gritLIT 2018 is, excuse the pun, in the books! Despite the terrible weather, our 14th gritLIT Festival was a stunning success. Thanks to all the authors and audience members who braved the storm and joined us for a weekend of amazing readings, informative master classes and some of the most provocative panel discussions we have ever hosted.

Thank you to the staff at the Hamilton Plaza Hotel for providing us a fantastic venue and for being so attentive and helpful throughout the festival. We look forward to more happy years in our new home! gritLIT is also proud to partner with Jaime Krakowski, owner of Epic Books on Locke Street South. Jaime and her wonderful team did double duty this weekend, running the retail store and the festival bookstore simultaneously. Thanks so much to all of them for their hard work and tireless good cheer.

I am so grateful to our board of directors for their support and to the amazing gritLIT management team who give their time all year to ensure that the festival is a success. gritLIT could not happen without the efforts of Elizabeth DiEmanuele, Jesse Dorey, Lynne Sargent, Brittany Green, Elizabeth Obermeyer, Elysha Ardelean, Kathleen Slofstra, Eileen Griffett, Sue Lagacy, Lorrie Bowman and our many festival weekend volunteers.

Finally, we are eternally grateful to the sponsors, foundations and government agencies that help us to keep bringing great literary programming to Hamilton every year. We will be tweeting out messages of appreciation over the next week, but you can find the full list here: http://www.gritlit.ca/sponsors/.

If you value the arts in Hamilton, please support the businesses and organizations that support the Hamilton arts community.

We are already looking forward to gritLIT 2019 and will have lots of exciting events in store for our 15th festival. Watch our website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for details. Until then, keep warm and happy reading!

Jennifer Gillies, Artistic Director

“We have to take off your mother’s rings.” Mary, the head nurse called out to me. “Her fingers. The rings are cutting into them, and into her hand.”

I’d hoped to make a quiet entrance. Slip by the nursing station and make it down the hallway to my mother’s room before anyone noticed.

“I’m sorry, Norah, but your mom won’t be able to wear her wedding rings anymore.”

“Have you talked to her about it?” I said as I walked to the desk and plopped three plastic shopping bags stuffed with toiletries down onto it.

“No, we haven’t. We didn’t think there’d be much point.”

I said nothing, letting the information sink in.

“No, no, Norah, don’t worry.” Mary recognized my look. “We didn’t talk about the rings with your mom – not because we thought she wouldn’t understand. We didn’t say anything to her  because there’s nowhere on the unit to keep them safe,” she said, reaching for my hand, the one entangled in a plastic bag handle, and waited until I looked her in the eye. “We didn’t want to take them off until you got here.”

Still holding my hand, Mary turned toward the calendar on the back wall next to the large eraser board where the staff marked the residents’ birthdays and their comings and goings. “We figured you’d be visiting soon.”

My pattern had become familiar. For the past four years, once a month I’d make the weekend trek from Toronto to Winnipeg to check up on my parents in the nursing home where they now lived.

“I’ll talk to her, but I doubt she’s going to give up wearing her wedding rings. Not willingly.”

“It’s not a matter of choice.” Mary clenched her hands tight. “Her fingers all scrunched up like that. Your mom’s in danger – serious danger – of developing a fungal infection.”

“I know. I know,” I said. “I’m not disputing the necessity, Mary. I just hope it won’t be too much of a struggle to convince her to take them off.”

“You have to,” she called after me as I made my way down the corridor. “Today.”

I wasn’t hopeful. My mother had been stripped of pretty much everything that had once belonged to her and what remained of her marriage. Her wedding rings were the only tangible evidence of the life she’d once known.

A few months after we moved our parents into the nursing home, my brother and I sold the house where they’d lived the last fifty years. We carted off furniture, clothing and chatchkas to Good Will. All the handiwork: dozens of unfinished knitting and crochet projects – useless to anyone now – we tossed into the trash; and the wool we’d discovered crammed into cupboards and dresser drawers, we donated to charity. What was left? A few odds and sods of clothing hanging in a small Ikea wardrobe. A coat, scarf and mittens she’d worn only once since her arrival. A rickety dresser, like the wardrobe provided by the nursing home, held some nightgowns and a few pieces of under things. The small green suitcase we’d carried her clothes in nested on the top of the wardrobe. The dusty rose recliner, the last of her furniture, we’d crammed into the corner of the small room.

And, in the adjoining wing, a husband who no longer remembered that he had a wife – although on several occasions he’d been caught trying to crawl into bed with a woman down the hallway who everyone agreed bore a striking resemblance to my mother.

It was a bright prairie morning, but my mother’s room was dark. In spite of coaxing to the contrary, she preferred the curtains closed. She claimed the brightness hurt her eyes. This may have been true, but I think her desire for darkness had more to do with wanting nothing more to do with the sun.

When I entered the room, my mother was sleeping. Although short in stature, my mother had been a hearty woman, yet her physical decline had been swift. Her weight loss so rapid her false teeth no longer fit, and the rigidity that had crept through her body and overtaken her limbs had moved up to her face and jaw. Her denture-less mouth stretched open into a large “O” evoking an unsettling homage to Edvard Munch’s, The Scream. Even in sleep, her arms were thrust straight up in the air as if she were reaching out for something just beyond her grasp. In each hand, she clenched a white wash cloth rolled up into a soft tube.

I looked at her troubled fingers. On her left hand, she wore three rings: a wedding and an engagement ring and nestled beneath them, a family ring made up of four stones. An emerald for my father’s birthday in May. A chip of icy diamond for mine earlier in the spring. And, two yellow-gold citrines for my Scorpio mother and brother.

I pushed aside the afghan my mother had crocheted a few years back when her fingers were still nimble. Planting my hands on its puffy arms, I let the recliner envelop me as I settled down into it. I must do something about this damn thing, I thought. The last few visits Mary had asked me to remove it. The room was small and the staff couldn’t maneuver around it to attend to my mother’s increasing needs. Rather than a place to relax, it had become a hazard. But how could I get rid of it? In this overstuffed recliner, my mother used to hold court.

It was in this throne, only a few years before, my mother sat when I confessed to her that I’d lost my own wedding ring.

“Oh my god, Mom, My wedding ring. It’s gone.”

“It must be somewhere,” my mother said, her frame near devoured by the bulk of the armchair. She leaned forward. “How could you lose your wedding ring?”

“I don’t know. I was in the bathroom,” I said. “When I went to wash my hands. My ring. It was gone.”

I caught her eyes brighten, the way they always did when she smelled trouble.

I’d been married less than a year. A quick ceremony with a few friends at the Justice of the Peace. And this trip, a short visit to introduce my new husband to my folks. My mother was in the spot she’d been sitting pretty much since our arrival – the recliner parked beside the living room picture window. Here, she could watch the suburban world go by. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything of interest to see. A car passing by every few hours. From time-to-time a neighbour walking by with a dog.

There had been a change in my mother. The last time I’d seen her she’d been vibrant and spry but now she could only take a few steps without the aid of a walker she’d acquired since my last visit. My father, once broad-shouldered and strong, had become frail himself. He hadn’t the strength to help my mother walk up and down the outside steps. This once gregarious, if mercurially tempered woman, was now rendered housebound. Instead of the incessant chatter I’d grown to know, if not necessarily love, she’d become silent. It wasn’t like her not to hold court especially with a new audience. And what better audience could a mother ask for than a recently acquired son-in-law? An audience she could tell of past misdeeds and mischief I’d gotten into as a child.

My husband, John, and my dad were in the basement fixing my father’s super-8 projector. I was flitting back and forth between the living room and kitchen attending to the chicken I was roasting for Sunday lunch – sliding the roasting pan in and out of the oven checking to see if it was done.

“It’s got to be somewhere,” my mother said. “It couldn’t just fall off.”

Actually, it could. I’d lost ten pounds since our friend, Ivaan, the Lord of the Rings, had designed and forged my wedding ring. On a number of occasions in animated conversation, I’d flung my ring across a room.

I was worried about the possible loss of my ring, but alongside the panic the thought occurred to me: This could be an opportunity. This is something my mother and I, a relatively new bride, could share. My mother had wanted me to have children. Not to spoil them. Not to slather them with love. She was as ill-equipped at grand-mothering my two nieces, as she had been at mothering me. Her yearning for my progeny was more self-serving. “Just wait. Just wait until you have your own children,” she’d said. “Then you’ll know what it’s like to be a mother. Then you’ll understand. Then you’ll understand me.”

I never had children.

Maybe now that I was married we could commiserate about what it’s like to be a spouse – to be a wife. Not that I ever wanted to find myself in a similar situation as my mother when it came to marriage, but, perhaps like some I Love Lucy character, I could share some of my marital mishaps with my mother.

“I have to find it.” Not only was the ring a symbol of our commitment, it was one of a kind, irreplaceable  – entwined threads and nubbins of gold – something a Celtic water nymph might wear. Not that I bear a remote resemblance, in appearance or temperament, to any kind of water creature.

“I’ve been married sixty-one years. Sixty-one years,” my mother said. “Never even came close to losing my wedding rings,” Her grey eyes narrowed, deepening in colour. “Not once.”

I didn’t take the bait. Instead, I leaned in, narrowing the distance between us, and confided,” And it’s not the first time, Mom. It happened once before.”

“The second time?” she said, her eyes now dancing. “You haven’t even been married a year.”

“Yeah, the second time,” I said, theatrically, opening my eyes wide. “Last fall John and I went to a jazz club. With a friend of his. I was tired so I left early. I was rinsing the soap off my face and when I looked up in the mirror, my wedding ring was gone.” I touched the finger where my ring should have been. “It’d been kinda loose. I thought, when I was talking, it might flown off,” I said, with a grand sweep of my hand. “I thought of going back. But the bar was packed. Even if the ring was there, I would’ve been impossible to look for it.”

“Did you find it?” She’d shimmied to the edge of the recliner.

It took every ounce of will not to say “duh” but I was happy she was engaging in the drama rather than apathetically slumping in her chair.

“I checked every surface in the apartment. Then it occurred to me. I’d been wearing gloves. You know those cheap dollar store kind. Maybe. Just maybe, when I took them off, I’d slipped the ring off, too. I’d rolled them up into a little ball,” I said, miming my actions, “and when I unravelled them, there it was. My wedding ring caught on a piece of yarn.”

“You were lucky. Go,” she said. “Go look for it. Before Dad and John come up from the basement.”

Even though I was worried about the whereabouts of my ring, I was happy that my mother and I could collaborate on something – a common goal.

Just as I was leaving the room, she called me back.

“When was the last time you checked the chicken?”

You’ve got to be kidding. She’s thinking about lunch? I thought but stopped myself from saying it. “About ten minutes ago.”

“Before you lost your ring. When you came from the kitchen. You were wearing oven mitts.”

I raced out of the room.

“Go check the mitts,” I heard her call after me.

In the kitchen, I grabbed the yellow flowered mitt from the counter and stuck my hand into it. As my mother had predicted: the ring. I pranced into the living room carrying the offending mitt in my right hand, my wedding ring sat in its proper place on my left.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said, reaching down to give her a hug. “Now, Mom, remember,” I said, speaking slowly for emphasis, “this … is … between … you … and … me. Please, … don’t tell John.”

Now this was a tall order for my mother, and I should have thought about it long before this moment: my mother was incapable of keeping a secret. How many times as a kid had I confided in her, making her promise never to tell? The first opportunity, out it would come. I suppose it was magical thinking on my part, but I’d hoped under the circumstances – this Wives’ Club we were forming – this one time, she’d be discrete.

“Mom, it’s better that John doesn’t know,” I said, pulling back from her so I could look her in the eye. “Promise?”

She shifted her eyes to the left. 

“Mom, it’s not like you haven’t spilled a secret before. Do you promise?” I said.

She pursed her lips, fixed her gaze on an imaginary spot on the ceiling, and nodded her head, yes.

A few moments later John came up from the basement, leaving my father downstairs, I imagined still futzing with the projector. He poked his head around the corner. “What have you two been up to?

“Nothing,” my mother answered, looking back up at the spot on the ceiling.

I beaded in on her; she smiled back at me, coyly.

“I think the chicken’s almost done,” I said, grabbing the oven mitt from the coffee table where I’d tossed it. “I’ll give it one last look-see.”

“Then I’ll sit for a minute,” John said as he moved toward the sofa.

I tapped his shoulder with the mitt as we passed. “Don’t get too comfortable.”

“So, Helen, what’s up?” John said, relaxing onto the couch.

“Norah lost her wedding ring.”

I hadn’t even rounded the corner.

“Yeah, I know. Back a couple of months ago.”

“No, she lost it, again,” she said. “Just now,” then whispered, “but I’m not supposed to tell you.”

A few years earlier I would have burst back in to the room and called her out for her betrayal. Instead, I leaned against the wall in the hallway, and laughed. The mother I knew hadn’t been lost – not yet, anyway.

~0~

Watching my mother sleep, I wondered why I was so upset she couldn’t wear her rings anymore. What did her wedding rings mean to me? Yes, they were all that remained of her home and of her marriage, both of which I was determined never to duplicate. A home that to me, even when she was younger and mobile, represented a type of prison sentence in the suburbs. And, a marriage that to call tumultuous would have been a Herculean understatement. “We’re only together because of you kids,” both my mother and father had said. To set them free, I moved out into my own apartment shortly after my nineteenth birthday. Yet, forty years later, they were still together – technically, at least.

Besides living with a boyfriend for a year when I was twenty-one, I’d avoided any kind of common-law arrangement or marriage until I married John at fifty-two. Of course, if I’d married younger, I wouldn’t have had to live in the suburbs. I wouldn’t have had to make the marital and childbearing decisions my mother had. It had just seemed simpler to avoid it altogether.

When my brother and I had emptied the house, I’d kept all my mother’s jewelry – mostly cheap costume stuff from the 1960s and a few filigreed rings of pink Russian gold. I’d coveted those rings since my mother brought them home from Ukraine in 1972 – the year my parents made their first trip back to my father’s village since he’d left it during the German occupation. Those rings looked so elegant on my mother’s fingers – slender and long and always manicured, but never a salon job. Instead, she’d use her own spit as a lubricant, pushing back the cuticles with the nail of her opposite thumb.

I’d never given a thought to her wedding rings.

My mother’s eyes opened.

“Hi, Mom,” I said, moving toward the bed to give her my customary three kisses. She flinched at the sudden touch of my lips, not certain yet who was in the room. “Mom, it’s me, Norah.”

Her mouth relaxed when she recognized my voice.

“Mary says your wedding rings are cutting into your hand,” I said, placing mine on her shoulder. “She’s worried that you’ll get an infection. She thinks it’d be better if you didn’t wear them anymore.” I continued, wondering how I was going to pry open her fingers. “Is it okay if I take them off?”

She stared up at me, looking not confused exactly, more like a guileless child.

“Can I?” I said, pressing her arms down toward the bed.

She nodded her consent. Her eyes, cloudy, searching for mine.

“Are you sure?” I knew they had to come off but I was surprised at how easily she acquiesced.

“Y-a-a-a-a-a-h” she said. For the past few months my mother’s speech hadn’t been much more than a moan – a mouthful of vowels unburdened by consonants.

I unfurled each of her fingers afraid they would crack and break.

“Does this hurt?” I said, as I began to strip her of the last remnants of her previous life.

She shook her head, “N-a-a-a-a-h.”

Her hand now open in the shape of a crescent moon, I worked the rings over her gnarled knuckle. The wedding and engagement ring wriggled off as a pair. The family ring was a little more stubborn. Once past the knuckle, the rings slid easily into the palm of my hand.

The rings that signified weighty things – almost the sum of a life, sixty-six years of marriage, a family, a home – felt light, insignificant in my hand.

Had I expected them to be heavy – gold and shards of stones?

I don’t know what possessed me but I felt the words form and flow, “Mom, would you like me to wear your wedding rings?”

As if she’d been waiting for me to ask the question, my mother moved her head up and down and said, “Yes,” crisply, with an audible “s”.


Norah-for gritLITx2

Norah Wakula’s narrative non-fiction has appeared in SilvershotzUnder the Volcano Literary Magazine, CommuterLit, The Globe & Mail and published in the chap-book, How Exhilarating and How CloseNorah won 3rd place in the annual gritLIT Writing Competition in 2016 and in 2017 was long-listed for the CFNC/carte blanche prize. A prairie girl at heart, Norah lives in Hamilton, Ontario. 

I am moth pale:  subterranean.  Insect folded, I spend hours on a grasshopper leg, classical guitar balanced across the other.  I reach for the turntable.  I work the tone arm.   Electric socket thrill.  I drop the speed from 33 &1/3 to 16.  Now Mick sounds like Darth Vader.  The song becomes fractal, a frozen waterfall, each note peals slowly.   I am cracking the code; the song, one riff at a time.  Sped up again.  Keith’s hard strumming – I feel at the top of my throat.  Taut, like wheat stalks, wax paper combs, in a spray like warm sunshine.  The kick drum drops and the lazy snare follows.  It hits my rib cage and cracks me apart like hard-shelled fruit.  I am unblemished joy. 

I’m trying to catch that rocket-ship.  I want to play rock.  I’m done with classical.  I want an electric guitar.  More than anything.  It’s “outer” outer-space for a girl in the 70’s.  There is no path.  It’s like an underground railroad:  I sit outside basement windows to hear older boys play.  Scott teaches at the Conservatory.  Hand copied hieroglyphics – mapping the “real” chords.  Star Records.  Guitar Player magazine.  Most pushpins are outside the electric fence of parental permission.  Tonight’s an exception.  I am going to my first real concert.   With an actual rock band. In our gym!  I don’t care that they are low-rent Rush, their guitar player is wicked.   

Mom is judge and dad is executioner.  My curfew is 10:30 and he’s picking me up.  “Whether it’s finished or not, that’s late enough!” Likely said in unison.  I’m for sure the only kid in town with a curfew.

Sydenham hill is a hard black gash that runs from town to sky. Like the middle stroke of the letter “Z”.  A Flintstone-simple road, it swings past a quarry before it narrows – and was built clinging to a sheer rock face.  A full football field drop from the look-out to our high school below.  From up top you’d have seen us scattered across the snowy parking lot like mottled bird seed.  We emerge in dark thickets under oval pools of mercury light, shivering.  Complexions of vampires.  Crooked like ravens in black bomber jackets, banging bright feet into the root-beer slush, clawing for position.  Frozen tufts of conversation hang above us.  My molten ears are pared and fall in curly ribbons to the ground.  I haven’t worn a winter hat since Grade 6.  Hats are for babies.  My brain floats into the cold ether.  We’re fanned out, arcing around the locked metal side door.  By day, it’s the smoker’s pit, where puny lumberjacks spend their days in a forest of smoke.

“I’m fucking freezing!”  Edith yowls.

I love it when my friends swear. It’s a new skill.

Except my parents stay perched over me and I can’t make the words come out.

“Oh my God! When are they opening the doors?”

“Whhh-at?”

“Are you serious?  That’s retarded!”

“Yeah, Stevenson won’t let the band set-up”.

Information flying by teenage telegraph.

“Why not?”
“He won’t let them in ‘till the senior boys finish practice”.

Basketball is holy at Parkside.  Boy dynasties.  Manes of hair.

“He’s such a douche”.  That sounded okay.

“So are they done?”

“Done what? – Setting up?”

No!  Are seniors done practice?”

“Yeah – I think I saw Cruikshanks leave.”

Triumph’s silver equipment trailer is motionless.  Nothing’s happening.  My curfew countdown timer is accelerating while parking lot time is glacial.  Wind tangles feathered hair, parting it backward.  It flays our faces leaving gaping white scalps.  It reaches up wide cuffs, lashes broken zippers and pokes holes in crusted mittens.  It cleaves us from our thin uniforms:  flared levi jeans, turtlenecks, silver crosses, lip gloss.  I’m naked now.  The wind gnaws my soft bones. 

“OH. MY. GOD. This sucks!”

“Let’s go somewhere, hey?”

Edith is flapping her arms in her puffy blue coat, I’ve nicknamed her “Balloon Woman” in a nod to the Michelin tire guy.

“Hey! Losers! Get in.”  It’s a Grade 11 guy, Jon.  Driving some big dad-mobile.  I don’t know him, but someone does – he’s a friend of Jay or Pie’s.  Who knows.  We pile in.  I’m crushed in the backseat.  Hips wedged against hips.  Seat-belts aren’t a thing.  Check my friends, they’re loud and laughing.  Sour burst of adrenaline.  Chest full of lemon.  Is this okay?  Cloudy thoughts.  What are we doing? What about the concert?  Glance at relaxed and unruly friends.  They’re okay.  It’s okay.

We peel out of the parking lot with a night sky that’s breaking lavender – snow’s started falling.  Tires spin.  “Jon! Jeez!”  We giggle.  The car smells warm – sweet and oaky.  A smell I’m slow to recognize.  We head up Sydenham.  Fish-tailing.  One by one, we stop laughing.  The frozen penny drops.  It bounces down the escarpment.  He’s drunk.  Back-seat silence.  Holy shit – he’s drunk.  Fuuu-ck.  I’m better at swearing in my head.  Everything has mutated.  Like we’re stuck on a broken roller coaster that was okay at the bottom.  We ratchet up the escarpment.  Inexorable. 

Click. 

Why am I even-? 

Click. 

Jeez! Watch the road. 

Click. 

Dundas is twinkly through the snow. 

Click. 

Could I jump out? 

Click. 

Heart beating in my head. 

Click.

We crest.  The road swings away from the escarpment toward flat farm land.  Fields spill snow onto the road.  “Dudes!”  Jon is relaxed.  The car surfs amiably through white powder waves. Drifts stand in stiff tableau.  Windows drawn dark with a curtain of snow pasted to the car.  It’s cosy.  No sky.  No horizon.  No road.  Snow-blind, we glide toward a T-crossing.  We slide sharply left.  A ditch.  A wrecked rear door.  There is reassembly in the snow bank.  Everyone’s okay.  They pile back in.  I refuse. I start marching in the lunar cold along the desolate shoulder; eyes fixed like a pony.  Blinking hard – bewildered.  I’m a straight arrow shot far beyond the electric fence.  No map home.  Self-reproach is boiling up into a familiar sting at the back of my nose.

The car crawls beside me with the doors propped open.  “Sarge, get in.”  “You’ll freeze!” “You can’t walk back alone – it’s snowing!”  “Just chill – l’ll drive slow.”  I weigh risk with uncalibrated scales and get back in.

The car slips:  an errant brown button unspooling down a freshly laundered shirt.  I’m in the same rear seat – now wedged beside a wrecked door that won’t close.  Jon inches downhill, chastened by disapproval: the back-seat hissing of girls now dressed in their mothers’ angry postures.  I’m trying to hold the heavy door in toward the car.  Hard as I try, there’s a nightmare-sized crack where monsters leer.  The road’s snowy teeth snap at my ankles.  Whenever my tender grip sags, the purple jaws widen.  Tumbling road right below my shoe.  Searching wind wants to rip me into space.  If I can keep pulling, everything bad will stay out.  Back in the parking lot we spill out of the car, like dark confetti.  Relieved.  The barren school doors are still locked when my countdown timer expires.  No concert.

The faithful orange station-wagon sits at the edge of the parking lot.  Defeated, I say “bye” to my friends.  My poor dad never knows which version of me he’s getting.  I smash into my seat.  I try to slam the door but it’s enormous.  It closes weakly.  It ruins the drama.  “Hey! So? How was it?”  He’s keenly interested; enthusiastic.  Unsuspecting.   “Ididn’tevengettoseethemplay!” It comes out in one blast of self-pity.  Silence.  Teenage faucet off.  Stupid curfew.  Stupid school.  Now I’ll never see a band.  I can’t imagine anything worse. 

My dad gently steers us home.


_DSC0660 As a paediatric social worker, Laura is well-acquainted with the wonder and misery of adolescence. Laura previously focused on poetry and songwriting: she was lead guitarist for several indie bands during her twenties. Frigid January walks with Led Zeppelin leaking from her earbuds helped to dislodge this story. She has been published in the Globe and Mail and View Magazine. Most days she unwinds in her garden, on the Bruce Trail or by exploring Hamilton’s burgeoning coffee scene. Mortality and CBC podcasts will prevent her from getting through her “must read” book list. She is currently working on a collection of life stories.

Chain 52.

Row 1: Double crochet in third loop from hook, and in each across (49dc total). Turn.

I learn to crochet at a time when Mom’s brain is too deteriorated to care, her eyes foggy and distant, a half smile permanently on her lips. Anytime previous to this last half year of her life she would have been excited for my newfound hobby, would have put in requests for cowls and hats and other accessories that she had too many of already. Upon receiving these gifts she would have ooh’d and awh’d at my handiwork. Even in adulthood a mother’s pride means so much, and her wearing them would have been the grown-up equivalent of magnetting my drawings to the fridge.

She was diagnosed with brain tumours seven months before Christmas, when I bring my first crocheted beret home. It is surprising that she has survived longer than three months since the diagnosis. But here she is, still enjoying life, just a little less present than normal.

* * *

The origins of crochet are difficult to pin down, as many different countries claim credit for its invention. Perhaps its roots are unknown because for so long it was practiced by spinsters, housewives and girls, unimportant and unmarked people in society. It was craft, not art. It was made and used in the most pedestrian of places, the home.

* * *

I learn to crochet from a YouTube video, and am immediately hooked. I need a stress relief from my masters, and from Mom’s dying. I am starting afresh; just after Mom’s diagnosis, I left a stable small town, small school teaching job and moved to the big city with the big school to get my degree, to pursue writing. Now, lonely and overwhelmed, I can’t bring myself to write. Meanwhile, my mother and closest confidant is fading away.

  I crochet constantly, on the subway, watching sitcoms, on the phone, at parties. I crochet meticulously, often unravelling hours of work upon deciding I don’t like the shape or the fit, unimpressed with the way the strands are interlocking into something I had not envisioned. It’s an activity that allows me to exert total control, to undo what had been done without hurting anything, to give and then take away. There might be a flash of regret at pulling the loops of yarn out from one another, but the feeling is fleeting as I reminded myself it isn’t worth finishing if I don’t love it. “You’re a bulimic crocheter,” my sister-in-law says. But I don’t crochet so much for the production as much as the motion: the smooth, finicky choreography of fingers, the focus of my thoughts, the rhythm providing a metronome in the chaos of conversation and background noise.

Each time I think I can expect the product to turn out a certain way. But everyone’s tension is different. There are ways to check your tension by crocheting a gauge swatch and measuring its size against the pattern’s instructions, but I never bother with those. Who has the time to test everything before you try it? I’d rather figure it out as I go, and start over if need be.

* * *

Row 2: *Skip 2 stitches, 5 double crochet third stitch, skip 2 stitches*, repeat shell pattern until end of row (10 shells in total).

Unlike knitting, crochet has never been necessary. It isn’t the most efficient use of yarn: it’s holey and bulky rather than its tightly formed and economical cousin, or foremother, depending on how you read their histories. In its origins it was used as lace to adorn collars or sleeves, or to make doilies to decorate the home. It lends itself more to ornamentation than functionality. It highlights what is already there and needed—clothing, furniture—adding intricacy to everyday objects. Crochet has not exclusively belonged to women, but by and large it was developed and practiced within women’s circles, a means of enhancing value, of connecting things and people.

* * *

My mother was a stay-at-home mom. She got her degree in home economy, which I guess is as specialized as you can be in her job. Before I was born, and in the early years of my life, she had worked in a group home with victims of domestic abuse, and then in a home for teenage mothers. Once I came along, home management was her vocation; we were her creativity. But she also found many other creative outlets: the gardens that cropped up around the lawn of our farmhouse, the kitschy and sweet tole painted angels and outdoor scenes that decorated table tops, quilts draped across the backs of couches, benches and repurposed hacksaws hanging from the walls. Her crafts filled our home and the homes of her friends. They were crafts that required planning, forethought, and patterns. 

Once the three of us kids were in school, mom started talking about going back to work as a social worker, maybe opening her own counseling practice. I knew she’d be great at it—everyone who met her would open up their life story to her within a few minutes of conversation. As a child it annoyed me that when I’d have a friend over, I’d leave for a minute to go to the bathroom and come back to find the friend pouring out her soul to my mother, having the kinds of juicy conversations my friends never had to me.

“But I’d have to go back to school and get my masters,” Mom said. “You should do that!” I said. I had my own ambitions of grad school, and my own sense of what a woman should do with her time, with her vocation. “I think I will,” she said. Every now and again I would bring it up, and she would say she was thinking about it. “I’m nervous about going back to school,” she said, “about starting over.” “You’ll be fine,” I’d say. “Not this year,” she would say.

Years later she found another social worker friend who looked to my mother as a mentor. They talked about doing their masters together, starting afresh. Then cancer came and Mom ran out of time.

* * *

Row 3: Continue the same as rows 1 and 2 until you’ve reached the desired length. Fasten off.

For the Irish during the potato famine, crocheted lace became an important means of income. The intricate netting connecting flowers and shamrocks and leaves composed wedding dresses and formal wear for well-to-do women around the world. As is the case with much of fashion today, those doing the hands-on labour didn’t wear their work, but would gain enough to live off by selling it to others whose time was considered not worth the work but whose bodies were considered worthy of the adornment.

* * *

As I start to seek more challenging patterns, my thread became thinner and thinner. I am drawn to projects that are intricate and ornate. I begin visiting the shop of the Portuguese lady in the neighbourhood, whose tiny store carries shelves of tightly wrapped coloured cotton. The windows and walls are draped with large lace table clothes like gargantuan snowflakes. It is heartbreaking and wonderful to see something that modern machines could make in the course of an hour, which has taken a retired woman the course of two years to make, and to know that few will ever give it the attention it deserves. But there they hang, to be admired by those of us who know the craft.

Sometimes her friend is there with her, sitting on a wooden chair behind the cash, where her fingers and hook fidget along a sprawling bedspread. “I just hope to finish it before I die,” the elderly woman says. “I doubt I can take it with me and finish it there.”

If we cannot crochet in the afterlife, I want to say, I don’t know what I’ll do. But of course it isn’t polite to confirm that a person is near death, especially one who looks to be in good health and whose hands still wiggle about unplagued by arthritis, and so I say, “I’m sure you’ll make many more beautiful things after this one is finished.”

* * *

Row 4-end: Look for mistakes in your work. Count them. Count them against the hours you’ve spent reaching your desired length. Weigh whether or not to unravel the whole thing. Start unraveling. Think better of it and stop. Too late now—might as well roll it all into a ball and start and new project.

In perusing crochet blogs and forums, I come across an unfamiliar neologism: frogging. Example: “This was way bigger than I intended, so I frogged it.” The meaning becomes evident in context—to undo the work one has done on a project in order to reuse the yarn for something else. Crocheters, knitters and needle-workers use this phrase, often attributing its origins to the repeated ripping out of stitches: the instruction to “rip it, rip it, rip it” is reminiscent of the frog’s croaking “ribbit.” Crochet is a forgiving craft: frogging is a simple process as stitches pull apart easily. Then you can start afresh.

* * *

In the early morning hours after Mom’s death, I am on the verge of hyperventilation until I pick up my yarn and hook. My breathing continues shallow and pulsing as my hands begin to work, but like breathing into a paper bag, the timing of the gestures and requirement of slight concentration bring my mind and body back into alignment. I make a too big toque, frog it. Make a too small toque, frog it. Make an uninspired scarf. Frog it.

I would take my crochet project to the funeral would it not make me look uncaring. There are expectations around the craft of mourning. The evening before the funeral, I sit in the living room with my sisters-in-law looking through old family photos. We are laughing when an aunt comes into the room to pay her respects. She sits down for a minute, bursts into tears, and then says, “I guess I just knew her longer than the rest of you.”

Funeral tears are meant to be shown and shared. When they do not come naturally, we fear our mourning will go unnoticed. Mourning often feels so unnecessary. At Mom’s funeral I cry, but feel dried out inside. The tears are ornamental. They are tears to be shown, tears to be shared.

* * *

Sit with the futility of your gestures. Recognize you needed to do it, even if nothing came of it all.

I begin dating someone a few months later, someone who doesn’t seem particularly interested in me. I tell him as much. In an attempt to prove me wrong, he informs me he has researched my obsessive hobby. He tells me about the origins of the craft of crochet, a bourgeois pass-time spawned by an over-abundance of cotton in America and a need to put it to good use. Upper and middle class women needed activities to fill their many hours of leisure and desired pretty things, and so began a trend towards making decorative trim and tablecloths. Or at least, this is what I understand him to be saying.

His description makes me defensive. To endow handicrafts with significance—I argue—to appreciate the legacy of women’s contribution to household items, is to appreciate women, whose roles have for so long been relegated to the domestic, their productions understood as trivial frippery rather than artistry.

“Maybe not so much for crochet,” I say, “but for much of history, women (at least those of the working class) participated in craft out of necessity, to provide clothing or bedding to their families. It was an act of love and provision.”   

“Sure—I’m not discounting that,” he says. “I just thought I’d tell you about what I learned so that you knew I was interested.” He sighs as he realizes his research did not yield the desired outcome.

“I guess now,” I say, “craft is an indulgence. It’s not something we need, but something we do because we can.” But I want to see it as a feminist activity. It doesn’t seem sufficient reason to invest all this time simply for the sake of enjoyment, for the sake of my mental health.

* * *

I thought it a waste that Mom never went back to work, to unravel the life she had built and begin something afresh. Years later, in the days when I became fascinated with the concept of “calling,” I heard someone say, “I feel like I am called to be a friend.” I thought of Mom, of the hours spent on the phone or in our living room coaching friends through difficult marriages, the days devoted to crafts or gardens, the time spent mentoring women, the years taking care of her aging mother, the decades devoted to her children. I did not mourn the waste.

* * *

Start afresh. Chain 8. Connect in a loop to first chain. Double and single crochet intermittently to make a flower. Now make a starfish. Now make something unrecognizable. Experiment, play around, set your wrist and yarn free. Did you create something original, breathtaking, artistic? Probably not. Unravel again.

Some attribute the eventual popularity of crochet lace to Queen Victoria’s wearing it, having received a piece of Irish lace as a gift. Before this time it was viewed as a cheap substitute for traditional lace, but with her embracing it, it quickly became a fashionable statement. She was, in fact, influential in de-stigmatizing the craft itself as she took it up as a hobby. Some say it helped her cope with the death of her beloved Albert.

* * *

Unlike the ladies at the Portuguese yarn shop, I am less interested in crochet for household decor and rather inclined towards clothing and accessories. I spend a year making a grey lace dress with a leafy symmetrical pattern descending along the torso. I cobble it together from a variety of pictures found online without any clear instructions. This trial and error means of developing a pattern are a large source of the joy of it—it is like assembling the torn up sections of a treasure map. A row takes twenty-five minutes, if I’m fast. At a third of the way through I’ve done one hundred rows. I take it with me everywhere in a fabric thrift store bag with an owl on it.

One day, after nearly completing the torso, I return home from running errands and open my owl bag to find only my crochet hook. I tear apart my room looking for the half-completed dress, but cannot find it. In a panic, I run back into the evening air, retracing my steps, fearing I somehow dropped it on the subway tracks. When I finally arrive back at the station, I see it spread out along the floor beside the revolving door. Someone has broken the thread and taken the remaining grey ball, but has thoughtfully left the rest of the project in tact. I pick up the precious fabric, run my fingers across it, notice a few rows have been pulled away. This is why you always buy extra yarn, because someone might covet what you have not used of it and take it.

I take the final product to show the ladies at the Portuguese yarn shop. They ooh and awh and give me the attention my mother would have. “I could not make something like this,” they say. “Of course you could,” I say, gesturing to their pieces on the wall. The bell at the door dings and a man in scrappy clothing who walks with swaying steps saunters up to the counter beside us. “I was wondering if I could just leave you with a bit of literature about Jesus and his love,” he says, dropping some dirty tracts on the counter. “Of course,” says the lady. “Thanks, and God bless!” he says as he twists away and sways out the door. “We could all use a little more Jesus,” she says.

I think of Christ’s instructions not to “store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I think about the expansive tablecloths and dresses that take uncounted hours to make, and wonder, can something be both a treasure on earth and a treasure in heaven? I am afraid of indulgence, garnish, extravagance. It seems self-serving. But perhaps the expression of affection—the detailing displayed in the home or on the body—that brings sparks of joy, perhaps this is enough. Perhaps it is enough to have a conversation starter, an act of discipline, a handmade display of grief or joy.

Go back to making flowers. Spread them across your mother’s grave. Wonder if it’s better to have flowers that smell or flowers that last at least a season or three before the snow covers them and then, in the melt of spring, the birds may gather the tattered remains for their nests, their chicks warm and surrounded in lace, the way you once were.


1S7A1505-FullSizeMelissa was raised on a chicken farm in a small town in Southern Ontario. She has a Masters of English in the Field of Creative Writing from University of Toronto. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has been published in literary journals such as The Puritan, Grain, Ryga, Qwerty, and Joyland. She was a finalist for the Rusty Toque Chapbook competition. Her first book, The Whole Beautiful World, is a collection of short stories, published by Brindle and Glass. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with her husband, Mark, and son, Elliott.

 

We are so, so thrilled to announce the winners of this year’s gritLIT Writing Contest! There were so many fantastic submissions, and it was so hard narrowing it down to just three. So, without further ado, here are the winners and runner-ups of the contest:

First Place

1S7A1505-FullSize

Melissa Kuipers, “How to Crochet a Mourning Shawl”

Melissa was raised on a chicken farm in a small town in Southern Ontario. She has a Masters of English in the Field of Creative Writing from University of Toronto. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work has been published in literary journals such as The Puritan, Grain, Ryga, Qwerty, and Joyland. She was a finalist for the Rusty Toque Chapbook competition. Her first book, The Whole Beautiful World, is a collection of short stories, published by Brindle and Glass. She lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with her husband, Mark, and son, Elliott.

 First Honourable Mention
_DSC0660
Laura Sergeant, “Being 14”
As a paediatric social worker, Laura is well-acquainted with the wonder and mystery of adolescence. Laura previously focused on poetry and songwriting: she was lead guitarist for several indie bands during her twenties. Frigid January walks with Led Zeppelin leaking from her earbuds helped to dislodge this story. She has been published in the Globe and Mail and View Magazine. Most days she unwinds in her garden, on the Bruce Trail or by exploring Hamilton’s burgeoning coffee scene. Mortality and CBC podcasts will prevent her from getting through her “must read” book list. She is currently working on a collection of life stories.
Second Honourable Mention
Norah-for gritLITx2
Norah Wakula, “The Wedding Rings”

Norah Wakula’s narrative non-fiction has appeared in SilvershotzUnder the Volcano Literary Magazine, CommuterLit, The Globe & Mail and published in the chap-book, How Exhilarating and How CloseNorah won 3rd place in the annual gritLIT Writing Competition in 2016 and in 2017 was long-listed for the CFNC/carte blanche prize. A prairie girl at heart, Norah lives in Hamilton, Ontario. 


Thank you so much to everyone who took part in this year’s contest, and a special thank you to our judges, Ann Y.K. Choi, Kerry Clare, and John Terpstra. See you at the festival!

The 2018 gritLIT Writing Contest has come and gone and we will be announcing our winners very soon, but before we do that, we’d like to bring you one more interview with our third contest judge, Kerry Clare.

Kerry has been writing, blogging, and teaching blogging for over 15 years, and her first novel, Mitzi Bytes, was published last year. We were thrilled to host Kerry at gritLIT last year, and equally thrilled to have her as a judge for this year’s writing contest. You can find out more about Kerry and her writing at her blog picklemethis.com.

Thanks once again to all our entrants and to our judges for their support of the gritLIT Writing Contest. Please stay tuned for the 2019 contest details, coming later this spring/summer.

1. Before you were a novelist, you were – and still are – a blogger. At last year’s gritLIT Festival I really enjoyed your workshop on blogging, and one of my main takeaways from that was your revelation that blogs are inherently messy. I may not have got that quote quite right, but it was inspiring to hear, and I wondered if you could elaborate a bit on the idea of messiness as it pertains to blogging, or writing in general, I suppose.

Messy is *real*—this is why I revere it. Messy is life, and noise, and complications, and messiness is what makes anything interesting anyway. Messiness is also process, which is what blogs are all about, a chance to show your work. And I love that, to be able to see a writer answering difficult questions, trying to figure things out. And as a writer, I am grateful for a space where I get to do those things. I know that my blog made me a writer—it taught me how to use my voice, look critically at my reading, and, most importantly, it taught me how to show up, which in writing can be one of the bigger challenges. Blogging also gave me the faith to conquer the first few imperfect (messy) drafts of my novel, not to worry too much about polish or perfection (both of which can be huge distractions from the bigger picture), but to focus on getting the book done.

2. Mitzi Bytes is a fun, sort-of-mystery novel but there are also deeper themes that are explored as the story moves along. Women’s friendships, honesty, secret – and not-so-secret – lives. There is a lot going on. Did you intend to explore those themes when you started the novel, or did they reveal themselves to you as you went along?

I started out with plot—this woman who has a secret blog who’s about to be found out—but in order to make the plot meaningful, I had to make the characters enacting it into rich and developed characters. I had to give my protagonist friends, and family, and a nemesis, a job, and a book club. And along the way, the world crept in, and the novel became a space for me to explore many of my fascinations, about female friendships, the lines between life online and off, issues about motherhood, and feminism, and literature. I really enjoyed the process of all of these pieces coming together, and have kind of transformed into one of those writers I used to think were lying when they told you that their novels wrote themselves.  

3. Our creative nonfiction/memoir writing contest deadline has passed, of course, but I wondered about your writing style. Are you a last-minute, procrastinator kind of writer, or do you have work submitted well before deadline?

Way before deadline! (Remember what I said before about blogging teaching me how important it is to show up to the writing desk?). Which has been really key my success as a freelance writer, I think, that I am reliable and responsible and get the job done. I also have small children and my work days are short, and there is always the chance of it all going awry—so I have to plan for all of this when scheduling my time.

4. We were so thrilled to have you as a judge for this year’s writing contest. Now that you’ve read through the short list and the winners have been chosen (and will be announced soon!) what was your impression of the works submitted?

I loved reading these pieces. Surely I have to say that? But the thing is that I actually mean it. Each of the pieces on the shortlist had something interesting to offer, and I really enjoyed reading them all.

5. Finally, can you let us know what’s next for you on the writing front? Will we hear more from Mitzi/Sarah do you think?

I’m at work on my new novel, which is called ASKING FOR A FRIEND, and about the progression of a friendship over decades. I wish I could say that it’s writing itself, but it’s not. Fortunately, I get to write it, and I am enjoying that process a lot.

Last week, gritLIT recognized and apologized for our wrongful planning and promotion of “Is CanLit a Raging Dumpster Fire?”, an event we programmed that ignorantly made reference to an article of the same name by Alicia Elliott. This event was disrespectful, and for that I am deeply sorry. We commit to doing better.

Our community has rightfully asked: What does this commitment look like? After making a public apology to Alicia Elliott, as well as to Nick Mount, Elaine Dewar and Dana Hansen who were also misrepresented in the description, gritLIT took a moment to let the conversation continue and voices be heard, both on and off social media. Here are two of the outcomes we would like to share.

  • We made personal apologies to all the parties involved, including a phone call to Alicia Elliott, and to all our writers taking part in the festival.
  • We decided to fill the event-space with the conversation that the original description should have encompassed: a discussion about Canadian literature that centers the voices of our BIPOC authors in a space that is inclusive and accessible. It will also be a discussion where authors are compensated for their labour because, as authors on this panel and others have expressed, these conversations are labour. We need to recognize that as a community.

Alicia Elliott has graciously accepted our invitation to take part in this discussion as a gritLIT author, and she will be joined by Jael Richardson from the FOLD Festival and fellow gritLIT author Carrianne Leung. After a discussion with the authors, this event has been titled “CanLit REALLY Is A Dumpster Fire.” We encourage our community to learn more about the event here.

We cannot undo the mistakes we made or the hurt we have caused. I truly hope that by opening the gritLIT space to have these conversations in a real way, we can at least relieve some of that pain and provide a positive path forward.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Gillies

Artistic Director

terpstra-john

By Elizabeth Obermeyer

It has been a little longer than we’d hoped between writing contest judge introductions – those darn holidays, messing up all our plans – but we are back, and extremely pleased to present the second of our three contest judges, Hamilton’s very own John Terpstra.

John has published several books of poetry and nonfiction, and has been a longtime supporter and friend of gritLIT festival, and we are so grateful that he has taken the time to participate in our 5 Questions With series.

You can read more about John on his website http://johnterpstra.com/, and of course keep reading for John’s five answers here!

1. You’re a writer who moves between poetry and nonfiction. How difficult – or not – is it to switch gears between the two? And, does your nonfiction ever stray into poetry or vice versa? 

Some of my poetry has found its way into my non-fiction, especially early on, in Falling into Place, and there are some readers/listeners who have told me that when they attend my readings they cannot tell the difference between the prose and the poetry, so maybe it’s only a matter of line-breaks. I hope not.

One difference for me, from the writing side of things, is that the non-fiction is requires a lot of time, and that you stay on a schedule or it will never get finished.

Poetry is without schedule. It is outside of time. So there.

2. You write a lot about places and locations and you have a real eye for the details of your surroundings, whether it’s a forest, a city, a building. Have you always been a keen observer of detail, or is that something that has come out of your writing?

The writing itself is what makes me an observer, I think. For some unknown reason something will call attention to itself and I have to begin pursuing it. Then I get kind of obsessive, and the details start emerging, and i love them. In normal, everyday life, I get easily distracted.

3. You’ve been involved with gritLIT since the very first festival – I think that was determined at an event back in the fall! What is your impression as to how the festival has grown and evolved since the early years?

It’s still evolving, isn’t it? It’s always cast a wide net when hauling-in the authors, and has also been pretty sensitive to the feelings of local authors who may or may not get invited to read. I like that it is a Writers and Readers Festival.

4. As someone who writes both poetry and prose, what advice would you give to writers entering the gritLIT contest who might be new to the creative nonfiction or memoir genre?

My advice would be don’t be afraid, you have nothing to lose, write whatever is right in front of you to write. 
5. Finally, can you give us a glimpse into what’s next for you, creatively?

My latest project, which is supposed to be handed in to the publisher by the end of this month (!), concerns a captured creek that no one knows about that runs through the city of Hamilton. It’s called Daylighting Chedoke and Wolsak and Wynn (ever heard to them?)(just kidding) is publishing it for next fall 2018.


Many thanks to John for answering our questions candidly and with his signature sense of humour, too!

Our memoir and creative nonfiction contest is now closed, but we still have one more judge to reveal to you, so please stay tuned for our next 5 Questions With, coming soon!

Ann Choi (cr John Burridge)

The January 10th deadline for the gritLIT writing contest is quickly approaching, and, in order to introduce you, our potential entrants, to this year’s contest judges we will be bringing you our new “Five Questions With” feature.

Today we are delighted to present to you the first judge for our 2018 Memoir and Creative Nonfiction contest, Ann Y.K. Choi!

Ann is a Toronto-based author, whose first novel Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was published in 2016. The novel follows the story of Mary, a Korean-born Canadian, growing up in mid-1980s Toronto. Mary is torn between the expectations her parents have for her, and her own desires for her future.

Ann was a featured author at this year’s gritLIT Festival, and not only is she a wonderful writer, but is also one of the most delightful people you could ever hope to meet.

You can read more about Ann at her website annykchoi.com, learn more about her debut novel at kaysluckycoinvariety.ca, AND settle in to read her answers to our questions for the blog!


  1. While Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety isn’t exactly autobiographical, some of your experiences growing up in Toronto as a new Canadian helped shape the story. Did you ever find yourself slipping from Mary’s story into your own or vice versa?

I wanted this story to be as “real” as possible because my motivation for writing it was to ensure that my daughter understood what life was like for the Korean immigrants coming to Canada in the mid-70s. Back then, there was very little of the Korean culture or heritage represented. Mary and her best friend Kate are composites of the Korean-Canadian girls and young women I knew growing up in the 70s and 80s. Because I struggled with my mental wellness, a counsellor suggested that I find out what made other Korean-Canadians with variety stores or demanding parental expectations happy. I was an undergrad at the time so I interviewed several Korean-Canadian young women. I found out that we were all struggling and feeling burdened by the pressure to excel at school and to help out with family businesses. When I started to write my novel, I was able to recall our combined voices and use them to guide my writing.

  1. The variety store is definitely central to the story, and the store itself almost feels like another character at times. It’s comforting and familiar, but it also looms over Mary’s story and her life. How important is it to have a sort of “home base” in this kind of writing? A place for characters to retreat to, or, at times escape from?

I have a complicated relationship with the variety store. Growing up, I felt it was robbing my family of something. It kept us chained to it. The store’s hours were long and demanding. Even when my mother was hospitalized and we thought she was dying, we had to keep the store open because it was our only source of income. This meant missing school. I think that’s why as a teacher today, I really don’t care if student assignments come in late or homework doesn’t always get done – because we don’t know what home life is like for students. My parents had a lot of pride in our store. After coming to Canada with nothing, they had managed to start a business.  I used to joke that the variety store was my mother’s fourth child. It was her baby – something she nurtured and protected. I really enjoyed talking with some of our regular customers and feeling part of the community – that’s what made the store feel like home for me. The store in my novel serves multiple purposes: like a character, it complicates relationships amongst other characters and also creates a foundation for the story to unfold.

  1. Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety was one of my favourite books of last year, so I’m curious to know what you’re working on now. Can you give us any insight as to what’s next for you? Another novel, perhaps? But no pressure of course!

Thank you for reading Kay’s! I’m working on a novel set in 1924 Korea, when the nation was one country under Japanese occupation. Because I’ve never studied Korean history, much of my time over the past few years has been spent on researching. My daughter and I even went to South Korea to visit the places that inspired my setting.  She wasn’t happy with me when I tried to re-enact some of the scenes with her. In one case, we found ourselves deep in the mountains which was both lovely and scary. I was trying to imagine my character there, running away to avoid an arranged marriage. I wore flip-flops and a long skirt just as my character would have – which made trekking through the mountain trails extremely challenging. The August heat was oppressive. Then there were the bugs …

  1. I know you’re a full-time teacher in the York Region District School Board, AND a full-time mom, so I suspect your writing time is precious. Can you give us a little glimpse into your writing process, and when and where you do your writing?

I’ve learned after years of putting “writing” on the bottom of my daily to-do list that I needed to build some sort of accountability for myself. Although I often struggle to get started, I will do almost anything to avoid missing a due date or deadline. Years ago, I took creative writing courses which had built-in deadlines for me to work towards. Now, I have a wonderful writing circle that meets every second Saturday of the month. This means I have monthly writing goals to drive my novel forward. I often work at night, or if I’m working on a personal essay or interview questions for a specific publication/website, I’ll make time wherever I can to meet the tight turnaround times. I love my Blackberry because the physical keyboard allows me to type almost as quickly as I can on my laptop. This is especially useful for writing on the subway or waiting in lines at the supermarket, or cafés.

  1. Finally, the gritLIT writing contest is looking for short works of creative nonfiction or memoir this year. What advice would you give to writers who plan to enter our contest?

Creative nonfiction, like fiction, includes characters, dialogue, setting, and a storyline. Make use of these elements and literary devices to tell a memorable story. Read writing by authors you admire. What makes their creative nonfiction pieces compelling for you? Some of my favourite nonfiction classics include Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Studying them through a writer’s lens (as opposed to engaging the text as a reader) was one of the most useful exercises I had to do in my creative nonfiction courses. Finally, I think writing from real life can stir many emotions and pose several challenges. Be gentle on yourself, and stay focused on crafting an authentic story only you can tell.


Many, many thanks to Ann for taking the time to provide such thoughtful and inspirational answers to our questions, and for being on board to judge the 2018 writing contest.

Stay tuned for our next Five Questions With…coming soon!

Do you know about gritLIT’s Memoir and Creative Nonfiction Writing Contest?

Our contest is now open! If you are a writer and a resident of southern Ontario, we await your entries of creative nonfiction or memoir! You can find all the details about the contest on our website at gritlit.ca/contest, and if you have any questions that aren’t answered on the site, please send them to contest@gritlit.ca.

We are thrilled to announce that we have three fantastic authors joining us as judges for the 2018 contest. Who are they? All will be revealed in good time! Our plan is to introduce you to them one at a time here on the blog in a feature we are calling Five Questions With… We will be sending each author/judge five questions that will serve to let you know a little bit more about them and their work, their writing process, their inspiration, AND maybe even a bit of advice for anyone entering our contest.

Intrigued? Stay tuned for our first Five Questions With, hitting the blog very, very soon!