Tag Archives: books

Portrait of a Pilgrim

The Plan

We are on our way back to North America after having spent about five weeks in Spain, most of that walking the last 120 kilometres or so of the Camino de Santiago. What was the point of all that, you might ask? Why did we feel the need to drag ourselves, and in the end, a wheelchair, across a chunk of northern Spain? It would be great if I could say something glib like, “Because it was there” or “Because we like to go on vacations with a bit of a twist” but it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain

For one thing, we can’t really afford to just jet off and wander around the Spanish countryside for weeks on end. Usually, we either need to find a way to keep working on the road (Internet access makes this possible, though it can also create huge logistical challenges when connectivity is not quite as good as we need it to be). Even better is when we can find a way to tie a project to a travel destination. Sometimes it’s as simple as writing a destination travel article about a place we want to go (or, happen to be going anyway). Sometimes it’s using a destination or activity that takes place in a distant place (climbing, for example) in a book. Taking copious notes, reference photos, or conducting interviews to gather information is a way to write some of the travel costs off as long as the material is used somewhere down the road.

Digital nomad at work in a small cafe in the middle of nowhere.

In the case of this trip along the Camino Frances, though, the intention all along was to write a book about the trip and to find a way to integrate art (Dad’a art in particular). Not only is Dad’s work integrated into the written project, he is also beavering away on a series of works exploring the idea of creating a portrait of a pilgrim to be presented in an exhibition of work.

At the end of a long day of walking, Dad works on a drawing of the Castillo de Pambre

One of the the good things about being a writer or an artist is that all of life becomes a potential source of inspiration. That’s also one of the tough aspects of this type of job. There isn’t really a way to shut life off, close the office door and go home. Everything is raw material and holds the potential of the next great bit of writing or amazing painting. For someone in the arts, each day could be the one where our desire to create something worthwhile is realized. Just the act of living life becomes a pilgrimage of sorts, full of challenges and roadblocks to overcome on the way to coming up with something decent.

When we set off on the road to Santiago we knew we wanted to create something (visual art on Dad’s part, written work from me and Dani), but beyond that we weren’t exactly sure what our story would be. After all, we had plans, but plans never exactly correspond with reality.

The good news is that post trip we have plenty of raw material for a book and Dad is well on his way to creating some very cool pieces unlike anything he has ever done before. The walking together, the conversations in the evenings, the time spent looking at art, watching Dad create art, listening to conversations among other pilgrims, reading about the act of pilgrimage, visiting museums – all that input, that raw material provided a massive amount of information, stimulation, and inspiration. The creative wheels aren’t just turning, they are spinning fast.

We knew that part of the challenge after a trip is coming back and being thrown into real life distractions, so we decided to spend a couple of weeks together after we finished walking to Santiago in order to focus on the project. The process has been as challenging as anything we faced on the journey.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Some of our conversations have been predictable – like comparing notes about various high (and low) points of the trip, but we’ve also talked about mortality, what inspires us, surprises like how much we all liked the Segrada Familia, Gaudi’s ode to nature and God in Barcelona, and what makes a great portrait. We’ve asked ourselves a lot of questions about the nature of pilgrimage and what a real pilgrim looks like. We sought out images of pilgrims in art and now, as we begin to write (and Dad continues to work with pen and ink and wax crayon and tempera paint sticks and watercolours) what is emerging is a story about our pilgrimage, but also a meditation on what it means to be a pilgrim – in words and images.

We collected dozens of pilgrim-related images on our trip… this one from the Pilgrim Museum in Santiago.

Dad is also exploring juxtapositions of self portraits with ancient depictions of pilgrims. He’s playing with stylistic twists and bold colour, taking fresh inspiration from time spent in the presence of Gaudi’s work, Picasso’s ever-evolving approaches to art and portraiture, and the many, many pilgrims we have seen in carvings, sculptures, murals, painted, drawn, and etched into stone.

We have been privy to Dad’s creative process in ways that have never been possible before now – living in close quarters for so long there is no way to avoid seeing how he comes up with ideas, starts sketching, restarts, scribbles, and polishes. At the same time, Dani and I have been clicking away on our keyboards.

The artist goes shopping – finding art supplies was easy in Barcelona.

I’ve been working on recreating our journey, integrating notes about art and history found along the way. I’m also trying to figure out the best way to share the conversations Dad and I have had over the past six weeks or so that we’ve been travelling together. Dani is digging deeper into the many moments that make up a pilgrim’s journey, writing a series of reflections and information essays that take the reader behind the scenes on subjects as varied as bedbugs and courier systems. The more we write and draw and talk and question, the more we discover to explore, describe, question and discuss.

Leaving Sarria…

“Is that where we are going?” Dad asks, pointing up.

“Unfortunately,” I answer.

“Oh my God. I haven’t trained for this.”

At one point we all worried that we wouldn’t have anything to say about our trip, that our three creative wells would simultaneously run dry. In fact, the opposite is happening. We all have found so much to explore I’m thinking our bigger task will not be thinking of what to include but what we will need to eventually trim out.

No fears about not having enough reference material!

Welcome to Patreon – Video

I recently decided to set up a Patreon account as a way to help smooth out the fiscal bumps and hollows of a life spent writing. Patreon guides you through the steps of setting up an account and as part of that process they encourage creators to make a short intro video… I am, for a change, playing by the rules… And so, I present to you, my intro video for Patreon:

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Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

15 Painful Stages of Writing a Book

Want to know what’s going on in my head during the course of a book’s lifetime?

Scroll down for Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book.

Imagine my delight when Orca Book Publishers let me know that Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet has been long-listed for the 2017 national Green Earth Book Award, awarded annually to children’s and young adult literature that best convey the message of environmental stewardship. (For more details, visit the official website.)

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The book has had some terrific reviews (including this one at CM Magazine) and was chosen by the New York Public Library system as one of the Best 100 Books for Children and Young Adults in 2016. It’s been nominated for a Silver Birch Non-fiction Award (I’ll be heading for Toronto to take part in the celebrations in May and speaking to students at several school and library presentations), which is pretty exciting.

Of course, I am delighted to see a book is finding such a warm response out there in the world. But on the other hand, I’m scratching my head a bit, too. I mean, I’ve written a lot of books now (30 or so, and counting) and I have never  been able to predict which ones will take off and which ones won’t. You’d think that after spending decades writing I would get a feel for when something is decent and not so much. What actually happens is pretty much the same process for every book. Here’s what’s going on in my head at each stage…

Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book

Phase One: Getting Started

I LOVE this project! This is the best idea I have ever had! I can’t wait to get writing! I can’t type fast enough! My ideas are FLOWING! GUSHING! My life is a string of gleeful exclamation marks! My fingers are dancing over the keyboard! Yipppeeee!! (And, yes, I use words like Yipppeeee! in everyday conversation when I’m in Phase One and never again throughout the entire book creation process).

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It’s all good… in the beginning…

Phase Two: Getting Serious

Hm. This is harder than I thought it would be. I’m not quite sure I’m heading in the right direction. Maybe I should go back and start again. No, that would be a bad idea. Keep going. You can write your way out of this.

Phase Three: Mild Panic

What was I thinking? This is awful! Nobody will ever want to read this. I should stop and start a new project. Where is the paper shredder? So boring. It is agony to sit at my desk. My fingers are leaden and uncooperative. Oh, look – Facebook! Was that a dirty dish I heard calling my name? Yes, I think I need a long walk to clear my mind. Oh, man – I’m so tired after that walk. A nap would be the best thing. I will wake up refreshed and ready to get back to work. I feel like death warmed over. Tomorrow will be a better day.

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The dog days of book-writing… Let me sleep. Let the misery end…

Phase Four: Repetitive Face Palm Syndrome Sets In

I have lost it. I can’t imagine I will ever get to the end of this excruciatingly awful project. What made me think this was remotely a good idea? This is so bad. What a mess. I should retire. My favourite coffee shop has a Help Wanted sign in the window. I was a great waitress back in the day. I don’t even go near my desk. What’s the point?

Phase Five: Resignation

Ok, it’s terrible, but I am so close to the end I might as well just finish it so I can start on a new, better project.

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In those dark, dark moments of believing what I have produced is utter garbage, I bribe myself with the promise of a new project that, surely, will be better than the dreck in which I find myself mired… 

Phase Six: Submission

Well, it’s done now. Be strong. Click ‘send.’ Aggghhh! Off it goes to the editor. Steel yourself for the worst. Start another project.

Phase Seven: Really?

The editor doesn’t hate it. In fact, there are some redeeming qualities. Yes, some editing to be done, but actually, now that I’m sitting down to work on it again, the edits are doable. and there are parts that aren’t hideous.

Phase Eight, Nine, Ten… : More Editing

Ok, this is getting old. I am now more sick of this project than seems humanly possible. If I have to write another draft I. Will. Die.

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May as well take a long walk off a short pier at this point… 

Phase Eleven: Survived!

Hm. I am not dead. The book is in production.

Phase Twelve: A long time later…

Hey! A box of books arrived in the mail! Did I write that? It was all so long ago… Well, I’ll be… some of this isn’t too bad! Oh dear – I’d change that bit if I could. Too late now… Let’s hope someone else out there reads it and doesn’t hate it.

Phase Thirteen: Reviews, or Silence

With any luck, someone will care enough to read and review the book. I try not to read reviews too carefully – sort of skim through them to see if there’s anything really bad and otherwise file them away and try to ignore them. Ditto with lists of nominations – I have done my best and making it onto long-lists or short-lists is completely beyond my control. This is when I put on my best, ‘whatever will be, will be’ face.

Phase Fourteen: Shockingly short timeframe later…

The book goes out of print. Did it ever exist? Does anyone care? Does anyone else miss the book the way I do now that it’s gone?

Phase Fifteen: Return to Phase One

Because, you know… I’ve got this GREAT IDEA!!

(Images courtesy of the talented photographers at unsplash.com)

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Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

Two Book Birthdays in One Week!

When it rains, it pours, as they say… As if having one book come out this week wasn’t exciting enough, the latest in the Orca Origins series arrived today! Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is a collaboration with my talented daughter, Dani. Dani and I also wrote Take Shelter together and, in fact, have another in the works for the Origins series (about Christmas).

 

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Dani checking out our new book at a Starbucks where we like to work together…

 

Birthdays was a lot of fun to research and write in part because it meant we were able to dip into those big boxes of family photos in search of family birthday memories. Not that we have to wait until we are researching a book before we dig around the archives. The reality is, though, we have a LOT of photographs (my mother was a professional photographer) and it’s a bit overwhelming to open those boxes and go exploring. It’s easy to lose hours and hours traveling back through the time machine of family photographs.

nikki peter birthday magic 15875135_10157964105550364_4577374677000110276_o.jpgThis photo was taken in about 1970 during our first year in Canada. My brother, Peter and I shared a birthday bash that year as we had a magician come out from Calgary to perform at our party in Banff. We invited everyone from both our classes at school and had a party we both remember well even now.

I posted this photo on Facebook not long ago and a friend who was at that party reminded me I had fits of giggles every time the magician handed me his wand which, to my delight and confusion, refused to stay rigid whenever I touched it. The wand’s inevitable collapse each time I took it left me in hysterics. I had forgotten that part of the party but remembered that the party favors included boxes of Lucky Elephant Popcorn.

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Bright pink and sweet, that candy popcorn was one of my favorites when I was a kid! Apparently, Lucky Elephant is a Canadian treat, so if you live elsewhere and have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s why.

Though our infamous magical birthday party didn’t make it into the book, lots of other family birthdays did. Dani’s 20th in Japan (wearing a fancy kimono), my dad’s 80th (holding a certificate from our then-newly-minted PM, Justin Trudeau), and my fifth (holding onto a very fuzzy white pony in Australia) are all in the book along with a whole lot of things about birthdays I didn’t know before we started writing.

 

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Happy Birthday, Birthdays!!

 

For the past several years Dani and I have been working together on one book or another, so it’s a bit strange now to be in the phase where we are tossing ideas back and forth and considering what our next collaboration might entail. We have a few thoughts that might have legs,  so stay tuned. You never know where our inquiring minds might take us next!

The New Book is Officially Out!

It never gets old, the arrival of a new book! Deadpoint was officially released into the wilds today (and, by wilds, I mean your local bookstore, library, or online bookseller…)! I love the quote on the bookmarks, “Fear is not an option.” I even like the punctuation – that period at the end of the statement […]

via Deadpoint is Alive! — Nikki Tate – Author

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Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

Where the Past and Future Meet

 

boxes-in-journal

Just because it’s an ugly job doesn’t mean I can’t have some scribbly fun in my journal. The journals, btw, are going into storage. You never know when I might need a reminder about all the strange decisions I’ve made so far…

At the moment, my past and present are colliding in a humongous jumble of boxes stacked high in every available space in my Victoria suite. After 20 years at one address (a record!), I am moving. And, downsizing. Drastically. With any luck, I’ll be spending lots of time over the next number of years living in tiny spaces – a sailboat. A tent. During my more luxurious moments, in a condo in the mountains.

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Every room looks like this at the moment. Books and boxes everywhere. Total chaos.

With all that in mind and more determined than ever to be mobile and unfettered (as unfettered as someone who is recently engaged can be…), I have been going through ALL my stuff. Yep, even the boxes full of ancient files containing useful things like phone bills from 1984, the dot matrix drafts of papers from university, every draft of every book or article I’ve ever written, random receipts, shopping lists, birthday cards from people I don’t even know… Why, oh why did I feel I needed to keep my copy of meeting minutes from every meeting I’ve attended over the past 30+ years? Phone memos torn from those pink message pads? I can barely remember those jobs, never mind the person or phone number so carefully saved in boxes all these years. The toss (well, recycle) ratio on most of this papery dreck is running at 90% or higher.

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Typical of the number of boxes of files and papers in a given corner… Below, the same corner after the excavation. All that reduced to one, small box.

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Likewise, the books are being drastically reduced in number. I have been culling for several years now, but this last go round is truly impressive. I probably started with 12,000-15,000 books and will perhaps wind up with 500. Which is pretty incredible (though I’m wondering if I could actually get that number down even lower). I’m either donating to schools, giving them to friends, sending them off to thrift shops, or, for the relatively few that may have some modest value, they are heading off to find new owners via a couple of used book shops. Said shops provide store credit only, so for the little I get from my 50+ years of rabid collecting (hoarding!) of books, I’ll be able to get a few choice Christmas presents or select titles I decide I absolutely need to add to what will be a rather modest collection. It’s thoroughly depressing to think how very little used books are actually worth in our world.

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So many manuscript drafts. I kept editorial notes (like these from an early draft of Tarragon Island) and a few sample pages here and there, took some snapshots of random pages and then… tossed the rest away.

Has it been hard to let all that stuff go? At first, it was excruciating. Every book that went into a ‘donate’ box tugged at my heart strings. I may not have read every book on my shelves, but I know where they all came from and why they are there. My bookshelves were a sort of visual archive of my entire life and every time I let one go it was like letting a little piece of my past disappear.

And then, it got easier. I’m not sure what happened, but there was a massive shift in the way I was looking at what suddenly seemed to be an excessive number of books for any one human to possess. Armloads started going into the boxes destined for various schools… most of my equestrian-themed books went off to the Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association. Others, I realized, would find plenty of pleasure in the books I have had around me for so long.

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Photos like this one of me feeding a monkey in Singapore, 1967 are keepers. The French homework notebook into which this photo had been tacked has been tossed. This is why it’s taking me so long to go through everything. There are gems hidden away, tucked between the pages of books, folded up and wedged between old phone bills, scribbled on napkins and, yes, recorded on ancient cassette tapes. The audio-visual finds will have to wait to be shared until I can convert them into something the digital world can understand.

The task is, as you can imagine, huge. Though it has become easier to decide what can go and what must be stored away until I’m once again in a place where I can lovingly place my favourite bliblio-babies back on bookshelves, the sheer volume of material I need to work my way through is staggering.

But so worth it.

 

 

Fewer Words, Longer Process — Nikki Tate – Author

Waaaaay back in 2014, my then agent (P) posted a link to an interesting NPR story about a woman bricklayer on Facebook. I can’t remember exactly what P said, but I think she mused that the article might provide inspiration for a story of some sort. I was intrigued and began to investigate bricklaying. At […]

via Fewer Words, Longer Process — Nikki Tate – Author