Author Archives: winnipegpublibrary

Writing past dark

I’ve stolen the title of this week’s blog entry from a book called Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life by Bonnie Friedman. (Remember, “Mediocre writers imitate; great writers steal”!)

“So much in the writer’s life used to torment me, but I could not talk about it,” says Friedman. “I felt wrong and ashamed . . . I assumed that the problems were unfixable (I was stupid) and also simply in the nature of writing (the craft demanded misery). Weren’t many writers depressives? Wasn’t the work itself famously onerous?”

Writers and artists seem particularly susceptible to envy, depression, fear of failure, loneliness, and self-loathing, among other dark beasts. We’re sensitive souls and yet we have to develop thick skins to deal with the inevitable rejections. But even before sending out our work, we’re often so busy rejecting ourselves that we’re doing the work of critics for them.

Friedman wrote the book for herself, she says, in order to avoid unnecessary suffering and to provide “a self-care kit for the long hike ahead”: “With unnecessary suffering, all that happens is that you squander the prize that others worked hard to bestow.” And she describes the enthusiasm and hunger with which other writers responded to her book.

The green-eyed monster is definitely one of the biggies. Sarah Manguso says “All writers will envy other writers, other writing. No one who reads is immune.” There’s plenty to be envious of—the apparently sudden fame, the five-figure book deal, the writer you knew in a creative writing class who has suddenly “made it.” Ah, those illusory goddesses of Fame and Fortune!

Yet few writers experience such “success.” Most are like the solitary figure described by the writer Rich Farrell: “The world sensationalizes and lionizes the exceptional case—that twenty-year-old writer with an uncanny wisdom—rather than the quiet tinkering monk, hard at a lifetime’s quiet work.”

Friedman points out that even Shakespeare felt envy (“Desiring this man’s scope, and that man’s art’”). As she says, “Shakespeare desired another’s art? Dear Lord, whose?”

Friedman’s book is essential reading for coping with these darker emotions that most writers are reluctant to acknowledge, let alone talk about. We’re only human, after all, and as we launch ourselves on the immense task of becoming writers (or simply finishing a manuscript), it’s easy to lose heart, to convince ourselves we’re not worthy, not among the chosen, not up to the task.

Worst of all, perhaps, as Friedman says, is “the suspicion that perhaps, after all, one is in fact deluded, unspecial, unmagical, that the map one is departing into will never bloom on the page into real almond blossoms and tumbling blue rivers and dank cathedrals.”

Like Friedman, I used to think that suffering came with the territory. Like most writers, I suspect, I’ve experienced all the dilemmas she identifies. “Most people wrongly assume that writerly self-care happens by itself,” says Friedman. “Caring for the writerly self is a decisive component in being able to keep writing, and writing better.” I’ve learned, belatedly, that you can be a writer AND learn to feel good about what you do rather than beating yourself up all the time.

Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life by Bonnie Friedman is available to order from McNally Robinson and other local bookstores. Please do NOT buy from Amazon. Support independents in order to support your local cultural community. (McNally’s has an online ordering option for those of you who live outside Winnipeg.)

If you’d like to submit a manuscript, request a consultation, or suggest a blog topic, please contact me at


Next WIR blog post: February 24

Silent Books: Final Destination Lampedusa

Newscasts around the world have been reporting the plight of refugees fleeing their homelands. These are touching stories of the dangers and challenges faced by families who are searching for a safe place to call home. As refugee families are being welcomed in Canada, there have also been many migrants arriving on the island of Lampedusa, Italy.

Winnipeg Public Library has been offered the unique opportunity to host the international travelling exhibit Silent Books: Final Destination Lampedusa. This collection of travelling books was created as a project by IBBY (International Board of Books for Young people), in response to the waves of refugees from Africa and the Middle East arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa. The idea was launched in 2013 and included establishing the first library in Lampedusa for the use of local and immigrant children. Over one hundred books from twenty three countries have been gathered for the exhibit. The exhibit has travelled to cities around the world in Italy, Mexico, Austria, and is now in Canada having stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Halifax and finally, Winnipeg.

Silent Books: Final Destination Lampedusa is motivated by IBBY’s belief that every child has the right to become a reader. In choosing to highlight wordless books as the seed collection for the this library, IBBY has assured that reading these books will be accessible to all of the children who use the library without the barriers of age,  individual reading skills, or diversity in language and culture.

Reading and sharing wordless books is a first step to becoming a life-long reader. They tell a story using the universal language of images and art rather than words.  Wordless books can help develop confident readers by developing comprehension skills, learning how to construct a story, analysing the picture, reading and understanding the messages that are woven into the pages and also in developing the imagination. Enjoying wordless books with your children can be an adventure that will soar as far as your imagination takes you.

The exhibit runs at Millennium Library in the Children’s and Teen area from February 9 to March 12.

Activities will run parallel to the exhibit where children can send a postcard to Lampedusa or create a wordless book of their own.

Here are some of my favorite wordless books that are available at WPL to share with you. You can see more at  Goodreads

Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney SmithSidewalkFlowers

A little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter.  This book is being given to arriving Syrian Refugee families.


The Arrival by Shaun TanTheArrival

In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He’s embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life- he’s leaving home to build a better future for his family.
ChalkChalk by Bill Thomson

Three children discover a magical bag of chalk on a rainy day.



The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark PettGirlandtheBicycle

A touching story about a little girl, a shiny bicycle, and the meaning of persistence—with an unexpected payoff.


HankFindsanEggHank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley

While walking through the forest, Hank finds an egg on the forest floor. After spotting its nest high up in a tree, he uses his ingenuity to help get the egg home safe and sound, and is joyfully rewarded with newfound friends.


Shadow by Suzy LeeShadow

A dark attic. A light bulb. An imaginative little girl.


FloraFlamingoFlora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony.


The Farmer and the Clown by Marla FrazeeFarmerandtheClown
A baby clown is separated from his family when he accidentally bounces off their circus train and lands in a lonely farmer’s vast, empty field. The farmer reluctantly rescues the little clown, and over the course of one day together, the two of them make some surprising discoveries about themselves—and about life!
Fox's GardenFox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam

One snowy night, a fox loses its way, entering a village. Chased away by the grown ups, Fox takes shelter in a greenhouse. A little boy sees this from his window. Without hesitating, he brings a basket of food to the greenhouse, where he leaves it for the fox. His gift is noticed and the night becomes a garden of new life, nourished by compassion and kindness.


Many thanks to the following for bring this exhibit to Winnipeg:




It’s time to get On The Same Page again

This annual project of The Winnipeg Foundation and the Winnipeg Public Library—now in its eighth year!—encourages all Manitobans to read, and talk about, the same book at the same time.

aliceThe book Manitobans chose to read this year is The Evolution of Alice by David Alexander Robinson. David’s novel tells the story of Alice, a single mother raising three young daughters after her abusive ex is jailed. With the help of her best friend, Gideon, she tries to create the best possible life for her family and help them heal from old wounds. When tragedy strikes, Alice is forced to examine her life and her role in the community. Woven together from multiple points of view, the novel shows the interconnection of Alice’s life.

What next? Borrow a copy of The Evolution of Alice from the library in print, ebook, accessible formats (via NNELS) or buy one at a local bookstore. We’ll also be distributing free copies through Manitoba public libraries and other organizations, so keep your eyes open.

Already read the book? Then watch our website ( for more information—don’t forget to count yourself in the Reader’s Tally—and come check out these upcoming events!

On The Same Page Events

Join us Thursday, February 11, at 7 p.m. in the Marpeck Commons area of Canadian Mennonite University (2299 Grant Ave.) to hear a reading by David Robertson and to create paper airplanes carrying your own wishes or messages of hope – an activity inspired by The Evolution of Alice.

Deconstructing Alice
How does a group of linked short stories become a novel? David and his editor Warren Cariou will talk about the process of creating a coherent mosaic from narrative fragments. Hosted by Charlene Diehl.
McNally Robinson Booksellers (1120 Grant Ave.)
Thursday, March 10: 7-8 pm

On The Same Page Windup
Readings and insights from the writer’s life from David and other celebrated On The Same Page authors including Beatrice Mosionier (In Search of April Raintree), Joan Thomas (Reading by Lightning), and Katherena Vermette (North End Love Songs). Four stellar authors all in one venue!
Millennium Library
Carol Shields Auditorium
Thursday, April 14: 7-8 pm


Happy “I Love to Read” Month, Winnipeg!

What better time of year to celebrate the joy of reading? There’s nothing like coming in from the snow and cuddling up on the couch with a blanket and a good book while sensation returns to your fingers, toes, and nose! And, since you can begin building literacy skills right from birth, reading is a fabulous family activity!

There are many simple things you can do every day to encourage reading and literacy in your family, and the five early literacy practices listed below are a great way to encourage a life-long love of learning and literacy in young children:

Talk: Talking to children helps them learn about language and teaches them new words.

Sing: Along with being a fun way to bond, singing helps children hear syllables and words,   and also develops memory and listening skills.

Play: Imaginative play is a great way for kids to learn how the world works!

Write: Your child’s scribbles and drawings have meaning to them, and are the first step in your child to recognizing that letters and words have meaning.

Read: Children who enjoy being read to are more likely to enjoy reading on your own, so grab a couple of your favourites, and let your child pick a few books that catch their eye as well!

Regular trips to the library are another great way to help your child associate books and reading with fun! Our free Pre-School Programs are a wonderful way for you to bond with your child, and provide an excellent opportunity for them to socialize with their peers. The next upcoming registration date is Friday, March 11. For more information about these programs, please pick up a copy of the library newsletter, At The Library, available at all branches.

Of course, you can find many excellent books to read while you’re at the library. Not sure what kind of books you should be looking for? You can find tips for choosing picture books here, and staff at any of Winnipeg Public Library’s twenty branches would be happy to help you find some titles of interest! It’s also an excellent idea to let your children pick out some books that catch their eye. Don’t worry if they want to read the same book over and over again. The repetition will help them learn to associate the words you say with the letters written on the page, and you might be surprised at how quickly they are able to quote the story at you (those young minds are amazing things)!

We also have Pinterest boards, which we are continuously updating with new staff picks. Check out our boards for kids and parents and our boards for teens for book suggestions!

Winnipeg Public Library will also be launching a brand new children’s card and an “I Love my Library” booklist at our Take Your Child to the Library Day on Saturday, February 6, to help you get “I Love to Read” month started off with a bang! This will be a day of fun family performances and activities at all of our branches, so make sure to check out our newsletter for details, or head into your nearest branch to see what they have planned!


The French Intifada

In the wake of the Paris attacks I found myself wanting to learn more about the history of France and the Arab world.

But where do you start?

IntifadaIn the 1800s France turned its attention to North Africa and began to expand their empire in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The French believed they were bringing democracy and a better way of life to the African people, but in reality they exploited their colonies for its resources, and at the expense of the local population.

The French Intifada, written by Andrew Hussey, examines the complicated history between France and its Muslim population.


We learn about the conquest of Algeria and France’s use of violence which ensured their dominance of the country for more than a century. As Europeans or colons arrived in droves they began to establish their own communities. Suddenly the Algerians found themselves dispossessed of their land,  becoming second class citizens.

Following the end of the Second World War, France’s stranglehold over its colonies began to weaken. This presented an opportunity to nationalist movements as well as terrorist organizations to mobilize and strike back against their colonial masters.

As we navigate through France’s colonial history, the author bridges the past to the present.

Once these countries achieved independence many of its citizens immigrated to France in hopes of a better life. Unfortunately this has been difficult to achieve, as the majority of these immigrants settled in suburbs and banlieues where joblessness and poverty are rampant. Hussey explores how these conditions have led Muslims to feel alienated by the state. As this generation struggles to find its place in French society the notion of revenge becomes more enticing.

This novel is entertaining and important as it discusses current issues. By discussing history and connecting it to the present this book gives a clear picture of France’s struggles.


Revising and re-visioning

“What is your revision process,” asks a writer who came to see me about a manuscript, “and when do you know it’s done (is it ever done?)?”

A great question! Answering it, though, reminds me of the answer given by the writer Somerset Maugham about writing a novel: There are three rules for writing the perfect novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.

Writing is rewriting, as someone else once said. Revision is where a bunch of story seeds begin to come to life as a coherent whole. It’s an essential part of developing a manuscript. So here are a few tips (not rules!) that have worked for me.

  1. Set your first draft aside to “chill.” You want to put some distance between yourself and your story. I leave first drafts for at least a month, and often longer.
  2. Using a hard copy of your draft, or Track Changes online, go through it like an editor. Imagine you are reading it for the first time. Make comments and suggestions in the margin or on sticky notes. It can also be useful at this stage to make an outline of your novel. Keep it simple or you’ll get bogged down in the details. Be ruthless. As Hemingway said, “Kill all your darlings.” If a beautifully written scene doesn’t further the story, turf it.
  3. Open a new screen and begin your second draft anew. (My students are always horrified by this!) I usually have my first draft beside me in hard copy (so I can refer to notes). But your job now is to re-envision the work, and you can’t do that if you’re merely tinkering with the first draft. You may need to begin at a completely different point. You may be changing point of view or tense. Although some scenes or sections may end up more or less intact in your second draft, that needs to be because they really belong—not because you’re clinging desperately to them!
  4. Once you’ve reworked your draft, set it aside, as above, and repeat. I find I need a minimum of four major drafts (with many sections rewritten far more than that).
  5. I have a sense of “finishing” a work when I can’t take it any further by myself. At that point a writer needs either a very good first reader (someone who can read critically) or an editor. It’s worth it to pay an editor, especially as agents and publishing houses these days expect manuscripts to be essentially finished, with little need for in-house editing. You’ll also learn a lot from working with a professional editor. You can find one through the Manitoba Editors’ Association or the Editors’ Association of Canada. The Manitoba Writers’ Guild also runs a mentoring program that matches senior writers with “emerging writers with a clear commitment to writing.”

The poet W.H. Auden said “A poem is not so much finished as abandoned.” The same is true of the novel or story. Some writers get stuck—I’ve met those who’ve been working on the same novel for 20 years—but at some point we need to have the courage to let go, live with the work’s imperfections, and move on.

There are a gazillion books and websites on writing. This website has a useful and comprehensive list of steps to revising, including specific questions to ask of your work. Try out those tips that seem useful to you. You’ll gradually develop your own revising and editing process.

In A Passion for Narrative, the writer and teacher Jack Hodgins says that you write your final draft—and then you write your real final draft. In other words, just when you think you’re finished, you realize or discover something that needs work. Or feedback from a fellow writer or editor raises issues you hadn’t thought of. What do you do? You yell and scream and tear your hair out, of course—and then you buckle down to the next revision!


Next WIR blog post (Feb. 10): Fear, loathing and envy

Full of Beans

 “Red beans and ricely yours.” Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice so much he signed his personal letters thus.


The lowly bean was raised to super food status when the United Nations declared 2016 The International Year of Pulses. Beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are the key to eradicating world hunger and addressing chronic health conditions such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Not only do pulses improve our overall health, they are also economical. According to The Bean Institute the average cost per serving of lentils is 8 cents as opposed to $1.14 for lean ground beef.

Pulses have the lowest carbon footprint of any protein source. Reduced reliance on meat consumption results in decreased greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. The water footprint required to produce a kilogram of beef is 18 times higher than the water required for a kilogram of pulses. Growing pulses improves soil health and reduces the need for fertilizer.

A  study by Dr. Peter Zahradka, a lead investigator into the health benefits of pulses, will look at a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease as well as a reduced risk of diabetes due to the promotion of healthy blood sugar levels, reduced cholesterol and blood pressure through the consumption of pulses.


The gluten free humble legume is high in fibre, low in fat and packed with nutrients like folate, potassium  and iron. Typically Manitobans eat less than one third of cup of pulses per week. A healthy benchmark is ½ cup a day. Check out these cook books at WPL or look for more recipes online through

veganbeansVegan Beans from Around the World – Adventurous recipes for the most delicious nutritious and flavourful bean dishes ever.




spillingbeans  Spilling the Beans- cooking and baking with beans everyday




The “Bean Team” from Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers will make a guest appearance at the Fort Garry Library on Tuesday February 2 at 6:30 pm to talk about the benefits of  beans and other pulses and to demonstrate some recipes. Call 204 986 4918 to register for this free event.

And join the Pulse Pledge, a global movement to commit to eating nutritious, affordable pulses once a week for 10 weeks.

“Red beans and ricely yours,” Jane