After reading 70 mystery books in three months in order to judge them for the Arthur Ellis (novel) Crime Writing, I felt inspired to write one. Just one. Endlessly I walk my dog in Brant Hills so I instantly found a natural setting. An inciting moment was when I took a bag of dog poop from a tree (who puts them there, honestly?) and deposited in in the new blue domed recycling box. OMG! Once you put something in you can’t reach back in to get it out. The irredeemable, Mistake one.
How awful it feels to realize you’ve made an error you can’t correct. I thought about how anxious kids seem to be these days and thought of structuring stories around mistakes; celebrating the errors that help us observe something more clearly or make us more understanding of others’ errors. Mistakes that cause us to change and grow.
Remember no story happens unless something goes wrong.
The Best Mistake grew into a series of four book: The Best Mistake Mystery, The Artsy Mistake Mystery, The Snake Mistake Mystery and The Diamond Mistake Mystery.
Mysteries can require tight plotting; for me I certainly approach with an ending in mind. But my characters take over and I seem to chase after this quirky bunch as I write my stories.
Check the video out to see what I mean and to enjoy a giggle.
When I walk into a bookstore with this vinyl cobra wrapped around my neck, you would be surprised at how many people freak.
“Does this snake look real to you? It doesn’t look real to me. His name is King by the way and he’s the star of The Snake Mistake Mystery.”
The young girl stares at me, gape mouthed. She steals an anxious glance back at her dad. Am I a danger stranger, can she talk to me?
She shakes her head slightly.
“Would you like an autographed bookmark?”
“We’re looking for a book,” the girl finally says.
“What kind of book?” I ask. “Maybe I can help.”
“Your book,” she answers. Apparently I spoke at her school. She’s not sure which in the Great Mistake Series she heard me talk about but I know it’s the one with King in it. When Mom joins us, she suggests they buy all three. Smart woman.
One of my favourite precocious readers, three year old Finley, my granddaughter, visits me at an Indigo Chapters signing.
We call them signings but most authors agree that beyond the dreamlike trance you go into when your writing is going well, the best part of our careers are the one-to-one experiences we enjoy with our readers. it always feels a little surreal to realize someone else will actually read our work; we’re sharing a very intimate creative experience with you after all. The bookstore signing is perhaps the easiest way to achieve this interaction.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be painful to sit at a table with piles of our book surrounding us and no one stopping by. Or worse people avoiding our glance. Some writers are introverts.
And while I am an extrovert and love meeting and chatting with new people, I do find the selling of my own stories awkward. So here’s what I tell myself. I am giving each child an encounter with a real live Canadian author.
This is an extraordinary opportunity for them, a cultural experience totally free to them. The book, or just an autographed bookmark, is their souvenir of the experience.
Best thing ever that’s happened in my career. The Canadian Embassy in Korea invited Kathy Stinson and me to be celebrated and showcased in the Canada150 spotlight at the Seoul International Book Fair.
Thirteen hour flight each way, five whirlwind days there. The first began at 7:15 AM for a radio interview.
Morning Special Live–EBS Radio Station
So much fun to talk to this lively hostess as she engages and sometimes repeats what Kathy and I say in Korean. You can listen in here https://youtu.be/RqT99HkPegE.
Next we met with the ambassador Walsh at the Canadian embassy. He talked about some of the other endeavours the embassy has made to showcase Canadian talent. After that I visited the Seoul International Book Fair. Back to back appointments with agents and publishers were lively as I spoke about my books and then was translated. Everyone enjoyed the concepts and premises–judging by their responses I sold foreign rights to about five books. This proved way easier than chatting up parents and kids and making a sale say at a Chapters signing. But I’m told initial response always seems that positive. We’ll really have to wait and see.
Then I gave a “Meet the Canadian Author” talk and a writing workshop. This was my first experience being translated by Minksook Kim and I stopped in awe to watch and listen. If I ever get back to Korea I hope to have mastered much more of this musical language.
Kathy Stinson and I enjoying traditional pork bbq Yoo-Kyung, our host extraordinaire, took us out to her favourite restaurant so we could try kimchi and pork, grilled right at the table. She also guided us through Namdaemun Market so I could pick up some souvenirs.
Meeting Mr. Lee Jae-jeong, education minister of South Korea
Next day Kathy and I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Jae-jeong Lee, the education minister who is very keen on the Ontario education system. He arranged for Kathy and me to visit Yomnu Elementary School, Kathy talked with grade three students, I presented to grade six.
Yonmu Elementary School Meeting Grade 6
Then while Kathy visited the Seoul International Book Fair, I visited with students of Gyang Foreign Language High School.
Touring the Goyang Foreign Language High School Campus
I loved these students, they were so attentive. They also insisted on giving me a tour of the campus, practising their English on me.
Next morning I was slated to speak at Seoul Metropolitan Library.
The grounds in front of Seoul Metropolitan Library
Seoul Metropolitan Library
Adults keen on learning creative writing
We never know for sure who we are going to be speaking to when we do a public event. At Seoul Metropolitan Library, I spoke with 50 adults and one young person on creativity. I was also supposed to give out 150 writing tips but I perhaps only gave out five. Translating takes some of the time!
Songa English Library wins the prize for perhaps the most enthusiastic preparation and the liveliest presentation. Ever. Students here prepared detailed posters and flies were stuck on all the walls even in the elevator.
Songpa English Library Poster
After storytelling the book, and giving some of the inspiration, I watched as students created fly origami. I still don’t know how to do this. Finally I threw up some velcro fuzzball flies and the students swung at them with their flyswatters hoping to catch them for prizes. Does it get any better?Thank you Canada for taking me on so many amazing journeys.But of course it’s all the people that make the difference.Thanks to Ambassador Walsh, Jonathon Kupi,Yi Hyon Ju,Hye-Shin Kan, Yoo-Kyung Choy and Minsook Kim. Thanks Kathy Stinson. Wouldn’t have been half as much fun without you.
The Beauty Series: Bringing Up Beauty, A Different Kind of Beauty and Beauty Returns, represents the books for which I’m best known. Essentially they follow Elizabeth as she fosters first a black Lab, Beauty I, then a Chocolate Lab, Beauty II, and finally a golden retriever, Magic.
In the second book, the view point splits to hers and that of sixteen year old Kyle’s who gets a white cane instead of a driver’s license. In the third, they go out. No dogs every die.
Over the course of creating Kyle, I met and chatted with many people with visual impairments.
I also wrote the lyrics for a song because I wanted him to sing a lullabye but darned if I wanted to track down rights. Angela McKay, one of the women I interviewed, is a singer songwriter and she and her husband Brian helped me set the words to music.
This trailer gives snippits of all three novels with Angela singing Kyle’s Lullabye.
My son, Craig McNicoll, did the filming and editing. There are voiceovers for Elizabeth (Jennifer Filopowicz, my daughter) Alicia (Eireann McNicoll, my daughter-n-law) and a scene with Kyle acted by Ian Garden, Eireann’s brother. Many dogs acted in this video including Buster, Beauty’s brother. Yes there is now a real Beauty named for the book. Also the golden retriever belongs to Amy, another young woman who fosters guide dogs because she read Bringing Up Beauty.
The covers of my novels were painted by Shariff Taribay.
For me the video reminds me of a huge voyage in my life and all the wonderful docks (as well as dogs) along the way. Listen carefully to the end and you’ll hear my granddaughter Violet give a cry.
If you know a dog lover, you should buy these three books. Available from the usual online sources but also at Burlington’s A Different Drummer Book Store.