poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘novel

by the frozen lake, next year

with 12 comments

It’s mild here today and we are expecting lots of snow.  I’m working on my novel, doing edits.

I want this post to include an excerpt from my work, so I have chosen a wintry bit.

In this excerpt, the protagonist, Sadie, and her husband are near the edge of the lake, on the property they have bought.  They’re planning to bring the Landing Church to this location, to build a writer’s retreat.

Sadie’s husband, Tom, isn’t well.  He’s dying.  His way of coping is to be a stoic, to face his death as inevitable, and to plan his wife’s life out for her.  Usually, he talks about what she’ll be doing this time next year.  Until now, he’s refused to include himself in any talk of the future.  But, as the novel progresses, his thinking is changing.


the frozen lake


The lake, in the grip of November, had frozen to plates of glass, interrupted by pebbly bands where the wind mixed snow into the surface of the ice.  The distant shore presented itself in silhouette, an indigo strip between the lake and the brighter sky.  The dark images of trees were frozen into the surface of the ice.  The air was crisp, but we sat, as we did in summer, on the bench by the lake’s edge.

‘Next year,’ said Tom,  ‘we’ll clear the ice for skating.  And we’ll build a bonfire, here by the shore.  There’s certainly enough dead wood to fuel it.’

I sat still, watching the lake and thinking about Tom’s words –  ‘next year’ and ‘we’.  These words were so different from what he would have said, even three weeks ago.  Ordinarily, he’d be making plans for me alone.  Ordinarily, he’d have said ’Next year, you’ll clear the ice for skating.’

We sat in silence, as we always did, just watching the lake.  Tom probably didn’t notice how thoughtful I’d become.  I wondered how I’d missed it, this transition from ‘no future’ to ‘plans for tomorrow’.  Plans to be shared by us both.  My hands began to tremble.

To distract myself, I found a flat stone embedded in the frost at my feet.  I stood, moving a little closer to the edge of the lake.  I turned my arm and cradled the stone in my hand.  I pulled my arm back and propelled the stone toward the ice.  It hit with a clear ping and bounced across the surface, leaving a line of clear notes in its wake.  I tried another one.  It sang a semi-tone higher, and the ice vibrated between the crisp air and the ice-cold water below.   Tom bent and loosened another flat stone from the ground.  He stood beside me.  In another minute, the ice was ringing with the song of skipping stones.

We’d soon depleted the shore of every loose flat rock.  The lake was still and silent.  No note remained in its repertoire.  The ice in front of us was littered with flat grey stones. 

‘No skating this year,’ said Tom.  ‘We’ve planted enough trippers to last into next spring.’

We turned from the lake and followed the path back to the field.  As we navigated the alders and rounded a corner, we came suddenly on a sturdy bush of bright red berries.  ‘Look, Sadie.  Winterberry holly,’ said Tom. ‘It usually grows by the lake, but here it is, in our field.  Our very own burning bush.’  

The bush glowed with orange-red berries, set off by bronze-colored leaves, not yet fallen.  In the silver and grey of the thicket, it was a gift…



bush of winterberry holly


If you have any comments, good or bad, about this piece of writing, let me know.  Is there anything you don’t understand?  I there anything I could better explain?  Have you ever skipped stones on  the ice of a lake or pond?


Copyright   Jane Tims   2012

Written by jane tims

December 19, 2012 at 7:46 am

writing a novel – getting started

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So the poet has decided to write a novel…


Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: an abandoned church (in part)

Characters: main character a writer (not a very successful writer)

Plot: unknown


Before beginning my novel, one of the steps I have taken is to read several books on how to write a novel.  This is not because I believe a novel can be written if you just follow some rules.  I do want to think about how the novel is constructed and to hear what successful novelists say about their craft.

I have been reading various perspectives on writing the novel and I will talk here about three of these:

1. Stephen King, On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft  (Scribner, 2000).

Though I don’t usually seek after the horror genre in books, Stephen King has my admiration for his ability to take you ‘deep into story’.  I can’t think of another passage as well done as his description of the running topiary figures in The Shining (Doubleday, 1977), or his chilling account of a father trying to save his son from running into the road in Pet Sematary (Doubleday, 1983).  His book On Writing is, itself, highly readable, and contains excellent advice for a writer.  I’ll try to pay attention to his cautions about adverbs (she said resolutely) and about using the passive voice (the parishioners abandoned the church, not the church was abandoned by the parishioners).  He also says I have to ‘stand in the corner’ if I use the phrase ‘at this point in time’.


2. Phyllis Whitney, ‘Guide To Fiction Writing’ (The Writer, Inc. Publishers, Boston, 1982).

Phyllis Whitney’s Thunder Heights (Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1960) was among the first adult mystery novels I ever read and in my early twenties, I devoured her books.  I read her every chance I got, often while everyone thought I was studying.  The interesting thing about her Guide to Fiction Writing is how different writing is today.  The Guide suggests extensive planning of the novel, working out outline, plot, and characters in labelled sections of a binder.  I had to do this for my first book, since it nearly drove me wild trying to remember when such-and-such occurred and whether my character was wearing a pony-tail or not in the chapter before.   However, at this point in time [get in the corner, Jane], everything can now be put in a single computer file!  And blessings on Word and the ‘Find’ search feature.  The advice I have taken from Phyllis Whitney? –  do a detailed word sketch about each of your characters.  I have done this with my present cast of characters and I believe knowing how the characters will behave in various circumstances helps the story write itself.


3. John Braine, ‘Writing a Novel’ (McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1974).

Although I have yet to read a novel by John Braine, I love his no-nonsense approach to giving advice.  He says not to write a novel if you are ‘married or permanently entangled’, and suggests a first novel ‘shouldn’t be written much before the age of thirty’.   Also, he absolutely advises against making the main character a writer.  Bad luck for me, I have decided my main character will be a writer, although not a particularly successful writer.  Braine does have advice I plan to take.  In particular, he presents the following sentence: ‘he got up, went downstairs, and hailed a taxi’ … he says, ‘test every sentence against it; if any has that same flat, dead quality, rewrite or cut it.’


a born writer – a young girl, writing about her experience at the Falls, on any surface she could find – I snapped this photo at Athabasca Falls in Alberta in 2003

And so I am writing my novel with the best advice…  and now you know my main character is a writer… but what else will I have her be?


Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

November 21, 2012 at 7:23 am

writing a novel – selecting a setting #1

with 13 comments


So the poet has decided to write a novel.


Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: evolving

Characters: unknown

Plot: unknown


The setting was my first consideration as I started to think about this project.  After all, I am very interested in ideas about ‘place’   …   my blog is about occupying ‘place’ and the concept of the ‘niche’, the perfect space for living.

The books I love to read and re-read have a strong sense of place.  Consider the ‘Martha’s Vineyard Mystery’ series of books by Philip R. Craig.  One of the enjoyable aspects of this series of books is the setting on Martha’s Vineyard.  Book by book, the reader grows to know the various places where the action occurs.  The reader can also follow along on a map.  The island is a perfect place for a story to unfold since there is lots of diversity in the landscape and everyone loves the ocean!

Another series of books I love are the ‘Fran Varady Crime Novels’ by Ann Granger (Headline Book Publishing, London).  The setting for these books is London.  The series unfolds as Fran evolves from being a squatter in a condemmed house, to a respectable tenant in a flat with a small garden.  Place is a strong component of the books and the reader encounters various areas again and again, some dangerous, some spooky, and some as safe as home.

As I try to think of a setting for my book, I am remembering the old saw, ‘write what you know’.  So, there is no question, the setting for my book will be rural New Brunswick.

I want to create a fictional setting within the landscape I know so well.  I also want a setting with some diversity.  I want my readers to enjoy encountering the characters in their spaces in this novel, and perhaps in other books.  I want to include elements of place which can both inspire and invoke memory.

One of the places I want to include in my setting is an old church.  I have written before in my blog about the plight of abandoned churches (see the post ‘sacred spaces’ for September 14, 2011, under

Some of these abandoned churches fall into disrepair and gradually vanish from the landscape…

Some are maintained as historic sites or as useful buildings on private property…

Some are refurbished into homes…

or even businesses…

Don’t you agree, an abandoned church would be an ideal element of the setting for my book?


Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

a poet … writing a novel

with 4 comments

As you may know, my manuscript of poetry on ‘growing and gathering’ local foods is completed (see the page ‘awards and accomplishments – completed my Creations project!!!,  November 1, 2012’ under ‘about’).

Now, I have about six months before I can begin the next poetry project I have planned.  I have to wait until spring because the new project also involves plants and uses of plants.  And, of course, spring and summer are the best time to pursue this subject.  In the meanwhile, during the fall and winter, I have decided to work on a different kind of writing project.  I want to try my hand at writing a novel.  I have written novels before (nothing published), so I have a little experience.

a stack of my Rough Books

I know how different writing a novel and writing poetry are, and yet there are similarities.  Both forms of writing are creative, both seek to use words well to convey ideas, both require vetting before a writerly audience, and both need the energy of the edit.  I also think both benefit from a little exposure before completion.  So I have decided to bring my novel-writing project to my blog.

When I worked on ‘growing and gathering’, I benefited greatly from being able to explore my ideas on-line.  I found both the writing practice, and your comments and ongoing readership, very helpful.

Since I want to publish the novel when I complete it, I will be careful to publish only a small percentage of the story on-line.  I also want to maintain suspense, so I will not reveal too much of the plot.  However, I will explore where some of the ideas for the book originate, a little about characterisation, and something about the process as the book evolves into being.

During this month, I have been taking a course called Writing Life Stories from a friend and writing coach, Deborah Carr (for her beautiful website ‘Nature of Words’ and information on taking her Writing Workshops, see ).

Deborah has helped me to understand the basic ‘three’ of all stories… a story tells us:

1.  someone wants something

2.  how they reach for it

3.  the result

When I think about the story I want to tell, I will also follow this simple path…

Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

November 16, 2012 at 7:53 am

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