Happy St. Patrick’s Day

I kissed the Blarney Stone! Well, almost. 
Last June my travel companions and I arrived at Ireland’s Blarney Castle in a downpour. Since rain isn’t unusual for the Emerald Isle, we were prepared and dressed in our full rain gear.   

The weather prompted us to duck into the castle, rather than stroll through the extensive gardens. We joined the line for the climb up a narrow, winding staircase to the top of the tower. Along the way, we enjoyed occasional views of the grounds and noticed the rain was letting up.   

Our goal was the legendary blarney stone, which was built into the castle battlements. Kissing the stone is said to grant someone the gift of the gab. Eloquent Irish politician John O’Connor Power defined gab as “flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit.” Myths abound about the blarney stone’s origins. Some say that Irish chieftain Cormac MacCarthy asked a goddess for help with a lawsuit when he was on his way to court. She told him to kiss the next stone he saw. He followed her advice, won his case, and incorporated the lucky stone into his castle. A variation of this myth is that MacCarthy was en route to plead his right to keep his lands and title to Queen Elizabeth I. He met an elderly woman advisor, kissed the stone, and, thanks to his brilliant ‘gab’ convinced the queen to grant his wish. Other stories claim the blarney stone is a magical rock brought to Ireland from Stonehenge, Scotland, or the Holy Land during the Crusades. Scientific studies have determined the stone is local Ireland rock, but who can argue with legend?

Judging from the crowds on that rainy day, the stone’s blarney works for drawing tourists. The long lineup snaked slowly towards the top of the castle. We paused at this warning. 

As we drew closer, we wondered if we’d have the nerve to lie down in front of all the tourists and kiss the stone. We saw an attendant give the stone a quick wipe between people, but was kissing it sanitary in this day of COVID-19?  

I decided I couldn’t come this far without trying. Here I go – awkwardly. In addition to virus concerns, in order to touch the stone with your lips you have to lean your head way back through the gap along the castle edge. A man holds your body and bars prevent falls to the ground. At worst, you’d bang your head. But arching backward over a high drop-off is a creepy feeling of letting go. Did I really need any more gab to write my novels? Hundreds of lips had touched the stone already that day. I blew the blarney stone a kiss and was content with getting close. 

The view from the top was worth it. In the past, Blarney stone kissers didn’t have bars for a safety net. Here’s how far they could fall. 

By the time we returned to the ground, the rain had stopped and the sun came out. A fellow tourist snapped a picture of our group, with the castle in the background. It’s the only picture of all five of us we have from our two-week tour of Ireland. 

The Irish are known for their sayings, blessings, and proverbs. I’ll leave you with a few. 

May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.

May you get all your wishes but one so that you will always have something to strive for. 

Every man is sociable until a cow invades his garden. 

May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.

A kind word never broke anyone’s mouth. 

May your thoughts be as glad as shamrocks. May your heart be as light as a song. May each day bring you bright, happy hours that stay with you all year long. 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 

Whisk(e)y – with an ‘e’ or not?

When I heard that BWL Publishing planned to publish a series of Canadian historical mystery novels, I was eager to get involved. In 2021, I wrote a mystery short story set in my home city, Calgary, Alberta, during the second and deadliest wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic. I showed the story to a writer-in-residence, who suggested I turn it into a novel. This intrigued me, but I polished the short story and submitted it to the Crime Writers of Canada 40th anniversary anthology. My story, A Deadly Flu, was accepted and published last spring in Cold Canadian Crime. 

But BWL’s plan prompted me to consider how I could expand my 4,500 word story into a 75,000 word novel. I mulled ideas and decided I’d add three new characters to the story: two suspects and female protagonist, Catherine. I’d still keep my original detective protagonist as a secondary narrator. He and Catherine would both have personal story arcs, including a romantic subplot. WWI would also feature more prominently in the novel, as the story built to the November 11th Armistice. 

Confident these additions would give the story sufficient fodder for a novel, I asked BWL if I could write one of the books. The concept for the BWL Canadian Historical Mystery Series is that twelve different authors or author-pairs would write novels set in our ten Canadian provinces and two of our territories. Authors would have free rein over what to write, as long as the novel features a crime, takes place during a real historical time period, and is 70,000-80,000 words to keep the book sizes uniform. BWL assigned me the story set in my home province of Alberta.

The series will be published over a period of almost two years. Since I won’t have time to start writing my novel before this summer, I asked for the last publication date, December 2024.  The first  Canadian Historical Mystery comes out this month. Rum Bullets and Cod Fish by H. Paul Doucette, set in Nova Scotia, sounds like roaring fun. “The year is 1924 and Prohibition is spawning a new breed of criminal.” An undercover investigator tracks the ringleaders illegally transporting liquor to the US mob. 

Since BWL is promoting the whole series right away, they asked each author to provide a title, story blurb, and suggestions for cover images. Luckily, I have a framework for my novel — my short story and my ideas for expansion. From this, I came up with a blurb. I also needed a new title. My short story title, A Deadly Flu, was a wink at my first novel,  A Deadly Fall. For a novel I’d want something to distinguish the two books. Words like dead, murder, kill, secrets, and their variations are popular for mystery titles. I also find concrete nouns in titles conjure strong images. The weapon in my story is whisky laced with a lethal drug. I settled on a title, A Killer Whisky.

During this process, I discovered a potential problem with the word ‘whisky.’ Ireland and the USA spell whiskey with an ‘e,’ unlike Canada and the rest of the world. My research suggests this might have  been due to Ireland’s desire to distinguish its whiskey from Scottish whisky. Did Canada adopt the Scottish spelling because many of our early explorers and fur trade merchants came from Scotland, while whiskey became popular in the US with waves of Irish immigration? That’s my best guess. 

I debated changing my title to one that wouldn’t confuse American readers, or using US spelling, or making the poisoned drink a non-spelling-controversial liquor, like rum. But whisky is so concrete that I can almost smell it when I hear the word. It’s also infamous in western Canadian history. Our fur trade is often called the whisky trade, which caused alcoholism problems for indigenous people. In the end, I decided to stay with whisky and Canadian spelling. Early in the novel, I’ll have a character point out the difference between the countries, so US readers won’t think I can’t spell. 

For images, I suggested  a bottle or glass of whisky, as well as a piano. I plan to start the novel with my protagonist playing the instrument and music will feature through the story. Michelle Lee, BWL’s cover designer, worked with my suggestions and created a stunning cover. I love the golden whisky colour against the black background. I can hear the clashing chord as the glass hits the piano keys. The glass of whisky stops the music, like murder.  

My Christmas in Toronto Airport

Nine days before Christmas, my husband Will and I flew to Toronto to visit relatives in nearby Kitchener and enjoy a holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake with our son, his wife, and our granddaughter. Everything went perfectly until a storm blew into eastern Canada on December 23rd, our day to fly home to Calgary. We woke to an email from Westjet, our airline carrier, advising that our flight was cancelled and they’d rescheduled us to a flight three days later to Regina, where we’d spend the night in the airport and connect to Calgary in the morning. Our choices were to accept this change or get a full refund. We were stunned, but our first challenge was to drive to Toronto airport before the rain turned to snow and the wind picked up. Our rental car rocked the whole two hours on the highway, but we made it safely.

At the airport, we learned Westjet had cancelled all their Canadian flights from Toronto that day. An agent told us our flight in three days was the best we’d get, due to the rush of holiday travel and flight cancellations following a snowstorm in Vancouver the previous weekend. 

“If it’s any consolation,” she said. “Some people have spent six days in this airport.” 

In our present mood, this wasn’t much consolation.   

Fortunately, Will’s sister Bernice and her husband Bill live in the suburbs of Toronto. We phoned them to ask if they’d mind unexpected visitors over Christmas. They had no plans until their Boxing Day gathering with Bill’s family. We lugged our suitcases on the airport train to downtown Union Station, had lunch in the food court, and caught the commuter GO train to the station near their home in Scarborough. 

Will tried calling Westjet to get a flight that left earlier and/or avoided a Regina overnighter. A recorded voice replied cheerily, “We’re happy to serve you, but aren’t taking calls now.” The website’s callback feature could only give us an appointment on December 30th, three days after we’d get home. The website blocked off new plane reservations through December 28th. Other airlines were either sold out for the Christmas period or charging exorbitant prices.     

The next morning, Christmas Eve, Will tried phoning the airline again. To his surprise, the phone rang. He set it on speaker while we had breakfast, chatted, and played cards with Bernice and Bill. Five hours later, an agent came on the line. She checked reservations and found flights popping up, probably due to people cancelling their holiday travel when they learned they couldn’t get to their destinations by Christmas. 

The agent rebooked us on a direct flight to Calgary at 10:15 that night. After a fun Skype ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas reading with our excited granddaughter, Bernice and Bill drove us to Toronto airport. We breezed through check-in and security. Our gate agents began boarding procedures and then announced our flight would be delayed because the pilot had to get here from Edmonton. Our new departure time would be one a.m. Everyone let out a collective groan. 

The agents left, their shifts over. Passengers went to wait in a bar; a few milled around the gate desk. They noticed a sign flash that our flight was cancelled. We all quickly got emails telling us this. Someone said that a guest relations desk was down the corridor. We all trooped down and joined the lineup of passengers from a cancelled Vancouver flight. Will and I got emails with our new booking — four days from now. More emails arrived with food vouchers valid at the airport until the next day.      

A guest relations agent grabbed a mic and spoke to the whole lineup. He told Toronto residents to go home and return for their rescheduled flights. The rest of us were entitled to hotel accommodation, although the airline had no rooms left in their supply. If we could find a hotel room, they’d later compensate us up to $150, plus expenses for transportation. Will and I remained in line with others who had specific questions. One man had a meltdown at the desk and shouted at the agents that he’d been stuck here since yesterday waiting for a flight. After he stormed off, the clock struck midnight. An agent wished us all, “Merry Christmas.” 

After discussing our situation with an agent, Will and I decided to spend the rest of the night in the airport, rather than hunt for a hotel, and collect our unloaded luggage in the early morning, when the lineup in the baggage area would be shorter. We’d wait to phone Bernice after she got up in the morning to ask is she’d take us in again.  

In a relatively unpopulated departure gate, we lay on connected chairs to catch some sleep. The chairs were hard. I brooded on our faulty choice to grab this flight rather than accept the one the airline had assigned. The airport was chilly and we’d packed our coats in our luggage, another bad decision.  

At four a.m., we gave up trying to sleep and went to the baggage area, which was a sea of suitcases. The agent told us there were ten times more cases stored elsewhere and he wouldn’t spend two or three hours searching for our individual luggage. Instead, the airport would scan all the bags and eventually send them to their destinations. But what would we do for the next three days in Toronto winter with no overcoats? This was our problem. 

We spent our airport food vouchers on breakfast and snacks, and caught the train to downtown. Travel was all indoors, and easy with only carry-on bags and few passengers on Christmas morning. At Union Station, we phoned Bernice and wished her Merry Christmas. 

“You’re home already?” she said. 

“Ah, no.”

On our commuter train ride, the sun came out. We passed pretty views of neighbourhoods waking up and waves whipping in Lake Ontario. Bernice and Bill picked us up at the station for the second time and reminded us they save everything and stock up on supplies. They loaned us jackets and shirts that they didn’t wear anymore, toothbrushes, and (for Will) pajamas and a razer. Bernice asked if I’d prefer pajamas or a nightgown. 

“A nightgown would be good.” 

“What length?” she said. “And do you like short sleeves or long?” 

It was like living in Walmart. 

Despite the fatigue from our sleepless night, we enjoyed Christmas Skype and Zoom calls with relatives, sharing our granddaughter’s thrill with her presents, and had tasty hamburgers and fries for Christmas dinner. On Boxing Day, Will and I went to the real Walmart to buy underwear and socks. After lunch, we strolled through the Toronto Zoo, where Bernice volunteers. The zoo wraps Christmas presents for all the animals to claw open when they smell the food inside. Will wanted to call Westjet again in hopes of getting a better flight, but I noticed they’d upgraded us to Premium seats and the connecting flights left and arrived at convenient times. He agreed to wait another day to fly home in comfort. 

We used that extra day to shop for winter coats at Costco. I’d been thinking I needed a new one anyway and bought a down coat, in red, a coat colour I had never considered wearing.  

On December 28th, we once more rode the trains to Toronto airport. With no luggage to check, we got to the gate quickly, and learned our flight would be delayed while waiting for crew members. 

Uh, oh, we thought. That’s how it begins. 

Before long the desk agent announced the flight was cancelled due to lack of crew. She advised everyone to stay in place while they rebooked our seats. Will and I got a phone call from Westjet, offering a flight in two hours to Calgary via Vancouver. This plane was also delayed, waiting for ground crew, but the crew actually arrived. We boarded the plane, but had to wait another hour because the flight attendants counted more passengers on the plane than the number that had checked-in at the gate. They kept counting us, consulting their tablet seating charts, and discussing the problem with the pilots and management. Eventually we took off, either because they got the numbers to balance or figured ‘what’s an extra passenger or two?’

We assumed this delay meant we’d miss our connection in Vancouver, until a flight attendant checked our boarding passes and said this plane was our connecting flight. In Vancouver, it would turn around and fly to Calgary, where the pilot lived. We couldn’t believe we’d get home that night, but we did, and walked into our house at 1:20 a.m.   

On New Year’s Day, Westjet delivered one of our suitcases. The other one arrived the next day. All of our possessions were intact. Our journey was over. 

What’s my take-away from this experience? 

In hindsight, when weather and the airline threw a wrench in our plans, rather than gripe about an airline that couldn’t handle snow in Canadian winter and demand the near impossible — getting home for Christmas — we should have accepted the situation and made the most of the unwanted change of plans. When we got past the griping, we enjoyed our Christmas spent with generous relatives. It was a more interesting and memorable Christmas than the quiet, alone time we’d planned; arguably a better holiday time. Bernice and Bill agreed (I think they meant it). Will and I also enjoyed sharing stories with our fellow stranded travellers and jokingly called them our new friends. I wonder how their journeys ended.  

Next time I fly, I’ll bring some essentials in my carry-on luggage, including warm clothing. Although, there are always stores where I travel and I really like my souvenir red coat. 

Happy New Year!

My Novel is an Audiobook

I view audiobooks as a wave of the present. Many of my friends like them for multi-tasking. They listen to books while driving, exercising, or cleaning the house. Book-lovers who develop eye problems with age find audiobooks a godsend. So I was thrilled when BWL was awarded funding to produce a group of Accessible Audiobooks and chose my novel, Ten Days in Summer, to be part of the group.

BWL’s next step was to find a suitable narrator for Ten Days in Summer. They selected Janice McNally, an Ontario narrator and producer. Janice has visited Calgary and attended the Stampede, which forms the backdrop for my novel. She produced a fifteen minute sample for us to approve. BWL and I agreed she sounded great and spoke clearly. Then Janice got down to work. 

Partway through the process, she contacted BWL with a question about how to pronounce the surname of one of my characters, Cynthia Hawryluk. Janice had looked this up on the internet and found several examples, each with a slightly different pronunciation. I’d taken the name from a doctor I had in Montreal and pronounced it like this: Haw (rhymes with cat’s paw, accent on this syllable) ry (short sound) luk (luck).

Now I did an internet search and discovered that most websites pronounce Hawryluk similar to this. I don’t know if my doctor anglicized his name or if I pronounced it wrong all these years. I gave Cynthia this surname because Alberta, the novel setting, has many Ukrainian residents and I assumed the name was Ukrainian. The internet advised me that Hawryluk is equally or more often Polish. 

The bottom line for me was Cynthia Hawryluk is a secondary character in the novel and her surname is only mentioned a few times. Since I’m not invested in the pronunciation, I advised Janice to go with the common one for readers familiar with the name. 

I was impressed with Janice’s and BWL’s attention to this detail. When Janice finished her work, BWL asked me to listen to the whole audiobook to check for errors. I’ve never read any of my novels after they were published and relate to actors who never watch their movies. Ten Days in Summer was released in 2017. Since then, I’ve moved on to three more novels. I cringed at the prospect at looking back at my writing.              

At first it felt strange and uncomfortable listening to someone else’s voice telling my story. But less than a chapter in, I got used to it and felt Janice’s voice nailed my Paula narrator. I enjoyed revisiting the story, chuckled at my old jokes, and found minimal errors. Three were different pronunciations for friends’ names in the acknowledgments. 

Janice posted her view of the experience from her end.

Listening to my novel five years after its publications gave me a broader view of the story. Themes popped out. I realized Ten Days in Summer might appeal to readers interested in the following:

Whodunnit stories

Psychology and effects of hoarding

The Calgary Stampede – Yahoo!

Social class 

Ordinary people who murder

Family relationships

Mothers and daughters


How human connection eases the pain

Baby boomers

Grown children and aging parents

Finding love and romance in middle age

I’m currently working on the fourth novel in my Paula Savard Mystery series and was thinking it would be the last. But, to my surprise, listening to this earlier series book, Ten Days in Summer, gave me an idea for a new direction for Paula, should she and I choose to take it. 

If you’re looking for a Christmas present, here’s a bonus offer from audible. 

Happy Holidays and my best wishes for a happy and healthy 2023. 

I enjoyed a pre-Christmas holiday in Mexico


It’s exciting to hear my novel as an audiobook

Today, on the BWL website, I blog about my experience of having my novel, Ten Days in Summer, produced as an audiobook. Here’s narrator Janice McNally’s view of her side of the experience. For some reason, I wasn’t able to open my blog post on the BWL website. You might have more luck. https://www.facebook.com/groups/bwlbookswelove/posts/2229715693873905