the decades

lino

I looked out just now to see if there’s the first snow on the mountain because it feels cold enough down here. There isn’t yet, but I bet it’ll come by next week. I love the cold nights, stars, that beautiful scimitar moon in the mid-November dark sky.

I just made a (clumsy) linocut for this year’s Christmas card. A winter wren, with a slightly foreshortened beak and awkward legs. (The lino was brittle this year, even when warmed by the woodstove.) I’ve chosen a short passage from my novella, Winter Wren, and John will print later this week.

Every year I make a linocut and he sets type and prints a card. I remember the first one we created, in the basement of the house we rented in North Vancouver before moving here in December of 1982, after a year and a half of living first in a tent here, then the shell of our house while we made it comfortable enough to live in. That first card used some old wooden type that came with the press and we had enough to print just two words: LOVE&JOY, all in caps, with the beautiful ampersand.

How the years accumulate. I listened to Emmylou Harris while I worked on the lino and realized I’ve been one of her biggest fans, boots and all, since grade 11. 1972. But I don’t think I ever paid much attention to this beauty, the one that caught my heart this afternoon.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll go to Edmonton (speaking of cold) to spend time with our family there. Emails arrive, asking would we like to go for a sleigh ride on Whyte Avenue, would we like to go to an abbreviated Nutcracker (our grandchildren are 2 and 4), and what about a Dickens tea? I remember carving lino in the early year with an audience, my own children, young enough to be impressed by a small knife making images in a piece of lino warmed by the woodstove. Young enough to listen to any music I played, and yes, there was a lot of Emmylou Harris even then. I wanted to preserve time in the images I cut with my little box of tools. I still do. John’s been sorting the decades of Christmas cards to make sure we have a full collection for the High Ground Press archive and there they are—a house on a hill with a moon overhead; a cat in a window with a star by its ear; a tree by the front door; a gingerbread person; a snowflake; a pinecone; the two fish undulating under stars (the image Anik and I appropriated for our Fish Gotta Swim Editions pressmark); a fishing boat with bright lights on its rigging (inked in by hand); and more that I can’t remember right now.

Sometimes I forget what’s to come. In late summer, preserving fruit and vegetables, I forget that I’ll be here in the house on a cold day in November, wondering what might make a card image for this coming Christmas. Or that listening to a cd heard hundreds of times over the years, I’ll stop as Emmylou sings,

So blind I couldn’t see
How much she really meant to me
And that soon she would always be
On my mind, in my heart,
I was blind from the start

novellas for a rainy day

rainy day friends

It’s raining, a lovely soft sound on the roof. A perfect day to curl up with a novella, or three. In that spirit, I’m offering my three novellas—Inishbream, Patrin, and Winter Wren—for $45. (That’s a paltry $15 per title! But I’m only offering them as a trio.) I’ll ship for free in Canada. Other places? We can talk!

On my Books page, you can read about the individual titles. And here’s a little sample of rainy writing from each of them:

Listen. There were weeks when the sun refused us. At first I thought I could never live in such a place, but then I learned the sweetness of the Irish mist, how it enveloped you and numbed you to any real action or consequence. And you wandered in it, your hair jewelled, and you let yourself drift in great imaginings, where the ruined castle on the coast was made whole and you lived there, where the beached hooker* was yours and you mended it.

—from Inishbream (Goose Lane Editions, 2001)

My grandmother told me once that her father had worn a cloak, a loden cloak, given him by a man who’d bought some of the copper pots. It repelled both wind and rain. Sometimes he’d open it to allow two or three of his children to shelter within, she said. We sat under trees while the rain poured down, and it was our own tent, warmed by our father’s body.

—from Patrin (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2015)

Where am I, where am I? Again, she woke and tried to orient herself in the new room. Curtains, no—the fogginess was because it was raining outside and she couldn’t see farther than the window. Her room was a cube of wood and glass. In the bed she had been born in, she leaned forward and watched drops of water slowly find their way down the glass to the sill. The trees dripped. The cabin was cold and she put off the moment when she would push away the eiderdown and rush to the woodstove to start the morning’s fire.

Winter Wren (Fish Gotta Swim Editions, 2016)

*The Galway hooker (Irish: húicéir) is a traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland.

Three Friends of Winter: a novella sale

450px-three_friends_of_winter_by_zhao_mengjian

The Three Friends of Winter refer to the pine, plum, and bamboo. The origin of this term is found as early as “The Record of the Five-Cloud Plum Cottage” from The Clear Mountain Collection of literary writings by Lin Ching-hsi (1241-1310, a Sung dynasty loyalist): “For his residence, earth was piled to form a hill and a hundred plum trees, which along with lofty pines and tall bamboo comprise the friends of winter, were planted.”

Years ago, I saw a planting of the Three Friends of Winter in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver. And I thought, what a lovely idea — a companion planting of things that thrive in winter! They symbolize steadfastness, perseverance, and resilience. A little like the novella? In honour of the Three Friends of Winter, I’d like to offer my three novellas — Inishbream, Patrin, and Winter Wren — for the winter-friendly price of $45. For the three of them. (See my Contact page for my email address.) And I will ship them for free. Think of them as hardy green trees (and doesn’t the scouring rush on Winter Wren look like bamboo?), flourishing in snow and wind, eager to find their way to you.

three-friends-of-winter

“I say, ‘Regicide.’ I say, Help!'”

From An Exaltation of Larks, by James Lipton:

An Herde of Wrennys, The Book of St. Albans. Hodgkin says, “The wren was probably allowed the term of ‘herd’…because it was the king of birds.” I say, “Regicide.” I say, “Help!”

It’s been slightly more than a month since the boxes of my novella Winter Wren arrived at my door. Readers of this blog might remember that my friend Anik See and I have begun a small literary imprint, Fish Gotta Swim Editions, to publish novellas for now and perhaps other innovative prose forms in the future. It’s been an interesting process so far. I wrote Winter Wren, Anik designed the cover and text, and the wonderful team at Printorium in Victoria printed the beautiful hand-sized books. People are sending the nicest notes or calling me to tell me their impressions. So far, so good!

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It’s a word-of-mouth endeavor at this point. We don’t have an advertising budget so we’re relying on email newsletters and the kindness of friends and strangers. Anik doesn’t even have copies yet but will receive hers when she’s in Canada next month. After then, she’ll fill orders for European customers and those from other parts of the world. (I’m filling orders for North, Central, and South America. And have mailed books to the UK and a few other places far afield.) But we both believe that readers will be interested in novellas and will somehow find us and our titles. (More are in the planning stages.)

Several reviews are forthcoming and I will post information and links on my News and Events page once I have them. I look forward to reading from Winter Wren when I participate in the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts on Friday, August 12th at 2:30 p.m. (I plan to talk about novellas in general and to also  read from my Patrin, which isn’t even a year old yet!) There will also be a proper launch for Winter Wren, probably in September. (If this sounds a bit vague,it’s because, well, life is busy right now! The Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, which I’m involved with, is coming up on the weekend of August 18-21 in Madeira Park; some of my children are coming for a couple of weeks later in summer; and there’s a third grandchild due in late August. But watch my News and Events page for a book launch date and if you’re in our area, come to help celebrate its regicide — without giving too much away, that word has a kind of eerie truth for this tale of wrens and the solstice and the passing of the old year.

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And if you want to support independent publishing not just in Canada but internationally (because Fish Gotta Swim Editions is located here on the west coast as well as in Amsterdam), please consider ordering a copy of Winter Wren. You can order from me. Or Anik. Several bookstores here on the Sechelt Peninsula carry the book and others can order it for you. If you are interested in a review copy, please let me know.

bookends

In 1977-78, I spent most of a year living in Ireland. I rented a cottage on a small island off the Connemara coast. It was a sweet time, though often lonely too. I walked. I gathered mussels and nettles to supplement the meager amount of food I could buy weekly in the nearby town when a boat was going that way and I could tag along with fishermen selling their catch or their wives doing errands. I say “meager” because I had so little money and also because everything I bought for the week had to be carried in my rucksack. Sometimes the boat would cross the narrow passage between the island and a strand several miles from the town and on those days I walked back and forth with my rucksack of provisions or else I borrowed a bike from a farmer who lived above the strand. A week’s worth of food could get heavy (and expensive) awfully quickly.

And I wrote. I wanted to discover if I was actually a writer and for some reason I thought I had to go far away to do that. I’d always loved Irish music and literature and somehow I imagined the west of Ireland would be a place I could lose my young damaged self in and find a better self. (I was 22. This is the way I thought then.)

I have no regrets about that time. I loved the island, I loved the hedges of fuchsia and the sound of corncrakes in the field behind my cottage. I read voraciously and I wrote the beginning of a novella which I completed later, once I’d returned to Canada. That novella, Inishbream, was published first as a private press book by the Barbarian Press. It took them years to actually produce the book and all the reasons for the delays were entirely legitimate. The wait was worth it. And so was the process, the step-by-step process of making a book the old beautiful way. An American artist, John DePol, did a series of wood-engravings for the book.

currach

Some copies were quarter-bound with soft green Japanese silk; others with leather; and the very rare Design editions were quarter-bound with turbot leather. The printing is exquisite. And when I read the novella now, as I do from time to time, my heart goes out to that girl on a western island, her wild ecstatic heart. (I know now that some of the way she saw the world — a heightened rapturous vision — was in part due to hunger…)

There are pale beaches of coral sand, strung darkly with the dead weeds. I walk them endlessly, alert for news of the world: a bottle, an explosive, a book of the saint’s voyage enacted on the edge of the Atlantic, a waterlogged crate washed from the deck of a ship.

In those windy cottages, the stories age. Outside, a well runs dry. Pots rise empty on their bleach-bottle floats, the hay rots under the rain’s assault. And they stand, all of them, on the rim of the chopping sea, straining to the tide, pulling in the nets of the morning. World without end, amen.

My husband John remarked awhile back that my new novella, Winter Wren, is in some ways a bookend to Inishbream. The main character lives on a remote beach, on an island’s western edge, and although much older than the protagonist of Inishbream, she shares many of the same habits and aspirations. She wants to know where she is, wants to know the plants, the weather, the patterns on the rocks. (In Inishbream, the speaker of the book discovers what she thinks is a pattern of carvings on rock and wonders if they’re petroglyphs. In Winter Wren, Grace finds fossils from the Oligocene period in the sandstone below her house. Both of them are alert for whales. Both have unexpected lovers.) And although Winter Wren isn’t printed letterpress on fine papers with linen stitching, it is a very pretty production (thanks to Anik See and the great team at Printorium). In purely physical terms, it’s a bookend to the trade edition of Inishbream, published by Goose Lane Editions.

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The older I get, the more I realize what a capacious form the novella can be. A small but surprisingly roomy vessel, for meanderings, meditations, for recording flora and fish species, for weather notes and snatches of poetry, for expanding the known world of a speaker who “came, wanting only the isolation of tides” but who found so much more at the doorstep of those tides. Birdsong, old stories, the vertebra of a whale, the far-off lights of Neah Bay.

 

Winter Wren arrived!

It’s official! Fish Gotta Swim Editions is truly in business! Our first title — my literary novella, Winter Wren — just arrived, by our postal worker’s own car, grinding its way up our long gravel driveway. Anik See designed the book and it’s beautiful. And a bargain — $18 (plus postage, at cost).

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If you’re in Canada, the US, or Central and South America, you can order from me: https://theresakishkan.com/fish-gotta-swim-editions/

And for the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world, you can order from Anik See, who is in Amsterdam:

https://aniksee.squarespace.com/forthcoming-titles

Some bookstores will carry the book and there will be a launch here on the Sechelt peninsula, date to be announced.

My own printer-in-residence (and Friend of the Press), John Pass, printed a lovely keepsake on our 1890s Chandler and Price press. These will be tucked into orders until the keepsakes run out so get ’em while you can!

keepsake

“All these years later, Winter Wren is what happened.”

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She listened to the creek falling to the beach. She pulled off her sweater, threw it to the rocks. Her corduroy trousers. She left on her canvas sneakers. And darted under the shelf where the fossils slept in the wall of stone. With a little shriek, she stepped forward into the shower of cold water.

She turned so every part of her body met the water, thrusting her chest forward, her breasts stinging at the contact, her legs shuddering. The pool the water tumbled into came half-way up her calves, icy as glaciers. Freshets ran down her back and she could not feel her knees, her elbows.

And now it was dark, moonlight just beginning to glitter on the ocean. Gasping and coughing, she groped with icy hands for her clothing, wrapping her sweater around her shoulders and not bothering to put on her pants. Sneakers squelching, she climbed the bank and found her way back up to the cabin where her candle guttered in the night air. She could not stop shaking. Rubbing her body briskly with a towel and wrapping another around her dripping hair, she realized she had not felt so alive in months.

Any moment now, Winter Wren will be arriving from the printer. It’s the first offering from Fish Gotta Swim Editions and to say I’m excited and nervous about the whole enterprise is an understatement of enormous proportions. It’s a novella about a place — the cabin and the beach in the photograph above the extract from the book. And it’s about a character, Grace Oakden, who appears in an earlier book, The Age of Water Lilies. I visited a book club to talk about that novel and someone asked, What happened to Grace? I had no answer but it got me thinking. And wondering. Winter Wren is the result. In it is buried a meditation on the 19th c. photographers and artifact collectors (Charles Newcombe, et. al.) who plundered and celebrated and recorded the west coast. The issue is complicated and this novella understands that.

On my study wall is a framed series of nine photographs, illustrating the book’s mantra: Bring me the view at dusk. Nine panels for nine window frames. It was given me by my daughter for my 60th birthday.Every morning I study it while I’m waiting for my computer to boot up and every morning I hear the surf, the noisy creek falling over its shelf of sandstone, smell the kelp. When I wrote the book, I had a hard time leaving its world each day to return to the dailiness of my present life, a dailiness I love and that anchors me in a sturdy durable way. But some days I wonder what would have happened if I’d actually left a note on the door of the cabin you can see above the creek, asking if I could rent the place. That was 1974. All these years later, Winter Wren is what happened.

“one who creeps into holes”

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This little bird house swings from an eave out my study window. A winter wren (I know they’ve been reclassified as Pacific wrens but old habits die hard) visits most mornings. After Brendan gave me this house for Christmas five years ago, I hoped a wren might nest in it but I suspect the opening is too wide and the house is too obvious.  The genus name Troglodytes is from the Greek (and I can’t do the orthographic decorations here) and means “one who creeps into holes”, a perfect designation for these tiny birds that dart about in the underbrush, in and out of roots. They are territorial and quite fierce about protecting their (small) ground but they will gather communally in cold weather to keep each warm during the long winter nights. I was sitting at my desk in late afternoon in December and saw 6 wrens arrive at this house, one after another, and each one paused at the opening, looking around to make sure of, well, I’m not sure what (they didn’t know I was watching and probably thought no one could see them), before entering. Was it memory of that safety that brought a wren just now to enter the house and peer out? Or, more likely, the prospect of little spiders and pupae to make a breakfast.

In my forthcoming novella, Winter Wren (Fish Gotta Swim Editions), there’s an elderly reclusive man, the son of a famous artefact collector (based loosely on Charles Newcombe), who earned a living by preparing bird skins for museums. I tried to imagine preparing a study skin of these tiny birds and realized the skill it takes to do such work. Skill and love. The man, whose name is Tom Winston, also learns something about the music of wrens. I’ll leave that to prospective readers to discover for themselves. But here’s a passage in which wrens occur — and if you read this novella, you’ll learn that they’ve been there all along and that they don’t forget.

Dreaming of water, further north, near Tanu, the darkness that surrounded them as they edged towards an island where burials had taken place. I only want to look at the mortuary poles, Tom, his father told him as the boat bumped against rock, pipe-smoke damp and sweet in the rain. Only want to look. But then his father was winching a pole to the shore with someone else and Tom was helping them tip it into the boat which swayed and lurched on its tether. The smell of rotting cedar and moss. He was dreaming of what was concealed in the niche in the back of the pole, the bones huddled in scraps of clothing. The remnants of a woven cape, skins around the torso, winter wren song trilling out of the underbrush, witnessing their theft.

the fish are swimming!

fish

Readers of this blog will know that my friend Anik See and I are both passionate about the literary novella. We love to read them and we write them. Although I’ve been very lucky with publishers in the past — both the Barbarian Press and Goose Lane Editions issued beautiful editions of my novella Inishbream and more recently Mother Tongue Publishing released my Patrin — I’m also aware that current publishing models aren’t exactly embracing the novella any longer. A few stalwarts persist. But when Anik visited here on her way back to her home in Amsterdam after a three-month residency at the Berton House in Dawson City a year or two ago, we were both lamenting that we had novellas that we couldn’t find publishers for. At one point in the conversation, we began to laugh and one of us said to the other, “Well, you know what this means.” And we did know. It meant we had to create a place for novellas so that this wonderful, well, is it a genre? A hybrid? A special variant? Anyway, a place for it to flourish. Anik has a lot of experience as a book designer — have a look at her Saudade, which she both wrote and designed…(She is also an amazing journalist: listen to her recent documentary, “The Illusion of Money”,  for the CBC’s Ideas:http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-illusion-of-money-part-1-1.3460225 )

We’ve been working back and forth on the first title of our Fish Gotta Swim Editions, which just happens to be my novella Winter Wren. Anik edited it, then my husband John (a poet and long-time college English instructor) copy-edited it (with a few disagreements of the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” variety, mostly to do with how to present dialogue on the page: as a writer, I want to believe that a text can accomodate dialogue as part of a narrative without setting it off with quotation marks; John is less convinced…), and now Anik has designed the book block which will be sent to the printer in Victoria when we have all the details right. The pdf arrived this morning so I could see and approve and make suggestions. And reader, I have to say it’s absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait for it to be a book in hand. Soon!

We are sorting out details to make it easy to buy this book. Copies will be available for shipping from both Amsterdam and here (the west coast of B.C.). And I think I’ll make a webpage for our Fish Gotta Swim in the next while too. Watch for more information on this. (For now, Anik has a page for it on her website, www.aniksee.com)

We don’t intend for Fish Gotta Swim to be a vanity press. We’re starting with one of our own books simply because Winter Wren is ready. We hope to make a small but relevant contribution to our literary culture over the next few years by finding and publishing novellas.