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The Delicate Art of Book Promotion…A new audio interview!

Just a quick little blog today… mentioning an interview I did yesterday with Jim Goddard from The Goddard Report. This is a podcast that’s distributed online at talkdigitalnetwork.com and also on youtube.

Our chat on September 2 was combined with an interview Jim did with Mary Cummings, from my publisher, Diversion Books.

Please give it a listen. Mary talks about what makes Diversion different from the traditional publishers. And I talk about… well… my books. And me. 🙂

The interview on youtube…Click here

The interview on talkdigitalnetwork.com…Click here

Thank you!

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Filed under Cold Play, Herd Maintenance, My novels

How Cold Play came to be…

The last time you heard from me, I was getting ready for a book release. A rather big book release, involving all four of my novels, which were being re-published by Diversion Books in New York.

So on July 7, the e-books were released. And this weekend, the paperback editions appeared.

Before I follow up The Delicate Art of Book Promotion with a blog about how successful my efforts have been, I thought you might like to read a little story about the genesis of one of the novels, Cold Play.

Cold Play is a novel with a very long history. Some books are written in no time at all. Some take a while to simmer and stew…and Cold Play is one of those.

As a child and a teenager, in the 1960s and 70s, I traveled to and from England by sea. It was the very end of the golden era of ocean liners, and the beginning of the jet age. My dad was a travel agent and he was able to get wonderful discounts for us on various ships, including the original Queen Mary – the one which is now a landlocked tourist attraction in Long Beach, California. I sailed on five different liners, but my favorite of them all was the Empress of Canada.

It was 1971, and we didn’t know it at the time, but that summer was to be her last on the transatlantic run from Montreal to Liverpool. Perhaps I picked up a feeling, seeing the dwindling numbers of passengers sharing her public rooms and decks. Perhaps it was because I was nearly 17, and I was already writing stories and making up adventures for characters who lived with me nonstop, day and night. My imagination was primed. I fell in love with the Empress of Canada. And the summer of 1971 is where the story of Cold Play really began.

Years later I briefly became a travel agent myself, and when Carnival Cruise Lines began to market their first ship, the Mardi Gras, I looked at the pictures in the brochure and thought, this lady seems very familiar! And she was… my Empress of Canada had taken on a new life and was proudly cruising the Caribbean. She was the first of many ships for tiny Carnival, which eventually grew into a massive corporation which now also owns Princess, Costa and Cunard, among others!

My lovely Empress stayed in service for decades, but changing laws about safety at sea and the demand for newer and larger ships meant her days were numbered. Her last incarnation was as Direct Cruise’s Apollon, but in 2003 she was finally retired, and sold for breaking up as scrap. It was a very sad end for my lady, beached in Alang, India, her entire hull exposed and her beautiful white and blue livery rusting in the blazing sun. I saw photos of her as she was demolished, section by section. It made me cry.

I knew I wanted to write about an aging ocean liner the minute I stepped off the Empress of Canada in Liverpool in 1971. But I didn’t have a story, and at age 16, I didn’t yet have the skills to be able to pull it off. I devoured movies like The Poseidon Adventure, parts of which were filmed aboard the Queen Mary; and The Last Voyage, from 1960, filmed aboard the old luxury liner, Ile de France.

Fast forward now to the late 1990s. My career as a travel agent was long in the past, but my sister had taken up the banner, and was working as a Captain’s Secretary for a popular cruise line that sailed weekly from Vancouver to Alaska. She served on a number of different ships, but one of them happened to be a former ocean liner, a tiny jewel that had once been owned by Cunard. She was dwarfed by her newer and larger colleagues when she was docked at her ports of call, and she wasn’t quite as beautiful as my Empress, but she was gracious and proud, and when I was given the opportunity to sail on her, as a guest of my sister, I leaped at the chance.

There are always perks associated with being related to a uniformed officer aboard a cruise ship, and this was definitely one of them. I stayed in my sister’s cabin, which was located in the crew area. I ate in the Officers’ Mess, and I consorted with the Pursers after hours when they held parties in their cabins, spilling out into the main connecting companionway. I stood up on the Bridge in pitch blackness while the ship was navigating the waters near Ketchikan. I was taught how to open and close watertight doors below the waterline. I stayed on board after all the passengers had disembarked, and I saw first-hand what turnaround day involved, before the next lot of passengers were allowed up the gangway. I observed how a cruise ship functioned from a crew point of view, and I knew then that I had my story.

But who was going to be my main character? And what, exactly, was the story going to be about – besides an aging cruise ship that was once a grand ocean liner?

In Cold Play’s first draft, Jason Davey was a Purser. I had a notebook filled with anecdotes from my sister’s colleagues, and from my sister herself, who had worked at the Purser’s Desk before being promoted upstairs to the Bridge. Jason, an out-of-work actor, had run away to sea after the death of his wife in a fire that he believed he was responsible for: he’d accidentally dropped a smoldering cigarette end into a sofa. The novel was called Found at Sea, and the story involved an aging actress with designs on Jason who comes aboard and wreaks havoc for him and the crew; and a travel agent named Katey who is searching for meaning in her life after a messy divorce and facing burnout from her job.

I had an agent pitching Found at Sea to publishers in the UK in early 2002. But nobody seemed to be interested. We tried for about a year, and then my agent decided to pursue other occupations, and I took a buyout from my place of employment, and decided to go to film school to learn how to write scripts. Found at Sea became my major project and my first screenplay. After graduation I entered it in a contest, where it caught the attention of a local producer, who optioned it. We worked on it for a year or two, changing the name to Life Boat, and changing the location to Alaska.

Nothing ever came of the script, which is typical of 95% of screenplays – they sit in development, and then end up abandoned when the option expires.

Fast forward again, to 2009, and Twitter. I was part of a community of first-adopters of Twitter. It was fabulous fun, and the potential for plotting was enormous. There were constructed personalities operating under pseudo-names, claiming to get up to all sorts of adventures, in bursts of postings that were 140 characters long. You never knew who you were really talking to. And whether or not they were telling the truth, or were very convincing liars.

In 2009, I went on another cruise, again to Alaska, but this time I was a passenger. It was on a very large and modern ship, a different line from the one my sister had worked for, and I spent a good part of every evening in the ship’s library, where the computers were, trying to connect with my Twitterfriends. Right next door to the library, separated by a glass wall, was the ship’s biggest lounge, and every night there was a one-man band playing in that lounge, surrounded by electronic gadgets, playing his guitar and singing. Sometimes he had a full house. Sometimes he was singing to just himself and the bartender. But he captured my imagination…and I knew that I’d found Jason.

He wasn’t an actor at all and he didn’t work at the Purser’s Desk. He was a ship’s entertainer. And he was still being pursued by an aging and eccentric actress. And his love interest was still Katey, the recently-divorced-and-burned-out-travel-agent. But Jason now spent much of his spare time on Twitter, using the handle @Cold_Fingers to amuse his followers with tales of a life at sea. And because of that, he’d picked up a stalker named @SaylerGurl… who may or may not have been aboard his ship that week. And there was the added intrigue of an alcoholic musician from Jason’s past who might know a very big secret. And there was still the question of Jason’s wife’s death in that fire…and who was really responsible for it.

And then there was the story of Jason’s ship. I called her the Sapphire in the novel, but she was always the Empress of Canada in my imagination. And she was an important character, just like Jason and Katey, Rick Redding and SaylerGurl and Diana Wyndham and Jilly, Jason’s “guardian angel”. I wondered what it would be like for the Sapphire to be facing her last useful days at sea…to suddenly discover that she was going to be sold for scrap at the end of the season. And how she might react, as a result…

I was going to change the name of the novel from Found at Sea to Cold_Fingers, but I consulted a friend who suggested Cold Play would be a much better title. I thought it was brilliant. I spent much of 2011 pitching the story to agents and publishers, who couldn’t see a best-seller in it and therefore declined my offer. So in 2012 I decided to self-publish instead. I used one of my own photos from Glacier Bay for the cover. And my Empress of Canada story, born forty years earlier, was released at last.

I’ve recently signed with Diversion Books in New York, and as part of my contract with them, they’ve re-released all four of my previous novels. Cold Play has been given a new cover, and now has the potential to reach an entirely new audience. I’m so pleased my lovely Empress of Canada lives on, even if it’s only in my readers’ imaginations.

One final note… last October I went on a short overnight cruise from Seattle to Vancouver with my sister, who is no longer employed in the cruise industry. We traveled as passengers, on a ship sailing her former employer’s flag. We were sitting in the atrium, enjoying coffee and pastries, when a musician sat down and started to tune up. He had a guitar, and some elaborate gadgetry. He looked extremely familiar, and when I checked his name in the daily bulletin, I saw that it was the same fellow I’d watched five years earlier, playing in the lounge next to the ship’s library. My Jason.

Did I introduce myself, and tell him about Cold Play, and the inspiration he’d provided?

I’ll let you guess.

Cold Play is available from Amazon as an ebook and a paperback, along with my three other novels, Persistence of Memory, The Cilla Rose Affair, and Skywatcher.

www.winonakent.com

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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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An Ocean Voyage

I’m one of those lucky people who’s actually sailed on an ocean liner. A real ocean liner, purpose-built for transatlantic travel, not cruising. And not just one – I’ve been on FIVE. Five ocean liners, on four ocean crossings. All of this happened when I was a child, or a young teenager, which gives you some idea of how old I am (yes, I’m 60). And it would never have happened at all, but for the fact that my dad was the manager of a travel agency, and the voyages were either free, or almost free.

We still had to get to Montreal to board the ship. We lived in the middle of Canada, on the prairies, so that usually involved a two-day, two-night train journey, also provided with a hefty discount. And when you consider the transatlantic crossing took another seven days – two days sailing up the St. Lawrence River and then five days more to reach Liverpool or Southampton – you can see why the advent of jet planes put the ocean liners out of business. Nine days to get from the middle of Canada to the middle of England… or nine hours. Hmm. Not a difficult choice.

In fact, I remember lying on a deck chair aboard the Empress of Canada in 1971, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, bundled up in a thick seafaring blanket and battling seasickness…and looking up at the sky as a jet winged its way east. And I remember thinking, those passengers will be in London in three hours’ time…and I’ve got another three days of this.

Because, for all its glamour and the fondness with which ocean travel is remembered, the down side is that the North Atlantic is not a placid ocean, and if you were at all prone to motion sickness – as I was – a voyage by sea was pure torture.

I’m not sure why I didn’t get one of those shots. They were advertised and available from the ship’s doctor. My younger sister got one. She suffered from seasickness worse than I did. And she ended up working on cruise ships for about 15 years. I stubbornly refused. Just as I refused to take those little pills. My mum never suffered from seasickness at all and I think I must have been trying to prove something to her. In truth, I was in misery.

One of our crossings was in the winter. We sailed east aboard the Ryndam, a tiny little ship flying the Holland America flag. Here’s a picture of her:

ryn

And you can read about her here:

http://www.halpostcards.com/unofficial/kohler.html

There’s a much newer and bigger Ryndam now, one of Holland America’s biggest cruise ships. The little Ryndam above was only 15,000 tons. Just for the sake of comparison, the largest car ferry that does the 3 hour run between Vancouver and Vancouver Island is 11,000 tons.

I was 7 and it was December 1961, and the ship was filled with women and children who were travelling overseas to join their husbands and fathers in the Canadian armed forces in Germany. We sailed through a massive storm, with huge waves that crashed over the top of the ship and tossed us wildly for several days. My mother told me many years later that she didn’t sleep at all during the storm, and stuffed our winter coats with socks and gloves, in case we had to abandon ship in the middle of the night.

I remember the sound of dishes and other things crashing to the floor in the corridor outside our cabin. I remember the outside decks being roped off with the kind of netting that was used to haul cargo onboard with cranes. And to make matters worse, there was an outbreak of dysentery among all the infants, and then they ran out of fresh milk, and all of the children were served powdered goats’ milk reconstituted with water. I thought it was absolutely foul.

But my main memory of this crossing is the passenger talent show. I was encouraged to take part, because I played the piano, and I was quite good for a 7-year-old. So, this is me, playing a piece called The Merry Go Round:

Scan10016

The piano is bright pink. I’m wearing a navy blue scratchy wool pleated skirt and top set. I’m so seasick, I’m on the point of spewing my lunch all over the keyboard. The fellow sitting behind the piano is playing the drums. He’s a member of the ship’s orchestra. Just after I began the piece, he and his colleagues decided to play along with me, taking me completely by surprise. But I remember feeling rather chuffed that I could command that kind of attention, that I was good enough that they’d want to join in. We finished to grand applause. And, at least for a few minutes, I quite forgot how miserably seasick I was.

We arrived in Southampton a few days later, and, after Christmas, we sailed home again, this time aboard the Queen Mary, the famous one, the one that’s now in drydock in Long Beach, California.

I’ve often wondered if this little performance was one of the small turning points in my life, one of those events that makes an indellible mark that you only recognize in later years, looking back. Rather than being told to stop showing off, to sit down and be quiet, I was being encouraged to do just the opposite. It must have made an impression on me, because I remember it so clearly.

My creative spirit was nudged.

I’ll write about the Queen Mary in another blog, and perhaps about the other transatlantic ships I sailed on – the Homeric, the Empress of England, and the Empress of Canada. In spite of my seasickness, I really did love them all, and my love of those old ocean liners, especially the Empress of Canada, contributed greatly to my novel, Cold Play.

My creative spirit has endured.

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