About Heather

Heather has lived on a Canadian Gulf Island for most of her life, but when she was ten or so she lived on a farm in Southern Ontario and that experience is fictionalized in the Patti Stories. However, many of Patti's experiences are a blend of that setting and of raising her own family of three girls in a rural setting on Saltspring Island. These stories draw on the realities of both places and it is this that gives Heather's writing that extra ring of truth.

Heather has been a teacher, a CUSO volunteer in South America, and has sailed the Pacific in a wooden schooner. She has two BA s from the University of Victoria, in English and Psychology and in Creative Writing. She has also published poetry and magazine articles.

She is presently writing an adult novel set on the West Coast.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Life on the Farm

In the first book that Heather wrote about her main character Patti, we meet her and her family. It is never absolutely clear what roots the family has but they have a Scottish name and both parents work off the farm. Dad at the local sawmill, and mom at the village bank branch. The farm is not much by modern standards: hay, cows, chickens, and is mortgaged. Not an unusual story at all. And Patti herself seems a pretty average ten year old kid with an older brother.
The thing is though, Patti may have no magical powers, but she has plenty of guts and determination and following her around in this first book is exhausting, exciting and sooo educational. Educational in the sense that Patti sets out to learn stuff about life and she belongs to a family that hasn't all the answers but will struggle along with her through this important year of her life. We tag along, participate and get a warm feeling deep down inside.
While this story is aimed at children by the publishers, and is about childhood, it is very accessible to all ages just as the 'Anne of Green Gables' books are.
Christmas is coming. Think about adding this and its two companions, 'Little Guy' and 'Joan's Summer' to your family bookshelves. In fact, don't leave home without them!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Patti hits the silver screen?
Heather and I have begun to think about the Patti books in terms of their visual qualities. They are presented in print, but are absorbed visually – the words and situations, the actions that are described, are very visual. Perhaps this is because Heather writes about many situations that actually happened in some form or other in her own childhood and she sees them played out like a film in her minds eye.

Because her time on the farm was in the 1950s, what she visualizes is a rural past which itself is still leaving the time of workhorses and harvest co-operation. They are within the family memory and scraps of that past are still part of the community’s social fabric and physically clutter up outbuildings, even while the family struggles with the more modern reality of both parents working off the farm to keep heart and hearth together. Wagons and horses, training to harness, log building and sugaring off, all were part of a vanishing knowledge base which still had present day interest, as if knowing how to do all these old things was still valuable and could possibly be needed again. The children in this family must be prepared for a modern future but were encouraged to learn tried and true skills as well. They were character building and in the process they were so much fun and gave such satisfaction. And all this is laid out chapter by chapter through all three books: Life on the Farm, Little Guy, and Joan's Summer.

These chapters are like segments in a film series. They present a puzzle to be solved, a situation to be understood, a skill to be learned, a learning to be achieved and built upon as the children grow up. Some situations, as in Heather’s own childhood, are not sweet or pretty but are part of real life. They have the ring of truth which in the end is more useful to us all than light entertainment. In their own way these books are thoughtful teaching stories to be discussed, absorbed, adapted and applied to our own present day situations.

So maybe someday we will all enjoy and learn from them with our children in film versions just as we did the 'Anne of Green Gables' a few years ago. (Interestingly 'Anne of Green Gables', the books and the television series, are enjoyed by all ages, and the Patti stories, while they are published as children's books, are also of interest to everyone - we have all had a childhood, and have all been profoundly influenced by that experience).

Who could play Patti? Who could do justice to Joan? What location would work? What vintage of pick-up truck would dad have driven? And where do we find a little Guy? This all sounds like a barrel of fun!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Author's visit.

Heather met a class of elementary children yesterday and presented her Patti books. She talked first about the different kinds of writing, fiction and non-fiction, and discussed this with the students. Then she pointed out that in the Patti books, which were definitely fiction, the characters and events were often patterned after actual characters and situations that she had met in her life's travels. So things were more complicated than the simple test of 'did this happen?' might appear. She gave the example of a snowy scene in her fictional story, and her sister who shared her life said that she did not remember that extreme a snowfall on the farm in Ontario. “ It is fiction”, she had replied, “I needed that much snow for the story”.

When we tell a true story we select, emphasis, adjust,and then present the facts as we remember them. In a fictional story we can go even further. In the end though we have a story to tell and in the Patti books selected events are changed and elaborated to express an idea more convincingly. Heather’s childhood friend Joan, for example, was someone she knew on the farm and she captured the essence of that personality and her life situation, but from there on the Joan of the books was a development into fiction. A fiction however that revealed the character 'Joan' more fully and thoughtfully than the original fragment of 'reality' could have done.

Heather handled this 3/4 split class very carefully: handling an important subject with a light touch and in a way that would help them with their own writing and then she moved on to a reading from 'Life on the Farm' where Patti meets the quarter horse 'Little Guy' and we begin the transition to the next book in the series.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Joan's Summer. A way through grief.

Barbara Coloroso was interviewed today on CBC about grieving ( her new book is 'Parenting through Crisis') and as I listened I realized that Heather's book 'Joan's Summer', the third in the Patti series, fitted into her list of things to do for children ( and indeed anyone) who were involved in the grieving process.

Heather said that while her book was written as she says, “swept up in the character with no grand teaching scheme in mind”it did seem to hit every point that Coloroso made. “Simply common sense.” Heather says, but as a once family and youth counsellor myself I know that common sense is often in reality crowded out by those other kinds of sense that can create more knots than they untie in personalities, especially during a grieving process. In the past I have used Coloroso's books to help with counselling in a variety of situations.

Twelve year old Joan, the mainstay of her family as her single mother struggles with a serious heart problem is suddenly faced with the death of her mother and freed from her family role of raising her siblings. Her grief is both simple and complicated; complicated because she has not only lost her mother but also her role in life, a very big and unfair role as caregiver for all, but an important part of her identity nonetheless. 'Joan's Summer' deals with grief and presents a way through it. It presents grief as a part of Joan's life, a constructive part that can lead her through and into a new beginning rather than a dark valley of misery with no redeeming features.

Anyone who has read the first two Patti books in this series will recognize Patti's combination of willing helpfulness for Joan with angry feelings of resentment. Patti acts and speaks for us. As we read however we can see the larger picture; through Joan, Patti's parents and brother Jamie and through our own life experience. We read, and think and learn whether as child or adult or as someone who reads the book and leads children through understanding the complexities of human experience. Grief in any form is part of being alive. Joan grieves and leads us all through it in a constructive and realistic way.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

This quote from Goethe was an important one in our life. We found it on a plaque on a coastal island while we were struggling with our plan to voyage offshore in our big wooden schooner, Shiriri. At every stage in any great endeavor there are moments when what lies ahead seems too much and we wish for a way out of our commitments. The hardest part of any voyage is casting loose the dock lines. Those words, the favorite quote of a mountain climber who died on K2, were just what we needed to stiffen our resolve.
The Patti Stories partake of the essence of Goethe's words. Patti is just a young girl when the stories begin, but she is a determined creature, she figures things out and makes things happen and changes herself in the process. In the Joan story we see the same process working in her life. Joan wants a home, some stability, and she wants to accomplish this through her own hard work and skill. She succeeds in building her dream, her deepest desire, and is changed too in the process. As Goethe says, “boldness has genius, power, and magic in it”.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Building a log cabin.

The school project model log cabin uses horizontal logs
which are notched to fit at the corners

In 'Joan's Summer' the two girls, with help from the Blackburn family, build a log cabin. This, for couple of twelve year old girls is a big project, but not impossible, but the building process must seem complicated so here is a simple explanation.

When Heather and our family moved to Saltspring Island the first thing we built after the pumphouse and the barn was a piece en piece style log cabin. We had cut our lodgepole pine logs in the Okanagan where we had lived previously and brought them with us. Like Patti and Joan our first job was to clear a building space and make foundations. In our case we poured concrete bases on the uneven rocky ground and then placed cedar posts of different lengths on top and levelled their tops. In the girl's project they used some big rocks they found nearby and levelled them by digging the holes to different depths. We cut down some fir trees and rolled and levered these sill logs into position on the cedar posts. The corners were notched to fit together. With dad's help the girls did much the same. Good foundations that keep the bottom logs off the damp ground means that the cabin will not rot from the bottom up!

To work on the walls we really needed to have the cabin floor in place so we could stand on it and work safely. We flattened the inside faces of the sill logs and levelled and then nailed boards to them and then installed the floor joists and the plywood floor. Our cabin was twenty by thirty feet and Joan's cabin was eight by twelve feet ( three sheets of plywood).

The vertical posts are cut to length and the
 vertical slots or mortices are cut with a chain saw

The upright posts had long slots, or mortices cut lengthwise and they were then placed upright on the sill logs, pinned using rebar, and then braced vertically on the corners and along the sides of the cabin.

Unlike the usual log cabin which relies on the stacking of horizontal logs to hold up the roof, a piece and piece style is a post and beam structure and the log walls simply fill the space between the posts. One could use a variety of different materials for this - sticks and mud, adobe, rock masonry, cordwood, glass, hay bales, you name it. In our case and in Joan's cabin the walls could be built of already available, small diameter and short-lengthed, easily lifted logs. Once the logs had the bark skinned off ( no bugs to eat the wood under the bark if they are skinned) they were cut to length and the ends cut into a tenon ( or tongue) that would slide down the mortice ( or groove) in the upright posts. All this cutting could be done in an assembly line sort of way using simple tools, - a saw, a carpenters square, a level and an axe. In our cabin we also scribe-fitted each log to fit the shape of the one below and placed a strip of insulation between them. With Joan's, the girls simply stacked them into a wall and the later dad ran his chainsaw down the gap between each log to get a tighter fit. Later they would use some mortar to chink them some more and make the cabin weather proof.

Each filler log that fits between the
 posts have a tenon cut on the ends

So the work for the girls involved skinning the logs once Little Guy had dragged them to the building site, cutting them to fit between the posts and making tenons on the ends. When Patti was away at the riding stables, Joan could do all this by herself. Together, they could then lift them into position. What might seem like an impossible task for the girls could be broken down into manageable parts.

Once the logs are have their ends tenoned they can be lifted up and
slid down the slots in the upright posts.
 Notice the temporary bracing that holds the posts vertical.

Then the roof and wall top beams were raised and the rafters and roofing nailed into place. Dad had some old pieces of galvanized metal roofing that would do the job even if they look a little rough on top of the beautiful newly skinned logs. The basic frame was up, but of course for any builder that is really just the beginning - all the picky work of finishing still lies ahead! For this simple cabin however, there would be no electricity or plumbing, just the most basic furnishings, a ceiling and a woodstove. Once Joan left for the city, between Jamie and Dad all that could be finished before the snow flew!

Once the walls are completed the roof frame is built.
 The top logs for the walls and the ridge pole
and then the rafters are raised and pined and nailed in place. 

For Joan though, she had already built a visible HOME and had done much of this by herself. A real accomplishment in the midst of her troubled times. And she will be back!

By the time Joan comes back to the farm in the winter,
the ceiling and furniture, the stove, window and door will be ready.
Joan will walk into her warm cabin with an armload of firewood,
shed her outdoor clothes and settle down to enjoy that wonderful feeling
of being HOME!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Writing 'Joan's Summer'.

The first draft of Joan's Summer was written in Australia while our schooner 'Shiriri' was tied up in the yacht basin in Manley, just south of Brisbane. Each day for several months we would spend some time writing and painting before going for a walk or visiting the library.

Joan as a character in the two previous books ( at that time in the process of being published by Penguin in Canada) popped in and out, mostly as an annoying presence for Patti because Joan had little time to play. We visited Joan's little grey house near the crossroads and saw the poor mother with the weak heart and younger children and realized that Joan was the one who played the adult role at home. We saw that Patti's parents and her teacher did their best to support this obviously intelligent girl who came complete with attitude. And what an attitude! Joan, unlike Patti, did not seem to care what people thought of her in her raggedy clothing. She came from an even poorer background than Patti and her school friends and for us readers this is a interesting contrast to the supportive world of caring parents and close knit community that surrounds Patti.

Heather wanted to explore who Joan was and where she was going, because in reality many kids from difficult circumstances slide downhill and never get the chance to discover who they can be. And so she began to write.

This is a story of struggle; for Joan after her mother dies, and for Patti when Joan comes to live with her family for the summer ( and shares her bedroom.!) What saves the day is camping in the woodlot and building a log cabin together, a project that involves co-operation, diplomacy and learning new skills. This book could have been subtitled “Building a Life” because the cabin represents for Joan a home of her own. She is literally building her life as she builds the cabin. The personality that Joan brings to the project, her life skills and experience is what is needed to make all this work. We see her blossom as the book progresses and finally understand that building the cabin is secondary to Joan's own development.

This book, like the other two in the series presents us with hard realities; the death of the mother, the dissolution of Joan's family group and responsibilities, and the difficulties for Patti of living with someone who is hurting and lost. We walk in Joan's shoes and that is a good experience to have, for us readers and for Patti who does a lot of maturing over the course of the summer holidays.