Blood Will Out


The YA psych thriller (formerly NEEDS MUST) has a new title- BLOOD WILL OUT- which I think is terrifyingly appropriate. Stay tuned to this page for announcements and other fun stuff. I’ll definitely be blogging about the experience of entering the mind of a serial killer and how that affects the day to day 🙂

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Exciting News!!!!! (and it’s been a long looooonnnggg time coming)

I’ve been sitting on this for over four months and it was like perching on a gigantic sea urchin. It was painful 🙂 but finally (and serendipitously on my birthday), the news was finally broken. I am so grateful and so happy and can’t wait to work with my new editor, Lynne Missen.

This from Publisher’s Marketplace.

ASHES, ASHES author Jo Treggiari’s NEEDS MUST, about a small town girl caught in the web of a serial killer intent on completing their masterpiece, with alternating perspectives between predator and prey, to Lynne Missen at Penguin Teen Canada, for Spring 2018 publication, in a two-book deal, with a second untitled novel to follow, by Ali McDonald at The Rights Factory (world).

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Letter to my Grandmothers

My Italian grandmother, my nonna Giovannina, taught me how to knit when I was eight years old. She cast on with her fingers and held the needles tucked in between her ample bosom and her armpits. I had no bosom so I had to clench the sticks with my fingers, holding onto them with a single-minded ferocity. I remember my hands always cramped, tired from holding the needles at the correct angle for so long. Nonna was a tight knitter maintaining a death grip on her yarn, and so was I, developing first a sore spot, then a callus on my finger from pushing the end of the needle through each tiny looped stitch in my attempt to make something.

Although it was decidedly painful, I loved knitting with my nonna. Loved the sweaters, far too hot for Italy, that she made for me and my sister each year. They were cabled intricately and included tassels and crocheted pompons and unlike her own faded floral shirts and black clothing, they were knitted of bright primary colours, reds and blues and yellows.

I was an adult by the time I properly met my English grandmother, Betty. For the first few years I called her Betty, the endearment of Grandmummy, which my cousins used, sounding forced to me.

I was a punk rocker, out of school and on my own, caught up in the excitement of the music business, though I still knitted. Thick Icelandic-style sweaters by then, ideal for the Canadian climate we grew up in but not so useful in California, our new home.

I was twenty-five, she must have been seventy-five at that time. Sturdy and straight-backed, fond of cardigans and tweedy skirts and stockings always, and sensible shoes for gardening and going for brisk walks with the dog.

Our conversations were a little stilted though perfectly amiable. I think it was a shock for both of us; a vast unknown distance between my babyhood and my young adulthood, all those missing years, as if I had just appeared already fully formed, like a cabbage in one of her vegetable beds. I was staying at the farmhouse for a week and in between the vegetarian meals she cooked especially for me, drunken philosophical debates with my uncle who lived next door, and some mostly quiet afternoon teas where we both looked at the birds from her sunroom windows, I wandered around the farmhouse examining things, trying to piece together a picture of her. There were coach whips in an urn by the front door. Metal bed-warming pans to fill with embers from the fire and slide between the sheets. Family portraits of stern strangers. Pottery and butter dishes.

The old things reminded me of my nonna’s house, and how she used to give me baths in her huge iron pasta pot filled with hot water heated on the woodstove. Sitting, then, at the kitchen table with her as she rolled out dough for tagliatelle or gnocchi; sitting, now, in the kitchen next to the Aga with my British grandmother as she poured tea and handed the biscuit tin around, while the dog under the table tried to steal the Kleenex out of my jeans pocket.

Betty had a spinning wheel, something I had only read about in fairy tales. And one day over tea, she told me how she used to spin her own wool from her own sheep, and how she dyed it with roadside plants like elder and goldenrod and bramble berries. She gave me a giant bag of wool remnants, small and medium sized balls, leftovers from things she had knitted when her hands were spry, hanks of knubbly, tufted wools in soft muted shades of yellow, orange and ochre, and the natural browns and blacks of sheep she no longer kept.

I took all those scraps of yarn and I knitted a shawl, big enough to wrap around my shoulders two and half times. When I bury my nose in it, I can smell the English countryside, the faint sheepy scent of lanolin, the inside of my Grandmummy’s house, dust and lemon oil, Earl Grey tea, wet Labrador, dried lavender, and apple wood on the garden bonfire.

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The Spaces in Between

Halifax Public Library

This weekend I was on a panel at the breathtaking new Halifax Central Library (pictured here), with acclaimed journalist and fellow Fierce Shorts author, Chris Benjamin, talking about writing from life (although isn’t all writing from life? Even if it isn’t from your own particular life?)

Anyway, as happens every time I am asked to talk about writing, I thought of most of my brilliant anecdotes afterwards.

But seriously, not brilliant perhaps, but maybe useful.

I did speak a little about writing highly emotional scenes by keeping excessive emotionality out of the writing. The more painful the scene, the more spare and anchored the prose. At least that’s what I do when writing about events and experiences that still make me tear up. In those scenes- like for instance when I have written about my best friend’s suicide, the stripped down (almost mater of fact) language actually makes it more poignant to read. Any excess comes across as a Hallmark card moment and robs the weight from the words.

What I should have also mentioned though, are two things I learned from my writing teacher and superb memoirist, Abigail Thomas. (By the way she has a new book coming out in March called: What Comes Next and How to Like it).

One is to write around the subject. Instead of going into a monologue about death, talk about something else that ‘walks’ next to it. A different event and the feelings engendered by it. For instance, I wrote about a trip I took with my best friend shortly before she died. Her subsequent death made this trip a once in a lifetime experience and the things that occurred during it took on a different meaning afterwards.

Writing tangentially as if you are bracketing the main theme of the story works as well. You know who’s really great at that? Kate Atkinson- and if you haven’t read any of her books, get ye to an independent bookstore right now and buy one!!!!
Sneaky sideways action- It’s how our minds operate after all. Memories linked in all kinds of interesting ways, each begetting the next one and each with a different flavour and mood. Most writers know that leavening gloom with humour is a really good idea.

The second is to consider the spaces in between the words. The things that aren’t actually said but the reader hears them anyway. You can’t say to your reader, Prepare to be sad now, or I order you to be sad about this. But if you set up a scene, present a situation/dilemma/question, write the end result and then just let the reader form their own conclusions, and put themselves into the story, you’ll achieve the impact you’re looking for.

Writing is not a one way dialogue. The reader brings all their own experiences and feelings to the writing and in a way takes over the story. It becomes their story if it resonates with them. It’s one of the reasons that individual readers take so many different things away from a story and often these are completely dissimilar, or not necessarily what the writer intended. But that’s OK too.

Once a story is out there, its ownership is in question. It belongs to whoever reads it.

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Balance and the Bookstore

I’ve always worked in ‘different’ jobs- the independent music industry for over twenty years back when it was fun, as a landscape gardener, as a tree surgeon, as a bookseller.

The most ‘regular’ jobs I’ve ever had were marketing for an investment company, and writing professional resumes for a bunch of yahoos. But that’s the way I liked it, I wasn’t interested in 9 to 5 jobs with limited creativity potential. The creativity in bringing a tree down safely using ropes and pulleys? The art in planting 500 tulip bulbs in a small wood (it belonged to the Producer of those Scream movies) so that they looked natural but also highly visible for maximum impact- those were crazy creative endeavours!

I’m a single mum with two young-ish kids though one is now entering the teenage zone.

And I’m a writer. God, how I love to make up stories!

But (and perhaps it’s the divorce which knocked me from my perfectly centred teeter totter) I feel continually off balance. As if my cup is overflowing and then drained bone-dry.
I’m a mum for the week, juggling school drop-offs, pick-ups, meals and what the heck to give them for lunch, and then the kids go to their dad.
I know, I know!– scores of friends have told me to embrace my independence and I do. I hang with my boyfriend, drink wine, go to sleep late, have coffee in bed, but I miss them the whole time, like I’ve lost my arm temporarily. Nothing feels exactly ‘right’.

And then there’s the other third of my life. Second to my kids and family and friends but equally integral.
I write books. Writing fills me up. I need to do it like I need to breathe. At this point so much of my identity is wrapped up in writing, so much purpose therein. Simply, it’s what I do (and hopefully with some modicum of success).

But every writer knows that the algorithm is not ‘write a book, sell a book’. It is ‘just write the damn book’ (because otherwise you’ll go crazy holding it inside, you won’t be able to breathe, you might just expire from the weight of all those words).
That is a hard way to live. And a harder way to support your kids (and your ever-hungry dogs). And it’s difficult to rationalize spending so much time on something that might not ever pay you.

My first book came out in 2006, my second in 2011, my third(a novella) came out in 2013. I’m always writing but at the moment the best I can hope for is maybe another book in 2016 or 2017. I don’t know what that works out too but it’s nothing to plan dinner on.

So this is what I decided. I needed a job. But not just any job. I needed a job which would offer some flexibility in case of snow days, sick days, and all the other realities of single mum-dom. I needed a job that would feed my soul. And I needed a job where my kids could hang out and where they would want to hang out.

Solution: Open a bookstore. Reading and writing, it’s what I love and it’s what I want to share most with the rest of the world.

Ta Da!!!—-Flash forward about a year, hundreds of meetings and brainstorming sessions, business plan-making and lawyer-meeting, perfect partner-finding, painting, and shelving and poring over publisher’s catalogues.
Oh and making lists. I like lists and so I decided to compile lists of all my favourite books by my favourite authors. And I categorized them by fiction and non-ficition, and YA and MG, and poetry and art, and my partners did it too and BOY are those some long lists and still they only scratch the surface of this immense love we all have for books. And that’s not even including all the NEW books coming out.
So then we made some inventory projections and some cost of inventory projections and slowly, very slowly, we are getting an idea of how many books there will be in this amazing bookstore and how those shelves will look when they are filled.

When I was little and living in England, my mum would drop me and my sister off at The Children’s Bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford, and she’d basically leave us there for hours and hours while she went away and took care of fusty professorial business. I don’t remember anyone ever yelling at us to get off the floor or to stop reading that book or to buy something! All I remember is the shelves stuffed full of books, the sunlight warming the patch on the soft carpet where I sat cross-legged, and the dust motes dancing.

LEXICON BOOKS, hand-picked for readers young and old. We’re opening May 1st and it will be epic.

My heart is so happy.

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Becoming Fierce Blog Tour

The Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL blog tour has started! From September 9 until September 23 you’ll be able to check out early reviews of our creative non-fiction anthology, plus Q&As with the authors and guest posts.

Sept 9 — Nayu’s Reading Corner (review)
Sept 10 — Feisty Little Women (review)
Sept 11 — Words Like Silver (Q&A)
Sept 12 — Teen Librarian (Review)
Sept 15 — The Diary of a Bookworm (Review)
Sept 16 — Canlit for Little Canadians (Review)
Sept 17 — Canlit for Little Canadians (Q&A)
Sept 18 — Kat Ross Books (Guest Post)
Sept 23 — Glamorous Book Lounge (Q&A)

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Becoming Fierce: Teen Stories IRL

This honest and moving anthology of YA writers comes out September 23 2014.

I have a story in here about my best friend, our turbulent youth, and the bad choices we made out of love, desperation, and a hunger for experience.

The thing about these writings is that they are heartfelt and brutally honest. As a young reader, it was invaluable to me to know that I could turn to books for comfort and knowledge and help, and know that no matter what, I was not alone in my emotions.

That’s the kind of book Becoming Fierce is.

Becoming Fierce Teen: Stories IRL

You can check it out on Goodreads over here: Becoming Fierce Teen: Stories IRL

I believe there’s a chance to win a copy!

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The Punk Rock

My kids don’t understand the punk rock.
They ask me, “why’d you dress like that?” “why was your hair that ugly color?” They say “that style made you look like a skunk” or “a homeless person.” Or they scream, “turn that music down”.
There is no appreciation for the genius of Jawbreaker in this household.
I try to explain.
Yes, we were cynical about the government and authority figures. Some of us were nihilists. Some of us were poets. Some of us were vandals and thieves but we were fighting the robber barons, don’t you see?
A lot of us were damn nice people, thoughtful and caring, concerned about animals and other people.
We yelled “Smash the state”, we yelled “Flex your head”, we screamed “No Future!” We wouldn’t have shouted so loud if we hadn’t wanted things to change. For the better.
And even though we wore black and broke things on occasion and threw ourselves into thrashing pits of human fists and desperation, I look back on it, at my great age, and I think, how much we loved life and embraced it and raged at it, and fought injustice, and how much we loved each other, desperately.
Life was something you grabbed by the neck and you didn’t let go no matter how much it hurt.
We felt every little thing.
Visceral, right? Like a punch in the guts.
Everything was raw and piercing and beautiful. So very beautiful in its ugliness and despair, the dichotomies all around us, staggering, impossible to ignore– but this we said was life, this was living. Living so hard you could taste it in the back of your throat and sometimes you had to hawk it out again.
I think about the things we did, the risks we took- hopping trains, jumping off buildings,doing too many drugs, drinking till we puked, ending fights, taking on the cops, standing up to the skinheads. We just embraced it all, we took it inside, and we etched it into our skin, our muscles and veins, our scalps. The filthy sidewalks, the crappy squats, the boredom, the squalor because these were our raw materials. From this we could make something better as long as we stayed open to everything.
Exhausting, frankly.
“We were a tribe,” I tell my children. Even if we knew each other only as Rat or Boots or Question Mark, we knew each other. We had the same scars. “You could go anywhere in the country, maybe even the world” I told them, “and you could meet someone who knew someone who knew someone you knew. And that person would give you a place to stay, a meal, a beer.”
I am amazed that most of us are still here. Those who aren’t are missed every day because we lived through it all together. You don’t get to share something like that with many people in your life. And if you didn’t experience it then you can’t really understand.
“But what was it all about, Mom?”

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The Delight in the Words

So, I’m reading The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson ( the last book she wrote before she died) to my kids. My youngest is old enough now to appreciate the same book as my oldest which makes things even more cuddly and cozy in the big bed every night. So at the moment it’s the end of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and the beginning of Ibbotson’s.

Ibbotson is the writer who made me cry buckets with her account of the death of a boy’s pet worm. I cried almost as much as I did when Patrick Ness did that unspeakable thing to the dog in the first Chaos Walking book. (Oh, Manchee!) The thing I will never forgive him for although I will continue to read each and every one of his books.

I love reading to my kids, especially books I did not write. My tongue doesn’t trip on words wondering if I should have used something different right there, my mind ceases to self-edit. I can just revel in them. It’s as much a joy for me as it is for the kids. I even do voices sometimes, although the Grand High Witch with her rolled r’s and her wanton v’s (vanton) and her screams of Inkland, shredded my throat something awful.

What I do notice when I read a very well-written book, is the flow of the story, the cadence of sentence, the sheer delight in the words. I think that when a writer is in love with what they are writing, it shines through. And it all seems so effortless though I know how much work goes into it.

Heavy handedness, word slogging, info dumps–those are easy to master. It’s when to pull back, and do more with less that the magic really happens. And yes, an editor helps, but not even the most optimistic editor is going to dig through a mountain of sludge looking for that nugget.

Paring, polishing, refining…these are all words that make me think of knives and hard, rasping things that smooth away the rough edges, and cut away the tough outer leaves to reveal the tender green heart of the story.
That secret delight in what we are making…isn’t that what it’s all about? Delighting ourselves first? Crafting something that wholly and independently exists where nothing existed before, and then reading it aloud and (hopefully) delighting others?

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Graceful Warriors

IMG_0612My friend Deb was the best flea-marketer ever. She could ferret out vintage like nobody’s business. My 1960’s raybans, my Coach purse, my beautiful Mexican wall hanging, were all gifts from her.

When she found a lump in her breast, she didn’t do anything about it. She was scared. She hoped it would go away and she didn’t tell anyone not even her husband.
By the time she did tell someone, it was too late. The cancer had spread. She died less than two years after she found the lump.

She was a lovely, giving, caring person and I miss her.

I have two other friends who developed breast cancer. One very young, the other a grandmother. Both survived. One with the help of traditional means, the other with the additional help of alternative therapies.

Breast cancer is something that touches everyone.

It seems to me though that often the focus is wholly on the survivors. I mean the women who go through chemo and keep their breasts. You can look at them and be unaware that they have survived a terrifying illness and a grueling recovery. This is not a criticism- these women should be celebrated and honored.
But what about the women who lose a breast or both? Who don’t fit the picture we have of feminine beauty anymore?
Are they marginalized? Ostracized? Pushed to the side because they make the rest of the survivors ‘look bad’? What about the women who lose the fight? Are they lesser? Did they not fight as hard? Did they give up? Did some part of them not want to live as much?

And why is a woman who has won the battle less beautiful if she emerges wounded, scarred, not physically whole?

My cousin, Fine Art Photographer, Charise Isis has always celebrated the feminine in women of all ages, shapes and sizes. She is amazingly skilled at revealing the inner beauty of a woman through her art. When she began The Grace Project, she saw these women as warriors rather than only survivors. Of all the women who suffer and survive breast cancer, the women who’ve had mastectomies are often the ones who hide themselves away or are hidden away, because of societal perceptions, because of shame, because of a loss of identity.

The images she captures are strong, beautiful, powerful, inspiring, upsetting, emotional, devastating, unforgettable and heartbreaking. Which is what art should always be. She gives these women a voice, she demands that they be heard and seen, she lets them reclaim their strength and beauty. (I love that she uses Goddesses and classical Art as her provenance).

Recently The Huffington Post, Bust Magazine, and The Daily Mail ran articles on her and The Grace Project.

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