Saturday, 28 February 2009

I'm pretty sure that's my ash...

blue, blue skies, cold, calm winds, temps minus 15

Doesn't feel all that cold. Inf act, it's a beautiful day. Just clumped along to feed the birds, doing the round - snow crunchy and white and not a breath of wind.

Just got back from the funeral home in Magog for the visitation for Jacques Dad. In French it's called the 'expose'. On the way down Michael and I talked about what we'd like for our own funerals. We both agreed we'd like the service at Grace Anglican church in Sutton. We both want to be cremated. I'd like to go before him, but apparently we don't get to choose. Seems unfair, but there you go. I also think the funeral home visits are horrific. Not for the friends and supporters, but for the family. So I told Michael I'd like a very simple service, and then a party in the church hall afterward. A celebration. Because, frankly, if I go tomorrow, while it certainly wouldn't be my choice I know for sure life owes me nothing. Infact, I've been way luckier than I have any right to be. Quite astonishing. Michael said the same thing - about himself, not me.

The interesting thing in Quebec, as I believe I've mentioned before, is that often the actual burial is deferred until the spring, when it's easier to break the ground.

My preference is just to have the ashes spread. We did that with my mother. Buried some, then split the rest up among the 3 kids. And we all spread her where we wanted. Michael and I spread her on the island here on our property, into the elder bushes. We thought for a while she'd killed the bush since it disappeared for a couple of years - but then returned.

I'd like to be spread too...though perhaps not right on top of my mother. Imagine spending eternity arguing with Mom over whose bit of ash that was.

we're heading in to Montreal tomorrow...Michael has a colonoscopy Monday at noon. Just a regular check-up, nothing else. And I'm going in on Wednesday morning for another breast scan. Seems to have become a pasttime with me. Some people hang around the mall, I hang around the ultrasound. We all have our 'hoods.

Will start writing book 6 tomorrow morning...Bury Your Dead. And of course we're fasting for Michael's test...and being good co-dependents, I'm fasting too. Am already fantastizing about lunch Monday. Yum.

Speak tomorrow - stay well.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Taking charge

sunny, mild, very windy, temps plus 5

We have what's called 'snow eating' weather. Very mild and windy. We're down to grass in some spots already! And water is just pouring off roofs...sideways because of these huge gusts of wind. I actually checked the weather station to see if a warning had been issued. I felt like one of the three pigs with the big, bad wolf huffing and puffing. Our home has been shuddering most of the morning...

Well, actually, we just got back from breakfast at the Cafe Floral in Knowlton, so we weren't actually here most of the morning...but when we took the dogs for a walk just now we actually had to lean into the wind.

Spent some time writing and fine tuning the March newsletter with Linda in Scotland, and responding to personal appearance requests. Unfortunately I'm having to say 'thank you, but no' to most of them. Getting about 2 requests a day, sometimes more, and just can't do it I'm afraid. Some I have agreed to. The mystery festival in Pittsburg at the beginning of May. There's a fabulous author's series in Rochester New York I've agreed to for December, and an appearance at the Atwater Library in Montreal in october. But I just have to concentrate on writing - already feel behind for book 6. Starting to write it on Sunday.

And heard from our friends Louise and Jacques that his dad just died. There will be a visitation in Magog tomorrow, so we'll go to that, with heavy hearts. So hard to lose a parent.

Must hop off...doing laundry today, and catching up on all those details that gather while we're away. And, Michael and I have each been doing 20 minutes a day on our new elliptical trainer. It's hard! Hard to get the discipline to do it, and hard once on. But it sure feels great to be doing it. Mostly it just feels really good to gain back control.

Speak soon - hope you're well.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Great Company

brilliant sunshine, mild, temps minus 2

A stunning, perfect, Quebec winter day. Indeed, it started out slightly colder, but so clear and without a hint of wind that even at minus 8 it felt mild. And now it's warming up. Michael and I did some charoes this morning (breakfast in Cowansville - some mailing and banking, then shopping at our favorite store, Canadian Tire)then got home and fed the birds, or whatever those flying pigs are. Honestly, how they manage to eat so much and still take off is a mystery. But what a gorgeous day to work outside. The dogs were playing in the snow and Maggie was even chasing Trudy and wrestling for the ball.

Had wonderful news...the third book, THE CRUELEST MONTH, has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Novel in the US!!! The award is given away (and voted on) at Malice Domestic, at the beginning of May. Malice Domestic is a convention of readers and writers of Traditional mysteries...ala Agatha Christie.

And a huge congratulations to everyone on the's a VERY strong list of nominees, which I love because, honestly while I would always prefer to win I am totally happy to applaud for any one of them if they win...and feel they deserve the award. The other nominees are:

Donna Andrews
Rhys Bowen
Anne Perry
Julia Spencer-Fleming

Isn't that wonderful company??? Indeed, Rhys is the guest of honour at this year's Left Coast Crime convention, starting in a few days in Hawaii!

Must be off - want to write the March Newsletter. And put in more calls inviting people to Michael's 75th!

Hope you're well...speak tomorrow.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

3 Questions for God...

sunny, chilly, windy, temps minus 10

Am in Montreal - bit of a hairy drive in...we had 2 feet of fluffy snow, most of it yesterday. But as we got closer to Montreal the dreive improved. Had the hair appointment - I think the results are good, but it always looks good when they just do it, and blow dry it. I never blow dry my hair. Just shake.

I think I might be turning into a golden retriever.

Had a fun dinner last night with Marilyn and about 14 other women - members of a montreal book club. It was held in an Italian restaurant downtown. What a great community they've formed. If i lived in Montreal and wanted to join a book club this would definitely be on the short-list.

Off for breakfast this am with Susan, then a teeth cleaning...then home to Michael and the puppies.

Had a wonderful email from US editor who read the revised The Brutal Telling and says it's the best so far. Yay. And Phew.

Also had the longest questionaire I've ever had...25 questions from readers in Russia...I believe it's part of a book club there. But the questions are like none others I've ever been asked. Things like why do I live in and old home...and if I had dinner with God what 3 questions would I ask. What makes a happy woman.

Fascinating questions...Questions I reaslly have to think about! So that's awaiting me at home.

Heading out now.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Party Planner

snow, mild, temps minus 2

Beautiful, snowy day. Almost a storm except it's falling so steadily and so straight.

Short blog today - lovely day...getting loads of things done. We're having a 75th birthday party for Michael with our family and closest friends, so I spent much of the day calling people. That was fun.

Watching the Academy Awards right now...I LOVE Hugh Jackman. And so far the awards are fabulous - loved how they got 5 winners from previous years to introduce the nominees for best supporting actress. Beautiful.

Off to Montreal tomorrow. Hope the weather isn't too bad. Hair at 1pm, speaking to book club at 6pm. Mike and Dom are also going back and they say we can form a 'convoy' through the snow. That's always more fun. And feels more secure.

Off to bed...and the Academy Awards!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

There it was, gone.

light, fluffy snow, temps minus 3

Perfect winter day. Not too cold, not too warm. Juuuuust right. We Canadians appreciate the middle bear. Every now and then the sun will come out making it all the more beautiful.

Lise wrote this morning saying there was a problem with the blog. Don't know if you found the same thing. I went on to check it out and it was still doing it...or not doing it. Everything showed up just fine, except the actual blog portion.

So I immediately wrote to Linda in Scotland. Then high-tailed it out to breakfast with Joan. She's just had a hit replaced and while the operation on the hip was great she had a crisis in the hospital when her bloodpressure plummeted. Very scary. had to be transfused. There was about a week when we were in Quebec City when we were calling her hospital room everyday to evening was particularly frightening. But she's back among us again...though not yet driving herself. So Michael and I picked her up - Michael then went off to his own table and read the paper while Joan and I yacked it up. Got all caught up.

Joan's daughter is Wendy matthews. Those of you in Australia might know of her. She's a fabulous singer - a big star in Australia. So we spent quite a bit of time talking about the wildfires (Joan had just spoken to Wendy last night) and the losses. And the animals. (and the people, of course).

Heading out to dinner tonight with Mike and Dom. In the meantime I'm catching up on all the details of life that pile up when we're away. Happily, I can do it at some leisure.

Will blog again tomorrow.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Bells of Heaven

snow, wind, temps minus 7

Just walked over to the guest cottage to open it up and leave the key. Mike and Dom are visiting this weekend. Helps, we find, if the door is unlocked.

We're heading over there tomorrow for dinner...and having breakfast with Joan tomorrow. So great to re-connect with people back home. And to do nothing. Not that Quebec City was totally hectic, but I do love peace and quiet.

Heading in to Montreal Monday - speaking to a book club Monday night, breakfast with Susan Tuesday, and dentist Tuesday mid-morning. But the BIG event is a hair appointment Monday afternoon. Remember when I had it done just before the big book launch and tour in the US? Back in mid-January? Well, it was a disaster. Horrible! And I know about horrible hair cuts. But this is the worst..epic. Norsemen should be telling tragic tales around camp fires about this - except it's too scary. But, it is just possible I brought it on myself (like a few other of my woes). But, really, who could possibly foresee that getting my hair done by Michael's barber in a tiny shop in our little village might be asking for problems? Inconceivable.

Sent off the revision for THE BRUTAL TELLING today. That always feels terrific.

Maggie (the three-legged wonder) is amazing. Playing with Trudy in the snow, chasing balls. She no longer sleeps with us upstairs because they're too steep but we took her bed into the living room and so she's right below us. Pat and Tony brought over a bunch of throw rugs and runners because Maggie feels more secure on a carpet than bare floor, so now all these mis-matched carpets are everywhere. And dog toys. And bones. Cannot possibly be house-proud with animals.

loved the comments from a couple of days ago about no-kill shelters, and volunteering (heroes all!) and the dentist who takes in stray cats... wonderful. There's that terrific Victorian poem it all reminds me of... (writing from memory, so it's no doubt inaccurate)

T'would ring the bells of Heaven,
The wildest peel in years,
If Parson lost his senses,
And people came to theirs,
And he and they together knelt down with fervent prayers,
For tamed and shabby tigers
And dancing dogs and bears,
For blind and maimed pit-ponies
And little hunted hares.

Be well.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

International Cuisine

snowy, mild, temps about freezing

Well, we're home! We actually left Quebec City yesterday on the 5:30 train. It started to snow before we arrived in Montreal around 9pm...our plan was to see how we felt, but try to drive out to the country if we could, since a storm was coming in.

And that's what we did. Loaded up the car and skidaddled out of there.

Not the happiest drive, but we got here, so it wasn't too bad either!!

Lise had done the most amazing job of organizing Michael's study, and other parts of the home. I hate mess. well, some I can live with. the only thing that stresses me more than mess is everything too neat and tidy.

Our home is never too neat and tidy...but it sometimes slops over into chaotic.

So, while we were away the wonderful Lise had her way with the home. And what a happy home we came back to. Wow. And - to make absolutely certain she's in our wills, Lise left me a huge vat (as opposed to a small vat) of gummi bears, and Michael a big dark chocolate bar.

She is now our main beneficary. She inherits mounds of papers, magazines, books, gummis. A real wealth.

It's great to be home. I had a long, bubble bath. Michael opened the mail.

And Pat had made us a lovely dinner. So tonight I threw it in the over and heated it up. Too much. It came out very hot and very dry. It was like eating Arizona. Our meals are more often irish. Cool and wet.

Hard to say what Michael prefers. But I know something for fabulous as Quebec City was - his favorite meals are Sutton meals.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Second printing!!!

Sunny, mild, beautiful, temps zero

Lovely day - woke up to huge soft flakes falling outside our Quebec City window. Forgot to get coffee yesterday while shopping so were forced to go out for breakfast this morning - Chez Temporel on rue Couillard. 2 bowls of cafe au lait each and croissants aux amandes (only one each). Then picked up some coffee and fruit and spent the day writing at home.

Our friend Susan wrote to say she couldn't come this weekend, so that freed us up to go much work to do there and the research is all but done here. We're going on a private historical walking tour of Old Quebec tomorrow morning, with David Mendel - have loads of questions for him and places we need to see.

Then back home to Sutton Thursday. Working on more edits on The Brutal Telling. This is a process that lasts quite a while. Am trying to say 'no thank you' to most events this year - outside the launch period - since there's so much work to do and I don't want to get too far behind with the sixth book - Bury Your Dead - the one set here in Quebec.

Had great news just now from the New York publishers...A RULE AGAINST MURDER has gone into a second printing. That is because you are all buying the book and spreading the word and I am deeply grateful!!! Thank you.

Had another email from Sheila in Melbourne. The fires are better, though while some go out others spring up. And as the smoke literally clears the full extent of the loss is becoming clear and it's almost more than people can bear. The towns wiped out, the historic and artistic heritage lost forever. The people, families, killed. The animals gone.

Often, during the crisis, people can cope. But it's afterward the real pain is felt. Like a personal loss - the grief builds, not diminishes, as the days and weeks pass. And the cards and casseroles stop. And people expect them to get on with their lives, and they expect it of themselves. But, weighed down with grief, people can just stop.

I think many people in the Melbourne area are feeling that now.

We're approaching the 15th anniversary of when Michael proposed to me - at Hovey Manor. And instead of flowers or gifts or a dinner we've decided to donate to the Australian Red Cross, and to the wildlife relief fund.

I'd also talked earlier about adopting a specific fund for this blog and my website. Well, I've thought about it a lot. As you know I'm quite active in literacy issues and a huge proponent of literacy as essential for the long hard climb out of poverty. There is no hope without literacy.

But after reflecting on it and sitting with all the options and the causes close to my heart I realize what moved me the most are issues to do with animals. Anti puppy mill crusades and legislation, animals affected by disasters, abandonned and abused animals. I can't do the work myself even if I had all the time in the world. I'm just not emotionally equipped. I can, and have, volunteered at palliative care for people but I couldn't do a single shift in a shelter. Especially one that had a euthanasia policy.

Now, there are a lot of exceptional people doing amazing work for animals. In Australia, certainly. In the parks in Africa to save endangered species. There's a fund called Noah's Wish in the US and Canada that is amazing. It rescues animals caught in natural disasters and was very involved in forest fires and hurricane relief.

But I think the one I'm going to propose is right around the corner from Michael and me, in the Eastern Townships. It's the SPCA Monteregie. It's a small shelter with a no-kill policy. It spays and neuters all the animals who come in. It goes on raids against puppy mills, and saves neglected and abused farm animals. All with volunteers. It staggers along on almost no money and the goodwill of friends.

A donation of a hundred dollars makes a big difference. A thousand is celebrated and used wisely. To buy food, and pay vets bills, and pay for heat. Our friends Kirk and Walter down the road will be hosting the annual Afternoon Tea this August as a fundraiser, and we've offered our property for the following year.

I realize this is a tiny operation, and you might not want to donate to it. I totally understand, and maybe you want to consider a shelter or organization closer to home. But I do know any money given to the SPCA Monteregie will be used well.

You can check out their website at

As I say, they aren't particularly polished in their site, though it is informative and open. But I know the people and the operation. And it's where our hearts (MIchael's and mine) are.

Be well. And every now and then, on top of the normal good feeling I have about the people who read my books, and this blog - I feel overwhelmed with warmth. I do now. I have a wonderful life, filled with creativity and company and love. And kindness. And you're a big part of it. All you give to me. Thank you.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Return of the Couch Potatoes

overcast, mild, temps minus 3

Not that we've actually been outside. Actually, that's not quite true. I popped out in my slippers this morning at 6:30 to open the car door for my brother Doug as he balanced a coffee, juice and water.

The family left this morning and took a lot of life and laughter and some Valentine's chocolate with them. What fun we had with Doug and the kids. Now that's the way to experience Quebec carnaval. It was loads of fun up until they arrived, as you know. But even more fun with them. Yesterday we went to Au Petit Coin Latin for breakfast...perfect. Absolutely feels (and is) classic Quebec. Not kitch. Then while Rozie and Uncle Michael returned home to read (Rozie has a book to finish by Tuesday - needed to read 100 pages a day)the guys and I went to do our some groceries and wood.

Then home - and we all bundled up well and headed out for the last day of carnaval. The main site is actually outside the gates, at the beginning of the Plains of Abraham. There must have been 100,000 people there...loads of fun. Slides for kids, skating, sleigh rides, snow sculptures...and a caban a sucre. What's known in Quebec as a sugar shack. Where traditionally maple sap is boiled down to make syrup...and if you go a little further it becomes 'tire'...which is warmed up, spread on snow and congeles...turns into a warm toffee. (not a car tire)

Oh, it's just the best! So we all went there and had a serving of 'tire'. (pronounced teer). Poor Brian...he and Charlie and I were a head of the others, we asked for 2 tickets for tire...and Auntie Louise didn't have money! So Brian jumped into the void and bought his brother and himself the treat.

Really, unexpectedly generous - and even when Uncle Michael showed up, with money!! Brian refused it.

Honestly, each of these kids has amazed us in their own way. Rozie by knuckling down and doing her reading even though it meant missing some of the fun...Brian by paying for his brother and himself...and Charlie helped make dinner two nights and did all the dishes (he"s 10 years old!) one night.

One day they'll realise Uncle Michael and certainly Auntie Louise are just in the way!

Still, we had the best time (every time I'd say we were having a 'gas' Brian would burst into laughter, so I stopped that.)

Last night had a dinner of cheese, pate, baguette, vegetables, hummus and chocolate fondue.

And they left at dawn this morning. Sad to see them go, but what a fun visit. And today we sat on the sofa and we plan to do tomorrow.

Hope you're well...hope those of you in the Melbourne area are feeling more confident. And as I wrote to each of you personally, I am so grateful you allowed us into your lives, and spent precious time and energy to let us live at least part of that terrible experience with you.

Thank you. And while it might be quite, I want you to know we haven't forgotten you.

Oh, just got the happy email we've waited for to say Doug and the kids are home, safe and sound. Honestly, I'd make the worst mother - wouldn't let them out of the home, ever! As Michael knows. He's actually a hostage, but keep that under your hats. Wouldn't want him to know.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Sunny, mild, temps minus 6
Didn't blog yesterday. The family arrived late Thursday night after a long drive from Toronto. Then we hit Quebec City yesterday. Had breakfast out then the kids and Doug went to the ice slide on Dufferine Terrace while Uncle Michael and Auntie Louise sat in the St Laurent bar of the Chateau Frontenac. What are the chances? Then Roslyn needed to read her book so we took her for lunch and we all read our books quietly while the guys did the Carnaval.
Then they ended the day with a horse drawn carriage ride through Old Quebec.
Brian and I played monopoly at home. He ended up with 29,000 dollars and I have 2,000. I told him the goal of the game was to end up with almost no money, so I won. He didn't believe me, the rascal.
Then Michael and I went out for this fun CBC dinner at Glenn's place. Pizza and a chance to get caught up with old friends and get to know new people.

Have a couple of Australia updates...thankfully things seem to be calming down there, though there are still areas of great concern. Here's what Elaine wrote...

The latest reports say that the remaining residents of Marysville where 1 in 5 of the population is thought to have perished (500 residents) are being taken back there today for the first time since the fires but just for a look, they won’t be allowed out of the bus as the area is still a crime scene. The devastation from the fires is worse than first thought with 1831 houses & other buildings including schools destroyed or damaged (44 schools remain closed) & 7000 people homeless. About 14 blazes are still burning out of control but due to back burning the threat has eased somewhat with the two fires that were feared would turn into one big inferno. Healesville residents are still on edge as fires are still burning there, some have been ready to evacuate six times & our main water catchment areas are still under threat as well. 52 fire fighters have arrived from NZ with cadaver dogs, & recovery specialists & others are on their way from Canada & the USA.
There is a smell of burning in the air (even inside our homes) as smoke & ash haze cover parts of Melbourne, the sun coming up this morning looked strange with an eerie red glow. I was woken in the middle of the night by the fire alarm going off at the house next-door; it was loud enough to wake the entire neighbourhood & frightened the wits out of me. I jumped out of bed in a panic thinking the bushfires had reached us which is ridiculous of course but you don’t think straight when you are half asleep. I looked out of the windows & couldn’t see anything amiss so went back to bed but couldn’t sleep as the alarm went off several more times. Apparently we were warned yesterday that the smoke haze could set off some alarms but I hadn’t heard that!
Victoria has always been known as The Garden State but not anymore. Due to the long drought, water restrictions & recent record heatwave a lot of plants have died or become badly burned. We are only allowed to water our garden with a hand held hose two set mornings a week between the hours of 6 & 8. People over 70 can water from 8 to 10 but I prefer the earlier time when it is cooler! Just this morning when watering I discovered amongst burned out ferns & sheltered under the branches of another tree a perfect little gardenia had flowered & that cheered me up immensely as apart from the big red hibiscus & white magnolia trees most of the other plants have wilted. As for my lawn –it is no more as we aren’t allowed to water grass & it is just a dead patch of ground but it will revive when (if) we get some decent rain so there is always hope.

And here's an update from Sheila,

How lucky we are.

We have a bright blue cloudless Skye, the sun is shining and there is a light breeze. For the first time in a week I have hung out washing, such a little thing, we take for granted.
Our area of the State is safe, some fires still burning but all under control and no danger to life or property.
Our friends in the hills feel secure enough today to leave the property and do some shopping in town.
Some other parts of the State still have fires burning also, but again, all seem to be under control for the time being.
The re-building is already starting in some areas, with crews clearing the awful debris. The help from everywhere is overwhelming. I don`t think there are many people not touched by this devastation I am reminded of Dorothea Mackellar`s words about Australia where Beauty and Terror go hand in hand"
I on forwarded an article about the work the wildlife organization was doing, it included the web site for donations, but in case you did not get it here it is
I know that having covered bushfires in you work you will be aware of the awful aftermath, and the breadth of kindness that can follow, as you can imagine the daily papers, the news broadcasts and all other forms of communication are filled with both horror stories and great feats of human kindness, self sacrifice and generosity. Unfortunately human frailty shows its face also, we have had reports of individuals stealing money raised, and worse one person has already been found and charged with all that goes with the lighting of one of the fires.
A coronial enquiry is to be conducted and we hope that out of this will come some constructive help to save this happening on such a scale again.
I just had a call from Graeme to go out into the paddock, we had a new cria on the ground, a little female, should have been snow white but Mum decided to have her on a patch of dry ground (lots of those, with the drought) and of course the dry earth is still all black, so she has very large patches of black on her white coat but is well and strong, I think her name will have to be Valentine.

On those beautiful and hopeful notes I'll leave you...breakfast in old Quebec city with Doug and the kids, then more activities. Such fun seeing Quebec through the kid’s eyes...though mostly they seem to be scanning for crepes and waffles and hot chocolate. True Pennys.

Thursday, 12 February 2009


rain, sleet, freezing rain temps about freezing

Michael found that word today and told me about it just now in the patisseries, over a bowl of cafe au lait.

'Disambiguation' he said. Or tried to say, but was laughing too hard.

'What does that mean?' I asked.

Snorting with laughter he said, 'It means to simplify.'

Can you believe it? had to tell you.

Now, I have a place to donate money to the Australian wildfire relief, if you're interested. We're going to. Not surprisingly it's the Red Cross, who do such wonderful work globally. The address is:

Thank you to our Australian readers for sending that in. We're also looking for a place to donate for animal rescue. And, along those lines, a place to set up a permanent fund for building or rebuilding libraries, and for animal rescue.

If you have a suggestion for an exisiting fund we can make arrangements with, please let me has been suggested, very wisely, it would be easiest if it wasn't actually done through this blog - in terms of handling the money. Our job would be to simply give what and when we wanted, and to spread the word.

I had a few letters I wanted to pass on to you...updates from Australia, but first, this little email arrived this morning...

Hello Auntie Louise

My mom read me your blog and it sounds great BUT I'm a Standard Poodle not a
labradoodle. And thank you for making it sound like my mom has a great
store. I like it in the store and I sometime like to pee and poo in the
store but I think my mom is getting mad at me so maybe soon I'll be able to
tell her when I need to go outside.

I start puppy classes Thursday night and I am nervous and excited. I get to
meet other pups but my mom is going to be there so I won't have to worry too

I love you Auntie Louise and please give Uncle Michael a big wet lick for

Woof, woof.
Sir Percival

I feel badly calling Percy a Labradoodle when he isn't! What a pathetic Aunt I am. Still, he is adorable, that much I know.

And these excerpts from the Wellington area. Sheila and this one from Elaine...

Hi Louise,

Thanks for your message; it is nice to know that people across the world are thinking of us & wanting to help. Anyone who would like to donate to the bushfire appeal can do so through the Red Cross on their web site

One million animals are believed to have died in the fires & four wild life shelters have burned down so it is not only people that need our help. Did you see the photo of the koala named Sam? It is such a wonderful picture & has been sent around the world after a CFA fire fighter saw the burned animal on the side of the road & stopped to give her a drink of bottled water -apparently the koala drank three bottles as it was so dehydrated. Sam’s feet were badly burned but she is in a wild life shelter & we are getting regular updates on her condition & she appears to be doing well.

We have been in tears all day having heard that a man my son-in-law knows through work perished in the Kinglake fires along with his wife & two daughters –a baby & a 3-year-old, there are pictures of the family in the daily newspaper & it is heart breaking to see them & also others who have died. The toll has risen to 181 confirmed deaths but many more people are still unaccounted for & the final number is expected to exceed 300.

Fears were growing that two major blazes between Yea & Bunyip Ridge could merge creating one monster inferno as just 18km of almost inaccessible forest separates them but due to cooler weather & some rain the situation has eased slightly. However the winds are very unpredictable, lightning strikes have ignited spot fires & with more extreme weather expected next week this could rekindle some fires. Several fires are still burning out of control so the danger isn’t over yet.

It is devastating to see the damage especially at Marysville which has always been considered the prettiest town in Victoria, it is now like a bomb site & the area is completely closed to all as the Police Victim Identity Team is still searching for remains. It is a place I know well as I’ve spent many happy holidays there since I was a child & also in recent years when I’ve stayed at my middle daughter’s house in nearby Buxton (we still don’t know if her house is standing).

And here is Sheila's report...

Hello Louise,

Last night we had Rain in our area (Gippsland) We have had anything from 8mm to 17mm so far. This is not a lot but Oh what a great feeling. As I write to you it has started to fall heavily.
The fires are not out of course, but it gives the firefighters who are now assisted by the Army, some breathing space to reinforce containment lines. The temperatures are down in the low 20`s (unusual for the time of year) and the wind is only mild. We hope and pray it will stay that way for some time.

The other areas of the State are not so fortunate in getting rain but the forecast for all is low temperatures and low winds until next Wednesday which gives all the hardworking people fighting the fires a little breathing space.

Our daily papers are filled with the most awful pictures of devastation and loss, but also stories of extreme heroism.
So many people telling of incidents where they would have perished if not for the bravery of others. What a wonderful job the men and women of the C.F.A. and other groups are doing. Doctors, Paramedics and Vets have got to be included also.

One picture that was so emotive on so many levels was of a hot, dirty, tired looking C.F.A. firefighter surrounded by blackened earth and trees, giving water from his water bottle to a Koala.
This is a non domestic animal who took 3lts of water from a human and put his burnt paw into the man`s hand. In to-day`s paper we were told the firefighters name and where the incident took place (Gippsland) and that the Koala was being looked after by wild life experts in a sanctuary with many other burnt animals.

A story, that to me epitomizes the nature of Australians, gives a little humour in a dark time, it is that of a school Principal who went back to find her school still standing after the fires has gone through and a note under the door naming two tanker crews who had saved the school and asking if they could have an A-plus. What spirit.

I have not mentioned the scale of the loss, to date it is, 183 deaths and still many unaccounted for, 1034 properties lost and over 44000 hectares of land burnt. Some of the statistics state that the fire in some parts was travelling at 120k and hour and in one area covered 18.8k in 5.5min., and another 32.6k in 16min.

Thank you for your offer of help Louise I will keep in mind your offer of books especially, as I think this would be appreciated.

The Red Cross and the Salvation Army are two of the major Relief organizations, if any of your readers would care to help.

They both mention the Koala bear, but I didn't have the heart to take it out of either one, so Sam made it in twice.

How exhausted those firefighters and medical people and vets must be.

On a more fun note for me my brother Doug and his three kids, Brian, Roslyn and Charlie are driving from Toronto today. Should arrive by 9 or 10 tonight. We got all their favorite food in and some pastries - and tomorrow we'll all head to Carvaval then maybe the ice slide on Saturday. We just love seeing them. Hope the drive isn't too bad.

Be well, and we'll talk tomorrow. And remember, in life, it is crucial to always disambiguate.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Percy - and Australia

Let me introduce Sir Percival...Percy for short. He isn't our puppy. He belongs to Marian Misters and JD Singh, of Sleuth of Baker Street.
They recently lost their beloved cat Paddington - and Marian decided it was time for a hypo-allegenic dog...(JD is allergic).
Voila! Percy - a Labradoodle. Now, as you know, we have Golden Retrievers, and they are pretty darn adorable as puppies but I have to admit, I think Percy takes the prize.
Sleuth of Baker Street, for people who don't know, is the largest and most influential mystery bookstore in Canada, and one of the biggest in the world. Big not necessarily in square footage - but certainly in terms of influence. It's also a beautiful store. It's in Toronto...and you might drop by if you get a chance...pick up some great books (lots of amazing Canadian crime writers like Giles Blunt, Barbara Fradkin, Anthony Bidulka,Linda Richards, Rick Blechta, Linwood Barclay, Mary Jane Maffini and of course the great Maureen Jennings - to name just a few!!!)
Now - onto other news. I received an email from another Australian - It's from's what she wrote about the wildfires...
I haven’t sat at my computer much the last few days as I’ve been glued to the TV watching the horrific events that have hit our state. I have just read your last few blogs & thought you might like to hear things from my perspective as everyone here has been affected in some way. I live in a southern Melbourne suburb so am not in danger from the bushfires personally but know people who live in the devastated areas & thank God they are all safe & so far their houses unharmed. One of my daughters who lives in Sydney has a home in Buxton (near Marysville) that is rented out & although her tenants are safe she doesn’t know the fate of the house as no one is allowed back into the area as yet. However her estate agent who looks after the property & his wife are believed to have perished in the fires at Marysville. My youngest son who is working overseas has a property in the north west which so far is safe but things can change very rapidly. My eldest son lives in an outer eastern suburb in a semi-rural area & if the fires keep spreading west his property could be in danger so we are all rather anxious right now.

One of your other readers mentioned the Black Friday events of 1939, well I have personal experience of that, was 4 at the time & don’t remember much about it but grew up hearing all the horrific tales of that terrible day. We were staying in the hills east of Melbourne when the fires hit & had to be evacuated by a furniture van. I’ve also been down at Anglesea (on the surf coast) when fires have gone through with 5 young children including a baby & no car & getting ready to evacuate to the golf course which was the only clear area when fortunately the winds changed direction. My husband & eldest daughter had driven up to Melbourne for the day & the fires jumped the Geelong Highway & people who got out of their cars perished. I didn’t know until they arrived back whether they were safe or not. Fires are something we have to live with in this state but it is very hard to cope when you hear of so many lives being lost, let alone animals & property destroyed.

We are overwhelmed by the support coming from all over the world including manpower, money, goods, equipment & prayers. Some people in Queensland who have suffered floods have donated their government relief cheques to our bushfire appeal & friends in the UK have donated a week’s pension payment –such generosity! The worst part is that some of the fires may have been deliberately lit & to think there are such monsters out there is very hard to live with. Our retiring Chief Police Commissioner is heading up the Phoenix (what a great name!) Task Force to try to find out if the fires were deliberately lit & bring the culprits to justice. The army has stepped in & set up tent cities for the 5000 or so who are homeless, a mammoth task but everyone is helping out in their own way.

It is wonderful to know that your thoughts & prayers are with us, regards from Elaine
I wrote back a personal message - but ended by asking if there was a specific fund she would suggest donating to. Michael and I decided we want to do more than give books - though we'll do that too. I haven't heard back, but when I do I will let you know.
Interestingly, this dove-tails with a wonderful, thoughtful, and timely comment on yesterday's post by Humble Pie - about perhaps using this blog to raise money for a cause. He mentions a blog I'm not famoliar with - Knitters without Borders, who have a fund with Medecine sans Frontieres.
I think this is a wonderful idea, and would love to pursue it with you.
Now, Hum mentioned libraries because they are close to my heart. And possibily finding a fund that helps libraries and kids and literacy in Third World Countries. I would be happy to go along with that.
My suggestion - very preliminary, having given it almost no thought in terms of using the blog community to raise money - is that two fund raisers would appeal to me even more.
One would be something to do with animals - either straight to the SPCA or Humane Society. or a fund specifically to help animals in crises - like the wildfires, or hurricanes, or wars. Or to fund anti-puppy mill operations. Something like that.
The other thing would be to leave some leeway so that we could respond to specific 'people' crises. Like the Australia wildfires, or a particularily devestating hurricane. Though this might be better done through the Red Cross.
What do people think? As Hum says, with an initiative like this it would be important that people could easily give as little as they like...five dollars, etc. So there would be no pressure to give constantly or more than you could afford.
It would also be fun if, like the Knitters without Borders we could somehow keep track, not of individual donations, but the over all amount. Apparently the Knitters have raised, over the course of years, about half a million dollars. Wouldn"t that be something?
Great idea, Hum. In the meantime, I will let you know about a fund for Australian wildfire relief, as soon as I hear of one.


overcast, mild, temps minus 5

Nice day...breakfast at Le Petit Coin Latin. Omelets. Then strolled home past a building going up a street over. We can see the workers through our bedroom window in the morning. Which, I presume, means they can see us.

The older I get the less I care. I think my bashfulness is in inverse proportion to my cellulite. Strange. I guess maybe I not longer expect men to whistle or pay attention. I am invisible, which at 50 is understandable, even comfortable. At 25 it's less so.

Another reason to enjoy aging. Though can't think the construction workers across the way agree.

As we walked by we chatted with them. It will be a series of condos. Ready by summer, they hope. Michael and I both wished we had a desire to live here. They would make a great place to live! But first London, then New York.

I've shifted my fantasies. A small studio apartment (as opposed to a trophy house) or maybe a modest one bedroom, brilliant located in London, Paris, New York. Wouldn't that be great.

Won't happen, of course. And frankly, all we really want to do is stay home, but it's fun to dream, and dream decorate.

Have an update from Sheila in Australia about the fires...and you might want to read Caroline, who left a very powerful comment after yesterday's post.

Here's the email Sheila sent today:

Yes the cooler conditions have eased some of the State

How to explain the devastation that has hit Victoria? It is so overwhelming I don`t know where to start.

The death toll now stands at 173 and still people unaccounted for! Fires still raging out of control in several places in the State! Many large areas still on fire and with a change of wind, will again threaten Towns.

I have just gone down to our small town (Pop approximately 2000) for a newspaper and the atmosphere is so strange. Driving the 3k I felt that everything was sad. The trees and bushes were burnt and drooping because of the temperatures and winds we had, and together with every building, are covered in the black soot like substance that is covering everything for miles .

The people in town who are usually so bright and happy are quiet and subdued. The conditions will have impacted on most through friends and family, and yet we are a community which has not been directly hit.

Many of the township will have family and friends who are members of the C.F.A. (Country Fire Authority) a voluntary organization throughout the country, without which we would be lost, and this in itself causes a lot of worry as these men and women put their lives in so much danger for their communities.

The stories of loss are almost unbearable to hear, the stories of survival seem like miracles, and the stories of incredible bravery make you feel so humble.
The Australian people always so warm hearted, are so generous, and especially when help for others is needed, have already donated over 2millon dollars and that is just the start. Corporate Australia too has already donated millions and in this economic climate can`t be taken lightly. The rebuilding will take massive amounts there is just so much lost.

The loss of animals is devastating and so much heartache for so many, I was in tears listening to one man telling of how he had to shoot so many of his horses.

I have seen in the daily newspaper huge advertisements, never imagined before, from insurance companies. The gist of which is for people to contact their insurance companies to enable them to help with accommodation, transport etc.

On a personal note, our friend is now at home and we are ready to go get her at any time should the need arise. The fires around them are still going and the roads in and out of the area are closed to all but essential traffic, but the cooler temperatures and the lack of wind are making it safe enough at present. Worrying about family does not help when you are ill.
We have several friends in other areas of the State we have been worried about, but all are safe, but still on alert.

We are still cleaning and trying to help ailing trees and bushes but our main centre of activity is cleaning the working shed and pens as we have about 8 alpacas still to cria (the young of alpacas) but I can`t help thinking that to even think of this as a chore when so many have lost so much is a bit self centred

On a lighter note. When we built this house we had it rendered and I thought it should be painted, I was however howled down by my husband Graeme, daughter Sandra, and son Bruce, (neither children are still at home by the way) who thought that it looked good the off white colour. However after all the hosing etc yesterday my husband cheerfully thought it might be a good idea to think about having the house painted. Ah well!!

I will keep posting Sheila's messages, and as I mentioned, you might read Caroline's very moving comment after yesterday's post.

i wrote to Sheila offering to send books to any library she knows of that might need help re-building. Feels like a feeble offer, but I know a sincere offer is never feeble and always welcome. And that moral support is as substantial as any other.

Remarkable people.

Monday, 9 February 2009

fire and ice

Sunny, windy, cold - temp minus 15

Hi there.

I didn't blog yesterday because I was a little tired (read lazy). We'd been at the brunch at the Chateau Frontenac to watch the amazing Course en Canot...which is this race across the semi-frozen St. Lawrence river. In huge canoes. Teams of 5 people who train like maniacs for the 1 hour race. Part of the time they're dragging the heavy canoe over solid ice, part of the time they're rowing through open water...and the rest of the time they're hanging half in and half out of the canoe pushing it along the slush.


You can imagine how exhausted we were after that brunch. If you thought things were competitive on the ice you should have seen us when work spread there were snow crab legs at the buffet.

Also got my photo taken with Bonhomme Carvaval, and Jacquie Czernin, host of the CBC afternoon radio show. Peter Black was there too - leading the charge to the buffet. And David and Donna Mendel. David's both an historian and a tour guide. He'll be giving Michael and me a private tour of the old city later in the week.

On our way there - about three steps outside our front door, I took a tumble. Not for the first time. As Canadian we spend most of the winter in flight - either to warmer climates or hovering a foot or so above the ice. Before thumping back down. Normally nothing much happens. We Canadian bounce.

And happily nothing much happened this time, though I thought it was ironic the first time I was wearing a dress this whole trip I should take off and end up spread eagled on the ice. There's no way to do that gracefully.

The other thing I've noticed is that when people fall the first thing they do, generally, it get up and say they're fine. Fine, I'm fine. I wonder if it's a frantic desire not to be the centre of attention. Maybe it's Canadian. Don't really know.

But I do know I was fine.

But, way more important than any of this is this email I received from Sheila, who lives near Melbourne, Australia. You've probably heard about the horrible wild fires there and intense heat. Sheila wrote yesterday and I'd like you to read what she describes...

While you are freezing we have had the hottest days since records were kept, several days in a row of 43-45c and Yesterday 46.3c with winds in the afternoon worse than any recorded or that anyone can remember. What a topsy turvey place the world has become regarding weather patterns.
Unfortunately because of the drought, heat, and winds we have so much of our State (Victoria) on fire.
So far 66 deaths, with so many still unacounted for, over 600 houses lost, several small towns wiped out and so many people in the burns units of hospitals.

We have spent the day scrubbing down walls, doors and windows before corrosion occurs due to the resin from trees mixed with the ash that is covering everything. We are not in any danger of losing house or farm sheds but had to lock up animals in case the dry grass caught and with fires only about 5klm away that was a possibility. The animals were quite disorientated due to the winds and the fact the sky was red cloud and completely dark by 5 o`clock, usual time at this time of year around 9pm

We have a sick friend with us as their farm is in the hills about 10k as the crow flies from us, and is surrounded by bush and State Forests and until the wind dropped last night they thought they were going to loose. Her husband and daughter stayed to man the water pumps and sprays and tonight they are on alert but not in acute danger. The small community has lost 4 houses and thousands of acres around them are still burning.

Of all the bush fires Australia has had Black Friday of 1939 has always been considered the worst but now it seems as thought yesterday will take that very unhappy record.

I just saw on television that the deaths have risen to 170. If you have a mind to, might I suggest a moment of quiet thought for Sheila, her friends, neighbors, strangers...all the people living with such terrible uncertainty, and those for whom uncertainty has slipped over into certainty.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

New York Times - review

cloudy, sleet, mild, temps 0

well, this was unexpected! I'd happily blogged in early Janurary that the NYT was going to do a review of A RULE AGAINST MURDER to run January 25th. But then when I was in Phoenix for the launch earlier that week I got a call from the publishers to say it wasn't going to happen.

We were all very disappointed since a review, good or bad, in the Times is significant.

Then, last this past week I started getting messages from people - some congratulating me on having a review in, some asking if it was happening. I patiently wrote back to thank them, but explain there was no review.

Then, woke up this morning to another flurry of messages - many attaching the actual review - which will run in tomorrow's Book Section. Here it is!!!!

Louise Penny applies her magic touch to A RULE AGAINST MURDER (Minotaur, $24.95), giving the village mystery an elegance and depth not often seen in this traditional genre. Although Penny is no slouch at constructing a whodunit puzzle, her great skill is her ability to create a charming mise-en-scène and inhabit it with complex characters.

There’s something other­worldly and altogether enchanting about the Manoir Bellechasse, the magnificent lodge in the Canadian wilderness where Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, has taken his wife for their 35th wedding anniversary. Not only does the auberge offer grand views and the order and calm of old-world service, but it also observes a no-kill policy, with the proprietors feeding wild animals in winter and forbidding guests to hunt or fish. Someone obviously failed to explain that rule to the cultured but quarrelsome family holding a reunion to unveil a statue of their late patriarch, who makes his feelings felt by toppling down on one of his own. As Gamache observes, “things were not as they seemed,” not even in a paradise like Bellechasse. And never in a Louise Penny mystery.

Wow! Thank you to all the people who saw this in advance copy and sent it on...and sincere aplogies to people kind enough to say something, whom I didn't believe!

But, having given up on the possibility of a review in the NYT this feels like a huge unexpected gift. Exactly what it is, in fact! Yipppee...and long live Marilyn Stasio - the crime reviewer.

Had, as you might expect, a terrific day. Spent it in bed, actually, which is why this blog is being posted late. Not ill - just relaxed and lazy. Read a good book, drank coffee, napped, responded to emails. Napped. Napped. Wonderful.

Am now up and dressed and Michael's having a nap. We're trying to figure out if we want to go out for dinner (steak frites on the corner) or stay in. I'm now keen to go out - celebrate. Especially since I'm the one dressed and vertical. But we'll see how the Big Guy is feeling in an hour. If he'd like dinner in bed it's the least I can do after he climbed the stairs for me a dozen times today.

Oh, by the way, if you feel you'd like to rent this home you can. the only catch is that Old Quebec City is fearful that it will stop being a place where people actually live and become a spot for visitors only - too many hotels and B&B's and places let by the can change the character of a place. So the city has brought in a new rule stating that places can still be rented, but no longer by the week. The minimum is a month.

But, if you have a month to spare and want to explore Quebec City and the surrounding area (Isle D'Orleans, Montreal, Gaspe, Tadoussac and whale watching - in summer) then this is a great base.

If you're interested, or just want to see more pix of this home, you can go to

or vrbo (vacation rental by owner)...not sure what this home is listed under, though! But it's in the Quebec City listing.

Hope that helps. We're off to that big brunch at the Chateau Frontenac tomorrow to celebrate carnaval with all the dignitaries...and us. apparently it"s expected we'll wear a ceinture fleche...which is a traditional Quebecois braided belt. We actually have quite a rare, authentic one, but we left it at home - d'oh. So we'll need to buy a couple on our way up there. The finals of the cross river canoe race are on at the same time, so this is also a celebration of that.

Really looking forward to it.

Be well, and will report in tomorrow -

Friday, 6 February 2009

Advice for new writers

partly cloudy, temps minus 5, breezy

Very pleasant, walking south on rue Saint-Jean. Not so comfortable walking back. Wind right in the face. Still, fortunately it's not that cold.

Woke up this morning and tried to figure out why I'm having so much more fun here than I did in Paris. There's no way, as gorgeous as Quebec City is, it can be considered that much better than Paris! Perhaps I'm simply more familair with Quebec. And I have friends here. And a mission. that's always fun. Research. I think too I'm more relaxed. I was just exhausted when we went to paris in early December...all I really wanted to do was sleep and eat. Paris felt just too energetic, too thrilling. Too enervating.

But I think a huge factor for me is this home we've rented for the month. It's beautiful. Spacious, gracious, comfortable, renovated enough to be up-to-date but without the character stripped away. And the masterbedroom in the eaves is nothing short of spectacular. That, for me, is a huge issue.

I nest. I sure don't need a big space...but I do need a place I find beautiful, and safe.

I'm not an adventuruous person. As a teenager I realize I was physically daring (parachuting etc) but emotionally very timid - frightened. Now, at 50, I'm more cautious physically but way more daring and confident emotionally and intellectually.

So, yeah, give me a challenging book to write...and put me in a small room...but it better be beautiful. And have pastries.

Spent a lovely morning in Chez Temporel. Michael and I first had breakfast at Le Petit Coin Latin (omelettes) - then he came home to work on his laptop, and I took my notebook down the street to the cafe. Tiny place, as I've described. 10 small tables, tin ceiling, long wooden bar. I think everyone else (3 people) was writing a book as well. At least 2 of them were nursing coffees and writing on laptops or in notebooks. The third spent an hour reading Le Soleil (daily Quebec City newspaper).

In a Quebec cafe no one hurries you. You're welcome to bring a book, order a coffee, and sit all day.

I had a bowl of guess what and schemed. Needed to figure out how Gamache figures it out. Some mystery writers don't need to plot that closely - I do. For me it's the foundation from which the story and the characters take off. As long as I have that I feel free to be really creative. One of the wonderful things I've learned - there is no right or wrong way to write a book - just what works for each of us.

The advice I give to aspiring writers is pretty simple:

1) read poetry
2) write what you like to read
3) write for yourself - believe in it, and others will too
4) your creative self needs to write the first draft. Go wild - let yourself really go. Ignore your internal critic who says it's crap. (there's a place for your 'critic' in the editing - but not before)
5) Be kind to yourself - set yourself up for success
6) never, ever forget how lucky you are...and enjoy it.

I don't always remember my own advice...but on days I do I do my best work. And have fun.

Thursday, 5 February 2009


sunny, breezy, temps minus 8

Feels a little colder today thanks to the wind - but still pleasant. What a mess in Britain - all that snow. And, on the other extreme, I've heard from some readers in Melbourne, Australia that it was 44 degrres celcius which is roughly a million degrees fahrenheit. You could roast a marshmallow in that temperature.

We're not in danger of that here.

Had a great time scheming some more. Michael and I did breakfast yesterday and plotted how the murder happened - why - the clues, the red herrings...the place of history. Then we came home and I made notes all afternoon on our conversation. I have a 'master' notebook, divided in to sections - Characters, Plot, Descriptions and atmosphere, Quotes and Poetry. And, uniquely for this book, History.

As the research progresses I keep notes. Crucial not to forget any details. This is proving both complex and huge fun! I need to sprinkle enough clues that you can figure it out...enough red herrings so it isn't clear which clues are important. Enough mis-direction to make it a fun read, but not so much that it becomes confusing. That's it really. I need it to be rich in purpose and character - complex in plot - but not confusing.

So I need to figure out what and in the past. And how if effects what people do today. And how Gamache unravels the clues. Or maybe this will be the one he doesn't solve. Maybe this will be the one no one solves. That rare beast in detective fiction - an unresolved case. Hmmm.

Spent a few peaceful minutes (about an hour) in the Literary and Historical society today, making notes. I had a couple of ideas and needed to check some research. Turns out my ideas won't work - but fortunately I found something that will work even better, and tie up another loose end. Such fun. And people are unbelievably helpful and accomodating.

I was slightly concerned before coming to Quebec City that the English community wouldn't take kindly to my ideas - or to my thoughts about Quebec history. My theories, really. But they've proven unbelievably flexible and helpful. Even suggesting each other as the murderers!

Such a beautiful library, the Lit and His. If and when you come to Quebec City I'd encourage you to visit. I'm presuming you're reading this because you, like me, love books. And probably love libraries. This is one not to be missed. Not because it's big - it isn't, quite the opposite. Not because it has a unique collection - it doesn't. But it is simply peaceful and old and light and feels both thoughtful and welcoming.

Writing this I got to thinking of the wonderful library on Mackinac Island we visited for an event this past summer. It too is tiny. But perfect. With views out into the great lake, and a huge stone fireplace. And books, too.

And I also think of the lovely old community library in Staatsburg I visited when STILL LIFE first came out and no one knew about it, or cared. Except Anne Jordan - the head of the library in Staatsburg.

I didn't realize until this moment that one of the biggest gifts my writing has given me is a chance to enter so many beautiful libraries. And meet people who work for pittance - often for nothing - because they love books.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

What if....

overcast, mild, temps minus 5

Lovely day - but I've come to appreciate in Quebec City that the only thing worse than a brutaly cold day is an extremely mild one. Both can kill you. The cold is obvious - what is less obvious in a Quebec City winter is what is lurking just above you. Snow on roofs that slides off like an avalanche when it gets either too heavy or too mild. But the worst are the icicyles. This is a city of ice. And most of it hanging three stories up, in the shape of a dagger, like Damacles.

As we walked this morning we marvelled at the huge chunks of ice on the sidewalk and spilling onto the road...then we realized what they were...and where they'd come from. And if we, or anyone else, had happened to be walking book 6.

The other small winter detail, shared by most Canadians and so common as to be hardly noticed, is the tiny pricking of boiling water on the hand holding the hot water bottle. As we pour the boiling water into the spout it sometimes backs up and 'burps' - which sends a very small guyser of hot water onto the hand. It's not pleasant. Pouring hot water bottles become a's vital to get the water going straight down the hole, without backing up.

This is perhaps another reason Canadians don't rule the world. Our minds are taken up with other things. Like water. Boiling and frozen.

Had fun yesterday. Rushed out in the morning to meet Jacquie for breakfast at the Chez Temporel cafe. Great old 'intellectual' hangout we'd never have found or once found not have entered (looks like a hole in the wall). But is known to have the best coffee and croissants in the old city. And they're not wrong. Jacquie and I had their almond croissants - unbelieveable - with shaved almonds on top and almond paste inside...while Michael had two regular croissants (he's a classicist). no one was disappinted.

had a wonderful conversation with jacquie - about all sorts of things - including a thing called the Night of the Long Knives...which for Canadian political junkies refers to a seminal evening many years ago when the separatist Premier of Quebec was politically ambushed by his Federalist fellow premiers and the Prime Minister....and that led to many, many years of hard sovereingist sentiments and a deep and abiding distrust of anything Federalists might say.

This is, after all, a province fueled by memories as long and sharp as those knives.

But seems Night of the Long Knives has become a playful description of a very competitve ice sculpture competition during the Quebec Winter Carnival. Teams of sculptors from around the world are each given a massive block of ice - and 12 hours to complete a carving. They have chain saws and hacksaws and knives and finally tiny whittling tools for the finest details. And they race each other. And apparently sometimes sabotage each other.

From breakfast we were late and had to meet Louisa Blair across town, outside the walls, at the Grand Theatre, on Rene Levesque blvd. Michael - clever man - found an underground way to get there. We'd never met Louisa - a prominent local historian - and when we arrived there must have been 5,000 6 year olds just getting out of a concert at the Grand Theatre. Which was noisy and disconcerting - this sudden sea of wool, and tuques and snow suits - but it actually made finding Louisa quite easy since anyone over 3 feet tall stood out.

We repaired to a local Tim Horton's and schemed murder for an hour and a half. I just adore this part of the process...being with intelligent, informed people who are willing to bend reality and think of what might have been possible. Fascinating, and so creative. We sipped double doubles and went down all these 'What if...' alleys. And finally came up with something that Louisa said might even be what actually happened. Something unexplored but plausible.

It felt like hitting gold. thanks to Louisa Blair.

Then we raced out of there...late again. And ran home. Had a pre-interview with the CBC Montreal afternoon show at 1pm...and a live in-studio interview at 5:20. Then Michael and I walked home, past the skaters on the rink created at Porte Saint-Jean - one of the three gates into the old city...and up rue Sainte-Ursule to the Moroccan restaurant. Had lamb couscous and Michael had Lamb Tagine with prunes. It's a 'bring your own wine' restaurant...which of course we don't do...but it's another hole-in-the-wall and if our friend Susan hadn't told us about it we'd never have tried it. Wonderful. Entire meal - including soft drinks - was less than 50 dollars for two.

We had breakfast at Le Petit Coin Latin this am - spending a couple of hours going over details of the crime...and the history lugged along with it. And am now home. Have a 2pm radio interview the Bob McLean...great former CBC journalist now hosting his own will light the fire, carefully pour a hot water bottle (though as I've been writing this I've heard the kettle boiling so I suspect Michael has a few red marks on his hand and two full bottles) and will committ to paper what we discussed over breakfast.

Great life. No one can quite believe this is my job. Neither can I.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Another day at the office

partly cloudy, temps minus 5

Yesterday was a hoot. And a scream and a shriek. We started out late and decided instead of going to breakfast on rue Saint-Jean we'd wander and see what we could find. It was going to be, I suspected, a quiet day.

If I ever thought I had some psychic powers that suspicion was laid to rest.

First, we found Notre Dame Bascillica...quite hard to miss, really. Massive church in the centre of the old city. The prevailing idea is that Champlain is buried somewhere below it, though it wasn't there at the time of his death. But it was fun to sit there quietly for a few contemplative moments. And remember that just 2 months ago we were doing the same thing at Notre Dame in Paris.

Then we asked a single question. Not about whether God exisits, not about Grace or the afterlife, or even the body of Champlain.

We asked where we could get breakfast. Happily there was a very clear answer to that. The Cafe Buade, across the street. Great old institution. Banquettes, exposed stone wall...a little faded. We had cafe au laits - I had scrambled eggs and bacon and Michael had Pain D'ore (french toast) with bananas and strawberries and syrup.

After breakfast we needed to use the washroom and in searching for them Michael noticed signs to a multi-media show called Quebec Experience...a 3-D show about the history of Quebec City! Honestly, it just dropped into our laps. So off we went...there was no one else there so the owners started up the English show just for us and we sat in the dark theatre with our silly glasses watching this gallop through history. Love 3-D. I actually gasped a few times.

Then we decided to just wander. Off we went...took les escalier casse-cou down to rue Petit Champlain...which is below the cliff and is the very first place the explorers landed...being on the water. The escalier are stairs, long there and long famous for being very steep...casse-cou means 'break-neck'. We found Place Royale - the original settlement...very peaceful, old stone buildings and another church - Notre Dame de Victoires.

then up the famous Funicular to the Dufferin Terrace. The funicular is an external elevator that travels up and down the cliff - taking people from the lower town to the upper. It actually collapsed a few years ago killing some people inside - so that adds a bit of 'frisson' to the event. But fab views.

And then the totally unexpected in a day already unexpected...we were on Dufferin Terrace in front of the Chateau Frontenac - when suddenly we decided to take the ice slide. I'd been on it once, as a child, and have never forgotten the experience. Michael had never been on it.

We got the toboggan (costs 2 dollars each) and climbed up to the top...the stairs are actually just toe-holds cut into the snow. Quite exhausting. Huffing and puffing we made it up. Another spectacular view - apparently. I only had eyes for the slide.

Dear Lord - what were we thinking??? and there was clearly no other way down!!!

So we leapt on the toboggan and the nice young attendent took a picture of us smiling maniacally. I adore this photo - there's Michael holding his brief case - like a businessman who has taken a disasterously wrong turn.
And then we dropped off the face of the earth.


We actually should have known it was terrifying when on the way up two great big men in their 20's went down screaming and weeping.
On really cold days when the ice is especially hard people whizz down the slide at astonishing rates, flying off the end and stopping somewhere in the middle of Britain. This was not a bitterly cold day, but still it felt as though we were flying, or actually, falling.
We used toboggan 35. I would suggest not using that again, if you know what I mean.

But what an unbelieveable experience!!! We adored it...

Now have to run - am already late for breakfast with Jacquie Czernin - lovely host on CBC radio - then meeting Louisa Blair - a local historian. Who knows what today holds...certainly not me!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Super Bowl - arrrgh.

sunny, beautiful day, temps minus 9

So, Arizona lost...but what a game! Have to say, I think Pittsburgh deserved to win, so I don't feel too badly. And, really, we don't follow football at all. We're those awful dilitants to become interested only in the finals.

But - if you actually really, really cared about the outcome this year's Super Bowl would have killed you! So close - those last 5 minutes were amazing!!!

So now I've exhausted my sports talk. hard to believe i was actually a sports reporter. My very first job. Another lifetime.

We're heading out. Breakfast is calling. Then we'll explore more of the old city - especially want to walk around Notre Dame Cathedral and into the crypts. Still trying to connect with a man who was highly recommended for a private historical tour of Quebec. And the Chief Archeologist.

I also want to really thank all the people who read the newsletter and wrote such lovely messages. This is a fun time. Bad times come every now and then, so I always think it"s a shame not to totally appreciate and celebrate the good.

Speaking of which - we're off into Quebec City. Speak to you tomorrow.

Sunday, 1 February 2009


more fluffy snow flakes, temps minus 10

Actually the official forecast says minus 16 but we just came back from brunch (more eating? honestly! No self restraint) and it was fairly mild.

they've closed off a couple of blocks of rue Saint-Jean and are having a small hockey game, some music and these huge puppets - really quite macabre - wandering up and down. Look faintly Venetian. Half Venetian, half menacing.

One big pasttime at the Quebec Winter Carnival is to buy a hollow plastic walking stick and fill it with Caribou. Not the animal, nor even the meat - but this unholy alcohol. You can pick it up in lots of places, but particularly along Sainte-Therese street...or you can make it yourself out of some combination of Port/Brandy/Wine/vodka/Maple Syrup. I suspect this is what fuels Bonhomme. When I worked here years ago there was a fellow who was famous for making the best Caribou. I seem to remember he lived in the lower town, the basse ville and was named 'Ti Jean or something. 'Ti' is a Quebec diminutive for 'petit', so in effect it's a small diminutive. Never mind.

Perhaps someone reading this - Hum?? - knows the guy or the story.

The wonderful Linda Lyall, who designs and manages my website and newsletter, sent out the February newsletter today. We're giving away 2 souveniers from the Carnaval. Just tiny little gifts.

Such fun to hear back from people - and such beautiful messages. Supportive, enthusiastic, kind. And helping to celebrate the New York Times list. Honestly I don't think I will ever recover from the surprise and delight of that. And such fun to celebrate with you.

We rose late, had brunch out - bought some pastries for later (eclairs, Jesuites, escargots d'orange, and a pear and chocolate thing) and will read the papers, respond to the emails and later on watch the Super Bowl. We're rooting for Arizona because I was just there and I feel an affinity for them. And it was such fun to hear the amazement of everyone in Phoenix that they should be in the Super Bowl!

I've placed some calls and am hoping to have a few private tours of historic sites next week. I'm seeing more clearly what the crime will be, where, and how far back the crime (and the memory) reaches. Such fun. It means I have a more focussed search - though still trying to keep my options open in case something even more exciting and disturbing and rich presents itself.

I do know this - we're going to have great fun, you and me. Writing it, and reading it!