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Adventures with Kindle Scout

A few weeks ago I decided I’d test my luck by submitting my latest novel, Marianne’s Memory, to Kindle Scout.

For those who don’t know, Kindle Scout is an initiative by Amazon to identify unpublished genre-based novels which they believe will sell successfully in ebook format on a worldwide platform. The program has been around for a couple of years, although I’d only heard about it very recently.

A couple of things happen when you first submit your novel. First, it has to meet basic requirements. It needs to be well-written, it has to have been edited so that it’s publication-ready, it needs a decent cover, a short one-liner, and you have to write a 500 character “blurb”.

I’m pretty much ok on the well-written front and the editing front. At least I think I am. My last novel, In Loving Memory, which was published by Diversion Books, underwent a round of editing which, to me, seemed fairly minor in terms of required changes. Most of the edits were cosmetic rather than structural. I learned much from Eliza Kirby, my then-editor. So I applied what I’d learned when I was writing Marianne’s Memory. I know the manuscript’s not perfect…I know I will always benefit from the eyes and the brains of a professional editor. But without the funds to pay for that professional editor, I had to go with my own best efforts…and five drafts later, I think I’ve passed muster.

My cover is quite interesting. It looks nothing like the covers you usually see on paperbacks on shelves in bookstores and, indeed, on Amazon. It’s very sparse and it’s very white and it’s very very unusual.

mm 20 pc

The design is by Jerry Hills, a professional graphic designer suggested to me by a mutual friend. I sent him a photo of a real Carnaby Street shop, and a description of what I thought the design might include, and Jerry came up with the rest. He researched the colours and fashions of 1965 London and I couldn’t have been happier.

There’s a back cover, too, and a spine, which are ready to go for the paperback edition.

When it comes to one-liners however, let’s face it, I’m rubbish. I went to film school. I learned how to write loglines for screenplays. I wasn’t very good at it back then, either. And Kindle Scout seriously limits you to 45 characters or less.

I’m really hoping that Unplanned leap into 1965 leads to wild times captures some imaginations. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t come up with something catchier. Like, Dead pirate radio DJ isn’t. Or 19th century sex in 21st century stable. Or Four Eyes Coffee Shop produces Spectacles.

As for the 500 character “blurb”… I’ll let you go and read that for yourselves on the Kindle Scout site.

My novel was accepted within a day or two. My campaign runs from January 25 until February 24, 2018 and in that time I’ve been encouraged to rustle up my contacts and encourage them to nominate Marianne’s Memory for publication.

To be honest I’m not a shining star on social networking. There was a time, eight or nine years ago, when I was on Twitter day and night. Twitter inspired my novel Cold Play. These days, most of my Twitterfriends have found other lives, or other paths, or other platforms.

I hesitate to spam my friends on Facebook. It gets a bit boring when all they hear from me is a plea to go and vote for my novel – especially if they’re not really fans of gentle romantic time travel stories. I barely have time to post ordinary stories about myself these days.

My third social networking platform is Instagram. I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, really. I don’t think of my life in terms of pictures.

But I’m giving it my best shot. On Twitter and Instagram I’m posting daily messages which contain a little bit of a plot spoiler, something new each time. And to prevent repetition, I’m having some fun with Photofunia, which is a website where you can insert your own photo into a scene, download it and use it to your heart’s content.

Here’s the website:

And here’s my favourite graphic so far:


On Facebook I did one big pitch at the beginning of the campaign and I’ve done one small reminder today. I may do one more towards the end.

I’ve also personally emailed a smallish list of friends, family and work colleagues asking for their support.

I’ve got a blurb on my personal website. I’ve got a blurb on my Facebook Writer page.

And yes, I have paid for a little bit of advertising, just to see if it makes a difference. I’m keeping an eye on my results. Kindle Scout is quite helpful in that they’ll tell you how many page views you’ve had daily and overall, and how many hours you’ve spent in Hot and Trending.

Overall page views and numbers of nominations and Hot and Trending hours seem to have something to do with whether or not a book is chosen for publication, but they are not, according to all that I’ve read, the sole determinants. Plenty of novels which consistently appear in the Hot and Trending list are not chosen.

Marianne’s Memory has so far spent 22 hours over 2 days in Hot and Trending. That was right at the beginning of the campaign.

We writers aren’t told how many nominations we’ve received. I think that’s probably a good thing, for us and for Amazon. It allows the Kindle Scout team to make their decisions independently.

As for page views, Marianne’s Memory has so far received a total of 3.5K, the vast majority of those views (96%) from people who are checking out the Kindle Scout website. I have no idea whether 3.5K is good, or bad, or somewhere in between after a third of the campaign has been completed. And I really have no idea how or if any of those views translate into nominations.

The reward for being chosen for publication is (for me, anyway) quite lucrative. A $1500 advance, a publishing contract, lots of Amazon-supported publicity, some pretty good royalty rates and a much higher author profile than I have now.

If Marianne’s Memory isn’t chosen, I’ll be self-publishing it anyway, in ebook and paperback format, but I know the advance PR that’s been generated so far will be extremely helpful.

If Marianne’s Memory is chosen, it’ll come out as an ebook through Amazon Kindle, and I’ll be self-publishing the paperback.

It’s a win-win situation, really. and I’ll come away from the experience with nothing but positives.

Here’s the link if you’d like to go and see what it’s all about:

You’ll find the first 5,000 words of the novel there (warning: in the middle of Chapter 2 there is actually some rousing 19th century sex in a 21st century stable….). You’ll also find my 500-character blurb, and three little insights into what’s making me tick right now. Also a Nominate Me button. Please do – if you’re so inclined 🙂

Thank you!

And I’ll update this blog as soon as I know the outcome…yay or nay.

UPDATE: March 12, 2018. As promised, the outcome. MM wasn’t selected by Kindle Scout. On the other hand, as of today, neither were any of the other  novels which were sharing my 30 day campaign, and there were a fair number of them. I’ve just uploaded MM as an ebook on Amazon Kindle, and I’m waiting for the paperback to go live. A message has been sent by Amazon to everyone who nominated MM, letting them know the book’s now available. I’m very grateful for all the support and curious as to how this might translate into actual sales.

The book’s available worldwide on Amazon but here’s the link to


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Disturbing the Peace

I’ve written a mystery. It’s the first time I’ve ventured into the genre and I have to say, I’m very excited. I loved giving my hero, Jason Davey, a quest and following him from London to northern Canada to solve the disappearance of a legendary musician.

If Jason sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve written about him before. He’s the hero of my novel Cold Play, which took place aboard a cruise ship. Jason was the guitar-playing entertainer who sat in the TopDeck lounge, observing his audience and life at sea on one particular voyage from Vancouver to Alaska five years ago.

Now, Jason’s come ashore and he’s got a dream gig at The Blue Devil jazz club in London. His son, Dominic, studies film-making at university, and when Dom asks him to help find Ben Quigley, a legendary musician who’s been missing for four years, Jason leaps at the chance. His investigation takes him to the northern Canadian town of Peace River, Alberta, in the dead of winter.

Why Peace River, Alberta, you ask?

Here’s some fascinating insight into how this story came to be.

In October 2016, Russ Goddard, my father-in-law, died. He was a long-time resident of Peace River. He and my mother-in-law, Jeanette, were homesteaders in the 1960s. They got the last piece of Canadian government land available in northern Alberta, promising to clear it of trees and plant crops in exchange for a small fee ($5 an acre) and title to the property. Their farm is about 20km north of town. My husband Jim and his two sisters grew up there. Jim started his broadcasting career at the local radio station, CKYL (his name is still embedded in the concrete in the parking lot at the back of the station –  Jim Goddard, July 1975). My sister-in-law Irene works at the Peace River Co-op, and still lives on the farm.

I’ve been to Peace River a few times, both in the summer and the winter. I’ve met the neighbouring farmers (all long gone now), and I’ve met the people who live in town. I’ve been to the cemetery (twice), and done a car-tour of the neighbourhoods. I’ve been up and down the long hill and the bridge over the river so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve seen the Northern Lights. I know how incredibly cold and isolated it can be there in the winter, although because I grew up in Saskatchewan, I’m pretty familiar with down-filled parkas and plugging your car in overnight – unlike poor Jason.

This past September, Jim and I travelled back to Peace River to inter his dad’s ashes in the cemetery. Our journey involved a 737 from Vancouver to Edmonton and then a Dash-8 to Grande Prairie. Because of flight delays we arrived in Grand Prairie about 11pm. We rented a car and drove two hours down a fairly deserted Highway 2 to Peace River in the middle of the night. We couldn’t make the car radio work so we listened to all my treadmill tunes on my iPhone, singing along to Cliff Richard and the Shadows and the Pet Shop Boys and The Guess Who. As we neared Fairview, the halfway point, I had to pee so badly we stopped the car on the side of the road and I managed to relieve myself without involving my shoes and socks (women – a hint: always pee facing uphill so your pee flows backwards and away from your feet). I was extraordinarily proud of myself – and as I went back to the car, I saw the most amazing Northern Lights dancing in the sky, sharing the moment.

You’ll recognize that scene when you read the story.

For the first time in all of our visits to Peace River, we booked into a hotel up on the hill to the west of the town. We’d always stayed at the farm before. We ate dinner at a nearby steakhouse. We had brunch at a café in Riverview. We drove up to the cemetery for a lovely ceremony burying Russ’s ashes, in a beautiful box, in the ground next to Jeanette’s ashes. Afterwards, Jim and I drove out to the farm, where we saw the yard littered with pieces of hairy animal hide. I thought a bear had slaughtered a deer and scattered the remnants as it had eaten them. But there was no blood and there were no guts or bones. My father-in-law used to make leather goods in his workshop, and he’d stored the deer-hides in an outbuilding. It turned out a bear had indeed come to visit, and had punched a hole in the side of the wooden structure and had snacked on the hides the same way a dog would enjoy a few leather chews.

You’ll read about all of these events in Disturbing the Peace, too.

One big detail I did change was the farmhouse. The Goddard house is actually a very large mobile home perched on a permanent base (in common with many of the rural homes out there), with an extra porch and a sundeck added.

During one of our past trips to Peace River, we visited some family friends who were living in a house that seemed to be haunted. Workmen had reported mysterious and unexplained feelings of un-ease. Lights had gone on and off randomly. The family dog refused to come inside. The focus of the bad feelings seemed to be centered on a large cupboard under the stairs, and I have to admit I spent the evening watching it and picking up some very bad vibes myself if stood near it. The house had apparently been built by a pilot who’d crashed his helicopter and died, leaving parts of it unfinished.

I thought it would be good to move that house onto the farm I write about in Disturbing the Peace. But it wouldn’t be a new house, it would be a very very old house, something dating from the early 1900s. I had an idea I might incorporate a bit of a ghost story into the plot. The idea didn’t fly in the end, but I kept the house. And because I wanted to write something authentic, I looked around for a real house in Peace River that I could describe with accuracy. I found just what I wanted in the Properties for Sale ads online: the old RNWMP Officers’ Residence on 99 Street, an American Foursquare design that’s been designated a heritage property.

So when you’re reading a description of Miriam Bailey’s farm in the story, imagine this:


And have a look here for the description
(scroll down to the RNWMP Officers’ Residence)

As we were driving back to Grande Prairie from Peace River this past September, I said to Jim: “I bet I could write a really good story about this town.”

“Why don’t you?” he replied, humorously.

And that’s just what I did.

I must add the usual disclaimer, of course: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

And that’s the honest truth.

Disturbing the Peace is a novella available as an ebook and paperback from Amazon worldwide. Canadian readers – unfortunately if you want the paperback you’ll have to buy it from the American site, but the ebook is downloadable from the Canadian site

All of my other novels, including Cold Play, are available from Amazon worldwide in ebook and paperback formats (and Canadian readers can buy both formats from the Canadian site).

Here are the links to Amazon for Disturbing the Peace (links will take you to but it’s available in many different countries – just navigate to the Amazon where you live!)




And for more info about me and my writing, please visit my website at



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The Eleventh Interesting Fact about Shaun Deeley

A little later this month, after In Loving Memory is released, there will be a web feature called Ten Interesting Facts about Shaun Deeley, presented by Joanne Guidoccio .

I’ll share the feature widely, of course, because Mr. Deeley is one of the two main characters in my historical romance novels, and I’m a little in love with him. I hope that love is infectious. All of my books seem to have men as their heroes, and I’ve always been a little in love with all of them, but Mr. Deeley has turned out to be special. He burst out of me in a flash of inspiration, a character in what began as a screenplay about researching family trees and solving ancestral mysteries and, for some unfathomable reason, he was born into Regency England.

I wasn’t overly obsessed with Jane Austen. I was hopeless at History in school. If you were to have told me at the start of my writing career that my most successful stories would be about a gentleman who was born in 1791 who suddenly finds himself transported two centuries into the future, where he continues his time travelling adventures with a museum worker named Charlie, I’d have fallen over laughing. Time travel! Historical romance! Regency England? And now the Blitz!?

Of all the heroes I’ve written about, Mr. Deeley is definitely my favourite. He’s impetuous, and fearless, and his behaviour and philosophy come from a much more genteel and mannered time, which does lead to some humorous situations in the present – and in the past.

I’m not quite sure where in my imagination Mr. Deeley himself actually came from. Perhaps he was always there, lurking, my secret lover just waiting for the right time to reveal himself. Physically, he’s tall-ish, and he has dark, rather long hair (as was the fashion in 1825, when he first met Charlie). His occupation was groom at Monsieur Duran’s manor. He was afforded a classical education (inflicted upon him by the very aged and imaginatively diminished Reverend Hopwood Smailes) and, in fact, he speaks Latin – which you’ll discover, somewhat humorously, when you read In Loving Memory.

He constantly amuses Charlie, and frightens her at times, too – when he first came to live with her, he tried to boil water using the fireplace in the sitting room – with disastrous results, especially to the plastic tea kettle. Charlie is cautious by nature and a little bit hesitant when it comes to taking risks. Mr. Deeley is the perfect foil for her, because the biggest risk he ever took was leaping into the 21st century with her. He can be frightened – and is, several times, in the new novel. But he’s also practical and quite logical, so common sense usually prevails.

There’s one more thing about Mr. Deeley. He’s a hero who has suffered. I have a philosophy, which I share with Emma Braden, the wise old spywriter who created Jarrod Spencer’s character in The Cilla Rose Affair. “Closet sadists,” is how Emma refers to the female readers of her spy novels. “The essential difference between male readers and female is that men like their heroes to have near-misses. Life-threatening situations from which they narrowly escape, virtually unscathed. The ladies prefer a spot of torture—nothing too dangerous, mind you—just enough to impart a semblance of suffering, from which their hero ought to be delivered in one piece—if perhaps a trifle bruised. Heroes who have suffered require mothering. That’s the secret of writing for women.”

What do Richard Sharpe, Jamie Fraser, that guy from Starship Troopers and Shaun Deeley have in common? They’ve all been subjected to the lash.

Come on ladies, ‘fess up. You love them even more because they’ve been flogged, don’t you?

You won’t read about Mr. Deeley’s ordeal in Persistence of Memory, or In Loving Memory, or even in the little bonus short story that’s included at the end of In Loving Memory, Easy When You Know How.

A couple of years ago I contributed a short piece to an anthology put together by a group of writers who were then under contract to Fable Press. The idea was to give our characters an extra adventure, to help promote our novels. The theme of the anthology was “carnival” and for my story, I created a village fair at Stoneford, and sent Charlie and Mr. Deeley back in time with the help of a gypsy fortune teller and a tarot reading.

a gypsy fortune teller

tarot - the lovers

The Rider Waite tarot card that caused all the trouble!

They ended up in 1848, where they met Charlie’s direct ancestor, a young trouble-maker who was about to be quite deservedly flogged in the village square for bad behaviour.

whipping post

A typical village stock and whipping post in an English village.

Charlie was aghast. She knew this ancestor was a hemophiliac – she carried the gene herself – and this punishment would undoubtedly kill the poor fellow. And if Augustus Duran (the son of Sarah and Louis Augustus Duran the Greater) died in 1848, Charlie herself would never be born.

You’ll have to read the short story yourself to find out just how gallant Mr. Deeley can be. Due to contractual agreements I can’t post it publicly…however if you email me I might be able to help 🙂 (winona at winonakent dot com) (replace the usual words with the usual symbols).

And that will give you just one more reason to love Mr. Deeley and enjoy his next big adventure with Charlie.

In Loving Memory is released on July 26 by Diversion Books. You can buy it online at all the usual outlets, and you can order it from your favourite brick-and-mortar bookstore.


Please join me at the online launch party (on Facebook) on July 26, 12 noon Pacific, 3pm Eastern, 8pm UK. 1940s music, Ration Book delectables, and free party favours!



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Authors for Indies Day

So now I can confirm I’m taking part in a very neat event that’s happening on April 30 – Authors for Indies – which you can read all about here:
Basically, on Authors for Indies Day, we Canadian authors show our appreciation for independent bookstores (indies) by volunteering as guest booksellers. We’ll be chatting with customers, recommending books, and helping everyone appreciate the importance of indie bookstores to our communities and our cultural lives. It’s not about promoting ourselves, it’s about raising awareness of Canada’s independent bookstores.
I’ll be at the UBC Bookstore (at the main UBC Point Grey Campus in Vancouver)…not sure of my hours yet and not sure what, exactly, they’ll want me to do yet… but if you’re in Vancouver on April 30 and you’d like to pop in and say hello ….I’d love to see you!
Watch this space!

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Filed under Authors for Indies Day, Miscellaneous Musings, Things About Me, Uncategorized

The Delicate Art of Book Promotion

I’ve just spent the better part of five days getting ready for a book release.

Real-Book-07-cillarose-coming soon-small Real-Book-07-coldplay-coming soon-small Real-Book-07-POM-coming soon-small Real-Book-07-skywatcher-coming soon-small

Actually, as you can see, it’s four books, and they’re being re-released. One of them, my debut novel, a tongue-incheek spy story called Skywatcher, has been out of print since 1989.

The others are The Cilla Rose AffairSkywatcher’s sequel, same characters, new adventure – Mission: Impossible meets The Man from UNCLE; Cold Play – a standalone thriller set on a cruise ship in Alaska; and Persistence of Memory, the first in my Memory Books series about accidental time traveller Charlie Duran and her companion Shaun Deeley.

Persistence of Memory, as you may know, was published by Fable Press in 2013. Unfortunately Fable went out of business earlier this year, but the good news is, Diversion Books in New York agreed to republish it, along with my three other backlist titles, and the next book in the Memory Books series, In Loving Memory, which is set in 1940 London.

So, on Tuesday July 7, all four of my novels are being released by Diversion as ebooks, with brand new covers, and then in about a month’s time, the paperbacks will follow.

One of the terms of my contract is that I’ll make a “reasonable attempt” to help promote my books – or words to that effect. I know Diversion’s going to do a great job at their end… but if I learned anything from Cold Play and Persistence of Memory, it’s how to tackle the business of self-promotion.

So, over the past five days, I have done many fine things.

I’ve sent press releases to a lot of media outlets announcing the rebirth of my books. I’ve focused on the areas where I have lived and where I currently live. Plus I included Toronto because that’s what you do in Canada. You always include Toronto.

Here is where people who live in small towns have a distinct advantage. You get much more attention when you’re a local author in a community of 32,000 than you do when you’re a local author in a metropolitan area of 2 million. Still, all of the city editors at all of the newspapers in Greater Vancouver, Moose Jaw, Regina, Winnipeg and Toronto have now heard from me. My press release may be sitting at the bottom of their slush pile, but at least I can say I tried.

I’ve also approached bloggers I know who do cover reveals. I’ve sent out so many requests my eyes have gone buggy. I’ve had one positive response so far, and I love this woman to death. She remembered me from last time, when I was promoting Persistence of Memory. She’s agreed to do a cover reveal for these four books, and a review of In Loving Memory when it’s published.

The upside of approaching bloggers to ask for a cover reveal or a future book review is that they can reach a lot of new readers. The downside is that most of the time, unless you’re the author of a bestselling genre book, your request is likely to be ignored.

C’est la vie.

They’re all going to hear from me again later this year, when In Loving Memory‘s published.

Another thing I’ve done is approach bookstores. When Skywatcher was first published in 1989, I toured all the bookstores to see if it was there – it was! – and I surreptitiously made sure the cover was facing out on the bookshelf before I slipped stealthily away, to visit the next outlet.

Many years have passed and many things have changed in the book publishing world since then. We have a lot fewer bookstores, and those independents that are thriving where I live deal mostly in used books. My other three books counted exclusively on online sales, because they were all Print-on-Demand paperbacks or ebooks.

Diversion’s releases will be different, because the paperbacks will have a distributor – Ingram – which means bookstores will be able to order copies, and I can pitch Sell Sheets to them.

Again, a long and daunting task, identifying who to approach, what they stock, asking them… and then waiting. But I’m falling all over myself because the bookstore at the University of British Columbia, where I work, has agreed to order copies in August, when they’re available.

I’ve joined chat groups and mailing lists. I’ve contributed to discussions. I’ve updated all my social networking sites, and I’ve tried to figure out ways to keep my books in peoples’ minds without annoying them so much they unfriend me, unfollow me, unlike me, or -1 me.

I’ve followed all of the instructions from all of the bestselling authors who’ve written books about how to promote books   [Lesson One: Write a book about how to promote your book, then sell copies of it to writers who are desperate to find out how to promote their books]

I have a huge spreadsheet filled with links and ideas and instructions to myself: “On July 7 update this listing with your ISBN numbers as soon as books appear on Amazon”.

And I have a huge list of things I need to do on or after July 7… and which I need to repeat again in August, when the paperbacks are out… and again later this year when In Loving Memory comes out.

If there’s one thing I know about Book Promotion, it’s that it’s not a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process. And those writers who are doing it full-time have all the advantages there. Currently, I work full time, and that’s not going to stop until October 1, 2019… which isn’t too far away, really, in the grand scheme of things. That’s the day I retire, and officially become a full-time writer, albeit one who is a senior citizen, but just hitting her stride. By then I hope to have written at least three more books in the Memory Books series.

For now, I’ve accomplished these past five days by taking time off work, using up the very generous vacation time I’ve been allotted. There will be another bout of time off / promotional work at the end of July.

I’ve exhausted myself, and still I keep thinking, is there anything I’ve missed? Is there anything else I can do? Where else can I look for opportunities?

But all I can really do now is sit back and wait. And hope my little books capture some attention. And reach a few more people… and sell a few more copies.

Cold Play small Persistence of Memory small Skywatcher small The Cilla Rose Affair small


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My Name is Winona… [revisited]

Today I’ve decided to republish my very first blog.

It seems timely, since my first four novels will be republished in about a month’s time by Diversion Books in New York.

My very first blog was written in 2009, and it’s interesting to go back and see what my thoughts were, and how I felt about things…and where I ended up going from there!

When you get to the bottom and I mention “Cold Fingers” – that was the working title of my cruise shop novel, set in Alaska, until a very helpful friend suggested it would work much much better if the title was changed to “Cold Play.”

And so it was 🙂

And here is the blog!


My name is Winona and I’m a writer.

Queue the assembled, in unison: “Hi, Winona!”

If it sounds like an Alcoholics Anonymous intro, there’s a reason. Writing is an addiction. If I don’t write, I get miserable. I get depressed. I start to imagine conspiracies. I feel sorry for myself, and then I get frustrated.

Enough of that. My name is Winona, and I’m a writer, and I’ve been writing since I was about five.

I didn’t have a written language when I was five, though, so I opted for the caveman process, and drew pictures on walls. Mostly of little boy fairies. I’m not sure why my idea of fairies was male, as opposed to the more commonly held childhood belief that they were beautiful females with gossamer wings and floaty frocks… but male they were, and usually naked. Which was interesting, because I’d never actually seen a naked boy, and all I knew was that there was “something” different Down There. I had no idea what it looked like. Possibly a sausage.

So our basement wall (behind the portable blackboard that my mother had set up) was covered with cavorting naked boy fairies, with sausages in front, and wings to the rear. I can’t really remember what adventures they got up to. Perhaps they existed only to frighten my mother, who read a lot of books about child-rearing, and who no doubt thought that her first-born daughter had some sort of repressed phallic-envy disorder.

Sometime before I actually started going to school full-time (as opposed to Kindergarten, in the mornings), I graduated to paper and crayon, and I began to develop a real story sense.  I drew a series of individual panels, each telling the fascinating tale of princesses (or other noble characters) who lived in idle luxury, surrounded by jewels and velvet, the riches of the land, smiling faces, perfect hair… only to be cast out, fortunes ruined, hair matted, clothing ragged, smiles reduced to scowls, the jewels and the velvet snatched away, luxury lost.

My school was probably the worst in the city, a Roman Catholic institution in a low-income neighbourhood filled with immigrants (as we were). The nuns were well-intentioned but suffered from their own inadequacies and fears. Creative thinking was not encouraged. I wanted to colour poppies blue and pink on Remembrance Day, but they were to be Red, and I didn’t get any gold stars for arguing with them about it. I wanted to use my thumb and first finger in the scissors as they taught us to cut things out, but that was Wrong.

We didn’t get much story-telling practice in those straight rows of desks. We did prescribed schoolwork, and we did it in silence. We were told that daydreaming was sinful, that non-Catholics were doomed, and that our lives should be dedicated to having pure minds and even purer souls, lest we miss out on the Day of Judgement when God would selectively cull everyone who had displeased him, and carry on into Eternity surrounded by a kind of mindless clique of Yes Men and Yes Women who were fond of kissing his feet, splashing themselves with Holy Water, and endlessly confessing their sins, perceived and real, then performing a prescribed penance, usually on their knees in front of a benevolent-looking statue.

I suppose I’ve included all of these details in order to explain why I continued to be a writer. I think I was probably born that way, though I can’t find anyone else in my family – on either side – who has written fiction or screenplays. I’ve got a first cousin who was a film director in England until she went back to university to get her Masters Degree, focusing on human rights. I’ve got some other first cousins who have written nonfiction articles, and their mother, my aunt, wrote nonfiction books. I’ve got a great uncle who was a West End actor in London in the 1940s  (his stage name was Felix Knupfer, though his real name was Felix Knopfmacher). Creative people all… but not writers of fiction.

I continued to be a writer, because I had no choice.

And so, in Grade 8, I wrote my first novel. It was about a young man named Lawrence Jenkins-Hennesey who was kidnapped and transported in the hold of a cargo ship to England, where he became involved in subterfuge and adventure. I had taught myself to type by that point, and I would take my chapters to school and hand them out to everyone at recess. I had five or six chapters on the go at once, with kids lining up for the next installment. It was an eye-opening experience, because these same kids had, several years earlier, bullied me to the point where I would make up an illness, rather than have to face going to school to deal with them.

I learned what it was like to have fans. I learned what it was like to feel important. I learned about acknowledgement. And it was lovely.

I wrote five or six more novels before I finally got one published. One was autobiographical, based on my years at that hateful school, including the bullies who were the descendants of the city’s founding fathers, the important families in the church; the nuns who had a somewhat unhealthy obsession with the suffering of Jesus Christ before he was crucified (one of them was very fond of detailing in excrutiating detail what would be involved in a scourging); the principal with the stomach ulcer who administered The Strap to me – not because I hadn’t done my math homework, but because I’d lied about it when asked in the first instance whether it was completed or not; my fantasies about burning down the Cathedral next door to the school; my adventures in the Convent next door to the Cathedral, where I went for piano lessons and where it was rumoured the nuns kept young women captive, their heads shaved, their clothing removed, in attic cells….

My third novel was called My Teacher The Swinger and it was written about my Grade 10 history teacher, who I fell in love with at the age of 14. He wasn’t, alas, impressed.

My fourth novel was called Underground, and it was a masterpiece. My high school (unlike my elementary school) was progressive and non-denominational (I refused to go to the Convent school to complete my education). Our Grade 12 teacher told us to do whatever we wanted for our Lit class final project, so I wrote Underground, about two teenaged boys and a teenaged girl who decide to walk from Morden to Golders Green, along London’s Northern Line tunnel (17 miles), overnight when the electricity was switched off.

Roundabout Tooting Broadway, one of the boys (named Lucifer in the first instance but later re-named Christopher in rewrites) decides to kill the other boy – something about jealousy over the girl – and you know what happens in the end, because the only thing that can happen in a story about the London Underground is that someone is trapped when the electricity is switched back on and invariably gets run over by a train.

I enjoyed writing that. And I got a 100% grade for it.  Acknowledgement.

In the years following high school I got a few more works of fiction out. One concerned a young man with Multiple Personality Disorder – goes to England as the pianist accompanying a high school choir, wakes up a year later with no memory of what’s gone on, discovers he’s been travelling the world as someone else and getting into Rather a Lot of Trouble…

At university, working on my BA in Lit., I worked for a Canadian writer named Ken Mitchell. Ken taught me a number of things, not the least of which was humility, which is an admirable trait, but it’s a bugger if you’re trying to pitch your works in an environment which requires supreme confidence!

Ken also taught me about dialogue, and about active verbs – never use a passive verb when an active one is begging to be used instead – and about structure… characters… storylines… I actually owe Ken a lot.

After university, I had to find a job, and I decided very early on that it would not be a job that involved writing. I believed then – as I still believe now – that if you earn a living writing for other people, you exponentially reduce the creative brain time left for yourself,  with the result that you will either spend your entire working life promising to write That First Novel… or you will become frustrated beyond measure, because you have ideas, and no outlet, because you owe your soul to The Company.

So I worked… and I continued to write… though not at the same rate, because the better part of my day was taken up planning peoples’ holidays. Which is, in fact, a very creative activity.

But that’s another blog 🙂

Five or six years after becoming a travel agent, I went back to university, this time to get my Masters in Creative Writing. It was the most glorious time of my life – I was with fellow writers, I was doing it full-time, I was wallowing in creativity… and I was getting that all important Acknowledgement again.

My thesis was a historical novel, set in 1882 Saskatchewan, the first year in the life of the little town of Pile of Bones, which would eventually become the city where I grew up, Regina. It was an epic – two women meet on a train going west. One is a well-bred Londoner who has married the rogue son of a rich man. Rogue son has been sent to Saskatchewan to cool his heels. Wife is now joining him, with no idea about the fate awaiting her – a sod hut on the bald prairie, husband a cruel philanderer, an unwanted pregnancy, a near-death experience in a blizzard…. the other woman is the wife of a shopkeeper from Winnipeg, joining her husband and sons in Pile of Bones – husband has set up shop in a tent, sons are on the verge of puberty… one runs away with a young girl and ends up in a house of ill-repute…

I re-read parts of this charming story recently and was astounded at just how dreadful my writing was. The storylines were fabulous. The execution of said storylines… not so wonderful.

I was disappointed when this novel didn’t get published – but a couple of years later, my next effort, Skywatcher, did break through for me… and after that, The Cilla Rose Affair. Both are about the same characters – spies. Skywatcher takes place in Vancouver… Cilla Rose takes place back in London…and has a lot to do with the Underground…

A few years ago I went back to school again, in order to learn how to write screenplays. I’ve now written or co-written six or seven… three optioned… two others on the permanent verge of being produced – the saga of trying to interest actors, agents and producers in my scripts is worth at least another three blogs 🙂

But now, I’ve decided to go back to my novelists’ roots… and my next effort will be long fiction, written in tandem with a new screenplay.

“Cold Fingers”.

Two musicians. Four hands. Fifteen fingers.

I’ll leave the rest to you to imagine, until it’s finished.

My name is Winona, and I’m a writer.

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A Voyage Aboard the Queen Mary

I’m a pack rat and I never throw anything away, so somewhere in a box in my flat I know there’s a passenger list. It’s from the RMS Queen Mary and it’s dated sometime in January 1962. It looks exactly like this:


Except my copy has some pencil sketches on the inside cover because when I was sitting on an Underground train with my mum, I was bored, so I started drawing pictures of the passengers on the only available paper I had with me. I hasten to add I was seven years old at the time, and would never in a million years have defaced such a historical article if I’d had an inkling what a passenger list from the Queen Mary would have meant some 50 years later.

Last time I told you about our voyage from Montreal to Southampton aboard Holland America’s Ryndam. This blog’s about the return journey, from Southampton to New York. My mum and my sister and I sailed both ways without my dad, who was a travel agent. He didn’t much like England, and I think at that particular time he had a fam trip booked to Bermuda instead. So we spent Christmas in London without him. But we were scheduled to meet up with him in New York and then fly home with him to Saskatchewan.

I remember having an amazing time in New York, accompanying dad on a sightseeing tour while mum stayed at the hotel with my sister. But I balked at climbing the spiral staircase to the top of the Statue of Liberty. So my dad left me at the pedestal with instructions not to move or talk to strangers, and took off on his own to visit the lady’s head. My mum was highly unimpressed when we got back to the hotel and I told her all about my adventure with dad. He could never, ever, have got away with something like that today! Nor would he have attempted it, to be honest. But this was 1962, and the world was a much more innocent place back then.

Back to the Queen Mary. My memories aren’t as vivid as those of the Ryndam, which is a shame. I remember sailing out of Southampton, and my mum being particularly sad at leaving the country where she was born and spent her first 30 years. Years later I found out why. It was because she knew her dad was quite ill with cancer, and that this was the last time she would see him before he died.

She didn’t tell me that, though. All I knew was that she was very upset and crying, and because she was upset, I was upset. To the point that when we were sitting down for lunch in the very posh restaurant, I was sick. All over the tablecloth. Much to my acute embarrassment. Because even when you’re seven, you know what embarrassment is, even if you have no explanation for your behaviour, and no idea how to control it.

So that’s my first enduring memory of the Queen Mary.

I remember our stateroom. It had dark wood panelling and two portholes, and I recall dark green as being the predominant colour of the upholstery and bed coverings. Here’s a photo of a First Class cabin on the Queen Mary, converted into the present-day hotel in Long Beach, California. The room has modern curtains, bedding, fixtures, and amenities but the wood panelling and portholes are originals. I recall our cabin looked a lot like this, though I’m not altogether certain if we travelled First Class.


I remember our night-time cabin steward, who you summoned by pushing a button on the wall beside the bed. He was quite elderly, and lovely, and he told us that the best cure he knew for seasickness was ginger ale. At the time we thought it was just an old wives’ tale – or an old mariner’s tale – but now we know that ginger has amazing anti-nausea properties – so much so that the companies which make traditional seasickness OTC medications also now offer pure ginger as a natural and very effective alternative.

I remember the bathroom in our cabin. It was a luxury, as most passenger ships from that era had a sink, but no private toilet and most definitely no private bath or shower. You shared the facilities at the end of a corridor with your fellow passengers. This bathroom had a bath, and the bath was highly unusual in that, in addition to hot and cold fresh water taps, it also had hot and cold salt water taps. Which really did work.

I remember that also making this voyage from Southampton to New York were the Vienna Boys Choir. The Vienna Boys Choir still exists today, but I would say they’re not nearly as famous as they were in 1962, just after Walt Disney made a film about them called Almost Angels. I saw that film, well after our ocean voyage. But even that January, I knew who they were. And they were scheduled to give a performance on board the ship, very late at night. Mum decided we’d have a sleep first, and then get up to watch the concert. Unfortunately we neglected to set an alarm clock – we should have asked our lovely cabin steward for a wakeup call – and we missed it entirely.

I remember that mum was invited to sit at the Captain’s table for dinner one night. I’m sure it was because dad was a travel agent and he’d undoubtedly sent a lot of traffic Cunard’s way. My sister and I ate our dinner early, and then mum set off in her finery, leaving strict instructions for us not to leave the cabin, and to behave.

Please bear in mind that I was all of seven years old, and my sister was three. Please also bear in mind that my sister has always been more adventurous than me. And that she very definitely had mischief on her mind about half an hour after mum closed the cabin door behind her. And that I was a willing participant in my sister’s mischief, which involved slipping out of the cabin clad only in a cotton petticoat and knickers – I couldn’t possibly catch her, she was moving too fast – and I had no idea how she’d managed to open the door. Little sister made her way out onto an open deck, with me in hot pursuit oh…about 10 feet behind her… Once there she ran about with the wind in her hair, and clambered onto the railings – I pulled her down before she could tumble overboard – and was only stopped when a stern-looking officer confronted us both and marched us back to our cabin. We were joined about fifteen minutes later by mum, looking very annoyed, having been informed that her two small daughters were running amok and unattended on deck and could she please return to her stateroom immediately to see to them.

The rest of the voyage was uneventful. Which is probably why I don’t remember much more about it. I’ve always been more excited about going to a destination than coming home from it. I do recall sailing up the Hudson River, and peering over the railings to see immense chunks of ice cracking away from the side of the ship. And I think I spotted the Vienna Boys Choir at the pier, disembarking before us.

There are a few things about the Queen Mary which found their way into my writing. If you’ve read my novel Cold Play, you’ll know that Chris Davey, the hero, ends up in the bow of the cruise ship after rescuing Katey – his love interest – and Rick Redding – a passenger – when she ship catches fire. The space they find themselves in is the old cargo hold. Modern cruise ships don’t have cargo holds, but the old passenger ships did. The Queen Mary did. And, in fact, when I was researching how Chris, Katey and Rick were going to climb up the decks to safety, I consulted the Queen Mary’s original deck plans, and original photos of the insides of her cargo holds.

Another thing about Chris Davey: the sea is in his blood. He was conceived on board the Queen Mary, during one of her last voyages. I like to think his parents occupied the same cabin that I did. And that the Vienna Boys Choir were on that crossing too… and that perhaps his conception possibly came about because of a missed wake-up call…

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