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories…

References & Further reading

Festive Fun

When in doubt, make it one line. 

If you know me personally (maybe even if you don’t), you know I get excited about Christmas as soon as the clock strikes midnight on Halloween. Then it’s yuletide festivities galore! I listen to Christmas music, I pull out a few Christmas decorations, I dream of a white Christmas, etc. etc. 

Not one of those people? Feel free to read something else, because this is going to be Christmas AF. 

This time of year, I also watch an embarrassing amount of Hallmark Christmas movies. So many. They are so much fun; perfectly predictable, fancifully festive, … [insert one more cute alliteration here]. 

One that came out this year was called Christmas at Pemberley Manor. If “Pemberley” sounds familiar, it’s because it is the name of the estate owned by Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. The movie had almost nothing to do with Jane Austen, except the character names and who ended up with whom. 

Though the movie left something to be desired (though it was full of Christmas cuteness), it inspired me to write a P&P based Christmas story.

As it goes often with my writing, I wrote the first line and blanked. After a few days of noodling on the first line, I realized it would be fun to turn a number of classic first lines into the beginnings of Christmas stories. Here they are! See if you can guess where they’re from.

  • It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Bennett family must go to the Crystal Lake Lodge at Christmas time.  
  • It was a bright cold day in December, and the bells were chiming twelve.
  • Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the Blue Spruce trees for the Christmas ball herself.
  • For a long time, I went to bed early, especially on Christmas Eve. 
  • In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me a Christmas gift that I’ve been pondering over ever since. 
  • It was a queer, quiet Christmas, the Christmas they orbited the moon, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.
  • In the late December of that year we lived in a stone cottage in a village that looked across the frozen river and the snowy plain to the mountains. 

See? So festive. I’d also like to apologize to all the classic novels whose first lines I just butchered.

If you have any classic first lines turned Christmas-y I’d love to read them!

Book Review: The Saturday Night Ghost Club

Reality never changes.  Only our recollections of it do.  Whenever a moment passes, we pass along with it into the realm of memory.  And in that realm, geometries change.  Contours shift, shades lighten, objectivities dissolve.  Memory becomes what we need it to be.

SNGC

When neurosurgeon Jake Breaker operates, he knows he’s handling more than a patient’s delicate brain tissue–he’s altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.

When growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls, a.k.a. Cataract City–a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place–one of Jake’s closest confidantes was his uncle Calvin, a sweet but eccentric misfit enamored of occult artefacts and outlandish conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turned twelve, Calvin invited him to join the “Saturday Night Ghost Club”–a seemingly light-hearted project to investigate some of Cataract City’s more macabre urban myths. Over the course of that life-altering summer, Jake not only fell in love and began to imagine his future, he slowly, painfully came to realize that his uncle’s preoccupation with chilling legends sprang from something buried so deep in his past that Calvin himself was unaware of it.

It’s that time of year! As soon as the weather starts to cool down all I want to read is Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, The Raven Cycle, Harry Potter, and other spooky magical things. This book definitely falls into that category.

I wanted to read The Saturday Night Ghost Club simply because the cover is so awesome. It was made to look like a vintage library book, how cool is that?

What also intrigued me was the mention of urban myths, which I enjoy learning about. Though I thought it would be interesting to include a cute whimsical anecdote about my hometown’s own urban legends, I can’t recall any off the top of my head. Of course.

One I can think of is from Hamilton (specifically Ancaster), the Hermitage Ruins and the legend of Lover’s Lane. The ruins are the site of an old mansion built by Mr. George Gordon Browne Leith in 1855. But there was an older house, a ways away from the ruins, where an English man named Otto Ives lived with his wife and niece in 1833. The Coachman of the family, William Black, fell in love with Ives’ niece and asked Otto for her hand in marriage. When Otto refused, Black — seeing no other options — took his own life. Since suicide was considered a sin, he could not be buried in a cemetery and was thus laid to rest at the corner of Lover’s Lane and Sulpher Springs Road. It is said Black’s ghost haunts that corner and the grounds of the ruins.

Anyway, back to the book…

The third thing that made me want to read this book is that it’s Canadian! Yay! I find I don’t read as many Canadian books as I should. I’d like to, but it doesn’t seem to happen often. Luckily, I’ve been to Niagara Falls enough that I could imagine most of the geographical locations… maybe just Cliffton Hill.

The book itself is not that long, and I quickly devoured it in a few days. If you’ve been following along on my other book reviews, that’s quite quick for me. I just really enjoyed the atmosphere, writing style, and vaguely spooky content. I felt like I could fully immerse myself in the world of Jake.

While the plot itself was interesting enough, the book explores a number of interesting concepts such as memory, family, friendship, regret, and growing up. I tend to refer to these types of books as thinking AND feeling books… okay, this is the first time. It’s also full of childish fantasies and the (sometimes) dark origins of those fancies. Think “ring around the rosy.”

I can’t say too much more about it without getting too spoiler-y. Please read it and get ready for some spooky adventures and a semi-unexpected twist. Just read it.

I’ll leave you with one last quote:

That magic gets kicked out of you, churched out, shamed out – or worse, you steal it from yourself. It gets embarrassed out of you by the kids who run the same stretch of streets and grown-ups who say it’s time to put away childish things. By degrees, you kill your own magic. Before long your fears become adult ones: crushing debts and responsibilities, sick parents and sick kids, the possibility of dying unremembered or unloved. Fears of not being the person you were so certain you’d grow up to be.

Magic in the Air: A Seasonal Shift

I don’t know about you, but this time of year is my absolute favourite. It starts at the end of August and goes until the end of October. The magic in the air is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. It’s no wonder the celts and ancient pagans thought this was the time when the barrier between the spirit world and the living was thin.

SONY DSC

Every October I get the urge to write something magical. Last year I started a novel about wizards going to UofT and fighting a magic eating monster (Harry Potter for 20-somethings). In the past, I’ve also written stories about zombies and other spooky subject matter.

I doubt these urges will ever go away. This year, the story is an elderly witch who has to fight off an evil spirit who’s bringing back the dead.

It does make it hard to concentrate on the novel I’m supposed to be finishing in order to maybe publish it someday. Ahh well. Plenty of time for that in the sad, brown, cold, dreary days of November.

SONY DSC

I like to explore magic not only in writing but also visually, through photography and painting. A couple weeks ago, I went on vacation up to Algonquin Park. While the fall colours weren’t at peak (thank goodness because there would’ve been so many tourists), there was still enough autumnal magic to fill my heart.

There were plenty of subjects to photograph and I even did a little drawing of a mushroom.

img_20180922_105610

There were so many mushrooms everywhere, each time we went on a hike. I LOVE mushrooms. They’re so interesting and fun.

I was also able to do some stargazing, which is one of my favourite things to do up north. I love being able to see the milky way, something about it makes me feel so small. Though most of the nights were cloudy and the moon was getting quite full, so stargazing wasn’t really possible. BUT I was able to take a picture of some stars and after a teeny tiny bit of editing, I think it turned out pretty good (for my first try).

SONY DSC

Fun fact: We were up there during the equinox and we danced around a bonfire… okay, we huddled around a very sad little fire.

Anyway, this blog post started off so eloquent and on-topic. But let’s not kid ourselves, this was just a way for me to show off my awesome pictures. I hope you enjoyed them!

Have a wonderfully magical autumn!🍂

A Curious Playlist

As a pimply awkward teen, who was a big unabashed fangirl, I loved when authors included playlists of music they listened to when writing. It was a tiny peek into their writing process and into their personal lives–specifically their taste in music. Even now, sometimes when I hear a certain song, it reminds me of the book.

When I started writing, I always made playlists for my bigger projects. Even for novels (and half-written novels), one of the first things I do is make a playlist. It’s a good way to set the tone and atmosphere for future writing. Usually, I’ll add songs as I go, as the plot, characters, or whatever changes.

Since I’m a big over-sharer, I want to share the playlist for my WIP (The Curious Adventures of Winifred McQuary). It’s a strange (or curious [budum-ch!]) mixture of instrumental music and not, even some soundtrack music mixed in. Enjoy!

  1. One Summer’s Day (From Spirited Away) by Joe Hisaishi
  2. Summer Days by Kai Engel
  3. Don’t Let it Pass by Junip
  4. A Town With an Ocean View (From Kiki’s Delivery Service) by Joe Hisaishi
  5. Far Away by Junip
  6. Tristana by Nils Frahm
  7. Let Go by Frou Frou
  8. The Sixth Station (From Spirited Away) by Joe Hisaishi
  9. From Finner by Of Monsters and Men
  10. Mess Around by Cage The Elephant
  11. Trip Switch by Nothing But Thieves
  12. I’m Not Your Hero by Tegan and Sara
  13. Ambre by Nils Frahm
  14. Wait by M83
  15. Closer by Tegan and Sara
  16. Pstereo by Emilie Nicolas
  17. Reprise (From Spirited Away) by Joe Hisaishi
  18. Dreams by The Cranberries
  19. The Dragon Boy/Bottomless Pit (From Spirited Away) by Joe Hisaishi
  20. I Was A Fool by Tegan and Sara
  21. Lover, Please Stay by Nothing But Thieves
  22. Don’t Let It Go by Beck

 

As you can see, I like music from Studio Ghibli (specifically Spirited Away, which was a direct influence on the book in general).

What music do you like to listen to while writing? I’d love to know!

As usual, if you enjoyed this post, please consider donating 🙂

Quick Tip: Read Your Writing Out Loud!

If, like me, you are a writer and are editing a piece of writing… please, PLEASE, do yourself (everyone, really) a favour and read your damn writing out loud.

This read-through will pinpoint any grammar errors that can be self-corrected by the brain. It smooths out the sound of your writing and helps you find the best words. And the best words are simply the best. Go for the best words!

If you’re unable to read aloud yourself, find someone you trust and respect to help out.

I promise you, you won’t regret it!

Top 7 Book Adaptations

I like book adaptations. Generally. There have been a few that have just made me want to rip out my eyeballs (The Hobbit, Ready Player One, etc.). I pride myself on being able to see past necessary changes needed for movies/TV, within reason of course.

For me, if an adaptation captures the feeling or essence of the book, then I’m pretty happy. Though there have been adaptations that do capture the feeling (the 2017 Anne of Green Gables series) but have a crazy amount of unnecessary plot deviations that irk me.

Here are my favourite movie/TV adaptations (in no particular order).

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Harry Potter purists will whinge about how the movies leave out important plot points and sometimes even characters (R.I.P. Peeves), but the first Harry Potter movie completely brings to life the world of J.K. Rowling’s imagination. And of course, the first book is much lighter and shorter than the later books, which makes it easier to adapt in general.
I grew up reading the books, anticipating them as they came out, and I also grew up watching the movies. As a child, watching my favourite characters and places come to life was simply amazing.
Fun anecdote: When I was 11 years old, I wrote to Warner Brothers asking them if I could be in the next movie (Prisoner of Azkaban) as an extra… I didn’t get a reply.

 

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

When I watch these movies with my father, I always laugh at him when he grumbles and gripes about all the things Peter Jackson got wrong. But, he is a Tolkien purist. When I was a wee lass, I was read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (mostly) and have since re-read The Hobbit and am in the process of re-reading The Lord of the Rings.
Disregarding the travesty that are The Hobbit movies, I think Peter Jackson does a decent job on these. By using real landscapes, real people, and not as much CGI, he was able to make Middle Earth feel very authentic. I won’t even start on the music. I LOVE the soundtrack (especially in the scene I’ve included).

 

The Great Gatsby (2012)

Another movie with an amazing soundtrack. I never had to read The Great Gatsby for school, I read it for fun and fell in love. Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing is like eating a decadent cheesecake.
This movie really encompasses the feel of Gatsby’s world. The characters are just as vibrant and colourful as the space they occupy. In my opinion, I think Leo’s career was leading up to him playing Gatsby. He’s perfect.

 

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

My apologies to Colin Firth, but this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel is beautiful and captures a more rugged, authentic feeling. I enjoy Keira Knightly’s understated performance of Lizzie Bennet. But, I think my favourite part is the wonderful English countryside.
Give me a Regency era dress, a book, and some rolling English hills and I’d be set for life.

Honorable Mention: Bride and Prejudice!

 

The Magicians (TV series)

This is actually the first adaptation where I like the adaptation better than the actual book. I read about 85% of The Magicians before I finally gave up. Now, this isn’t a review of the book, but of the show. I’ve watched it from the beginning and I’ve consistently enjoyed it. The plot deviates quite a bit from the book, but I actually like where the show went compared to the book. I actually care about the characters in the TV series, where I didn’t care about them in the book. I think that says something.

 

Anne of Green Gables (1985)

I mentioned earlier that the most recent adaptation of Anne Shirley’s adventures in Avonlea has left me disappointed, but the 1985 mini-series is an absolute gem. I grew up reading Anne of Green Gables and I still pick up the books if I need a literary breath of fresh air. I am a self-proclaimed Anne purist.
This series follows the story fairly close and Meghan Follows will always be Anne for me. The mini-series captures the whimsical nature of L.M. Montgomery’s books in a way the recent series has not quite managed.

 

Gone Girl

I think I saw the movie before I read the book (the horror!), but the movie was so good that I really wanted to read it. I loved the book just as much. Rosamund Pike as Amy and Ben Affleck as Nick are perfectly cast. This is one movie that I actually like Ben Affleck in. The atmosphere of the movie matches the book wonderfully and makes up for a simplified plot. Though what they can fit in the movie works well for the format.

 

These are a bunch of my favourites, but what are some of your favourite movie/TV book adaptations? Let me know in the comments!

3 Things that Inspired my WIP

For the last ~6 years, I’ve been working on a novel (sometimes more actively than other times), and I’ve lost track of how many drafts it’s gone through. But, this book wasn’t born in a vacuum, and I’ve been inspired by quite a few different media.

Here are the top 3 things that inspired my novel.

Spirited Away (Film by Studio Ghibli)

ghibli_howlsdvdsleeve2

Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a sullen 10-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba’s bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.

I’ve been a lover of Studio Ghibli movies since I was a child. Spirited Away is my absolute favourite and the first inspiration for my novel. If you read my most recent draft, you can pinpoint a few key elements that have made it through all the drafts that are directly drawn from this movie.
If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it.

 

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

by Emily Croy Barker

the thinking womans guide

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.
Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

As I was working on the very rough first draft of my WIP, I discovered this book at my local bookstore. When I read the back cover, I knew I had to read this. It was the portal fantasy I had to read! It was just similar enough to my own work that it gave me a sprinkle of inspiration, especially how to handle the going through and coming from the portal.

 

Pstereo by Emilie Nicolas (music video)

I can’t even remember when I discovered this song. But when I saw the music video, the imagery just spoke to me. I’d already had this idea for my WIP, but this helped me visualize it and gave me some much-needed inspiration. And it’s a great song to boot.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, and these are not the only things that have influenced my work, but they are the most impactful.

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating!

Top 5 Amazing Bookworms (Fictional & Real)

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.
– C.S. Lewis

I am a self-proclaimed bookworm. Real life prevents me from reading as much as I want to. Recently, I wrote a post about how reading is my escape from reality and I know I’m not alone.

Here are my top 5 favourite bookworms from fiction and real life:

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

hermioneThis Harry Potter character has been a kindred spirit since I first discovered J.K. Rowling’s world. We’re both a little intense, want to follow the rules but willing to break them for good reason, and we both love reading. I just wish I could have her work ethic.

 

Belle (Beauty and the Beast)

Belle is also my favourite Disney princess (brunette power!) She uses reading to escape her provincial life (especially so in the 2017 version). Girl, same. Her love of reading allows her to have more empathy. And when she sings: I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I just feel it to my core.

 

L.M. Montgomery

the-story-montgomery-1-1200x675

As a Canadian (especially a female), Anne of Green Gables is written into my DNA. As much as I always felt Anne Shirley is a kindred spirit, her author is also someone I relate to greatly. Her early life was tough (losing her mother and her father basically abandoning her), and sometimes she was the only child in her home. She found solace in her imagination and books. As someone who’s had more than enough time alone, books are friends that will never leave you.

 

Matilda (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

To me, Mara Wilson will always be Matilda. I will admit I watched the movie before reading the book. Matilda’s gumption and desire to learn is so inspiring. I was lucky to have a mother who took me and my little sister to the library when we were children. If only reading books gave one the power to move things with one’s mind.

 

Queen Elizabeth I

queen-elizabeth-1

Queen Elizabeth I has been a favourite historical figure of mine for a long time. As a royal, she had access to an amazing education (especially for women of that time). She was very well-read (in multiple languages) and translated Classic works into English. She also slayed as a monarch!

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating!

Top 5 Favourite Books This Year (so far)

It’s July, over half-way through 2018 and so far this year I’ve read 20 books (according to my 50 Book Pledge where I track my reading).

I’m terrible at picking one favourite. The question: what’s your favourite book? terrifies me. But, I can easily point to a few that I’ve liked more than others.

Here’s my top five (in no particular order).

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters
The WonderI discovered Emma Donoghue by reading Room, which was amazing as well. The Wonder was on my TBR list for a while and I was excited to find it in a used bookstore.
The Wonder is such an interesting story. The characters are so real and the setting is unlike anything I’d read before.
There’s mystery, intrigue, and just enough of a twist near the end. The book has a happy ending, but not in a cheesy sort of way.

 

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

the snow childThis was one of those books that got me just from the cover. It also happens to be my exact cup of tea: a fairy tale-esque story with just the right amount of magic sprinkled in, so subtle that it blends with the environment.
Again, the characters were a big draw for me. All I wanted to know was what happened next.
This is the perfect book to read in the winter, to warm your heart and steel yourself for the long cold.

 

 

Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

31bdysyonpL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This book was recommended by Our Shared Shelf, Emma Watson’s book club. I bought the Kindle edition and devoured it in about two days.
This book is food for the soul with its beautiful poetic prose and thoughtful subject matter. It’s a memoir, so things get heavy, but never in a way that is too much.
Mailhot’s work speaks to me in ways that I can’t put into coherent words.

 

 

 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

the little paris bookshopI actually listened to the audiobook version of this before I bought a physical copy. It took me a couple minutes to get into it, but then I was enchanted. Novels about books are some of my sweetest treasures. I’m a big fan of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, and this book is nothing like that, but still very good.
It’s lyrical and warm prose mixed with a heartwarming yet tragic story. The characters were eccentric, funny, and a little sad.
When I finished, I felt like I’d taken a warm bath.

 

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Amazon | Goodreads | Chapters

the girl in the towerThis is the sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, which I read after I bought the beautiful British edition on a trip. I’d been looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint one bit. It was like going for coffee with an old friend.
Like The Snow Child, Arden draws inspiration from Russian folktales and weaves them effortlessly into the very real medieval Moscow.
I await the next book eagerly!

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating!